Pollock, John. (Ed.). Media and Social Inequality: Innovations in Community Structure Research

Communication Research Trends, June 2013 | Go to article overview

Pollock, John. (Ed.). Media and Social Inequality: Innovations in Community Structure Research


Pollock, John. (Ed.). Media and Social Inequality: Innovations in Community Structure Research. New York and London: Routlege Taylor and Francis Group, 2013. Pp. xiv, 190. ISBN 13: 978-0-415-63118-1 (cloth) $145.00.

This book makes some claims that should draw scholarly attention: It is a study of "the impact of society on media" rather than the usual concern of media's impact on society; it also makes use of Big Data from a variety of sources that are not common in current communication research; finally, it suggests that the research on community structure not only influences what journalism says about social problems but that research from this volume can help journalism promote "social change." The book consists of articles published in a special issue of Mass Communication and Society in 2011 with the addition of several new chapters. The book, thus, intrigues by the boldness of its claims.

John Pollock, the editor of this book as well as of the special issue of the journal articles, clarifies the theme early:

   Community structure research can illuminate
   links between social inequality and media coverage.
   In effect, community structure research is
   not simply an academic exercise solely of interest
   to a particular group of scholars. It is also a
   perspective that throws a spotlight on multiple
   dimensions of social structure and demographics
   that are associated with variations in coverage of
   critical public issues" [like Occupy Wall Street
   which Pollock highlights]. (p.1)

The author acknowledges early the foundational work of journalism scholars Tichenor, Donohue, and Olin at Minnesota in the 1970s, but he argues that their tradition is being revived in this period through the attention of a number of scholars who see communities as important social forces to spur journalism to be a provider of social change rather than of social control. Pollock goes on to a review of recent scholarship on media coverage of poverty and inequality, indicating the balance of critical studies that identify that coverage as social control or neglect rather than social change. He also reports on his own recent study of media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement both before and after the expulsion from Zuccotti Park. He finds a change after the expulsion of less coverage and less favorable coverage, but what he examines is the shift in national, regional, and local measures of social and community structure. Despite a great deal of data correlated with favorable and unfavorable coverage, the conclusions are not robust enough to define the influence of community structure in any definitive way. The author's own conclusion is clear: Journalists may not always conform to researchers' hypothesized behaviors but there is a proud tradition of journalism's promoting equality in the country.

The chapter by Seungahn Nah and Cory Armstrong traces the research tradition from the Minnesota journalism group through the intervening decades to indicate how the theory has been refined and even changed. Following the tenets of the quantitative approach, the authors outline how the explication of structural pluralism has resulted in a relatively coherent concept but that the dimensions of the concept and especially its indicators have proliferated over the last decades. The latter indicators (or measures of structural pluralism) have been especially numerous, but the authors demonstrate that the most frequently used are "the workforce as a measure," "population size," "income," and "education" (p. 38), indicators common to most survey research. They conclude that although the concept has been largely agreed upon, "there has been lack of clear operational definitions, which has resulted in inconsistency of what [other] kinds of indicators are to be measured" (p. 38). Part of the difficulty of summarizing is that the number of variables and their relationship to how structural pluralism influences outcomes in the media and in the communities in terms of change or control is not clear. …

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