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Media Influential

This picture has nothing to do with this post. But it’s pretty and I hate to publish a post with no photos.

Last week I got a phone call from the president of the local Lion’s Club. He asked if I’d be a judge in their annual speech contest for high school students. I teased him that he must be getting pretty far down on the list if he was asking me to do it but I readily agreed. As an aside, I find it interesting that Dale, my rock ‘n ‘roll singing husband, also gets asked to be a judge on occasion. Of course, he gets asked to judge things like the annual battle of the bands and the Mr. EB High School competition. But I digress.

So anyway, the program was Monday night and I have to say it was pretty great. There were 5 students reading their speeches and the topic was the media’s influence on today’s society. While each student had a slightly different approach to the subject, they were all in agreement that the media’s influence is a negative one. I found that to be interesting and maybe also a little sad. They are awfully young to be so cynical!

I thought I’d turn this one over to some of the smartest people I know. My readers. What do you think of the media’s influence on today’s society? Discuss.

This Post Has 26 Comments

  1. wow, am i first?

    anyway, i’m not so sure it’s the media we have to blame. i think society has a negative effect on society because it’s society that influences the media more than the other way around. that’s what i think anyway. what is unfortunate is that kids today are probably more influenced by the media than we were as kids because of the greater exposure.

    i haven’t had enough coffee to be more coherent. sorry.

  2. It’s wonderful that you and Dale are such an integral part of your community. So many people stay uninvolved and it’s admirable that you participate and that the community at large asks you to do so.
    There is too much media in everyone’s lives. I want a cabin in the woods.

  3. I think the media has a more negative effect. They take the view of every situation in the extreme and build a ratings getting story out of it. For example in our area when there is the possibility of snow it is not only reported in the weather but often headlines the news before everything else. We live in a climate that has the potential to get snow anywhere from Oct- April. Why is this major news? It gets people into a panic and anyone who has been to the grocery store after one of these reports has seen the effect. Then the next day when we get only a dusting of snow it is again major news how if the storm had tracked a little to the left we would have been bombed. Minor story over-blown. I think this gives people a warped view of what level of importance things should have.
    I think I would have answered this better a few hours from now…

  4. Oh, you are *so* going to regret getting me started on this…

    I think Maryse is half right. Prenez un cercle, caressez-le: il deviendra vicieux. (Take a circle, caress it: it will become vicious.)

    In one of his books Al Franken, addressing the perennial right-wing charge of liberal media bias, said that the US media are biased, but not necessarily toward either political extreme: they are biased toward news that 1) sells and/or 2) is cheap and easy to get. This seems right to me. In the first category you have stories about the missing blonde du jour; in the second, you have press releases regurgitated to sound like “news.” Sometimes in fact they do contain news: for example, the White House may put out a press release about the president’s recent meeting with a foreign leader. But a “journalist” who uncritically pretties up that release and publishes it under their own name has just propagated whatever spin the White House was purveying. An actual journalist would analyze what that release did and didn’t say and go digging for facts unmentioned or glossed over, but actual journalists are very seldom employed by the news media these days (see above: cheap and easy).

    The other thing the media do is to try to get “balance” by getting “both sides” of a story. The cheap-and-easy bias leads them to do this by seeking comment from both Republican and Democratic leaders on a given issue and then reporting, “[leader on one side] said today that black was white; reached for comment, [leader on the other side] said that black was black.” The story of course does not mention that the facts support the “black is black” hypothesis, because that would favor one side and therefore be “unbalanced.” Besides failing to report facts, stories like this give the impression that there are exactly two sides to every story, which is rarely the case.

    So the public, absorbing all of this and thinking itself well-informed, gets used to sensationalism, biased reporting, and the most simplistic analysis, when analysis is to be had at all, all presented in handy 30-second sound bites. It forgets how to read and how to think, and the media eventually notice and dumb everything down even more. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    If you want to know what’s going on in the world, you have to get media reports from other countries. I find that the BBC and the Guardian are usually pretty good: they really are balanced in the sense that they examine and report the facts, not just the spin, and sometimes they even dig for more. (And they call themselves news organizations.)

    Aren’t you sorry you asked?

  5. I think the media, especially the 24-hour news channels and online, do have a negative influence. They don’t just report the important news anymore as they had to when they only had a half an hour or hour a night; they have to find filler for the rest of the time. So, often they find one person to have one opinion about any given topic and someone else to argue with the first person. We get way too much celebrity news because there’s not enough real news to fill the time. We don’t see good role models for parenting, but rather celebrities that engage in public fights and stupid parenting behavior. We see weeks on end of coverage of mothers (sometimes fathers, but mostly it’s the mothers who are given so much coverage) who kill their children. While it’s terrible, it’s just not national news for weeks. Let the poor children and the rest of the family who are grieving rest in peace.

    Of course, you might say that the 24-hour news channels wouldn’t exist if we as a society didn’t watch, so there’s a whole other argument. Give me a good old half-hour nightly news program any day.

  6. Major media has never been impartial; it has always reflected the interests of its owners while pretending to be neutral and balanced. This is by nature negative. But every now and then something of value slips through.

    Now that we have the internet, for the time being, it’s possible for regular people not controlled by anyone to spread news that otherwise would not be covered.

  7. I’m not sure that it’s necessarily negative. What I am sure about is that the instantaneous nature of the media these days leaves little room for fact checking and more room for hysteria. Hmmm… guess that is pretty negative…

  8. Welcome parents, fellow students, teachers. I would like first to say thank-you for making the drive to work today and a thanks to the judges for taking time out of their busy schedule in order to attend this competition. I believe I have a unique perspective to offer on this issue, as I am going to comment on the state of the Canadian media, as I live up here, and not down there anymore. Information, all information not only from the media, has a source and so one must consider the source before one, of our own violition, decides whether to believe or not to believe the information. So saying I do believe most of our media is fairly impartial and doing their best to report news as they see it. We receive a good blend of local, Canadian, and international news. I rarely see news such as “What you don’t know about your dryer could kill you”. I would however state for the record that the weather reports are never accurate, and could be much better. 7 years in the States I did not watch the news due to learning mostly about things that will kill me if I’m not careful, its only since moving back to Canada that I’ve been watching it again. The end. Thank-you. Did I win?

  9. I haven’t read the comments because I didn’t want them to influence my thoughts, so this might be repetitive. I think media’s influence isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s the media’s job to inform, correct? It becomes a bad thing when one media outlet is someone’s only source of information. Particulary when it’s heavily biased.

  10. I think the American media is negative in that they are largely interested in sensationalism and can be biased. How that influences individuals and society is a mixed bag, but it’s not benefiting anyone except those getting rich off it. I never gotten into the habit of watching the evening news or reading the paper like my parents because I found the quality of news dreadful. Thank goodness for NPR. Ironically, I also find BBC News to be a forthright news source about American events.

  11. I have no time for the news media outlets that are all about calling attention to themselves by overdramatizing, overblowing, overplaying, etc. But the wonderful thing is that we have the power to shut that noise out and to choose where we get our news. I choose NPR, the Wall Street Journal (hard copy) and the New York Times on line.

    As to the entertainment sector… eh. I used to be hooked on certain TV shows. Now, I really don’t have any interest. I’d rather read.

  12. I don’t think that the media’s influence today is completely bad, but I do think that there are negative aspects to it.

    I don’t have TV and haven’t really watched it for about 10 years. I was in the airport watching CNN while waiting for a flight, and they were reporting on stupid celebrity gossip stuff. ON CNN!! WTF!! Clearly there has been a change since I last watched television, when the serious news networks are reporting on Paris Hilton instead of the state of world affairs, I think that’s a negative influence.

    But when I think of the positive influence that having the internet and british news services and first hand accounts of what is happening in the world right at my fingertips for the searching, that is most definitely a positive influence.

    I think the difference is that the readily available in-your-face media has gone downhill, you can’t really be a passive and yet well-informed person anymore. You have to seek out the diverse views and you have to really work for the knowledge. That is what this media has given us: a more stark division between the people who are reactionary and the ones who are active. Polarization everywhere!

  13. An aside from the answer you requested: youth are masters of cynicism. My cynical peek was age 18, I believe. I have mellowed significantly since then.

    Media influence had a tag name in history: “yellow journalism”. History buffs recall how the newspapers stirred the country into a patriotic fervor, resulting in the Spanish-American War.

    My high school Civics teacher, Mr. Wilson, was insistent that we get our news from more than one source: tv/newspaper(s)/news magazine(s). He lectured on the dangers of only one input. Today’s one-sided reporting is his nightmare come true. I must point out that, as Pogo was famous for saying, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” We are satisfied with a quick news feed, and no longer seek out contrasting or confirming reports.

  14. I have long thought that there is a negative aspect to our media., in that they are no longer unbiased, but reporting the “news” in such a way as to reflect their leanings, not necessarily to the left or right, but to their owners’ opinions. My son is a college senior, majoring in journalism. He hopes to go to graduate school next year, to further that education. He has some interesting thoughts on the subject, including the fact that he feels that, particularly on TV, that stations use sound bites and edits to make the news appear to be one way or the other. He sees it in print too. He voted for Obama but found it interesting that after the last debate, he saw edits of McCain that made him appear to have answered questions in a flippant manner. He wondered how people could make a decision based on facts and platforms when the news was making the candidates appear to be saying things that they hadn’t actually said. He noticed it to be true for both sides, and was somewhat put off by it. He kept commenting that the media is supposed to report the news in an unbiased fashion, not make the news or slant the news and facts to their opinion.
    I also am tired of the networks creating news where there is only a public interest story. And the flashing “Breaking News” that comes up constantly has become meaningless.

  15. Ooh, I heart speech contests! How’s this: The posited dichotomy between media and society is patently false given global awareness of post- and meta-realities. Media serves as both mirror and lamp; society serves as both context and content. The supposed roles of observer and observed, subject and object in actuality always were and are seamlessly intertwined. Each influences and shapes the other – not in isolation, but in relationship regardless of whether that relationship is denied, resisted, manipulated, or acknowledged and embraced. Judgments passed on this spiral tautology themselves become tautological: those who are pessimistic about the direction of society and the possibility of change tend to scapegoat media; those who are optimistic tend to idealize it.

  16. I think you need to go on tour with Dale, so you can judge the battle of the bands, too.

    I believe that 24 hours is a mixed blessing. It gives us the latest updates as they roll in without having to wait until seven o’clock. However, when there is nothing much going on, there are 24 hours in the day that need to filled and a lot of the time those hours are filled with crap news, cheap to produce nonsense and nothing more than gossip.

    I think that it’s a long held tradition in this country to avoid talking about and actually doing anything about the real issues of what is broken. It is much better to show the masses something shiny or sexy and get this to forget about a “war” or financial nightmares.

    It is what it is and it’s not going to change anytime soon because the masses don’t care. Nor do the media folks. If anyone did care, we would not know that that Miley girl (who is 15) is dating a 20 year old man. As it is, we do know and no one seems to really care.

    Frankly, I find it all rather telling and a bit sick-making. But you about me. ;^)

  17. In a nutshell, the effect is negative. There is too much brain-washing and ‘programming’ (pun intended) going on. Especially in the news media. I try very hard to stay away from network news. It’s not news any more. It’s corporate programming which has an agenda based on who is buying their advertising slots, and the politics of the network.

    I rarely listen to music radio for the same reason. The vast majority of stations are really just advertising outlets for record labels. They are dictating our musical preferences.

    I love my BBC news (tv and radio), and NPR, and a few on-line outlets. I want to hear several different versions of a story so I can form my own opinion rather than drink the Kool-Aid.

    And don’t get me started on the visual entertainment media. Product placement? Political agendas? It’s just a variation on subliminal advertising.

  18. For the most part, I’d say that our Media here in Canada tries to be informative. However, there are times when things are sensationalized. I find the media reports on the economy lately are that way. In the area of Canada that I live in we haven’t been impacted that much yet and sometimes I feel that negative reports add to the fearmongering. Also one thing that absolutely drives me crazy in Canada is when they talk about our sliding Canadian dollar. A low Canadian dollar is a good thing for Canada. It brings manufacturing $$ in and helps us compete with Mexico also it helps our Film Industry. If it’s not a good deal, the business won’t come here. That’s my two cents.

  19. Well, are we talking media as in news sources, or media as in all of the entertainment and information that we receive on a day-to-day basis? I think that widespread dispersal of information is a good thing, but that the individual has to be responsible for controlling their own information intake. I think that mainstream media are what we, as a society, have made them: quick-and-dirty, without real insight or thought. Is that good? No. Is it our responsibility to change it? Yes. This, I think, is the most amazing and promising thing about the internet – there are people out there who are digging deeper, who are really analyzing the world we live in, and who are sharing those insights with anyone who cares to read them. It’s a slow process, to be sure, but I think that the internet and user-created content are changing the way that people think about and experience the world. And I think that’s a good thing. (If you haven’t seen it, this is a great article on how the internet is changing the media:

  20. It sounds as though you heard speeches from some perceptive and discerning students. Their generation is producing some very responsible, rational thinking. The interesting fact is that from it’s very inception (which wasn’t that long ago) the media’s very reason for existence was to further a specific agenda and manipulate an audience into agreement. Trace back far enough and you’ll find that all newspapers have, as their source, the favoring some political party or platform. It’s only in recent times that we’ve somehow come to see this as strange ~ and they are pleased to have listeners buy their reporting hook, line and sinker. We would all be wise to understand this and not buy into some pie in the sky idea of impartiality. It’s just not the nature of the beast. Never was.

  21. I am soooo holding my tongue. But lucky for you the speeches were not over something silly like double points or circular needles for knitting socks.

  22. Too much. Especially when it comes to blatant cheerleading and stating opinion as fact. Too much investigating on one side and not enough investigating on the other side. Choosing to withold information that might affect a certain event in a certain way. There’s a reason why a certain news network has the highest rating (and that is pretty much the only network I really watch anymore).

  23. It’s not the greatest, but there’s good ones out there. Some media (that’s not tainted by political affiliations, pop culture, and our need to see people humiliating themselves in private settings deemed reality shows) are ok. Sadly, that doesn’t leave very many. Honestly, majority of people would find that boring and that type of media would be canceled very quickly….unless it is a kid’s show.

    What I’m saying is the people behind it and the demographics of their audience are what really tips the scale. Anything can be blown out of proportion for the sake of ratings. It’s almost like it serves some sort of need for people to live vicariously through the drama of others. It’s the “can I separate my view of reality from this pseudo reality” that’s the real question.

  24. I don’t think the media makes any attempt any more to report news in an unbiased fashion. And I think that the effects are pretty negative. What sells is what gets published. The sensationalism aspect discourages “both sides” reportage. I stopped buying daily newspapers over 12 years ago, and have never regretted the move.

  25. I think most of your commentors have identified the negatives. The one additional aspect that ticks me off with even the local news let alone the 24 hours guys is the constant ‘selling’ of their product. “Stay tuned and we will tell you about….” And they do this more than once in their programing. Hey, I’m already listening, you don’t have to sell me. Why don’t you just tell me now and use those 30 seconds to tell me an additional bit of news? When you look at all the time wasted ‘advertising’ what they are going to tell you they could have put in another substantial story! If they knew what a substantial story was.
    I agree with the others, they are sensationalizing what is not that sensational.

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