Posted by: lmbshepard | October 16, 2011

Same as it ever was

I wonder what Walter Lippman would say about today’s media landscape? Could Lippman fathom a world with a 24-hour news cycle, ready access to news and information in our pockets or even television? Yet what Lippman wrote in Public Opinion (1922) rings as true today as it did in his time, “What we know about the world is largely based on what the media decide to tell us.”

So I find it fascinating that Maxwell McCombs seems to be saying in his work The Agenda Setting Role of the Mass Media that the media doesn’t have an agenda beyond “reporting the news of the moment.” McCombs made a specific point to note “…the use of the term “agenda” is purely descriptive. There is no pejorative implication that a news organization “has an agenda” that it relentlessly pursues a premeditated goal.”  I disagree. Throughout history the media has always had an agenda. Later he paraphrases News That Matters by Iyengar and Kinderthat, “By calling attention to some matters while ignoring others, television news [as well as other the other news media] influences the standards by which governments, presidents, policies, and candidates for public office are judged.”  It doesn’t matter if you are reading a “hyper-local” publication or watching a network news program held by a large conglomerate you are being exposed to an agenda. I can only hope that news consumers are savvy enough to know.

Discussion questions

Mc Combs writes “the imagery of news matches the image in the public mind.” If this is true, how can communicators change public opinion if the imagery put forth through the media is wrong?

Knowing the public can be influenced by “agenda-setting effects” is it ethical to try to influence the agenda and the outcome? Are there circumstances when it is unethical?

How can democracy be served when profit or a political agenda drives those that own the media?

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