The American news industry has undergone considerable changes in recent decades. New methods of communication have arrived on the scene, most notably in the form of twenty-four-hour television news networks and the Internet, which offer real-time access to a staggering amount of information and, in the case of the Internet, a vast and varied blogosphere and social-networking capabilities. At the same time, a number of more traditional news media, such as newspapers and magazines, face an increasing array of challenges to their continued viability. Within this “new” news marketplace, we have also seen changes in the norms of news work, especially which events, issues, and individuals are defined as “newsworthy,” the manner in which selected information and images are organized for presentation to audiences, and the ways that audience members use, or consume, news. These consequential shifts offer exciting opportunities for creating and distributing information, while also challenging our ability to accurately understand the world in which we live.
This is a book about the role of the news media in social life. Specifically, I am interested in how the productions of the mainstream news media influence our perceptions of social reality. A long history of scholarship in sociology, media studies, and other academic disciplines has taught us that the news we consume influences the way we process events, assess issues, and assign meaning to our personal experiences. While there are a number of ways to judge the connection between the news media and the processes through which we make and attribute meaning, my focus is on how news is put together and communicated to news consumers. A wealth of research suggests that the manner in which news is packaged and presented is a key determinant of what people remember from their encounters with news content and how they use this information. The following chapters explore a disturbing trend in America’s mainstream news media, in which media resources and audience attention are becoming more and more oriented toward news that is fashioned into long-running “serialized dramas”