A high-level overview of the impact of new communication technology on political beliefs and behaviors.
The media landscape has changed rapidly in recent years. While the avenues for producing and consuming news have multiplied with the rise of smartphones and social media, a handful giant media conglomerates own nearly all of the commercial media outlets.
|agenda-setting||The way the media influences what issues the public considers important enough to address through the government.|
|citizen journalist||A person who reports on current events who is not trained in journalism or affiliated with a news outlet. Social media and smartphones have facilitated the rise of citizen journalists.|
|framing||The way the media defines and portrays an issue, which affects public perception of that issue.|
|ideologically-oriented programming||TV and radio news programs that cater to audiences with a particular ideological perspective.|
|media consolidation||The process by which a few large companies have acquired the majority of news sources in the United States. Today, six companies (CBS, Comcast, Disney, News Corporation, Time Warner, and Viacom) control 90% of American media outlets.|
|partisan news sites||Websites and blogs that cater to audiences with a particular ideological perspective.|
Is media today becoming more democratic or more elite?
There are two parallel transformations happening in American news media in the twenty-first century. On one hand, news sources are becoming more diverse and varied than ever before. Anyone can be a citizen journalist, filming breaking events from their smartphone, bringing news to the public without going through the traditional channels of corporate news outlets. Anyone can start a blog or YouTube channel devoted to reporting and commenting on current events. Likewise, it’s easier than ever for Americans to access news stories from a range of sources and a range of devices.
But, in another sense, American media is less diverse than ever. Today, giant media conglomerates own nearly all of the commercial news sources, reducing the diversity of opinions that once characterized independent newspapers across the country. As the range of television channels has expanded beyond a handful of major networks, which attempted to present a non-partisan perspective to avoid alienating any portion of their audiences, it has become possible for Americans to choose news sources aligned with their politics. Cable news programs and partisan news sites tailor their reporting to audiences that agree with their ideological perspectives, permitting citizens who already strongly identify with left- or right-wing politics only to engage with stories that confirm their existing views.
These two trends have both positive and negative impacts on American political institutions and participation. Although anyone can be a reporter in today’s media landscape, untrained journalists may not undertake the rigorous fact-checking that characterizes traditional news media. And although it’s beneficial for democracy that American media is run by private companies rather than the government itself, critics worry that these large companies care more about generating revenue and pleasing sponsors than presenting factual information. Given these concerns, it’s no surprise that the majority of Americans say they don’t trust the media to present accurate information, and debates about the effects of media bias on public opinion flourish.
Commentators on both sides of the political spectrum frequently claim that the media is biased. Do you think this is true? Is it possible for the media to be truly objective?
What are the benefits and drawbacks of citizen journalism?
What are the effects of media consolidation? Do you think media consolidation is a problem? Why or why not?