Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Today's News - Tomorrow's Context: A Dynamic Model of News Processing

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Today's News - Tomorrow's Context: A Dynamic Model of News Processing

Article excerpt

The numerous studies on the reception or the effects of news programs can be placed on an imaginary continuum according to the degree of how actively they define the role of the recipient. On the one hand, there is a research tradition on the effects of news programs which relies on the implicit assumption that all viewers are mainly passive and will use, understand, and remember the content of the news stories similarly. Some people will use more news, some will have a more adequate understanding of it and some might remember the contents better, but these differences are due to social factors such as education and status within society, not to character traits arising from individual life experience. Within the various social categories, for example educated or uneducated, high or low social status etc., all individuals are influenced similarly which can be measured using quantitative methods. Therefore, it is necessary (and also sufficient) to control for these factors (see for example Iyengar & Kinder, 1987; Robinson & Levy, 1986; Kepplinger, Brosius, & Staab, 1991; Noelle-Neumann, 1991, pp. 241-246). Traditionally, this stimulus-response perspective has focused mainly on the effects of different content and presentation factors like footage-use, sequence, etc. on all viewers (see Brosius, 1995).

On the other hand, another research tradition claims that the value system and knowledge of the readers and viewers not only has an impact upon the selection of media and media content (Gantz, 1978; Sweeney & Gruber, 1984; Cotton, 1985; Bogart, 1989, pp. 314ff.), but also influences their understanding or misunderstanding of the news content (Findahl & Hoijer, 1985; Vallone, Ross, & Lepper, 1985; Perloff, Wartella, & Becker, 1982; Robinson & Levy, 1986; Donsbach, 1991) and their ability to remember what they have heard and seen (Neuman, 1976; Katz, Adoni, & Parness, 1977; Edwardson, Kent, & McConnell, 1985; Brosius, 1989). To put it more generally, much information is avoided, much is misunderstood, only some is adequately retained. Following this line of research, several scholars have developed more individualistic approaches of news processing. Uses and gratification studies emphasize the subjective constructions of reality which differ from person to person (Palmgreen, Wenner, & Rayburn, 1980; Rosengren, Wenner, & Palmgreen, 1985; Rubin & Perse, 1987). Some researchers assume that every viewer and reader has been molded by his own personal life experience as well as by cultural traditions and thus makes "sense of the news" individually (Jensen, 1986). Consequently, the news has no common meaning, but a different meaning for every person. Seen in this light, the proper method for interpreting the meaning of news would be reception analysis with qualitative case studies (van Dijk, 1988; Jensen, 1988). This constructivist perspective of research probably finds its most extreme expression in Hermes's thesis of the `meaninglessness' of everyday media use, arguing that -- in contrast to traditional reception analysis -- it is enough to analyze solely how texts are used without examining their content (Hermes, 1995, p. 148; for a discussion see Ridell, 1996).

The two extreme positions mentioned explain the consequences of mass communication either as being determined by external short term stimuli from the media or by internal long lasting structures which have developed independently of the mass media. Keeping these positions in mind, three contrasts can be identified between the two ends of the imaginary continuum: first, the contrast between approaches stressing external and internal factors, second, the contrast between intersubjective information and subjective meaning (Kepplinger, Tullius, & Augustin, 1994) and, third, the contrast between qualitative and quantitative methods (Kepplinger, 1989; Jensen & Rosengren, 1990; see also Rosengren, 1996; Jensen, 1996). …

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