The Power of Media Revisited

For my final blog assignment for COM 510: Knowledge and New media, I will reflect on this terms first blog “Examining Media Use and Influence,” and indicate whether or not my views have changed. I will also discuss what role I believe writers play in the dissemination of information, the power they hold to influence beliefs, the importance for them to act ethically, the danger of writers not acting ethically, who is in danger when they do not and if becoming “media literate” reduces or eliminates the potential for content consumers to be influenced.

Reflection on views

My first blog post for the class Com 510: Knowledge and New media answered the questions:

  1. Does media shape my beliefs?”
  2. Can I avoid the influence of media?”

My response was:

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” (Author 2015).

Have my views changed? I have slightly the same views as I did when I first started this class. But what causes the modification in my view is how I’ve come to think about the word “influence.” If media impacts my behavior or decision making, then I would have to say that media does influence me. I think I’d probably have to live off the grid in a remote location for its’ influence not to reach me. And yes, media does shape my beliefs, but I also answer this question with an evolved position.

For example, one issue that I am passionate about is the mis-representation of African Americans in mass media. My belief about African Americans are not shaped by mass media, however, my belief about mass media is shaped by mass media. Because of the belief I hold of mass media I make conscious decisions about what I consume and what content I will create-like my “Media Influence: Racism and Incarceration Inequality,” blog post. So in this sense of the word “influence,” in my opinion, becoming “media literate” does not reduce or eliminate the potential for content consumers to be influenced. But it can alter how one is influenced.

Role of writers in dissemination of information. Non-professional, and professional writers play a very important role in the dissemination of information-especially in the new media environment. In most countries, second to television, online news is most frequently accessed while there is a rise of news accessed on social media (Newman 2015).

Power writers hold to influence beliefs. The role of writers play a major role in their influential power. In a 1969 Paris Review interview by George Plimpton and Frank H. Crowther journalist E.B White comments on the role of a writer:

The writer’s role is what it has always been: he is a custodian, a secretary. A writer must reflect and interpret his society, his world; he must also provide inspiration and guidance and challenge. One role of the writer today is to sound the alarm… Science and technology have perhaps deepened his responsibility but not changed it (Plimpton & Crowther 1969 para 75 ).

In addition to E.B. Whites’ quote, writers have the responsibility of informing the public of what is happening in the world.  Audiences that do not have first-hand knowledge or experience of happenings are reliant on media (including writers) to inform them (Happer & Philo 2013). And how writers frame events can influence beliefs. The 2011 Glasgow University Media Group study of UK found that disapproving and character attacking language used by writers resulted in mistaken perceptions about the levels of fraudulent practices by disabled people (Briant, Watson & Philo 2011).

Importance of ethical writing. This study is one of many examples of  writers’ ability to influence attitudes and beliefs  and the importance of writers to practice ethics. The Society of Professional Code of Ethics (SPJ) spells out ethical guidelines that encourage professional journalist to:

  1. Seek the truth and report it
  2. Minimize Harm
  3. Act Independently
  4. Be accountable and transparent

Non-professional writers do not have such a code to follow (though they could adhere to the SPJ), but there are those that believe an ethical code should be standard for all. The Food Blog Code of Ethics, compiled by restaurant critics, are standards that are, in my opinion, great guidelines for any type of blogger. The importance of ethical writing is that it establishes credibility for writers and creates a relationship of trust between writers and audiences.

Danger of unethical writing. Besides the fact that unethical writing hinders that great relationship I spoke of in the paragraph before this one-as the Federal Beauru of Investigation (FBI) put it, unethical reporting (writing) “often have unintended consequences” (FBI Boston 2013). The spectrum of dangers and who are in danger is so wide I’m not so sure the list could be so easily articulated.

Who is in danger? But to name a few. As mentioned above (and in the blogs  Examining Media Use and Influence and Media Influence: Racism and Incarceration Inequality ) one danger is that one group of people can be influenced to discriminate against another group of people. And as pointed out in the Food Blog Code of Ethics, a critic’s unfair review of a restaurant can threaten the livelihood of its owner (Burton & Greenstein 2011). Another danger, perhaps far-fetched, is the the freedom of the press. Social Responsibility Theory stats that in exchange of freedom from government control the media must serve the public. Furthermore, the public has the right to expect high standards and “official intervention can be justified to ensure the public good” (Baran 2015, p.366). Well, I hope it never gets to that point.

So to make a long story short. My views have evolved. I do believe that media can shape my beliefs and that its influence is pretty much unavoidable. How media shapes my beliefs or influences me is still determined by the power I give it. So I now think that becoming “media-literate” does not necessarily reduce or eliminate the potential for content consumers to be influenced. Just by coming into contact with media one is forced to make a decision about what they encountered and  beliefs about the content or media itself are shaped. Due to the major role that writers’ play in the dissemination of information, especially online, the power they hold to influence beliefs is immense. Hence, it is of great importance that they write ethically. The consequences of not adhering to ethical standards can result in a spectrum of dangers. We are all in danger when ethical writing is abandoned. Members of society can are ostracized and in the most extreme theoretical case, the freedom of the press from government control is threatened.

References

Author (2015, October 4) Examining media use and influence. commanaylsis.wordpress.com. [Web log] Retrieved from https://commanalysis.wordpress.com/2015/10/04/examining-media-use-and-influence/

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

Briant, E., Watson, N. and Philo, G. (2011) Bad News for Disabled People: How the Newspapers are Reporting Disability. Project Report. Strathclyde Centre for Disability Research and Glasgow Media Unit. University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK. Retrieved from http://eprints.gla.ac.uk/57499/1/57499.pdf

Burton, B., Greenstein, L (2011, August 28) Food blog code of ethics 2.0. Food Ethics. [Web Log] Retrieved from https://foodethics.wordpress.com/2011/08/28/food-blog-code-of-ethics-2-0/

Happer, C., Philo, G (2013) The role of the media in the construction of public belief and socialchange. Journal of social and political phycology. Vol. 1(1), doi:10.5964/jspp.v1i1.96 Retrieved from. http://jspp.psychopen.eu/article/view/96/37

Federal Bureau of Investigation Boston (2013, April 7) No Arrest in Bombing Investigation.Fbi.gov. Retrieved from https://www.fbi.gov/boston/press-releases/2013/no-arrest-made-in-bombing-investigation

Newman, N (2015) Executive summary and key findings of the 2015 Report. Digitalnewsreport.com. Retrieved from http://www.digitalnewsreport.org/survey/2015/executive-summary-and-key-findings-2015/

Plimpton, G., Crowther, F. H (1969) E. B. White, the Art of the Essay No. 1. Theparisreveiw.org [Interview]. Retrieved from http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/4155/the-art-of-the-essay-no-1-e-b-white

Society of Professional Journalist Code of Ethics (2014, September 6). Society of Professional Journalist. Retrieved from http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp

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