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Mass Media and Public Policy Popular Conceptions of the Media Popular Conceptions of the Media Popular Conceptions of the Media Defining Mass Media "Media" = Institutions that control communications technologies that comprise a crucial means of political communication.

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Defining Mass Media

  • "Media" = Institutions that control communications technologies that comprise a crucial means of political communication.

  • "Mass" media = products (messages) are "mass-produced"

  • So, mass-mediated communication = messages made available to large groups of people through technology.


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The Power of the Media is

  • to define and interpret events and issues; to provide "the pictures in our heads"

  • to provide the constant threat/promise of publicity

  • to enhance or inhibit communication among and between citizens and officials


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Struggles over the power of the media involve

  • >>>Access to the media<<<

  • Control/influence over the media

  • Proper role of the media in democracy


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What does the mass media consist of?

  • Daily newspapers

  • Internet

  • Over 450 weekly magazines

  • Weekly papers

  • Many more specialty magazines—

  • TV stations, TVs in 98 percent of all households

  • Cable systems hundreds of channels


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Wow, this sounds like incredible diversity of channels

  • 1920: 700 cities with competing papers

  • 1990: only 12 cities had newspaper competition

  • 2000: less than 10

  • Most papers are parts of chains of newspapers, such as Hearst, Gannett, Times-Mirror, or McClatchy.

  • Why does this matter?


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Wow, this sounds like incredible diversity of channels

  • Seven thousand cities in the US have no local newspaper at all.

  • TV news organizations buy footage from centralized suppliers

  • More outlets do not equal more choices.



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What is news?

  • A representation

  • A product


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What news is not:

  • a neutral "mirror" of the world.

  • reporter-generated (usually).


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What sort of norms do journalists follow

  • Fairness

  • Balance

  • Accuracy

  • No obvious ideological bias

  • The problem with this: news coverage is often more “objectivistic” than objective.


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Deciding What's News: The "Gatekeeping" Process

  • "relevance"/familiarity to audience/proximity(->personalization)

  • violence, conflict, disaster or scandal (-> dramatization)

  • timeliness and novelty (-> fragmentation)

  • subjects getting government attn (-> normalization)


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Pressures On Reporters:

  • Pressures to cooperate w/official sources

  • Pressures to standardize the news to fit with organizational constraints:

    • "News hole"

    • Time

    • Beats

    • Camera crews/bureaus

    • Media attributes (e.g. visuals for TV)

  • Pressures to agree with "the pack"


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Ideological bias: in the eye of the beholder?

  • This bias runs with the current ideological consensus of the times

  • AIM and FAIR are both reflections of how bias can be found no matter where or how you look.

  • We all “find” ideological bias in the things we read

  • Journalists are not in some ungodly conspiracy to brainwash us (they have to report to editors and owners)


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Meaning of "bias" = both empirical and normative:

  • news is necessarily a systematically patterned/distorted representation of the world. Why?

    • There isn’t enough time to cover everything

    • There aren’t enough resources to cover everything.

  • a critique: news doesn't have to be patterned/distorted in these particular ways. If we are sensitive to these biases we can overcome them.


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Lance Bennett: News contains "information biases."

  • Personalization: what does it mean to say the news is personalized?

  • Dramatization

  • Fragmentation

  • Normalization and consensus journalism

  • Consider the political costs of all this


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Why is news patterned this way?

  • It’s cheaper—thereby guaranteeing profit margins

  • Audience Characteristics

  • How do journalists defend themselves?

    • We’re just a reflection of the world.

    • People choose what to consume—they’re not stupid

    • This is what people want, as measured by ratings

  • The result of all this: the most restricted range of choices of information in the democratic world

    • The news is biased because of the very safeguards to ensure “fairness” not objectivity



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Graber’s Muckraking cycle

  • Journalistic investigation

  • Publication

  • Public opinion

  • Policy Initiatives

  • Policy consequences


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Things don’t always work the way the model would suggest

  • An investigation may not yield publication

  • Publication may not stir public opinion (Whitewater)

  • Even when public opinion is stirred, policy initiatives may not result

  • Even when policy initiatives result, those consequences may not result.

  • if something does happen, we may never know (fragmentation)


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Other Benefits of Investigative Journalism

  • It might alter the behavior of viewers, as with stories on how to protect yourself against crime or fires

  • Or it might alter the behavior of bad guys (“leaping impact” muckraking)


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Is public opinion actually mobilized?

  • We know from the media effects studies that this sort of influence of the media is sort of hard to measure and prove

  • Is there any necessary relationship between public opinion and actual policy change?



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Agenda setting and “agenda building”

  • Doris Graber: Agenda building is when the media “create a political climate that determines the likely thrust of public opinions.”

  • Examples Watergate, economic recovery policy


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Alternative selection

  • The media can influence this by determining the acceptable range of opinions

  • This become obvious when they cover “both” sides of a story, as if there were only two.


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Adoption and enactment are often treated as dramas

  • Conflicts between competing actors on highly personal grounds

  • These conflicts are often the result of a set of institutional and constitutional processes


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Implementation and feedback

  • Covered when there is some sort of failure or conflict in the implementation of a program

  • Prime example: waste, fraud and abuse

  • Which gets us to the liberty/security tradeoff, and the efficiency criterion


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Your goals, as an advocate

  • Get your ideas out there

    • May yourself and your group available to journalists

  • Influence the agenda

    • Don’t tell people what to think—tell them what to think about

    • This is where the op-ed assignment comes in.



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Your goal: getting your ideas out there

  • Persuading people that there’s a problem (this week’s assignment)

  • Persuading people that there are good solutions.


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How do you work with the media?

  • Cultivate relationships with editors and reporters

  • Send press releases

    • Text

    • Raw video

    • Raw audio


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Who do I want to reach?

  • What types of people?

    • General public

    • Specialists and experts

  • Where are these people?

    • Nationwide

    • Regional

    • State

    • Local


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What outlets can I use to reach people?

  • TV

  • Radio

  • Newspaper

  • Magazines

  • Internet

    • Web sites

    • Blogs

    • Other? (Youtube, Facebook, etc.)


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What sort of things attract the media?

  • Topical news conferences

  • Protests and rallies

  • Sponsoring famous and controversial speakers

  • Developing a reputation for expertise


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The Assignment: An Op-Ed Piece

  • What makes a good op-ed piece?

    • Timeliness

    • Good writing—no big words. No long sentences

    • Logical analysis

    • Brevity. No more than 750 words.

    • A compelling story and argument

    • Two examples: one published, one not. (these aren’t perfect!)


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