Media in America [...] How does mass media affect American values? American media is pervasive in nearly every aspect of society today. Newspapers, magazines, online Web sources, television, radio, and film all create a sense of commonality, and often a sense of how to behave, think, and react to social and societal situations.
Today, Americans rely on a variety of media for most of their news, information, and values, whether they know it or not. While this may seem like a recent occurrence, experts and researchers have been seeing this trend in media influence for decades. Two experts note, "Over a half century ago, Lippmann (1922) also noted this role of the news media in defining our world, not just the world of politics during and between elections, but almost all of our world beyond immediate personal and family concerns" (Bryant and Zillmann, 1994, p. 2). Thus, the media has defined our world, including society's values, for a number of years, and if anything, it is becoming even more pervasive and persuasive in our day-to-day lives.
Americans love news, gossip, and current events. Most Americans turn to the news media in some form when they want to find out what is happening in the nation and the world. Today, there are such wide varieties of news sources available; that the average American can find a specific broadcast that closely meets their values and beliefs without much effort. For example, a conservative thinker may prefer to listen to the talk shows of Bill O'Reilly or Rush Limbaugh, while a more liberal thinker may listen to Oprah Winfrey or Bill Maher. Thus, the media not only is defining American values, it is diversifying in order to meet the values of more disparate Americans. Not only can Americans become influenced by the media, they can choose the media that best displays their own belief systems, and thus, do not become influenced or even open to other ways of thinking.
American values have clearly changed from just fifty years ago, and one of the reasons for this change in values is the advanced use of media in society. Fifty years ago, television was not available in nearly every household, and it was not the dominant media it is today. Most Americans got their news from newspapers, or radio, and most journalists strived to maintain a nonbiased balance on the news they reported. Today, journalism has become much more biased in its' reporting and its' presentation of the news, which means many Americans get a less balanced view of the news, and so, do not weigh every side of an issue. They simply accept the news as it is reported, and believe it as true, and often the only true source of information.
Another quite compelling reason that the media influences American values is the source of much media news. Clearly, the President and Washington D.C. are major news sources in America. Most lead news stories on television concern the President or Washington, and most media see the President as their main foundation of news information. A close view of network news, radio broadcasts, and print media show that much of the rest of the news comes from sources with a much more personal interest in the reporting, such as advertising agencies, public relations staff, and more in-house communications experts, who disseminate the news just the way they want it. These experts continue, "In contrast, much of the daily news report is prepared from materials not just provided, but initiated, by the public information officers and public relations staffs of government agencies, corporations, and interest groups" (Bryant and Zillmann, 1994, p. 10). In addition, much of the media, while reporting information from special interest groups and advertisers, has become increasingly liberal. This liberal bent in the media can influence those who watch, listen, and read, by implying that their "spin" on issues is the only "right" information available. Another media expert writes, "More accurately, primetime television has joined the liberal and cosmopolitan elements of the establishment in supporting liberal perspectives. Indeed, according to television, the 'good guys' of the establishment support the values that television writers and authors support" (Rothman, 1992, p. 12). Therefore, the values of the nation are being established and maintained by a small group of liberal authors with their own agendas and beliefs. In addition, in the last ten to fifteen years, an interesting new form of journalism has evolved. Known as "public journalism," this form of the media encourages journalists, especially print journalists, to take a more active role in the information they present and how they present it, to "motivate community action in order to solve problems and of creating the forum for citizens to become politically active. This role is viewed by critics as a threat to traditional journalism values in general" (Arant & Meyer, 1998, p. 205). Thus, these "public journalists" can heavily influence their communities by the information they present. They will also influence who advertises in their media and who does not. For example, a highly conservative business may not find the message of The New York Times is beneficial to their organization, and may choose not to advertise in a more liberal publication such as the Times. Therefore, the newspaper's readers may not only find an unbalanced view of events, they may not have a balanced view of all the goods and services available in their community, if the media pushes away some advertisers with their version of reporting. A good example of this is USA Weekend's "Make a Difference Day," when readers are urged to commit public service on a specific day in October to make a difference in their own community. The news magazine is attempting to influence how people act, and what they do with their free time, in order to improve society.
In addition, the media influence values because more people in America rely on the media for all their news and information on many subjects, and have no other way to establish the truth. Few people rely on library research or interaction to form their opinions; they simply take what they hear from the media as gospel. One reporter who writes about American values notes, "As a Fairfax County, Va. mom told me during the Magic Johnson controversy 'Conversations don't take place anymore around the kitchen table with cookies and milk. They're given in the car, on the run, spun off something I've read or seen on television'" (Stepp, 1993). Thus, the American family relies on the media for their information, and their values. The media tells them who to vote for, what star to like, what star to dislike, what to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and what drug to take for the flu, a cold, or heart disease. Americans are bombarded with advertising, journalism, and all forms of media from the moment they awake, to the moment they go to sleep. There is the car radio and billboards on the way to work, Internet news sources during the day, television, film, and cable channels at night, and newspapers, magazines, and their advertisements all throughout the day. Americans' values are based on what they see, hear, and read, and all of these are heavily influenced by the media writers that create them. In addition, ratings and readership are more important than just about anything else to the media, so if they report the news and lose their viewers, they will change the way they report to appeal to more people. As one media writer notes, "Glory, fame and ratings' skew the way reporters think" (Goode, 1996), and as such, skew the way they report the news, too.
What does this mean for society? It means that society, if it does not want to be influenced…