Examining Media Use and Influence

Does media shape my beliefs? Can I avoid the influence of media? Kovach and Rosenstieil argue in Blur that the media shape beliefs and individuals have few opportunities to avoid this influence. In an effort to answer the proposed self-reflective questions, I will define media, examine my use of media and its impact. I will also examine information revolutions in history to discuss the changes in the way of knowledge and the power of media.

Defining Media

Media is plural for medium- the means of sending information. For example, sound waves are the medium for sending our voice across the table. And when the medium is a technology that carries messages to a large number of people that is mass media (Baran 2015 p. 6). Mass media includes television, radio, film, books, newspaper, music and the internet. Mainstream media is media controlled by conglomerates- or media groups that own many mass media businesses (Curtis 2012). As little as seven media groups control 95% of all traditional media and “have the power to shape our opinions and beliefs and influence our decisions,” (Curtis 2012, p.3).

Personal use of media

Over the last couple of years my interaction with mainstream media has declined. Instead of viewing cable or basic Television, I use Roku. Roku is a streaming media player that allows me to peruse YouTube, Netflix, PBS Kids and various other apps on a monitor. Most of what I watch is Home and Garden Television (HGTV). I do not remember the last time I actually tuned in to the mainstream radio. I stopped listening because my ears got tired of hearing not only the same songs but the same type of songs on radio. The last time I picked up a physical newspaper was probably back in 2002, however, I occasionally look into stories on mainstream online news cites after hearing about them by friends, family or co-workers. The latest news events find their way to me whether I seek them out or not. I’m learning to take into account non-mainstream perspectives, especially when it comes to world events as it’s important to get first person perspectives on world events to have clearer world view.

I stopped watching the news or reading the news because it seemed to always be “bad” and “depressing.” Mass shootings, natural disasters, race tensions- I did not want my thoughts to be filled with negative stories. Secondly, I felt as though the mass media agendas resulted in negative influence on viewers by perpetrating stereotypes and generalizations. Peffley, Shields, and Williams (2010) find that black criminal suspects are portrayed more frequently and more menacingly than white suspects in television news stories of violent crime. They contend that even a brief visual image of an African American male suspect in a televised crime story is capable of activating racial stereotypes.

The dramatization of the events of 9/11 negatively influenced the way non-American Muslims viewed American Muslims. In the article, “Local Muslims talk about how 9/11 affected them,” Muslim Americans reflect on their experiences since the events of 9/11:

At the time, many Muslims were treated like they were responsible for the attacks…one group of people was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, but other Muslims are judged based on their religion…many women stopped wearing their hijabs because they didn’t want to be labeled as terrorists or be attacked. They started wearing hats instead.

The news coverage of the events of 9/11 also had a negative impact on me. For the reason that I was bombarded by the media with images of Muslims and the word “terrorist”, although I do not believe that Muslims or middle easterners are “terrorist”, sadly the events of 9/11 is the first thing I think of when I see even hear the world “Muslim.”

Past and Present Information Revolutions

Kovach and Rosenstiel outline information revolutions in the history of human civilization that reveal the repetitive pattern of the ways in which knowledge is shared, the power that media provides to those who have access to it and the difference and similarities of our current time to the past. Early man tells his story and expresses knowledge of his way of life and faith by painting with artistic illustrations and symbols on cave walls. Then development of written communication in 5000 B.C allowed knowledge to be preserved, more complex, and mobile.
Flash forward to 15th century Europe, literacy once reserved for society elites becomes available to the common man through Johannes Gutenberg’s advancement of printing technology. Prior to its development, reading was an expensive luxury. Though, with the spread of printing, written communication was made available to the general public and literacy grew among the lower and middle classes (Baran 2015). The Church and the Crown no longer had control over communication or the people who were freed to discover and spread new ideas. These new ideas lead to the rise of democracy (Baran 2015).

The emergence of social media in the mid-2000s is reminiscent of the 15th century printing press revolution.  Similar to the printing press, social media is considered the democratization of media. The ease of access, lack of regulation and expeditious nature of social media facilitates freedom of speech and empowers groups not included in the mass media conversation. What is unique about the current information revolution is that mainstream media can also take advantage of the values of social media platforms:

…citizens have more voice, but those who would manipulate the public for political gain or profit-be it corporations or the government- have more direct access to the public as well (Kovach and Rosenstiel 2010, p.7 para2)

Not only does the internet and social media provide a platform for all voices to be heard it is a place where knowledge seekers are able to get explanations on all levels of expertise (Gladstone 2012). Now more than ever, it is up to individuals to take responsibility for knowing what is true and what is not (Kovach and Rosenstiel 2010). As I am becoming more aware of news production conventions, developing media-literate skills and limiting my exposure to mass media, I find that the power of its influence on my beliefs and perspective of the world lessens. And although media tries to tell me how to think about something, the only power media has is the power I give it. Baran and Davis (n.d, p. 39 para 6) assert that “mass communication’s power resides in the uses that people make of it.”

References

Baran, S. J. (2015). Introduction to mass communication: Media literacy and culture (8th ed.).Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.

Baran, S. J., & Davis, D. K. (n.d.). Chapter 2: Four eras of mass communication theory [Chapter]. In Mass communication theory (6th ed., pp. 22-40). Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning. (page 32 omitted)

Curtis, A. (2012, June 23) Mass media influence on society. Mass Communication Department of University of North Carolina at Pembroke

Davis, S. (2012, September 7) Local Muslims talk about how 9/11 effected them. Newstimes.com. Retrieved from http://www.newstimes.com/local/article/Local-Muslims-talk-about-how-9-11-affected-them-2158025.php

Gladstone, B. (2012, February 17) The changing nature of the internet. Onthemedia.org. [Transcript] Retrieved from. http://www.onthemedia.org/story/187775-changing-nature-knowledge-internet-age/transcript/

Kovach, B., & Rosenstiel, T. (2010). Blur: How to know what’s true in the age of information overload. New York: Bloomsbury

Peffley M., Shields, T. & Williams, B. (1996) The intersection of race and crime in television news stories: An experimental study. Political Communication. Volume 13, Issue 3, 3, DOI: 10.1080/10584609.1996.9963120

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