The American public relies upon the information media for a large majority of news in the 21st century. While most news sources are considered to be fairly accurate and reliable, the possibility that Americans are not really as well-informed as they would like to be is somewhat perplexing. The most glaring example in recent news was the unexpected outcome of the presidential election, in which most reported polls claimed a win for Hillary Clinton. Instead, Donald Trump won enough votes needed for the electoral college in a close and heated campaign. Do Americans really understand why this occurred? Was there an “apparent content bias” (Entman, 2007, p. 164) in the media? The perceived expectations set before Americans seemed to go against the current of actual voter turnouts This brings a range of questions on the social responsibility which the media may have on political opinions and many other important issues for the future.
The role of journalism and the information media in current times seems to be experiencing a major transformation. The 2016 presidential campaign is an illustration that depicts how this is occurring, though it does not explain why. One example is the prevalence of both candidates who apparently like to Tweet their opinions, especially Mr. Trump. Whenever he makes a comment via social media, the news reports pick up the story and broadcast it on the headline news almost as soon as it is posted. This is one way that electronic media convergence is transforming journalism and news consumption, because the instantaneous delivery of news brings information to the public, which may not actually be real news at all, but only a sound bite with little substance. This type of reporting means that the journalist behind the headlines has had very little time to analyze the background story, which in the past was an important aspect of news reporting. Whether this is a socially responsible position for the news media or only a quick way to attain higher ratings is an important question, and one which most Americans may not even consider. One fact is certain, however. The ways in which a president is presented to the public is very different than in past presidential elections.
Another important factor for Americans to consider is the fact that nearly all information now derives from six consolidated media sources; in 1983, there were over 50 companies who performed this role (Lutz, 2012). As of 2012, the six major corporations who controlled 90% of the information media included: General Electric, News Corp, Disney, Via Com, Time Warner, and CBS. This factor has a significant impact on how business concerns are decided at the top levels of organization. “Corporations will be less likely to act in socially responsible ways if there is either too much or too little competition” (Campbell, 2007, p. 953). The most effective way that the public can counteract this trend is to read news articles with a discerning approach.
In sociological research that focuses on how corporations work in relation to social responsibility, the question posed is the following: “What are the conditions under which corporations are likely to act in socially responsible ways?” (Campbell, 2007, p. 949). Although this may mean different things to different people (Campbell, 2007), in the context of providing accurate reporting to the public there is a certain responsibility—for example, a minimum behavioral standard (Campbell, 2007, p. 951). The researchers suggest the possibility that corporations may be less likely to act in socially responsible ways when economic conditions are weaker, which may even provide them with an unethical approach to boost sales. Using this analysis, it turns out that the information media could actually be exaggerating some news stories to promote more business and more profits. This factor is an issue that people may realize at some level, because there are many social media sites where this is discussed at length. It is probable that today’s audiences have enough sophistication to recognize the difference between a factual news story and one that is obviously sensationalized. However, the more frequently that people tune into a story that is sensational—perhaps more interesting than the dry styles in which journalists wrote in the past—the easier it is to begin to believe them.
From the perspective of the media executives, they are in the business of making profits. The American public may not realize that “232 media executives control the information diet of 277 million Americans (Lutz, 2012). It is challenging to understand what that means from a persuasive point of view, but judging from the unexpected outcome of the recent presidential election, there are numerous other factors besides the news media. Mr. Trump was not shown in a particularly positive light during the weeks leading up to the election; in fact, he was quoted more than once as claiming the news sources were biased in Hilary Clinton’s favor. Social media sites are becoming much more influential as well. This seems to be one place where most opinions and even facts can be read by millions of people with less control from media executives. Fact-checking sites are an important feature to use, however, in order to make an educated decision.
There are many ways that news stories today are being twisted and turned for effect. This is where satire on news has had a significant influence as well. Shows such as The Daily Show and The Colbert Report have large audiences for the reason that they can provide an element of humor instead of the seriousness in the world. “You’re just replacing one word. You’re giving people a headline that they have seen … and you’re just making that one-word switch” (NPR Staff, 2013, para. 9). The information media has a social responsibility to the American public; however, in the event that they do not take this responsibility seriously, it is even more important that each citizen reads the news with a critical eye towards exploring the issues more closely. In this way, every person can have an informed vote on the issues that affect every one of us.
- Campbell, J. L. (2007). Why would corporations behave in socially responsible ways? An institutional theory of corporate social responsibility. Academy of Management Review, 32(3), 946-967.
- Entman, R. M. (2007). Framing bias: Media in the distribution of power. Journal of Communication, 57(1), 163-173.
- Lutz, A. (2012, Jun. 14). These 6 corporations control 90% of the media in America. Business Insider. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/these-6-corporations-control-90-of-the-media-in-america-2012-6
- NPR Staff (2013, Aug. 29). Area man realizes he’s been reading fake news for 25 years. NPR.org. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2013/08/29/216439725/area-man-realizes-hes-been-reading-fake-news-for-25-years