Television, the four powers of television are characterized as the power to entertain, the power to socialize and educate, the power to inform, and the power to create community and consensus. The four are not mutually exclusive and can be found operating in pairs or larger groupings on individual shows.
The power to entertain is understood by everyone and is the primary power for most people. The television networks have played to this power from the beginning, carrying over what they had been doing on radio into the new medium to create programs that would gather large audiences around comedies, dramas, variety shows, and the like. This primary power has continued into the cable era, with many cable networks imitating the broadcast networks in these terms by presenting movies, dramatic shows, and comedies or by shaping non-fictional programs so they entertain, seen in the many so-called reality shows that are currently on the air. Television has indeed been charged more and more with elevating entertainment over the other powers, so that news programs show ore and more effort at being entertaining rather than informative, from the so-called "happy talk" between anchors to an emphasis on fluffy news about celebrities instead of national and world affairs, or the shift in local news to stories about crime, producing the phrase, "If it bleeds, it leads."
The power to socialize and educate is seen in programs with a clear educational intent, such as many shows on public broadcasting. In the broader sense, however, all of television has this power because people watching television acquire knowledge, even if it is only knowledge of the culture. Television provides many shared images and messages that shape the way people view themselves and the world around them.
Similarly, the power to inform can be taken broadly to include more than news and public affairs, though these are clearly represented. Television viewers can see the world outside their immediate community to a much greater degree than was ever possible in the past. Viewers also vicariously experience real events, real people, and history itself by what they see on television.
The power to create community and consensus is seen in the way television repeats aspects of the past and so creates a historical context in which to judge current events. Television also creates a community through shard experiences of the culture, from entertainment programs to major news events which, even if a viewer does not see the original broadcast, will be talked about and referred to so that everyone knows what happened.
Many programs express all of these powers. Most talk shows, for instance, are shaped specifically around the four powers, seeking to entertain, socialize, inform, and contribute to our sense of community, such as The Tonight Show, which entertains, makes fun of the news and so informs at the same time, educates about different ideas and issues (even to having political and other leaders as guests), and shapes the sense of community for the viewers.
2. what we see on television does have an effect on what we think is important in the world. If a story is not covered by television, it may not exist at al for millions of people, while if a seemingly trivial story is covered by television, it becomes bigger than life. The agenda is often set by what television chooses to cover or chooses to ignore. This is also a source of much criticism as the 24-hour cable news networks concentrate on less important issues such as the Michael Jackson trial or the recent Runaway Bride in Georgia while not giving sufficient attention to the war in Iraq, political issues of import to everyone, and economic news that people could use in their lives. Television creates its own reality, and what it says is real becomes more real, while what it ignores may fade away.
This power is not always exercised intentionally. Stories take on a life of their own for reasons not always clear. If an event like the Runaway Bride happens on a slow news day, it is magnified until it becomes seemingly the only story. There may also be various prejudices at work. It has been pointed out that when a white child is missing, the news media may make the story into a national one rather than a local one and may magnify events all out of…