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Surprising News: How the Media Affect—and Do Not Affect—Politics, Kenneth Newton

Reviewed by Joshua P. Darr

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There are more news options today, across more devices and audio, visual, and written forms, than at any time in history. Recent research in political communication seeks to determine whether there are any effects of these changes to the media environment. In Surprising News, Kenneth Newton does not conduct original research but has a different goal: synthesize recent findings to summarize what we have learned about the effects (or lack thereof) of media on politics, and question whether media is worth the attention it is given by scholars.

Newton posits that factors in “the standard model” (p. 2) of political behavior—partisanship, political interest, and demographics (sex, income, age, race, education, etc.)—are more powerful determinants of political behavior than media exposure or media content. Each chapter takes up a potential moderator of media effects: psychological resistance to new information, partisanship, everyday experience, political discussion, and media trust, among others. Since media is not more powerful than these standard factors, in his telling, its effects are less significant than we might expect—the “surprise” alluded to in his title (p. 6).

The conclusion that media effects are contextual and limited by more fundamental characteristics of individuals resembles criticisms of

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