A Cognitive Psychology of Mass Communication

By Richard Jackson Harris | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7
News: Setting the Agenda
About the World in High Gear

Q: What does the public think is most wrong with news reporting?

A: According to a 1997 Roper poll, 82% thought reporters were insensitive to people's pain when covering disasters and accidents. Other complaints were mentioned by no more than 64% (Valente, 1997).

Q: How has TV news coverage changed in recent years?

A: According to a study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs of over 135,000 U. S. network evening news stories during the 1990s, an average of fewer than 100 were about murder in 1990–1992. During, 1993–1996, that number jumped to 352 (excluding the heavy O. J. Simpson murder trial coverage). In 1997–1999, the number jumped to 511. All of this occurred during a decade where the actual homicide rate steadily declined to its lowest point in 1999 (Farhi, 2001)!

Q: How many children are frightened or upset by news stories on television?

A: 37% of children between kindergarten and 6th grade, according to a survey of their parents by Cantor and Nathanson (1996). The typical minute of network news in the United States is seen by an estimated half a million children aged 2 to 11.

If there is one area of media that people are most likely to uncritically accept as reflecting reality rather than constructing it, that area is probably the news. People watch, read, or listen to news to find out what happened in the world that day. However, the perceived reality often diverges quite dramatically from the real world, where much more happened than can be reported in any day's news program or publication. Even the most earnest attempt to accurately and fairly represent the day's events requires producers and editors to select which items to cover, how prominently to cover them, and in what manner to cover them. The typical daily newspaper,

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