Archive for the ‘mass media’ Tag

Entertainment as Advertising   Leave a comment

Film is a medium that we think of as entertainment, but often this is not entirely the case. Take military movies, for example. Films such as Top Gun included heavy involvement of the Pentegon and other military boosters to provide an awe-inspiring film. When Hollywood comes to the Pentegon with a request for production assistance, the military sees this as an important opportunity to tell the American public something about the US military that will help them recruit and retain personnel. It is a relationship of mutual exploitation. Movie makers get to use military props — where else are you going to find an aircraft carrier? — and the Pentegon gets to influence how it is portrayed on the silver screen.

That works the opposite way as well. Movies like Platoon, Dr. Strangelove and The Hurt Locker portray war in certain ways to influence the audience to reject war in any and all circumstances. These movies may not get the Department of Defense seal of approval, but they do no less an effective job at presenting anti-war propaganda for a particular political agenda — using entertainment to influence political viewpoints.

Promised Land (Matt Damon’s anti-fracking movie) is a clear example of this. Despite the Environmental Protection Agency saying there is no scientific evidence to support concerns over ground-water contamination from fracking, the movie has several scary scenes showing burning water coming out of the tap. For the record, the EPA has found no burning tap water that it is admitting to … and it’s the EPA, so chances are good, if burning tap water existed anywhere on the planet, they’d find it and put a stop to whatever was causing it. I’m expecting them to outlaw oxygen as a flammable gas sometime in the future — perhaps in my life time.

Ever wonder why there is now a gay character on almost every show on American television? Supposedly homosexuals makes up about 5% of the population, but they are represented on almost every television series. Why? It’s been on ongoing campaign in Hollywood since the mid-1980s to normalize homosexuality in the American mind, but it is hard to normalize 5% of the population. It’s too small a slice of the population to be viewed as normative. By presenting homosexual characters that are entertaining and likable on almost every show, Hollywood promotes a particular view of American society that doesn’t really exist. There is not a gay person in every office and not every family in America has at least one gay member. Having worked with a number of lesbians and gay men over the years that I worked in social work, I can tell you from personal experience that some of them are very nice people who live fairly ordinary lives, but none of the men I know are monogamous and the women are not lifelong partners with one another and, yes, some of them sexually abuse their stepchildren and sexual harass their heterosexual coworkers. Until that side of reality is shown on television, the portrayal of homosexuality on American television can be called propaganda in the same way that the unrealistic portrayal of heterosexual family life on 1950s television was also false, misleading and manipulative.

Again, while it is tempting to call for regulation to demand that entertainment and advertising/propaganda be kept separate and well identified, it never works out well to do it that way. Regulation is a slippery slope that starts out for the good of the nation and then turns into a tyrannical nightmare. A better solution would be for Americans to recognize the manipulation for themselves and use the power of the wallet to make it stop … or switch channels and read a book, which will amount to the same thing — and leave those who like to watch certain sorts of fairy tales to do what they like.

Ratings Are Important   Leave a comment

Neil_CavutoA commercial medium wants to sell ad space or time to businesses with products or services for sale. To make that sale, they need to be able to tell potential advertisers that their messages on the air, in print, or on the monitor screen will be viewed and heard by large numbers of consumers. And that’s where ratings come in.

Nielsen program ratings for cable news channels for April 2012:

  1. The O’Reilly Factor – Fox News — 2.87 million total viewers
    2. Hannity – Fox News — 2.075 million total viewers
    3. Special Report with Bret Baier – Fox News — 1.778 million total viewers
    4. On the Record with Greta van Susteren – Fox News — 1.722 million total viewers
    5. Fox Report with Shepard Smith – Fox News — 1.688 million total viewers
    6. The Five – Fox News — 1.674 million total viewers
    7. America’s Newsroom – Fox News — 1.272 million total viewers
    8. Your World with Neil Cavuto – Fox News — 1.252 million total viewers
    9. O’Reilly Factor (11PM) – Fox News — 1.22 million total viewers
    10. America Live – Fox News — 1.191 million total viewers
    11. Studio B – Fox News — 1.113 million total viewers
    12. Fox & Friends – Fox News — 1.082 million total viewers
    13. Happening Now – Fox News — 1.029 million total viewers
    14. The Rachel Maddow Show – MSNBC — 985,000 total viewers
    15. The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell – MSNBC — 931,000 total viewers
    16. The Ed Show – MSNBC — 875,000 total viewers
    17. Hardball with Chris Matthews – MSNBC — 744,000 total viewers
    18. PoliticsNation – MSNBC — 712,000 total viewers
    19. Piers Morgan Tonight – CNN — 567,000 total viewers
    20. The Situation Room – CNN — 548,000

Notice that programs owned by News Corporation dominate the first 13.  The next five are NBC Universal programs and the bottom two in the top 20 list are Time Warner programs.

Bill O’Reilly has five times as many viewers as Wolf Blitzer. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing nor should it be considered evidence that Rupert Murdock is Satan. Ratings just show what people are watching. When I worked in newspapers as a journalist one of the things I learned was that advertisers often couldn’t care less about the politics of a program so long as their advertising gets seen. Advertisers do not, therefore, exhibit much influence over the news they advertise on. Viewers actually exert a lot of control with the power of their remote control.

Rupert Murdock is not a conservative by American standards, but Fox News Network has a strong right leaning bias. Some of that can be attributed to Roger Ayles, the CEO, who is a conservative, but more of it is attributed to who viewers are tuning into. Apparently viewers like Bill O’Reilly more than they like Chris Matthews, so advertisers, wanting their ads to be seen by the most people, buy advertising where the viewers are. If Murdock were to replace Ayles with Hendrick Hertzberg (for example), Hertzberg would do well to note the ratings of Fox’s media stable and not mess too much with a winning formula because Murdock is all about making money and Bill O’Reilly brings in more advertising dollars than Wolf Blitzer.

 

Would those advertising dollars shrink if Hertzberg made O’Reilly modify his message? Yes, probably. How do I know? Look how high in the ratings Neil Cavuto is. Neil is not the most entertaining person to watch, but people are tuning in, so it has to be something other than his scintillating personality. His message is compelling and viewers are tuning in for that.

I’m not making a judgment about which message is better or whether you can trust Fox News to give you better information. I am saying the viewers seem to prefer FOX’s message over what is offered at MSNBC and CNN.

Media and Advertising   2 comments

“Advertising is the art of arresting human intelligence just long enough to get money from it.” (Chuck Blore of advertising firm Chuck Blroe & Don Ruchman, Inc., quoted in The Media Monopoly, by Ben H. Bagdikian, p. 185)

Mass media is a natural way for companies to let a large number of people know about their products. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that idea of reaching large groups of people with products they might want or need. I do have some concerns with the influence exerted by advertising methods and techniques that entice, shape and even create consumerism, turning luxuries into necessities and distorting our view of reality.

Media companies (at least in the US, but to a smaller extent in countries that subsidize their media) are heavily dependent upon advertising to keep the doors open. It’s their primary revenue source. Yes, there are audience-supported media that do not utilize advertising, but the influence there is similar. The revenue source largely controls the medium. If something is reported that the advertiser (or paying subscriber) doesn’t like the medium risks the loss of revenue. If a television network is heavily reliant on advertising by Monsanto, they’re going to shy away from covering a story about bad practices by Monsanto.

As a result, the mainstream media is largely driven by market forces.

But it’s also important to realize that a medium must sell advertising to an audience in order for that advertising to be effective. So the medium must sell the audience to the corporations in order to sell advertising. So you have a situation where the audience is both a product and the consumer of a product. There is tremendous pressure on media companies to change content and to shape content based on the demographics of the audience. The content of media is less important than the type of person being targeted by the ads that support the media.

In Bagdikian’s book The Media Monopoly, he looked at magazine advertising and news content in several countries. He noted:

“The influence of advertising on magazines reached a point where editors began selecting articles not only on the basis of their expected interest for readers but for their influence on advertisements. Serious articles were not always the best support for ads. An article that put the reader in an analytical frame of mind did not encourage the reader to take seriously an ad that depended on fantasy or promoted a trivial product. An article on genuine social suffering might interrupt the “buying” mood on which most ads for luxuries depend. The next step, seen often in mid-twentieth century magazines, was commissioning articles solely to attract readers who were good prospects to buy products advertised in the magazine. After that came the magazine phenomenon of the 1970s — creating magazines for an identifiable special audience and selling them to particular advertisers.” (page 138)

There is also the known manipulation of media images to promote certain mindsets to consumerism. I grew up when Saturday morning cartoons were funded by Mattel, where huge Transformers destroyed toy houses on the screen and when you ordered them, they turned out to be smaller than the houses. Models are manipulated to look prettier, sexier and skinnier. This leads to unrealistic expectations for reality that can have profound effects on our national psyche.

There are areas for concern however. Advertorials do exist. This is where news stories or editorials are often thinly-disguised product advertisements. Disney owns ABC and there have been allegations of hyping a movie under the guise of news coverage. Over the weekend, Brad and I watched a “news” story that covered the refurbishment of a local gym that sure seemed like an advertisement to us. Is it First Amendment protected speech when it comes from a public relations press release? Of course, we also must realize that special interests from the Sierra Club to the National Education Association also issue these press releases that become, in many cases, unfiltered “news” at the 6 o’clock hour.

I am not suggesting regulation of advertising, however. We are only as stupid and easily led as we allow ourselves to be.  The risk of regulating advertising for the “good” of the public is that regulators never stop where they were originally asked to regulate. First it’s advertising, then its news and why not the editorial segment as well? We’ll address the unfairness of the “Fairness” Doctrine later in the series. What is needed is more consumer skepticism and the willingness to talk about media manipulation with our kids combined with the chutpah of the audience to realize that as the third leg of the advertiser-media-audience relationship, we have the power to demand truth in advertising and that advertising be separated from news coverage.

The problem is that we don’t even recognize when we’re being manipulated and we deny it when it’s pointed out. This is true whether it is corporate advertising influence news coverage on network and cable news channels or on PBS, where corporate sponsors exert a powerful influence on coverage, but because PBS is “commercial free” supporters will insist it is neutral and balanced.

Ha! That’s what I have to say about that. HA! And, no, this is not a rant against Bonnie Erbe. It’s a rant against people who thing she is a journalist or that her show presents news. It is an opinion program that presents a very narrow view of the world and the people in it. Okay, guys, take your eyes off her knees and the other chick’s cleavage.

Media manipulation is everywhere! And that’s why the idea of PBS presenting unbias news — HA!

A Look at the News   Leave a comment

There are three major news networks these days — CNN, MSN, and Fox News. It depends on who you talk to whether these are liberal-bias, conservative-bias, or middle of the road. And plenty of people will sneer at the Fox News motto of “fair and balanced.”

In the run up to the 2008 election, the highly popular governor of Alaska was the vice-presidential candidate. I’m not going to rehash that campaign. Water under the bridge. But I would note that the news media all reported extensively on Sarah Palin and on Alaska. It was this coverage that ended my long belief that CNN was a middle of the road network that offered the most honest coverage.

Alaska is a subject I can claim some expertise in, so of course, when I heard things that made no sense with what I knew, I researched it. It’s what I do, right? There was the story that Sarah cut the state Department of Education budget by 30%. That seemed unlikely since there wasn’t a huge furor over it in Alaska at the time. Remember, I live in Alaska. It should have been front-page news here. So I fact-checked it. It was easy to do. A lot of Alaska’s public records are on line and most of the newspapers had covered it, but they hadn’t covered it as “Sarah Palin destroys education” but “As Sarah Palin maintains fiscal sanity during record oil revenues” .

In 2007, oil prices were booming and the State of Alaska was benefiting from that. The Legislature, in a organism of ecstasy at $90 a barrel oil, had submitted a budget that increased the Education budget by 30% and Sarah, calculating on a budget set for $65 a barrel had red-lined the increase and held spending at previous levels. Sarah did not cut the budget. She just refused to let them increase it.

NOTE:  This turned out to be incredibly prescient. Parnell allowed the budget to increase with the price of a barrel of oil. Now the price of oil is $50 a barrel and our state budget is set for $110 a barrel. Alaska is running a deficit. Unlike other states, we have savings accounts to cover us while we bring spending under control. We have those savings accounts (in excess of the Permanent Fund) because Sarah held the line on spending when we were rolling in revenue. Had Sarah remained our governor we probably wouldn’t be going through this crisis now.

There were several other claims about Alaska by CNN during that campaign that were easily fact-checked and turned out not to be true. I went so far as to forward two of them with links to the actual information to the CNN reporter (Solidad O”Brien as I recall) and received a canned reply. After about my third fact-finding foray, I decided — for the first time — to give Fox News a chance. I’d always heard that they were entertainment based and fake conservative. I’d seen some interactions between Alan Combs and Tucker Carlson years before that I hadn’t been impressed with. But I knew one thing. I knew that CNN was getting facts that were readily available to anyone with a standard search engine wrong and that meant I needed a new broadcast news network.

I was leery, so I googled anything that sounded fishy to me for quite some time and, for the most part, Fox’s news coverage is fair and balanced. Now, I’m not talking about their editorial policy. I’m talking about their news coverage. You don’t have to believe me. Here’s a study by an international outfit that looked into it.

http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/washington-whispers/2012/01/06/study-is-fox-too-balanced-

But here’s the thing — I’m not at all sure we should be getting all of our news from a single cable channel or even several. And I’ll explain why in my next post.

Who Controls the Media?   Leave a comment

The owner of a medium company shapes the values, beliefs and decisions of his/her customers.

Many media are owned by conglomerates, mega-corporations that control vast swaths of mass media.

According to a recent Fortune 500 list, the top media companies by revenue are:

  • Walt Disney Company
  • News Corporation
  • Time Warner
  • CBS Corporation
  • Viacom
  • NBC Universal
  • Sony Corporation of America

Together, these giants control 95% of all the traditional media we receive every day. By traditional media, I mean television and radio broadcast stations, networks and programming, video news, sports entertainment, entertainment theme parks (yes, that’s a medium), movie studies, integrated telecommunications, wireless mobile entertainment and information distribution systems, video games software, electronic and print “news” media”, the music industry, … and a whole lot more.

When I was in college, there were only three broadcast major networks, but companies were not allowed to own many stations in one geographic area, so there was some diversification. The hope of deregulation of the broadcast industry in the 1980s was that it would generate competition in the broad media field. It worked for a while, resulting in the rise of talk radio, but then the larger media corporations gradually began to buy out the smaller companies. Diversity was subsumed by merger until today’s handful of huge companies have the power to shape our opinions and beliefs and influence our decisions in a way only dreamed of by NBC, CBS, and ABC in the the 1970s.

“They” say “knowledge is power” and the knowledge that only a handful of huge corporations control almost all the media in America culture gives us the power to seek different perspectives and be wary of trusting any one medium for all of our news, entertainment and opinion.

But first, let’s look at that influence to determine if it is necessarily a bad thing.

Brief History of Mass Media   2 comments

All media has some influence on society, but the degree of influence depends on the availability and pervasiveness of a particular medium at a particular time.

Books were once supremely influential because they were really the only printed media. The few people who could read and write based what they believed and the decisions they made on those books. Since the literate were often the rulers of society, those who could not read and write sometimes viewed these people with awe, giving them enormous influence over society.

Reading and writing were never outlawed in post-Roman Europe, but all the books were typically written in Latin, limiting reading and writing to those who were educated as effectively as a ban. Many of the proto-Protestants – the Waldesians, the alpine anabaptists, Wycliff, etc. – ran crosswise of the Catholic Church not because of their beliefs so much as because of their insistence upon reading the Bible for themselves and translating it into vernacular language, which allowed them to decide for themselves what the Bible actually said. That’s a separate topic that I might pursue later.

The introduction of the printing press made popular dissemination of reading materials far easier and led to the rise of newspapers, which could rapidly spread news across the countryside and, in time became so prevalent that they could be in competition with one another in a particular region, allowing for differences of opinion and views on facts.

The development of sound recordings and film, then radio and television changed the face of media entirely. No longer did you have to sit down and decipher symbolic code on paper. You could access news, knowledge, opinion and the like while going about your daily activities. Just as books allowed for information by only a few channels at a time, and then were replaced by newspapers and magazines, network television’s oligopoly on broadcast media was slowly undermined by cable television until the many channels exposed us to untold numbers of images of advertising and marketing, suffering and relief, sexuality and violence, celebrity, and much more.

New and influential media-distribution channels have appeared in the 21st century via via the World Wide Web across the Internet, so that we are daily influenced by blogs, wikis, social networks, vitual worlds and myriad forms of content sharing.

We ought to be the most-informed generation in the history of humanity.

Sadly, we are not!

Introduction to Mass Media Influence   1 comment

My friend Joe Attanasio suggested that my next big theme should be how media influences the whole of society (morality, fashion, racism, politics, spending habits, economics, parenting, etc) and how we can learn to think for ourselves and disseminate truth from hpe and lies.”

Wow, what a great topic and one that I am actually qualified to discuss. Often when I go researching a topic, my only expertise comes from reading and researching, but I was a journalism major in college and I wrote my Masters on a similar subject. Not that I think you need a degree to express an opinion or even to become an expert on a subject, but I actually do have a degree in this stuff.

The influence of mass media on society has grown exponentially with the advance of technology over the last half millennia.

It’s really hard for us today to imagine a time when news was the town crier who got it from the traveling minstrel, who got it from a castle bard, who maybe overheard it being discussed by his lord and another over cups of mead. We are so saturated in media that we struggle to conceive of a time when there were few books, no newspapers, magazines, photography, recordings, films, radio, television, the Internet or social media.

Today, our whole lives and the lives of almost everyone in the developed and many of the developing nations depend information and communication to keep us moving through daily activities like work, education, health care, leisure activities, entertainment, traveling, personal relationships, and shopping.

A lot of people I know wake up, check the cellphone for messages and notifications, look at the TV or newspaper for news, commute to work listening to the radio where they read emails, take meetings and makes phone calls, eat meals recommended on websites, and make decisions based on the information that we gather from those mass media and interpersonal media sources.

What does it matter?

We are so saturated in media that we may not even be aware that the values we hold, the beliefs we espouse and the decision we make are based on assumptions and information largely gathered from media sources rather than on our own experiences and what we know for a fact.

Think about it. We rely on mass media for the current news and facts about what is important. We trust the media as an authority for news, information, education and entertainment. Considering that powerful influence, then, we should know how it really works.

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