Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Television News Avoidance: Exploratory Results from a One-Year Follow-Up Study

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Television News Avoidance: Exploratory Results from a One-Year Follow-Up Study

Article excerpt

Many if not most mainstream television channels in most countries broadcast some form of news program. The news is so ubiquitous that no social scientist has probably ever felt the need to explain what kind of genre or type of program he or she was referring to when asking respondents questions about "the news." We all know what is meant by "the news" even though huge differences exist in the way the news is made in different countries, in different political systems, or even by different channels in the same culture.

The news is given an important role in contemporary society. In a recent article about the role and the position of communication media in democracies, Drale (2004) describes one view of democracy as the doctrine assuming that "the media should serve as a public sphere in which all who are interested may participate in public conversation or deliberation. Popular participation is assumed to be a necessary part of legitimate democratic procedure" (p. 223). Some see the news as a positive force in a democratic society. Spencer (2004), for instance, described television news as an active agent in peace negotiations in Northern Ireland. Beaudoin and Thorson (2004) identified a number of positive effects of news viewing on members of urban communities. Moy, Pfau, and Kahlor (1999) linked television news viewing to positive perceptions of certain democratic institutions. Others have identified potential negative effects of news exposure. Busselle and Crandall (2002), for instance, found correlates of news viewing and issues of racism. Holbert, Shah, and Kwak (2004) found that television news viewing predicted fear of crime.

For the news to have an effect on an individual and, by extension, on society, that individual has to have been exposed to the influence of the news. Researchers have shown that attention to news moderates its effects (e.g., Moy et al., 1999; Pinkleton & Austin, 2004). The question whether and why people watch the news may therefore be important. The current article discusses the processes explaining why some people watch the news religiously, some watch it less often, and others hardly watch it at all.

Two Approaches to the Program Selection Process

There are two apparently mutually exclusive theories explaining how viewers end up watching or not watching a particular program (Van den Bulck, 1995, p. 148; Webster & Wakshlag, 1983, p. 430; Webster & Wang, 1992, p. 125). The first school of thought stresses the importance of individual needs and preferences and states that what television audience members watch is the result of an active selection process. Such uses and gratifications studies postulate that viewers, acting as rational human beings, will express personal preferences in their choice of programs. The second school of thought starts from an econometric point of view, "treating television programs as neutral 'goods,' supplied to the viewers at no 'cost'" (Van den Bulck, 1995, p. 148). This approach studies audiences at the aggregate level and suggests that audience behavior is explained by structural factors such as the programming strategies of networks. It sees no need to look at individual viewing preferences and motivations to explain viewing behavior. Webster and Wakshlag claimed that up to 80% of viewing behavior can be explained by such structural factors as channel loyalty or the programming strategies of the networks. The contents of the actual programs and, by extension, the preferences of the viewers, do not appear to be important explanatory factors.

Although these perspectives appear to contradict one another, Webster and Phalen (1997) have argued that "surely, some fundamental needs provide the impetus for seeking out news and entertainment. But how these needs ultimately find expression is powerfully affected by the media environment and merits fuller consideration" (p. 97).

What an individual viewer ends up watching at any given moment in time thus appears to be the result of the clash between two distinct forces. …

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