In “Let’s see a game!” we expose the different perspectives in TV sports & news in order to build broadcasting systems that unify rather than divide. We use the galvanizing impact of sports and live events as a forum, and then we add production and viewing opportunities to distinguish fact from opinion and to challenge the basis of those opinions.

In 1951, when the Dartmouth football team played against Princeton, there was deep disagreement between the two schools as to what had happened during the game. In “They Saw a Game: A Case Study,” the psychologists Albert Hastorf and Hadley Cantril found that when the same motion picture of the game was shown to a sample of undergraduates at each school,  each individual perceived a different game, and their versions of the game was just as “real” as other versions were to other people.

However,  little is known about whether and how broadcasting media are adding fuel to the fire. In order to study the relationship between storytelling/perspectives and opinion formation, we built the following two applications: “Let’s see a game!” and “Let’s watch news!”

In the first step, we built an interactive application that exposes different perspectives in sports broadcasting. The application plays two broadcasts of the same game, created for each team’s home audience. The user can tune into an audio channel by moving the slider. Additional buttons allow the user to take other actions.

Did you notice that on the left, the foul was perceived as a tough call, while on the right, it was perceived as a good call?

Next, we extend this to the televised news. Since news broadcasts are much harder to compare side-by-side, we take a structural approach. US news programs share a common reporting structure or sequence of segments, comprised of a short overview of topics, followed by topics themselves. Each topic is either elaborated by reporting additional facts or by inviting opinions from people, followed by a statement or an opinion of the news program host. The latter often leads to a slant and might be one of the causes of polarization among different viewers (e.g. CNN viewers and FOX News viewers). We built another interactive application that presents clips from different channels on the same topic/event in the same segment side-by-side to provide insight on how the stories are told differently.

This video illustrates how differently the “Taking the Knee at National Anthem” is introduced on Fox News and MSNBC.

This sequence shows how the news host guides the conversation. On Fox News, a conservative politician is invited. On MSNBC, a NFL player is invited. The questions asked by the news hosts also lead the conversation to a fundamentally different direction.

Fox News and MSNBC show a statement of their political ally (Trump/Anti-Trump) and have it confirmed by their invited speaker.

The invited speakers launch an attack on their political rivals. On Fox News, the Left is chastised. On MSNBC, the president is rebuked.

Clearly, the ability of broadcasting to gather attention is not steering us towards a common understanding. So, what do we do about it?

There is no easy answer. Mike is currently building a broadcasting system called “Enlightened” to solve this problem.

This work was presented during the MIT Media Lab Fall 2017 Member Meeting. Visit the Viral Communication Group at the MIT Media Lab for a LIVE demo.

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