Wednesday, June 22, 2011

News Media Theories and You: Part 1

What does "the media" even mean anymore? There are innumerable amounts of information out there in which to get our news, gossip, videos and articles from each of our many personal tech devices. These devices, however, give us much of the same information or entertainment but, accessible in different environments. We view incoming e-mail messages from our smart phone when we're on the go, but use our laptops at home for the rest of our e-mails. This overload of information and sources where information is obtained is no less confusing and daunting for TV news. They're largest competitor is well, you. They now have to fight for their viewers attention. Because, even if ratings show a certain demographic and age bracket are watching their program, it doesn't mean they're watching whole-heartedly. Often, while the TV's on, we're on the phone, writing e-mails, checking our Facebook pages or Tweeting what we had for lunch. In fact, there is some simple terms for viewers attention spans while watching a TV show:

AVOIDANCE: Intentionally not watching commercials, through the use of the remote control or physically leaving the room.

Out of this term comes two actions that viewers take once the commercials of a show begin. There is passive avoidance where the viewer will simply leave the room or turn their attention to tech devices. And their is active avoidance where the viewer flips to a another channel.

ZIPPING: Fast-forwarding through commercials of shows that are taped.

ZAPPING: The removal altogether of each commercial block of a recorded show; the action of flipping the channel to avoid commercials.

These last two terms might be becoming outmoded, but the general action of zapping is still prevalent, especially with devices such as DVRs and TiVOs.

Now, news organizations and television networks like CNN, CBS, NBC, etc. deserves credit where credit is due. Many networks have wised up to their viewers and stepped up their "audience-capturing" methods. Many of these networks have expanded their presence online to include social media. CNN, CBS News and the like have their own Twitter pages where they can deliver second-by-second breaking news to a large online demographic rapidly. These messages can pop up to alert you of their presence at any time or at any place: Starbucks, while driving, in a meeting or even while watching a news show on TV of the same network.

In the last year, CNN has also drastically changed the appearance and presentation of their news programs. In fact, some anchors now stand and deliver the news. One obvious "audience-capturing" method they now employ on us is to present the newscast like the applications on a common IPhone or IPOD. They have several video windows stored on a large TV screen next to them and activate each video by touching it and then expanding the window with their fingers. Once one video is over they move the window across the screen and out of the way. And, of course to bring every a visual home for the viewers, they employ the screen writing utensil of the NFL to literally circle seemingly interesting items on the screen. CNN is novel in employing this high-tech method of presenting news, but the change was probably employed to save revenue, viewership and to create an edge amongst other news organizations. I think newscasts presented in this manner want to convey the message that the stories are unbiased, random and without an agenda. But, unfortunately, as long as there are TelePrompters, agendas follow.

AGENDA THEORY: The media's power to increase the importance of an issue in the public's mind by giving it more coverage.

This theory is as old as TV news itself. The very definition of news is structure, story and appeal. Every newscast has to have an ordered set of stories from most important to least important. Most important stories at the top of the newscast are given enough coverage where we as viewers can easily form our own opinions about the subject matter. But, what's to say this issue is actually important compared to any other story in the newscast?  It is this unbalance of news that we have to decipher for ourselves and decide which issue is actually important to us. I'll leave you today with a video example of this phenomenon:


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