Like most internet-savvy individuals I’m online most of the day. I start each morning reading Google News on my phone as I try to wake up. If I see a topic of particular interest I’ll go to twitter and see what else is being tweeted about in regards to that issue. I’ll also scroll through reddit’s front page to see what is popular on that site. Throughout the day, I stay up to date with social networking sites Facebook and Instagram. Periodically, I scroll through my feeds to see what my family and friends are doing or what articles they are sharing. In the evening when I’m winding down for bed, I end the day just like I started – on Google News reading the headlines. When I want to grab a bite in an unknown area I open my Yelp app. I use media sites to see if there were any product alerts for things I want to purchase.
This isn’t a one way road though…
Media is constantly reaching out to me in a variety of ways – whether it’s seeing an interesting article someone shared on Facebook or talking with colleagues about things we heard or saw the night before. I receive weather and breaking news alerts on my phone and sometimes in my email. Not to mention, the allure of apps like Buzzfeed, which sneaks hard news onto a site otherwise dominated by quizzes or pictures of cute animals with captions. Media has the power to both educate and to persuade. If someone was exposed to a particular news outlet only, it seems to reason that they would view world events through a tinted lens. In my life I notice this with relatives who solely watch particular Fox News programming. Had they discussed the national issues with family members or read a variety of sources I think they’d hold a different view than they currently do. The encouragement of media loyalty is also a piece to the puzzle. I read an article recently that discussed how newscasters have recently become newsmakers and celebrity of sorts. (Silberman, 2015) All major networks encourage exclusivity, claiming they offer the most likable newscasters and the best coverage of issues. No matter the network, the issues or the newscasters it’s hard to believe coverage is unbiased and “the best” anything. Every network is battling for ratings, every website and blog for web hits. Everyone is human and a slant is introduced whether we want to admit it or not.
And no matter the slant, the media wields a lot of power. It’s obvious when you sit down and speak with someone who only watches Fox News or MSNBC how someone can be manipulated by the media into a particular mindset. (Arendt and Northup, 2014) Or perhaps they already had the mindset and sought out the news network to validate these feelings. So maybe these slants were initiated in reaction to public’s desire, either way it’s a sad reality for those who are unaware such things exist. The perpetuation of this cycle shows that the news isn’t unbiased; it is simply a business with the intention of gaining followers and earning profits. (Curtis, 2012)
It’s hard to view media outlets as solely business ventures when they employ such passionate individuals for their networks. Many of the hosts on 24-hour news networks aren’t unbiased and are unapologetic about their viewpoints. They have gained a following because of how they present the news and their followers have become very faithful. I don’t think fans would take a plunge off a bridge because their favorite anchor suggested they do, but I do think more subtle things take place. For example, newscasters’ coverage of a popular political issue like Medicare or social security could cause someone to vote against their best interest in an upcoming election.
But, not all media and newscasters are polarizing or attempting to sway their subscribers. I think the vast majority of media outlets are happy to provide coverage of the day’s news without allowing their biases to impact the coverage too much. One major reason for this is the rise of citizen journalism. Thanks to smartphones, and the internet, every citizen has the ability to record and share history. This can be as simple as filming a police officer interaction with someone or live tweeting from the front line of a riot in another country. In addition to citizen reporting is user-aggregated news. Sites like Digg and reddit operate on this model. Users upload the stories they find interesting and others up vote or down vote them and they rise or fall in accordance with the number of the votes they receive. In my experience, this is a game-changer for news media. Instead of being the only organization in a town or small city, people can now read news stories from around the world that are being recommended by like-minded people. This model has taken the power from the few companies that control media outlets and has put it into the hands of the user/consumer. This type of news exposure can certainly allow some to obtain a more diverse view of the world.
Arendt, Florian & Northup, Temple (2015). Effects of Long-Term Exposure to News Stereotypes on Implicit and Explicit Attitude. International Journal of Communication 9, 732–751. http://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/viewFile/2691/1325
Curtis, Anthony. (June 23, 2012). Mass Media Influence on Society. University of North Carolina at Pembroke resources for courses. Retrieved from https://web.archive.org/web/20131207222642/http://www.uncp.edu/home/acurtis/Courses/ResourcesForCourses/PDFs/Mass_Media_Influence_on_Society.pdf
Silberman, Joel. (2015, February 12). How Newscasters Have Sadly Become Bigger Than the News. Attn. Retrieved from http://www.attn.com/stories/903/brian-williams-network-news