Posted by: dandelion4good | October 16, 2011

Foundations for Media Effects

Convergence Part II: Media Effects

This week we’re reading articles on early communication research. These articles cover the two-step flow of communication, agenda-setting and McCluhan differentiating between “hot” and “cold” media.

I have a hard time reading McCluhan. More than I can apply what he’s saying, I am distracted by the awkward combination of philosophical reaching and what seems like oversimplification of complex issues. Or maybe I just can’t get the ringing refrain of, “the medium is the message,” out of my head when I see McCluhan’s name.

McCombs & Shaw’s, “Agenda-Setting Function of Mass Media” seems widely accepted not just by scholars, but by the public, whether they are aware of the theory or not, to the point that they now expect and rely on the media to do this for them, tell them what they should think about and, and increasingly, how they should think about it. The consolidation of media following deregulation of the industry makes agenda-setting an important consideration for those looking at how media reinforces the status-quo and the role it plays in our democracy and the world’s economy. Has the mass media discouraged or encouraged political discourse in America?

But the most antiquated of our readings was the most interesting to me. Elihu Katz’, “The Two-Step Flow of Communication: An Up-To-Date Report on an Hypothesis,” examines several studies that looked at the role of interpersonal communication in relationship to mass media. One integral finding across studies was that opinion leaders consumed more media than their followers.

Katz identifies a weakness in the first study that could be pertinent for today’s study of new media and is supported by the subsequent studies discussed in the article by virtue of how limited the scope of their subjects. Researchers in the People’s Choice Study posited that influence flowed from those most interested to those less interested. Katz suggests the possibility that “the leaders influence only each other, while the uninterested non-leaders stand outside the influence market altogether.” The subsequent studies look at groups of people that are interested in common issues. They miss altogether the “uninterested”.

What could this mean to the now global Occupy Wall Street movement? The media’s coverage of the movement is sparse and mostly uses dramatic images of conflict, while not even covering real astounding measures being taken by banks and police. Is this just a group of influencers talking mostly to themselves via new media? Or is this the social movement that will successfully shift our values and discourse to focus on everyday people’s lives and less on the maintenance of a small elite class.

If agenda-setting is real, how has it been used to distract people from the truth? What are we supposed to think and do about?

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