The Deficient Traditional News–and Then There are Blogs

To the dismay of many communication scholars, the Internet and forms of new media have not become very effective mass communication outlets. Most websites do not reach as many people as television or other traditional forms of media. It is true that some blogs have become more effective than traditional media and this is because they satisfy reader needs and help compensate for the deficiencies in the typical press. An interesting article pertaining to these matters appears here. The article makes the case that the media fail to reach standards of democratic expectations as well as not living up to their own professional expectations. There are four reasons for a deficient traditional media and I will describe and elaborate on these four below.

1. The author of the article in the link above (Deva Woodly) begins by making the point that too much of the press originates with public officials and represents elite opinion. This charge has been leveled for some time and charges the press with hegemonic political communication. The press is owned by influentials who have interests in managing the debates in society. The solution to this problem is for more information and dissent to bubble up from the populace. I think this happens more than the author realizes but remains a difficult process. The relationship between the press and a democratic community is often characterized as a conversation. In other words, an exchange where elites and owners present ideas which are responded to in an effort to continue the conversation. The conversation metaphor is appealing but strained.

2. The second symptom of an anemic press is the emphasis on entertainment and titillation designed to attract viewers. Again this point has been made numerous times and is a standard criticism. It carries plenty of truth but it applies less to quality press then to the numerous press outlets available in the United States. It is true enough that news has increased its entertainment value but the literate reader and consumer of news can find serious information-based news sources easily enough. Moreover, a new story will focus on celebrity personality over deep analysis of social conditions but again these analyses can be found even if it increases the burden on the consumer. It is more common to leave consumers on their own to fend for themselves in finding quality news.

3. One of the most basic principles of American journalism is objectivity even though any high school senior knows that true objectivity is impossible. Still, objectivity can be at least approached or remain an ideal to strive for when the story calls for a straightforward narrative. I have always thought the burden on the news reporter for objectivity is too great. He or she is required to adopt a neutral pose and take a position on a story that is usually contrary to their instincts. There is a difference between bias and perspective – where bias is conscious distortion and manipulation – but perspective is just fine. Some media environments for example in European countries avoid the appearance of objectivity altogether by stating their perspective upfront and expecting the reader to realize the perspective of the press outlet. So, one will choose to read a communist newspaper or conservative newspaper realizing altogether that these perspectives are present. The literate consumer purposely seeks out the Communists press or the conservative press in order to see what they are thinking. This is a more uses and gratifications approach to reading the news because the consumer is making active intellectual choices. I prefer this approach to news.

4. And, according to Woodly, media consolidation is the fourth deficiency of so much news. The media market is dominated by a few large corporations and this is a disturbing development for democracy. This is the result of the tension between the news media and their commercial profit-making interests as opposed to their responsibilities for an informed citizenry. The influence of corporate parents can be even more insidious as the corporation directs the news. Profitability and bottom-line concerns are truly troubling but there’s also little that can be done. News organizations must turn a profit and size is sometimes an advantage in terms of the development of new products and administrative ease.

Traditional media is still powerful and reaches more people than other forms of media. But the blog sphere and the easy availability of user generated content is influential on the structure of political communication. For example, some traditional media use websites and twitter messages to circulate new ideas and influence the debates including what counts as newsworthy. New social media are increasingly an effective pathway to more powerful media and help amateur users influence the issues. Finally, some research seems to indicate that blogs are more argument and evidence-based. This clearly has the potential to expand political knowledge and turn blogs into a more commonly accessed resource.

About Donald Ellis

Professor Emeritus at the University of Hartford.

Posted on May 6, 2013, in Media and politics and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Each of those four points would be better made if there were any data cited to support them. The sweeping generalizations don’t help, either. That said, though, I appreciate the sentiment, and hearing from more voices is always good.

%d bloggers like this: