My first class in grad school is called Knowledge and New Media, aptly enough we’ve been asked to start a blog.

Initial topic? Media use and influence. Specifically, my own media use and the ways the media influences me directly and indirectly.

The question seems simple to answer. Until it doesn’t.

Millions of Americans suffer from obesity, my own struggle is with the so-called infobesity.

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I use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and a variety of news and entertainment apps every day. I’m in the news business and also consume an inordinately large amount of old media daily. Three television sets in my office, five more in my department, four television sets at home, two iPhones, two iPads, and a Kindle.

If the data overload I subject myself to isn’t enough (and it is) additional information reaches me through required daily discussions about the trending topics on social media and the local news stories my television station plans to cover. I also write or approve daily television commercial copy ABOUT the latest news.

But does all of this media influence my perspective of world events? I don’t think so. At least not to the degree that the critics maintain. The media  influences my awareness of world events but can only influence my perspective if I am a lazy consumer.

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Do I  believe that the media has the power to tell you what to think about, but not what to think? Absolutely. In the words of Brooke Gladstone (2012) before conducting an interview she says; “everyone is entitled to his own opinions but not to his own facts.”

In other words, we rely on the media for facts and information. That is the job of media. If though the media has the power to tell me what to think it is only because I’ve ceded that responsibility to them.

Does the media attempt to tell me what to think? Yes. The alleged rape at UVA (Somaiya, 2015) the balloon boy (Tate, 2009 ) and the “courage” of Caitlyn Jenner (Braxton, 2015) all come to mind. The size, quality and manner of media trying to tell me what to think is wide and varied.

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Are these positive or negative influences? I find them positive because even when the initial reports are erroneous or biased the ensuing debate and dialogue reflects a healthy cynicism.

Can media shape beliefs? Again, only if I let them.

Should the media tell me what to think? No.

Do they try? Yes.

Can they help themselves? Probably not.

You see? The degree of media influence is not a simple answer.

In a free society that is fortunate enough to have large, relatively independent news delivery sources the onus remains on the individual consumer to use their head, their personal experiences and observations to make up their own mind.

Some of us have very questioning minds. I’ve never known if journalism taught me to question information or if I landed in journalism precisely because I did question information.  I learn “who, what, when, where and how” from the media. But if I allow the media to tell me the “why” then I’m intellectually lazy.

How have information revolutions resulted in ways of knowledge changing or remaining the same?  Kovach and Rosenstiel, authors of Blur (2010) have nailed it;

each advance in communications technology has made it easier to learn about the world around us, to more easily become involved, to challenge and even dismantle old authorities who once controlled the flow of information and to create new authorities.

Each information revolution has made knowledge easier to access.  The ability to reach larger numbers of people easier and faster has clearly resulted in a more informed global community. But knowledge itself, aka the possession of facts is only as important as the consumption of it.

How has the power of media changed throughout history? In his article Mass Media Influence on Society, Dr. Anthony Curtis (2012) writes that “the degree of influence depends on the availability and pervasiveness of media.” In a nutshell, the power of the media has increased along with the increasing number of media sources, the frequency of distribution and the number of places we are touched by the media.

On the other hand, increased media sources has also resulted in audience fragmentation.  So mass media power has grown but mass media influence may be simultaneously declining…that’s just math.

The first week of my first class in grad school I read a phrase that made me think and also made me appreciate the opportunity to be back in a thoughtful learning environment. The topic was historical differences and similarity in media. Blur’s (Kovach and Rosenstiel, 2010) second chapter is called “We Have been Here Before” and said;

…it is important, as we try to navigate our new world. not to be naive. We should take a breath and look back as well as forward.  Whatever the future news structure, the history of communications suggests that the old technologies will not disappear. But they will change, becoming smaller and playing a different role. Communication’s history also suggests that new technologies do not change human nature.

The media has great power, it always has. The changes in the frequency and type of contemporary mass media can be staggering as can the concerns about it’s influence. Lest we go all “chicken little” I found the quote from Blur (Kovach and Rosenstiel, 2010) to be profound, true and comforting.

References

Gladstone, B., and Weinberger, D. (2012) The Changing Nature of Knowledge in the Internet Age. pp 1. On the Media. Retrieved from http://onthemedia.org/story/18775-changing-nature-knowledge-internet-age-transcrip

Kovach, B., and Rosenstiel, T. (2010). We Have Been Here Before. pp. 24 and 23. New York: Bloomsbury

Somaiya, R. (April 6, 2015) Rolling Stone Retracts Article On Rape at University of Virginia. Retrieved from, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/06/business/media/rolling-stone-retracts-article-on-rape-at-university-of-virginia.html?_r=0

Tate, R. (October 17, 2009) I Helped Richard Heene Plan a Balloon Hoax. Gawker.com. Retrieved from. http://gawker.com/5383858/exclusive-i-helped-richard-heene-plan-a-balloon-hoax

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