In Debating Democracy's "The Media: Vast Wasteland or New Frontier?" Jarol Manheim and Douglas Rushkoff present opposing views of the media. Both authors raise the questions of what the media represents and what messages the media tries to send to the public. Is the media's coverage of events just for entertainment value or do the reports have political content and value? Are the viewers capable of distinguishing between the media's glitz and the real facts? Do different sources of the media system actually portray different views and stories? A key question is how typical objective reporting is. If the knowledge can easily be obtained elsewhere, it is possible to conclude with pluralists that citizens have the tools to govern themselves more or less democratically. If, on the other hand, there are serious shortcomings, one might agree with the power elite camp that the people, because they have insufficient meaningful information, wield less power than they could and should.
Manheim claims that the media is not as diverse as it claims to be. He states, Though for competitive purposes they might have us believe otherwise, most American news organizations have a great deal in common with one another . . . they define news itself in essentially the same terms. (Manheim, 1991)
He argues that the media entertains the viewers rather than giving them information that is relevant and socially important. Manheim's view about what the mass media system actually does to the news is similar to what W. Lance Bennett lists as the four main media biases: fragmentation, normalization, personalization and dramatization (Bennett, 1996). These biases are described by Manheim as the media system "[rendering] the content of the news less burdensome by packaging it more attractively" (Manheim, 1991).
Contrary to Manheim's views, Rushkoff looks at how the viewers are able to use and understand the media's messages. Rather than viewing the media as a mass system composed of the elite who view the public as a commodity, Rushkoff believes that the people strive to shape and understand the world through the messages the media portrays. Furthermore, he claims that the media is merely a reflection of the society that the viewers themselves have created. The viewers have the ability to choose which medium of media they will use (Internet, network, newspaper, etc.). Rushkoff says that the news has now become "interactive" and the people (particularly those under forty) have come to understand the media's symbols better (Rushkoff, 1994). Moreover, the "GenX-ers" that Rushkoff refers to, has absorbed the media into their own cultural evolution, reiterating and reanalyzing all the points the media system has raised them on.
I found evidence that supports Manheim's, Rushkoff's and Bennett's views in my observation of Internet news. Nearly all of my findings are directly related to Manheim's views of the media, however I did find support for Rushkoff's idea that the media's creation is actually a reactionary creation by society. The Internet's portrayal of the news did show all four of Bennett's biases. Dramatization, normalization and fragmentation heavily dominated stories with a few references to personalization. In much of the political coverage regarding non-controversial topics the elite was given preference however, the public view was often brought in when the subject matter became more contestable. Such was the case with the coverage of the presidential nominees' campaign funds versus the coverage of Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura's controversial interview with Playboy magazine. Coverage of the campaign finances seemed to contain more of an elite slant and did not take into account the public's views about the candidates' actual platforms. Conversely, the public's views and reactions heavily dominated coverage of the Ventura interview. This evidence relates to Manheim and Bennett's views of the media's...
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