Big news for my mom: It turns out my job has a big impact on the entire country.

That’s according to a new political science study published today, which looked at the effect news outlets have on public discourse. While the findings may seem intuitive, this group of scholars—who work at Harvard, M.I.T., and the Florida State University—were able to show that whatever the media chooses to focus on has a profound impact on what people discuss in their everyday lives.

“What we wanted to do,” says Benjamin Schneer, a co-author and political science professor at Florida State University, “was figure out exactly what the effect of the media was on the national conversation.” So the political scientists essentially teamed up with a group of small to medium-sized publications and coordinated coverage at set intervals of time. They then analyzed the social media conversations around those specific topics.

Proving Something That Intuitively Makes Sense

Everyone loves to mock academic studies that prove the obvious, so it should be emphasized that this is no small feat. Historically, it’s proven very difficult for social scientists to quantitively show the media’s effect. “It’s actually really hard to measure how much of an impact the media has,” says Schneer.” For instance, if researchers are merely mapping what people are talking about, they are faced with a chicken versus egg problem. Which is to say, if simply looking at what’s written compares to what people are talking about, it would be nearly impossible to disentangle whether media coverage follows public conversation or vice versa….

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