Chapter Study Outline

Traditional Media

  1. The American news media are among the world’s freest and most diverse. The freedom to speak one’s mind is one of the most cherished of American political values.

2. Americans obtain their news from broadcast media (radio and television), print media (newspapers and magazines), and the Internet.

  1. Even though television news reaches more Americans than any other single news source, it covers relatively few topics and provides little depth of coverage.
  2. Newspapers, though no longer the primary news source for most Americans, remain important nevertheless because they are influential among the political elite. The broadcast media also rely on leading newspapers to set their news agenda.
  3. Today, even as the newspaper business struggles for its life, readership of online news has soared. Online media is more diverse and has created a more democratic and participatory press.

Forms of Online News

  1. While many traditional news sources, such as newspapers, now publish online, other Web news outlets tend to be smaller, more specialized, and have lower personnel and overhead costs than mainstream publishers. The types of online news sources include niche journalism, citizen journalism and blogs, nonprofit journalism, and social media.
  2. News consumers have shifted from a few general purposes sources, such as the evening television news and a local newspaper, to a large number of niche publications and specialized new sources. The rise of niche journalism has fundamentally changed how Americans consume news and what they read.
  3. The open nature of blogging by citizen journalists often means that there’s little of the traditional quality control employed by “respectable,” institutional old media. Many of the opinions found in blogs are unsupported or simply untrue, but blogs do potentially increase the ability of ordinary people to engage in effective political action.
  4. As traditional news organizations have cut budgets and especially investigative journalism, political information is increasingly emanating from universities, think tanks, nonprofit organizations, and private foundations.
  5. Social media are becoming increasingly popular means for Americans to receive political information from the candidates and interest groups they support. In turn, candidates for political office, elected officials, political organizations, and interest groups have been quick to adopt Facebook and Twitter as a means of communicating with their supporters and providing them a continual feed of new information.
  6. New media has become so popular because of its convenience, currency, in-depth coverage, and diversity of sources.
  7. Democracies depend upon news organizations to inform the people about current events and to help citizens hold their leaders accountable for their actions. There are concerns that a shift to online news could create a loss of investigative power, more variation in the quality of news, and potentially less tolerance of differing political viewpoints.

Mass Media Ownership

  1. The second most significant trend in America’s largely unregulated media system is the growing concentration in ownership of traditional media. The popularity of online news may in part be a response to the growing homogenization of traditional corporate media that has been occurring over the last three decades.
  2. As major newspapers, television stations, and radio networks fall into fewer and fewer hands, the risk increases that less-popular or minority viewpoints, and the politicians who express them, will have difficulty finding a public forum in which to disseminate their ideas.

Media Influence

  1. In recent political history, the media have played a central role in the civil rights movement, the ending of American involvement in the Vietnam War, the Watergate investigation, and the U.S. decision to invade Iraq in 2003.
  2. The power of the media stems from several sources, all of which contribute to the media’s great influence in setting the political agenda, shaping electoral outcomes, and interpreting events and political results.
  3. The media may also report information that is leaked by government officials. A leak is the disclosure of confidential information to the news media.
  4. Media consultants and issues managers may shape the news for a time through the use of press releases, but it is generally not difficult for the media to penetrate the smoke screens thrown up by news sources if they have a reason to do so.
  5. The political power of the news media vis--vis the government has greatly increased in recent years through the growing prominence of “adversarial journalism.” Aggressive use of the techniques of investigation, publicity, and exposure allowed the news media to enhance their autonomy and carve out a prominent place for themselves in American government and politics.

Regulation of the Media

  1. In the United States, the government neither owns nor controls the communications networks, but it does regulate the content and ownership of the broadcast media. American radio and television are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), an independent agency. Generally speaking, FCC regulation applies only to the over-the-air broadcast media. It does not apply to cable television, the Internet, or satellite radio.
  2. Under federal regulations, broadcasters must provide candidates seeking the same political office equal time to communicate their messages to the public.
  3. Regulations also require that individuals be granted the right to rebut personal attacks (the right of rebuttal).
  4. Although recently diminished in importance, the fairness doctrine for many years required that broadcasters that aired programs on controversial issues provide time for opposing views.
  5. Since the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, a wave of mergers and consolidations in the media industry has reduced the number of independent media in the
  6. United States.

  7. Part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, known as the Communications Decency Act, attempted to regulate the content of material transmitted over the Internet, but the law was overruled by the Supreme Court in the 1997 case Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union. The rise of online media requires revising our thinking about regulation of the media, as it is more difficult—some say impossible—to regulate political content online.

Digital Citizens, the Media, and Democracy

  1. Because the media provide the information citizens need for meaningful participation in the political process, they are essential to democratic government.
  2. Increasing ideological and partisan stridency in the media is an inevitable result of the expansion and proliferation of news sources. The end result may be to encourage greater division and disharmony among Americans.
  3. There is no doubt that the new digital media are more diverse, more representative of multiple viewpoints, more interactive and participatory, and, to many, more interesting than traditional news media. Time will tell whether the shift to online news strengthens or harms American democracy.