Tag Archives: mass media

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Online media versus traditional print media

A response to Mass Media and Society (James Curran and Michael Gurevitch), Chapter 13

In “Dead Trees to Live Wires,” Colin Sparks argues that the rise of online media poses commercial challenges to traditional print media.  Sparks does not say that print is dead or dying, or that publishing print material online is some kind of bonanza.  Instead he says there are four ways in which the internet has changed business for the news.

The first change is in terms of competition.  Newspapers historically do not have to compete with broadcast and magazine news because other media do not balance timeliness with depth the way daily papers do.  Online, however, everyone is publishing 24 hours a day, so the local paper now has to directly compete with the local ABC affiliate and whoever else.  Also, the net gets rid of geographical boundaries to competition and lowers the price of entry into publishing.  Second, it allows advertisers to potentially bypass newspapers and talk directly to consumers and allows people looking for in depth news to go straight to the sources.  Third, this will lead to division between large national/international news sites and small locally-concentrated news sites, with the local sites becoming much more involved in their communities.  Finally, newspapers may respond to these pressures by breaking down the barriers between news/editorial and advertising in order to compete.

Sparks is right on, although he fails to consider a few key facets in how online news is going to develop.  One is the cooperation of different media in online ventures.  Few newspaper sites now compete with all the local network sites-most have one or two networks affiliated with them and many run joint news sites.  This may have something to do with the concentration of ownership of different media even within the same city or it may just provide a competitive edge to both parties in a partnership.  Another conflict he doesn’t touch on enough is the struggle between journalists and business people within online departments.  Some papers have given it over to the business people, some have kept them separate, and others have let them duke it out.  At Naples, we barely had contact with the business side of our department except to talk about new technologies coming in.  All our people were journalists and the content and editorial decisions reflected that.  Still, I’ve talked to people at other publications who feel controlled either by advertising interests or crap handed down from the corporate office.  It seems, though, that individual editors and reporters can often make a big difference in how online news is produced and the corporate centralizing, advertising-based trend seems to be balanced by readers being more interested in real local news.

Freedom of speech, mass media, and debate

A response to Taking Sides – Clashing Views in Mass Media and Society – Issue 8

In the affirmative argument, Kathleen Jamieson argues that the First Amendment has protected the media and allowed it to cover many sides of issues, even sides the government might want to suppress.  In the negative response, Thomas Patterson says the mainstream press hasn’t fought for its own freedom, routinely excludes unpopular opinions, and is more concerned with dollars than debate.

Jamieson thinks the press has the freedom and contains the robust debate the framers intended when they wrote the Bill of Rights.  She cites the case law progressively strengthening this right and also the development of broadcast law, which has as its heart a notion of opening discussion for the public good.  Watergate and the Pentagon Papers provide two good examples of the press using this power to defend citizens against the government.  Political speech that offends and may even seem irrational today is protected as vigorously as the political speech of the part in power.  And voters today are exposed to many different sides-everyone from Marxists to Buddhists to Bill Clinton in the 1992 primaries, for example.  The development of technologies has broadened communication and debate as well.

Patterson says Watergate and the Pentagon Papers are an oasis in a desert of mundane mainstream press practices.  The mainstream press has not been the driving party in many First Amendment cases, and has been played like a fiddle by people like McCarthy.  The press control the government orchestrated in the Persian Gulf War is a good example of the media’s willingness to be controlled; only the alternative press protested.  Patterson argues that individual publications and broadcasters have displayed little interest in public debate and more in being able to exclude opinions they don’t like.  And finally, he says the press is more interested in making money than anything else.  Television and competition for customers have dumbed down news more than opened debate.

What interests me about these articles is how both look at the same case law and come to different conclusions.  Jamieson sees Miami Herald v. Tornillo as the court defending the press’ right to refuse to publish even if it’s in the state’s interest.  Patterson sees the same case as strike against hearing all sides in a political debate.  Jamieson sees the series of cases defining the First Amendment as the government’s (or at least, the court’s) struggle to guarantee free expression; Patterson says the mainstream press are rarely the ones fighting for the freedoms they enjoy.  Patterson’s point is interesting and I wish someone had thought of it while I was in media law class.  Why is it that the mainstream press has not been on the front lines of its own freedom?

I think Patterson’s final point, about commercialism over communication, deserves its own chapter.  Giant corporations and profit-minded individual ownership of mass media helps narrow the marketplace of ideas in key ways.  I’m going to make this point in my paper, too, because I think Internet news may be even more apt for this-most people get news on the internet from companies that have never had anything to do with news (Microsoft, AOL, Netscape).  Though they outsource to more traditional providers (AP, Reuters, etc) they’ll happily go with the lowest bidder and have no sense of journalistic mission whatsoever.

Media images in advertising and self-image

A response to Taking Sides – Clashing Views in Mass Media and Society – Issue 3

In this chapter, Martin and Gentry argue that young women’s self images and self esteem are effected by ideals presented in advertising while young boys tend to think in different terms.  Cottle, on the other hand, says men are quickly catching up with women in terms of trying to adhere to media images of attractiveness.

Martin and Gentry bring up the current debate over how advertising may create and reinforce a preoccupation with beauty and physical attractiveness for women.  Young women are exposed to images in ads of supermodels who are an unattainable standard of beauty and get stuck in a cycle of hating them and wanting to be like them.  The authors review several studies which seem to show a difference in young males.  While self esteem tends to go down for female adolescents, it goes up for males; while young women tend to think of their bodies as exterior objects, boys tend to think in terms to utility.  The authors created a study in which girls in grades four, six and eight were asked to view ads and compare them in terms of self-evaluation, self-improvement, and self-enhancement.  The results supported the hypothesis that self-perception and self esteem can be adversely effected, though self-perception goals may change over time (in fourth grade, the goal is to be bigger; later, the goal is to be thinner).

Cottle, on the other hand, sees media-imposed vanity growing in men.  More men are having plastic surgery done, surprising numbers of men purchase treatments like facials and manicures, and magazines with helpful articles about being fit and attractive, like Men’s Health, are raising their circulation.  Not only are muscles becoming a requirement, but the right hair and clothes as well.  This has little to do with health and fitness.  Overall, Cottle sees gender equality coming not in terms of women empowering themselves, but with men joining in their purchase-inducing insecurities.

I think the question in the chapter’s title (is emphasis on body image in the media harmful to women only) hasn’t really been debated.  The first piece is a sociological study that I’m not sure I understand, and though it mentions some literature saying boys have different body image concerns than girls, the study doesn’t address that difference.  They could have done a much clearer study if they had gone with that subject.  If fourth grade girls compared themselves differently to models than fourth grade guys, for example, you could investigate those differences and look for causes.  But this study doesn’t seem to come to much, and I’m not even sure when and how they measured self-esteem drops, unless they assumed an unfavorable comparison was equivalent.  And the second essay, though it makes good point about men being convinced to meet a media mold of attractiveness (and buy their products), doesn’t really get into the harm of it.  More guys getting manicures is not necessarily indicative of lower self-images.