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Politics in America. The Mass Media “Media are extensions of human beings and affect our outlook and attitudes, our feelings about culture, schools, politics, studies, moral values, societal norms. They can totally disrupt our social existence and equilibrium.” -Marshall McLuhan (1964)

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Politics in America. The Mass Media

“Media are extensions of human beings and affect our outlook and attitudes, our feelings about culture, schools, politics, studies, moral values, societal norms. They can totally disrupt our social existence and equilibrium.”

-Marshall McLuhan(1964)


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Politics in America. The Mass Media

I. Introduction

A.   Politics—the struggle over who gets what, when and how—is largely carried out in the Mass Media. That is the case b/c what we know about politics comes to us largely thru the mass media—which we define very soon.

B.   Unless we ourselves are admitted to the White House Oval office or the committee rooms of Congress or dinner parties at foreign embassies, or unless we ourselves attend political rallies or distant battlefields, we must rely on the media to tell us about politics.


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I.      Introduction, cont.

C.   Few of us also have the opportunity to personally evaluate the character of those who run for higher office or to learn about their views on public issues by speaking with them face to face. Instead we learn about such people and events from the mass media

D.   The reality is that GREAT POWER derives from the control over information—WHO knows what definitely helps to shape WHO GETS WHAT.

E.   So despite what members of the media might say, it not only reports on the struggle for power in society; they are themselves participants in those struggles, which is why the media has long been referred to as America’s 5th branch of govt...WHY do people call it this?

F.    Given that the media is such an impt institution, it is critical to examine it as an institution—today we only briefly scratch the surface


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II.   Definitions & Types of Media

A. Definitions of Mass Media

1.  Burns et al: “Means of communication that reach the mass public. The mass media includes newspapers and magazines, radio, television (broadcast, cable, and satellite), films, recordings, books, and electronic communication”

2. Dye: “All means of communication with the general public, including television, newspapers, magazines, radio, books, recordings, motion pictures, and the internet”


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II. Definitions & Types of Media

B. 3 types of Mass Media

1. Print Media: communicate information through the publication of words and pictures---newspapers, books, magazines

2. Broadcast Media: communicate information electronically through sounds and images---TV, Radio, and Motion Pics

3. Group Media: are communications technologies such as the internet. They are the result of the technology revolution and are used extensively in politics


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II. Definitions & Types of Media

C. Categorizing the Mass Media

1. Newspapers: newspapers have been around since the dawn of our country and were originally organs of the political parties but now are independent, privately owned, for-profit businesses

a. Despite competition from other mediums—esp. radio, tv, and more recently group media—Americans still read newspapers in fairly significant #s:

b. according to Dye, “over 70% of the adult pop (or about 63M nationwide) read one or another of the nation’s 1,600 daily newspapers

i. 3 largest: (1) WSJ = 1.7M; (2) USA Today = 1.6M; (3) NYT = 1M

ii. Ntl Enquirer = 4M

iii. Only 58 cities and towns have 2 or more competing daily papers under separate ownership (competition and concentration)


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II. Definitions & Types of Media

C. Categorizing the Mass Media

2. Magazines: have smaller circulation but are perhaps more influential b/c political/opinion elites read them and then communicate the ideas to mass audiences

a. big ones are Newsweek (3.2M circulation), Time (4.6M), and US News (2.3M)


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II. Definitions & Types of Media

3. Radio: before TV the dominant mass media and made celebrities out of news personalities. Now: more a forum for talk than for live coverage of things. Still an important national news medium which many predicted would be replaced by TV. It hasn’t.

a. 99 of 100 households own radios and more than 9 of 10 households listen to the radio everyday—largely in their cars

b. people get entertainment, facts, and interpretation on the radio from radio hosts like Rush Limbau, Matt Drudge, Al Franken, and Janeane Garofalo among others


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II. Definitions & Types of Media

4. TV: grew explosively after WWII and is now the dominant mass communication medium. Most people get their political news from TV news, especially local news broadcasts–

a. According to media expert Doris Graber, TV is the MOST powerful medium of communication and is the 1st TRUE mass communication medium

b. Virtually every home in the US has a TV

c. research indicates that TV news commentary is probably the SINGLE greatest influence on public opinion and according to polling TV is “the most believable” source of news

d.  about 2/3 of all American households have cable TV which is a big reason for the decline in viewing of the 3 old Ntl TV newtworks—NBC, CBS, and ABC

e. avg tv newstory lasts about 1 minute and also devotes far more time to the President than to Congress or the Supreme Court


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II. Definitions & Types of Media

5. Internet: increasingly more important and the newest of the media. The internet is so impt now that many news stories appear on the WWW before they appear in newspapers and newsmags and radio

a. Newest, most important news oriented internet innovation is the BLOG, or "weblog".

b. Best place to see examples of this phenomenon is The Drudgereport—let’s take a stroll to his site…


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III. The Real Media Biases

“Media are extensions of human beings and affect our outlook and attitudes, our feelings about culture, schools, politics, studies, moral values, societal norms. They can totally disrupt our social existence and equilibrium.”

-Marshall McLuhan (1964)


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III. The Real Media Biases

A. Many conservatives argue that the mass media has a pronounced “liberal” bias. I would say that Marshal McLuhanis probably closer to the truth: that is, the “media” has the power to transform “our outlooks and attitudes” and since it is a product of human action and thought, there are probably biases.

B. Research (by Graber, Dye, Bagdikian, McLuhan, etc) shows that the most significant media biases are toward

(1) sensationalism; (2) negativity; (3) investigative reporting; and (4) “liberalism”

C. Let’s take a look at each in a little detail


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III. The Real Media Biases

1.     Sensationalism: Economic interests of the mass media—the need to capture and hold audience attention—creates a bias toward “hype” in the selection of news, its presentation, and its interpretation—ie stories that are “sensational” in nature

a.  to attract viewers in other words—on a very crowded TV “dinner plate”—the media bias the news toward violence, conflict, scandal, corruption, sex, scares of various sorts, and the personal lives of politicians and celebrities…Q: Can you think of examples?

b. News is unfortunately thus selected for its emotional impact on audiences

c. As James Fallows (The Atlantic Monthly) nicely put it, the media has a “right now” complex which forces it to lurch from story to story in search of sensational stories that will “capture” and “hold” audiences


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III. The Real Media Biases

2. Negativism: The media are also biased toward BAD NEWS or the negative. According to Graber, bad news attracts larger audiences than good news. In fact, bad-news stories on TV outnumber good-news stories by at least 3 to 1

a. good news gets little attention while bad news (“if it bleeds it leads”) dominates


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III. The Real Media Biases

3.  Investigative Reporting: the professional environment of reporters and editors predisposes them toward an activist style of journalism once dubbed muckraking (work by Ida Tarbell and Uptain Sinclair are examples),defined by Dye as “journalistic exposes of corruption, wrongdoing, or mismanagement in govt, business, and other institutions”

a.  Especially since journalists “discovered” that elected officials lied to them on a fairly regular basis during the LBJ and Nixon administrations, journalists have taken this “muckraking” or Public watchdog” role—in which many feel their primary duty is to focus attention on problems and deficits, failures and threats


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III. The Real Media Biases

4.     Liberalism: The political values of the news media (esp. the big 3 networks, CNN, the major ntl newspapers) are, according to Dye, Graber, Burns and just about everyone else who examines this question, decidedly “LIBERAL”

a.  Graber suggests that: “economic and social liberalism prevails, as does a preference for an internationalist FP, caution about milt intervention, and some suspicion about the ethics of established institutions”

b. The media elite—executives, producers, reporters, and anchors—are moderately liberal or left-leaning in their political views. 1 study of news executives reported that 63% described themselves as “left-leaning”

c. Newsmakers describe themselves as either “independent” (45%) or Democrat (44%); very few (9%) admit to being Republican

d.  However, if you are looking for more conservative news medium check out AM talk radio, FOX News on cable TV, newspapers like the WSJ and Washington Times, and Mags like the Weekly Standard and Ntl Review

e. YOU be the judge...


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V. Questions about the Media

A.   Newsgathering Habits:

1. How many read the newspaper regularly?

a. Sports section only?

b. Comics only?

c. Political news of any kind? d. Other favorites?


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V. Questions about the Media

2. How many of you watch TV news regularly?

a. how often?

b. Which channels?

c. Which newscasts?

d. Favorite topics?


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V. Questions about the Media

3.How many of you listen to news radio?

a. Which stations?

b. Which hosts?

c. Why?


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V. Questions about the Media

4. How many of you use internet to gather political info?

a. Which sites?

b. Why?


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V. Questions about the Media

5. Are there any of you who don't really follow the news at all?

a. If you are doing nothing why not?

b. If you are using other sources, what are they?


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V. Questions about the Media

6. What are the consequences of all this behavior on:

a. Your voting behavior?

b. Your public involvement?

c. On your ability or lack thereof to participate in political issues


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