This collection on American democracy challenges and complements blog posts and opinion pieces that are typical staples of the 24/7 news cycle in the lead up to US elections. You'll find reports about election and campaign administration, voting access and participation, government performance and perceptions, the role of the media in civil society, and more.

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"VOTE!" by Paul Sableman licensed under CC BY 2.0

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NewsLens 2020: How Americans Process the News

May 26, 2021

A shift toward online news consumption, combined with greater political polarization, has altered the media landscape. As part of its Trust, Media and Democracy initiative, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation partnered with Gallup to create NewsLens — an experimental platform and news aggregator first developed in 2017 to facilitate novel research on how people interact with the news online in a manner that offers insights to academics, technology policymakers and journalists.In theis report, Gallup examines data gathered through NewsLens during the 2020 presidential campaign to assess how much partisanship influences the way people engage with news content and whether common ground still exists over which stories are considered good journalism.

Campaigns and Elections; Media

Fueling the Fire: How Social Media Intensifies U.S. Political Polarization — And What Can Be Done About It

September 9, 2021

This report analyzes the evidence bearing on social media's role in polarization, assesses the effects of severe divisiveness, and recommends steps the government and the social media industry can take to ameliorate the problem. We conclude that Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are not the original or main cause of rising U.S. political polarization, a phenomenon that long predates the social media industry. But use of those platforms intensifies divisiveness and thus contributes to its corrosive consequences. This conclusion is bolstered by a close reading of the social science literature, interviews with sociologists and political scientists who have published studies in this area, and Facebook's own pattern of internally researching the polarization problem and periodically adjusting its algorithms to reduce the flow of content likely to stoke political extremism and hatred.

Media

Americans See Skepticism of News Media as Healthy, Say Public Trust in Institutions Can Improve

August 31, 2020

In a year filled with major news stories – from impeachment to a contentious election, from a global pandemic to nationwide protests over racial injustice – Americans continue to have a complicated relationship with the news media. While large swaths of the public often express negative views toward journalists and news organizations, a major Pew Research Center analysis – culminating a yearlong study on Americans' views of the news media – also finds areas where U.S. adults feel more affinity toward the media and express open-mindedness about the possibility that their trust in the industry could improve.

Media

Freedom and Accountability: A Transatlantic Framework for Moderating Speech Online

June 16, 2020

The Transatlantic High Level Working Group on Content Moderation Online and Freedom of Expression was formed to identify and encourage adoption of scalable solutions to reduce hate speech, violent extremism, and viral deception online, while protecting freedom of expression and a vibrant global internet. The TWG comprises 28 political leaders, lawyers, academics, representatives of civil society organizations and tech companies, journalists and think tanks from Europe and North America. We reviewed current legislative initiatives to extract best practices, and make concrete and actionable recommendations. The final report reflects views expressed during our discussions and charts a path forward. We did not seek unanimity on every conclusion or recommendation, recognizing that diverse perspectives could not always be reconciled.

Media

How States Are Expanding Broadband Access

February 1, 2020

This report from the Pew Charitable Trusts highlights practices for state programs aimed at expanding broadband access to un- and underserved areas.Based on interviews with more than three hundred representatives of state broadband programs, Internet service providers, local governments, and broadband coalitions, the report identified five promising and mutually reinforcing practices: stakeholder outreach and engagement at both the state and local levels; a policy framework with well-defined goals that connects broadband to other policy priorities; planning and capacity building in support of broadband infrastructure projects; funding and operations through grant programs, with an emphasis on accountability and data collection; and program evaluation and evolution to ensure that lessons learned inform the next iteration of goals and activities. The study explores how nine states — California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin — have adapted and implemented different combinations of those practices to close gaps in broadband access.

Media

Decoding Media Impact: Insights, Advice & Recommendations

January 23, 2020

This report provides an examination of the current state of the field of media impact assessment, which Media Impact Funders (MIF) has been tracking for seven years. It is meant to serve as a practical resource for funders who want to understand where to start. Informed by feedback from our network, it represents a synthesis of the past seven years of work we've done in the impact space, and includes examples of successful media impact evaluation, tools and frameworks for assessment, and the challenges of defining and measuring impact in a rapidly-shifting media landscape.Our years of research have led us to four key insights, and this report includes a deep dive into each of them, as well as companion guest essays from leaders in the field. We hope you will use this guide to inform your own practice, and to continue this critical conversation.

Media

The New Advertisers: How Foundation Funding Impacts Journalism

December 17, 2019

Many journalism stakeholders have begun looking to philanthropic foundations to help newsrooms find economic sustainability. The rapidly expanding role of foundations as a revenue source for news publishers raises an important question: How do foundations exercise their influence over the newsrooms they fund? Using the hierarchy of influence model, this study utilizes more than 40 interviews with journalists at digitally native nonprofit news organizations and employees from foundations that fund nonprofit journalism to better understand the impact of foundation funding on journalistic practice. Drawing on previous scholarship exploring extra-media influence on the news industry, we argue that the impact of foundations on journalism parallels that of advertisers throughout the 20th century—with one important distinction: Journalism practitioners and researchers have long forbidden the influence from advertisers on editorial decisions, seeing the blurring of the two as inherently unethical. Outside funding from foundations, on the other hand, is often premised on editorial influence, complicating efforts by journalists to maintain the firewall between news revenue and production.

Media

Putting a Price Tag on Local News: Americans’ Perceptions of the Value and Financial Future of Local News

November 17, 2019

A crisis faces local newsrooms across the nation. News publishers have, for over a decade, competed with search engines and digital platforms, not only for their readers' attention, but also for advertising revenue. At the same time, we have seen decades of growing distrust and partisan antipathy toward institutions of all kinds, including journalism. Local newspapers are especially vulnerable to these trends. As a result, there have been waves of consolidation, often resulting in fewer newsroom jobs. Particularly controversial have been acquisitions of newspapers by private equity investors, often followed by debate about how the newsroom is managed by its new ownership.This Gallup/Knight Foundation study seeks to better understand whether Americans care about the fate of local news organizations, what they value about these organizations and what could be done to make more of these organizations financially sustainable. The results are sobering, but they also point toward potential solutions for addressing some of the economic challenges facing many local news organizations.

Media

Local Journalism in Crisis: Why America Must Revive Its Local Newsrooms

November 12, 2019

Thousands of local newspapers have closed in recent years. Their disappearance has left millions of Americans without a vital source of local news and deprived communities of an institution essential for exposing wrongdoing and encouraging civic engagement. Of those still surviving, many have laid off reporters, reduced coverage, and pulled back circulation.

Media

Young Adults' News Behaviors and Beliefs

July 9, 2019

This report examines trust in media, showing that many young adults use news media to make decisions on policies and voting. It reveals that a majority of young adults are concerned about the impact of news on democracy and unity in the country, expressing that news organizations might divide and polarize citizens. Conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago, the report analyzes the findings of a survey of 1,660 adults between the ages of 18 and 34. It also surveyed large samples of African American and Hispanic participants to explore beliefs and behaviors across races and ethnicities. The study shows that young people believe some news sources are actively hurting democracy and corroding national unity. Sixty-four percent of young adults say their least-liked news source hurts democracy and 73 percent say their least-liked news source divides the country. Only 47 percent say their favorite news source helps unite it. When comparing partisan attitudes, 51 percent of Democrats say their favorite source unites the public, while 42 percent of Republicans say the same. 

Media

Disinformation, Fake News and Influence Campaigns on Twitter

October 4, 2018

How did misinformation spread during the 2016 presidential election and has anything changed since? A new study of more than 10 million tweets from 700,000 Twitter accounts that linked to more than 600 misinformation and conspiracy news outlets answers this question.The report reveals a concentrated "fake news" ecosystem, linking more than 6.6 million tweets to fake news and conspiracy news publishers in the month before the 2016 election. The problem persisted in the aftermath of the election with 4 million tweets to fake and conspiracy news publishers found from mid-March to mid-April 2017. A large majority of these accounts are still active today. 

Campaigns and Elections; Media

Major Internet Companies as News Editors

August 15, 2018

As part of its ongoing Trust, Media and Democracy initiative, the John S. and James L.Knight Foundation partnered with Gallup to ask a representative sample of U.S. adults for their views on the news editorial functions played by major internet companies. 

Media