Why Is Media Effects Important

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CHAPTER 1

paradigm” (Gitlin, 1978), more powerful, yet subtle effects, such as social control, manufacturing of consent, and reluctance to challenge the status quo, are unable to be studied; so they are ignored.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO STUDY MEDIA EFFECTS
With all these questions about the existence and substance of media effects, why is it important to continue to study them? Students in introductory mass communication courses are often reminded that mass communication is functional in society (Wright, 1986) and an important field of study because of its role as a major societal institution. Mass communication is an important economic force in the United States. In 1993, the entertainment industry alone (movies, music, cable television, and home video) brought an estimated $50 billion into the U.S. economy. Network television advertising added an additional $30 billion (Warner, 1993). Mass communication is also an important political force, acting as a watchdog over official actions and as the platform for political information and activity. The Watergate scandal, for example, was brought to light by the Washington Post and the Pentagon papers were first published by the New York Times. Political campaigns are now built around television. In 1992, the Republicans spent two-thirds of their budget on television advertisements for George Bush. Talk shows and news program coverage are crucial to campaigns. Our political leaders contact the public primarily through the mass media—press conferences, political talks. Ronald Reagan noticed that there was little political news that was made during the weekends, so he (an old radio announcer, himself) began to make radio addresses about various issues on Saturday mornings. These addresses got so much news coverage (Martin, 1984), in part because there was so little else happening, that Saturday morning radio talks are a current presidential practice. At the same time, mass media are a major source of entertainment and the main source for news for most people. In 1995, a majority of people in the United States turned to media for news: 70.3% were regular viewers of local television news, 67.3% were regular viewers of network television news, and 59.3% read a daily newspaper. In

INTRODUCTION

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addition, 48.6% listened regularly to radio news and 31.4% read a news magazine regularly (Stempel & Hargrove, 1996). Beyond the importance of mass communication in society, there are two main reasons for continuing to study media effects. The first reason is theoretical. Although most scholars acknowledge that mass media effects can occur, we still don’t know the magnitude and inevitability of the effects. That is, we don’t know how powerful the media are among the range of other forces in society. And, we don’t know all the conditions that enhance or mitigate various effects. Most importantly, we don’t understand all the processes by which mass communication can lead to various effects. Research in media effects must continue to add to our knowledge. A second reason for studying media effects is practical and policy oriented. If we can elaborate the conditions and understand the various processes of media effects—how media effects occur—we can use that knowledge. At a practical level, understanding the processes of media effects will allow media practitioners to create effective messages to achieve political, advertising, and public relations-oriented goals. Additionally, agencies will be able to formulate media campaigns to promote prosocial aims and benefit society as a whole. That is, understanding the processes of media effects will allow media practitioners to increase the likelihood of prosocial media effects. Most importantly, understanding how media effects occur will give parents, educators, and public officials other tools to fight negative media effects. If we understand the processes of media effects, we will also understand how to mitigate negative effects....
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