The American Democracy, 10th Edition (Patterson)
The News Media: Communicating Political Images
The focus of this chapter is on the role of the media in politics. The chapter begins with a review of the news media’s historical development and the current trends in reporting. The author chronicles the switch from a partisan to an objective press, and examines issues of press freedom and conformity. In addition, the roles the news media perform in the American political system are assessed. The author concludes with a discussion of the relationship between the media and the public in the modern era, highlighting the changes in consumption of news and the effects of new media forms like the Internet. The main points made by the author in this chapter are as follows:
- The American press was initially tied to the nation’s political party system (the partisan press) but gradually developed an independent position (the objective press). In the process, the news shifted from a political orientation, which emphasizes political values and ideas, to a journalistic orientation, which stresses newsworthy information and events.
- In recent years, traditional news organizations have faced increased competition for people’s attention from cable and the Internet, which has contributed to audience fragmentation and an increase in opinionated and entertainment-laced journalism.
- The news media have several functions—signaling (the press brings relevant events and problems into public view), common-carrier (the press serves as a channel through which leaders and citizens can communicate), watchdog (the press scrutinizes official behavior for evidence of deceitful, careless, or corrupt acts), and partisan (the press promotes particular interests and values). The traditional media contribute mainly to the first three functions while the “new” news media contribute mainly to the last one.
- The news audience has been shrinking and fragmenting, partly as a result of new technology and partly because young adults are less likely than older ones to pay attention to news. One consequence has been a widening gap in the information levels of America’s more-attentive and less-attentive citizens.