Mass media

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A family listening to a crystal radio in the 1920s.

Mass media comprises the collective communication outlets and technologies used to deliver information to the masses.


  • Americans remain largely mistrustful of the mass media as 41% currently have "a great deal" or "fair amount" of trust in newspapers, television and radio to report the news "fully, accurately and fairly." This latest reading represents a four-percentage-point dip since last year and marks the end of improvements in back-to-back years after hitting an all-time low.
    Although trust in the media has edged down this year, it is well above the record low of 32% in 2016 when Republicans' trust dropped precipitously and drove the overall trust reading down during the divisive presidential campaign. Republicans' trust is still at a very low level and a wide gap in views of the media among partisans persists as 69% of Democrats say they have trust and confidence in it, while 15% of Republicans and 36% of independents agree.
  • Gallup first measured trust in the mass media in a 1972 survey when 68% of Americans said they trusted it. Similar levels were recorded in 1974 (69%) and 1976 (72%), but two decades later, when Gallup next asked the question, trust had fallen to 53%.
    Although overall trust was at the majority level until 2004, no more than 21% of Americans dating back to 1972 ever said they had the greatest level of trust. Currently, 13% have a great deal of trust, 28% a fair amount, 30% not very much and 28% none at all.
  • Republicans became increasingly mistrustful of the media in 2016 when Trump was campaigning for president and was sharply critical of the media's coverage of him. Between 2015 and 2016, Republican trust in the mass media fell 18 points to its historical low of 14%, where it remained in 2017. Following a seven-point boost last year, it has returned to 15%. For their part, Democrats have consistently been more trusting of the media than Republicans but rallied around the press and became even more trusting when Trump took office in 2017.
  • Recent Gallup data showed that Republicans' trust in most specific news sources in recent years has stagnated or declined, while Democrats' has risen. Fox News is the only national news source with majority-level trust from Republicans while majorities of Democrats trust six national news sources. Likewise, data from last year's Gallup/Knight Foundation surveys found similar results and also found that Republicans were much more likely than Democrats to perceive bias, inaccuracy and misinformation in newspapers, on television and on radio.
  • The media have long operated as agents of moral indignation in their own right : even if they are not self-consciously engaged in crusading or muck-raking, their very reporting of certain facts can be sufficient to generate anxiety, indignation or panic.
  • Research on the effect that the media has on the public revolves around two interconnected issues. Does coverage of sensationalistic and violent crime create fear among the general public and does this fear influence criminal justice policy attitudes? Review of the research indicates that there are mixed results regarding the influence of the news media on creating an attitude of fear among the general public (Surette, 1998). In an early study, Gerbner et al (1980) hypothesized that heavy viewing of television violence leads to fear rather than aggression. Gerbner et al (1980) find that individuals who watch a large amount of television are more likely to feel a greater threat from crime, believe crime is more prevalent than statistics indicate, and take more precautions against crime. They find that crime portrayed on television is significantly more violent, random, and dangerous than crime in the "real" world. The researchers argue that viewers internalize these images and develop a "mean world view" or a scary image of reality. This view is characterized by "mistrust, cynicism, alienation, and perceptions of higher than average levels of threat of crime in society" (Surette, 1990:8). Further studies on the relationship between fear and television viewing indicate a direct and strong relationship (Barille, 1984; Bryant, Carveth and Brown, 1981; Hawkins and Pingree, 1980; Morgan, 1983; Williams, Zabrack and Joy, 1982, Weaver and Wakshlag, 1986). Conversely, Rice and Anderson (1990) find a weak, positive association between television viewing and fear of crime, alienation and distrust. However, multiple regression analysis fails to support the hypothesis that television viewing has a direct, substantial effect on fear of crime.
  • Presentations of police are often over-dramatized and romanticized by fictional television crime dramas while the news media portray the police as heroic, professional crime fighters (Surette, 1998; Reiner, 1985). In television crime dramas, the majority of crimes are solved and criminal suspects are successfully apprehended (Dominick, 1973; Estep and MacDonald, 1984; Carlson, 1985; Kooistra et al. 1998, Zillman and Wakshlag, 1985). Similarly, news accounts tend to exaggerate the proportion of offenses that result in arrest which projects an image that police are more effective than official statistics demonstrate (Sacco and Fair, 1988; Skogan and Maxfield, 1981; Marsh, 1991; Roshier, 1973). The favorable view of policing is partly a consequence of police’s public relations strategy. Reporting of proactive police activity creates an image of the police as effective and efficient investigators of crime (Christensen, Schmidt and Henderson, 1982). Accordingly, a positive police portrayal reinforces traditional approaches to law and order that involves increased police presence, harsher penalties and increasing police power (Sacco, 1995).
  • A primary issue with the media’s inaccurate depiction of crime and the criminal justice system is that it socially constructs people’s perceptions about the nature of crime and how the criminal justice system works. Since most people rely on the media for their information about these topics, their perceptions about the system are skewed by this inaccurate information. Additionally, we know that people may act on their perceptions, such as by supporting certain crime and justice programs over others programs that do not fit with their perceptions, but which may be based on more accurate information. Several studies indicate that the images of crime and justice in the media impact the criminal justice system (Duwe, 2000; Hansen, 2001; Potter & Kappeler, 2006; Surette, 2007). For example, Hansen (2001) explains how news coverage of selected high profile juvenile crimes, in combination with coverage of drug and violent crimes in the 1980s and 1990s impacted the creation of get-tough policies for juvenile offenders (e.g., waivers to adult court, longer sentences, etc.).More specifically, the extant literature demonstrates that fictional crime dramas influence viewers’attitudes towards the criminal justice system (Dowler, 2002; Kort-Butler & Sittner-Hartshorn, 2011), its actors (Dowler & Zawilski, 2007;Huey,2010),and increases fear of crime (Eschholz, Chiricos, & Gertz, 2003). One particular concern specific to fictional crime dramas, often referred to as the ‘CSI Effect,’ postulates viewers develop expectations for police and courtroom settings regarding the collection, evaluation, and presentation of physical evidence, including DNA evidence (Dowler, Fleming, & Muzzatti, 2006;Goodman-Delahunty & Tait,2006). Much ofthe general publics’ exposure to crime and the criminal justice system comes fromfictional crime dramas. Since it is possible that the majority of people’s exposure to the criminal justice system is largely through crime fictional dramas, it is important to understand how the system, police specifically, are portrayed in these dramas.
  • In the average American household, the television is turned "on" for almost seven hours each day, and the typical adult or child watches two to three hours of television per day. It is estimated that the average child sees 360,000 advertisements by the age of eighteen (Harris, 1989). Due to this extensive exposure to mass media depictions, the media's influence on gender role attitudes has become an area of considerable interest and concern in the past quarter century. Analyses of gender portrayals have found predominantly stereotypic portrayals of dominant males nurturant females within the contexts of advertisements (print and television), magazines fiction, newspapers, child-oriented print media, textbooks, literature, film, and popular music (Busby, 1975; DurMn, 1985a; Leppard, Ogletree, & Wallen, 1993; Lovdal, 1989; Pearson, Turner, & Todd-Mancillas, 1991; Rudmann & Verdi, 1993; Signorielli & Lears, 1992). Most of the research to date on the effects of gender-role images in the media has focused primarily on the female gender role. A review of research on men in the media suggests that, except for film literature, the topic of masculinity has not been addressed adequately (Fejes, 1989). Indeed, as J. Kate (1995) recently noted, "there is a glaring absence of a thorough body of research into the power of cultural images of masculinity" (p. 133). Kate suggests that studying the impact of advertising represents a useful place to begin addressing this lacuna.
  • The media are slavishly subservient to the entertainment desires of their audience.
    • Patrick J. Hurley, A Concise Introduction to Logic (2000 [Seventh edition], Wadsworth, ISBN 0-534-52006-5), p. 595
  • Insofar as the quantity of new products is an indicator of the health of a cultural sector, the first decade of the new millennium was a veritable golden age in the United States. The number of new albums released more than doubled in the period, from 35,516 in 2000 to 79,695 in 2007 (Oberholzer-Gee and Strumpf 2009). The number of Hollywood films released ranged between 370 and 460 in the 1990 and between 450 and 928 in the 2000s, with the peak year in 2006 and some 677 produced in 2009 (MPAA 2006, 2010). Software industry growth has been dramatic, averaging 20%-30% annually until 2009. The video-game sector averaged nearly 17% growth between 2005 and 2008, with growth rates in 2007 and 2008 of 28% and 23% (Siweck 2010) According to the IIPA, the core copyright industries in the United States averaged 5.8% growth between 2003 and 2007 - well above the roughly 3% annual US growth rate in the period (Siwek 2009). According to the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, total media and entertainment spending posted an annual growth rate of 5.3% in the United States between 2002 and 2008 and 6.4% globally (WAN-IFRA 2008). Losses to piracy need to be placed in this context of overall industry growth - and in some cases remarkably rapid growth.
  • When the war finally started, we were ready. On January 16, 1991, CNN anchor Bernard Shaw reported to the world, “The skies over Baghdad have been illuminated . . .”
    As predicted, Iraqi power and communications systems were destroyed by stealth fighter jets and cruise missiles. Every media company based in Baghdad—except CNN—lost power and transmission capabilities. Only CNN broadcast live to hundreds of millions of people worldwide. All channels turned to us for exclusive coverage; there was no place else.
    Back then CNN was the only global 24/7 news channel. That live coverage of war—the first time it had been televised worldwide—transformed the media landscape. CNN became required viewing for informed citizens and heads of state, the one truly global news source. That has changed now, with multiple cable networks and news breaking on social media. But without the investment in journalism from visionary owners such as Turner, today’s networks focus more on commentary than newsgathering.
  • The hypothesis that media violence increases aggressive behavior has been widely studied in experimental research looking at the short-term effects of exposure to violent media stimuli, as well as in cross-sectional and longitudinal studies relating habitual media violence exposure to individual differences in the readiness to show aggressive behavior. Although there is disagreement among some researchers as to whether or not the evidence currently available supports the view that media violence exposure is a risk factor for aggression (Huesmann & Taylor, 2003), most meta-analyses and reviews have reported substantial effect sizes across different media, methodologies, and outcome variables, suggesting that exposure to violent media contents increases the likelihood of aggressive behavior in the short term as well as over time (e.g., Anderson et al., 2003; Bushman & Huesmann, 2006; Huesmann, 1982; Huesmann & Kirwil, 2007; Murray, 2008; Paik & Comstock, 1994). Other authors have questioned both the strength of the evidence and its implications (e.g., Ferguson, 2007; Savage & Yancey, 2008). Ferguson and Kilburn (2009, 2010) concluded from their meta-analysis that there was no support for the claim that media violence increases aggressive behavior. However, they acknowledged that experimental studies using proxy measures of aggression did produce substantive effect sizes and were relatively unaffected by publication bias, and their conclusions have been vigorously disputed by others (Anderson et al., 2010; Bushman, Rothstein, & Anderson, 2010; Huesmann, 2010).
    • Barbara Krahé, Ingrid Möller, L. Rowell Huesmann, Lucyna Kirwil, Juliane Felber, and Anja Berger, “Desensitization to Media Violence: Links With Habitual Media Violence Exposure, Aggressive Cognitions, and Aggressive Behavior”, J Pers Soc Psychol. 2011 Apr; 100(4): 630–646.
  • Several studies have shown that in the long run, habitual exposure to media violence may reduce anxious arousal in response to depictions of violence. Research has found that the more time individuals spent watching violent media depictions, the less emotionally responsive they became to violent stimuli (e.g., Averill, Malstrom, Koriat, & Lazarus, 1972) and the less sympathy they showed for victims of violence in the real world (e.g., Mullin & Linz, 1995). Bartholow, Bushman, and Sestir (2006) used event-related brain potential data (ERPs) to compare responses by violent and nonviolent video game users to violent stimuli and relate them to subsequent aggressive responses in a laboratory task. Bartholow et al. found that the more violent games participants played habitually, the less brain activity they showed in response to violent pictures and the more aggressively they behaved in the subsequent task. In a series of studies with children age 5 to 12, Funk and colleagues demonstrated that habitual usage of violent video games was associated with reduced empathy with others in need of help (Funk, Baldacci, Pasold, & Baumgardner, 2004; Funk, Buchman, Jenks, & Bechtoldt, 2003).
    • Barbara Krahé, Ingrid Möller, L. Rowell Huesmann, Lucyna Kirwil, Juliane Felber, and Anja Berger, “Desensitization to Media Violence: Links With Habitual Media Violence Exposure, Aggressive Cognitions, and Aggressive Behavior”, J Pers Soc Psychol. 2011 Apr; 100(4): 630–646.
  • An alternative perspective on the relationship between anxious and pleasant arousal may be derived from the general aggression model extended by Carnagey et al. (2007), to include desensitization. They argued that because repeated exposure to media violence reduces the anxiety reaction to violence, new presentations of violence “instigate different cognitive and affective reactions than would have occurred in the absence of desensitization” (p. 491). One such affective reaction may be a positive response to violence that would otherwise have been inhibited by anxious arousal. Huesmann and Kirwil (2007) have called this process sensitization. They argued that, for some individuals, watching violence is enjoyable, and, whereas it may provoke anger, it does not produce anxious arousal. On the contrary, the more such individuals watch violence, the more they like watching it. They are experiencing a “sensitization” of positive feelings. Because finding violence pleasant is incompatible with experiencing anxious arousal, increased pleasant arousal to depictions of violence in individuals with a high exposure to media violence would constitute indirect evidence of desensitization of “negative feelings” about violence. On the basis of this line of reasoning, we propose that anxious arousal by violent media stimuli is negatively related to pleasant arousal and that habitual exposure to media violence should both decrease negative emotional reactions and increase positive emotional reactions to violence, though the increase in positive emotions may occur for only a subset of individuals. For example, in a recent study of young adults in Poland, Kirwil (2008) found that proactively aggressive individuals tended to respond to violent media stimuli with a reduction in anxious arousal, whereas reactively aggressive individuals tended to respond with an increase in enjoyment.
    • Barbara Krahé, Ingrid Möller, L. Rowell Huesmann, Lucyna Kirwil, Juliane Felber, and Anja Berger, “Desensitization to Media Violence: Links With Habitual Media Violence Exposure, Aggressive Cognitions, and Aggressive Behavior”, J Pers Soc Psychol. 2011 Apr; 100(4): 630–646.
  • The incredibly sinister role of the press, the cinema, the radio, has consisted in passing that original reality through a pair of flattening rollers to substitute for it a superimposed pattern of ideas an images with no real roots in the deep being of the subject of this experiment.
  • One potential pitfall of genetic research on eating disorders is the misinterpretation that environmental factors such as the media do not matter. Western media’s idealization of an ultra-thin female body type has long been viewed as an important sociocultural risk factor for eating disorders. However, given the ubiquity of this influence in Western cultures, other factors must influence vulnerability to the thin cultural ideal. As Bulik suggests, genetically vulnerable individuals might seek out experiences, such as exposure to thin-ideal media images, which reinforce their negative body image. This hypothesis is supported by a longitudinal study which found that adolescent girls whose eating disorder symptomatology increased over a 16 month period also reported significantly greater fashion magazine reading at Time 2, compared with Time.
  • Portrayals of sexual relationships in mainstream media are prevalent and complex. Content analyses estimate that sexual content appears in approximately 85% of major motion pictures (Jamieson et al., 2008), 82% of television programs (Fisher et al., 2004), 59% of music videos (Turner, 2011), 37% of music lyrics (Primack, Gold, Schwarz, & Dalton, 2008), 22% of radio segments (Gentile, 1999), and 21% of magazine headlines (Davalos, Davalos, & Layton, 2007). The portrayals are not uniform, but instead come in multiple forms— explicit and implied; verbal and nonverbal; reality based or wholly fictional; and covering a range of themes, tones (e.g., humorous or serious; positive or negative), and consequences. Consider, for example, each of the following scenarios: a sitcom episode in which a sex-starved husband devises a complex lie to make his wife have sympathy for him so she will sleep with him; a music video in which a young man encourages his two female companions to kiss each other while he watches; a magazine article that instructs young women on how to flirt successfully. In each instance the content is not necessarily sexually explicit (i.e., pornography), but the images, dialogue, storylines, and character portrayals nonetheless offer substantial insight into how sexual relationships are initiated, maintained, nourished, and terminated.
    • Lauren A. Reed, “Sexuality and entertainment media”, in Handbook of Sexuality and Psychology, Volume 2: Contextual Approaches, Chapter: Sexuality and entertainment media, Publisher: American Psychological Association, Editors: D. Tolman, L. M. Diamond, J. Bauermeister, J, William, G, Pfaus, J, Ward, L.M., (January 2013),
  • While much of the focus of present-day media praise and damnation seems focused on video sources (including those online), radio "was there first." Many complaints about present-day television and cable were first directed at radio, such as a fear that violent or suspenseful programs would overly excite children's imaginations with untold effects over time. Radio also established many elements of present-day electronic media industry structure. Much of what we both enjoy and bemoan today, in other words, was accomplished (or inflicted) by radio long before television or more recent digital options became a reality.
    For example, that American broadcasting would depend on advertising was pretty much decided by the late 1920s, despite several concerted efforts (before and after passage of the benchmark 1934 Communications Act) to open up greater opportunities for other funding options. In turn, advertising support meant that American radio would be primarily a medium of entertainment (to attract the largest possible audience for that advertising) rather than the public or cultural service that developed in nations with other approaches to financial support. That national networks would dominate radio news and entertainment in the years before the coming of television (which would later and very quickly adopt the same patterns) was a fact by the early 1930s with only minor modifications at the margins over the years. The government would have to selectively license broadcaster access to limited spectrum space was obvious by the early 1920s; such a process only became fully effective in 1927. And that government would have little to do with American radio program content, though this has again varied over time, was made clear in the laws of 1927 and 1934, reinforced by numerous court decisions in the years that followed.
  • Conservatives will never win (the American culture war) if they imagine themselves as combatants atop defensive battlements, hurling abuse on the mass media.

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