Academic journal article Newspaper Research Journal

Pull Quotes Shape Reader Perceptions of News Stories

Academic journal article Newspaper Research Journal

Pull Quotes Shape Reader Perceptions of News Stories

Article excerpt

Quotations have long been used in news stories to document sources of information and to provide credibility. Recent research has suggested the quotation is a powerful persuasion tool, one that can be used to influence news consumers' perceptions of issues. In addition, quotations are often attended to in news stories more than statistical data.(1) Individuals tend to pay more attention to and are influenced more by the vivid examples often used in quotations than by the more pallid numerical data.(2)

The present study is designed to investigate the persuasiveness of a specific type of quotation: the extracted quote. These quotes, run in larger type than story text, are similar to other visual elements such as infographics and background boxes in that they also contain textual information that may help readers better comprehend accompanying stories. With newspapers paying increased attention to the visual attractiveness of their layouts, graphic elements such as the extracted quote are becoming more popular.(3) As Mario Garcia points out in his 1993 book Contemporary Newspaper Design, "Most well-written stories will include direct quotes. The page designer can capitalize on these quotes as a design strategy by pulling them out of the story and setting them as breakers or grabbers." Pull quotes generally have two purposes: (1) to break up large amounts of body copy type, and (2) to give the reader some interesting point or flavor of a story. Studies indicate that these visual elements are attractive to readers, but the research has yet to investigate to what degree these graphically emphasized quotes influence readers' perceptions of the issues contained in news reports.

Social-cognition research suggests that for the typical news consumer, the absorption of information presented in news reports is far less than perfect.(4) Studies of information processing have shown that people have difficulty comprehending and processing statements involving specific information such as percentages, probabilities and quantities. On the other hand, vivid or dramatic examples--the types of information most often found in news story quotations--are more likely to attract news consumers, are more persuasive and are often better remembered.

This phenomenon can be explained in part by the availability heuristic or "shortcut."(5) This heuristic stipulates that news consumers evaluate the frequency or likelihood of events based on the ease and quickness with which relative instances or associations come to mind, or, more specifically, are retrieved from memory and avail themselves in the processing of information that serves the formation of judgment. The shortcut produces relatively reliable judgments in cases where a fair number of randomly aggregated events have been witnessed within a relatively short time. The reliability is lost, however, when the conditions for attention are less ideal, which they usually are for news consumers. News is often consumed in settings where other activities, such as conversing, eating, driving, etc., are occurring. Viewers or readers may pay less than full attention to the news report at hand and thus may make less than ideal judgments about the information they retain.

Therefore, it is suggested that the ease with which relevant cases are called to mind exerts a strong influence on judgment and is capable of biasing it in predictable ways. For example, a dramatic and extraordinary example of an issue presented in a news report would be more easily called to mind than a dull example or some type of statistical reference, and therefore would exert a distorting influence on the individual's perception of the issue. For journalists who believe the media are responsible for presenting the most truthful, accurate representation of the world as possible, this conclusion has important consequences.

For example, Hamill, Wilson and Nisbett(6) found that readers of reports about welfare recipients formed their impressions of welfare recipients based on the colorful, yet atypical, case descriptions rather than the base-rate data presented in the story. …

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