An Agenda for Buying and Selling "Good" Political News
Wasburn, Philo C, Political and Military Sociology
Present calls for the improvement of American commercial news media are both unrealistic and inappropriate. It is up to the schools to create a demand for "better" news products.
America's commercial news media construct accounts of political events that produce corporate profit and strengthen corporate capitalist ideology (Bagdikian 1992; Dahlgren 1995; Herman & McChesney 1997; Parenti 1986; Qualter 1985; Schiller 1976; Varis 1975). Common pursuit of these objectives is reflected in the remarkable uniformity of commercial mass media news in the United States, despite the enormous variety and number of its carriers in the form of newspapers, magazines, television and radio stations, and so on. American commercial news media do not offer citizens a genuine variety of political content and perspective (Fishman 1980, Gans 1979, Tuchman 1978).
Research reveals four dominant characteristics of commercial media news. First, news is personalized; political events are presented as reports about individual actors such as government, military, and corporate officials. Political processes, power relations, and economic forces underlying events tend to be ignored. Second, news is dramatized. Political events are symbolically represented as stories constructed so as to present problems and solutions with rising and falling action. Abstract and technical aspects of events are seldom discussed. Typically, events are trivialized and separated from their political context. Third, news is fragmented. Bits of information are presented with few coherent connections. Trends and historical patterns are seldom made part of the news. American journalism's prohibition against commentary and interpretation results in face-value reporting of separate events, no matter how interrelated they may be. The news presents events rather than issues. Fourth, news is normalized. Official sources often get the last word in a news story, providing comforting images of authority and security. The range of acceptable or even thinkable modes for political action is narrowed. Alteratives to the political-economic status quo are seldom, if ever, considered. The core political values of Western capitalist nations, such as private property ownership and managerial control of the workplace, go unquestioned (Bennett 1983).
In commercial media news there is a "mutual embeddedness of fact and source" (Tuchman 1978). Audiences come to view official perspectives as legitimate because they dominate news content, and the news, in turn, seems objective because official versions of events fall into familiar, standardized patterns with normal themes (Bennett 1983; Sigal 1973). Audiences tend to assume a generally nonproblematic correspondence between objects and events in the world and their symbolic representations constructed by the commercial mass media and transmitted to them as news. The process obscures the economic and ideological interests served by the news which provides much of the material out of which they actively build their understanding of the social and political world (Altheide & Snow 1980; Epstein 1975; Herman & Chomsky 1988; Lee & Solomon 1991; Schudson 1978; Smith 1973).
The American mass media's primary concern with promoting consumption rather than public understanding and participation in the political sphere has contributed to the development of a "democracy without citizens" in which most of the population is neither politically well informed nor politically engaged (Dahlgren 1995; Entman 1989). Despite the remarkable proliferation of media outlets, Americans are no more informed about politics than they were 50 years ago. "Many of the facts known by relatively small percentages of the public seem critical to understanding let alone effectively acting in - the political world: fundamental rules of the game; classic civil liberties; key concepts of political economy; the names of key political …
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Publication information: Article title: An Agenda for Buying and Selling "Good" Political News. Contributors: Wasburn, Philo C - Author. Journal title: Political and Military Sociology. Volume: 25. Issue: 2 Publication date: Winter 1997. Page number: 363+. © Dr. George Kourvetaris Winter 1996. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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