New Media Landscape: Who’s Setting the Agenda Now?

“This narrative heralds the dawn of a new age in public communication, in which the press is needed less and less as a specialized institution. Its premise is simple: the democratization of access to expression through media could put an end to ‘gatekeepers,’…” (4).

Charles Girard’s article, “The Media Revolution and Public Debate,” brings light to a fascinating issue: the new media landscape. Girard presents one of the rising discourses as “the end of mediation,”  that would essentially bring an end to gatekeepers because personal accounts, opinions and “on the ground” experiences are now feeding media outlets, and/or eating them (Yes, I’m always talking about food).

The new public sphere comprises self-expression via a blog or the reading of messages through his/her phone—citizens are finally “equal” and “everyone” has a chance to access information and share with others (I put those two words in quotes because this is clearly not true everywhere).

At the same time, this argument brings about an interesting question that perhaps a media specialist or economist would venture to answer.  Does this new public sphere challenge the capitalistic tendencies of media outlets, whether politically polarized or not?  While media strive for ratings and publish content that attract audiences, do users now have more power to manipulate media content.

Some of our earlier readings allude to the Agenda Setting Theory, as developed by Dr. Max McCombs and Dr. Donald Shaw, which says that media “sets the agenda” for what the public talks about. Even though our modern capitalist society depends on the consumer, is media still setting the agenda? Or, is the landscape changing in a way that WE are both setting the agenda for what the media and public talk about, but also putting the agenda into practice?

Gaby

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4 thoughts on “New Media Landscape: Who’s Setting the Agenda Now?

  1. Gaby deftly points out a trend that may be here to stay: The fact that internet users may “now have more power to manipulate media content.” In doing so, she raises two poignant questions: “Even though our modern capitalist society depends on the consumer, is media still setting the agenda? Or, is the landscape changing in a way that WE are both setting the agenda for what the media and public talk about, but also putting the agenda into practice?”

    I think it’s fairly accurate to say that mass media outlets, such as online, print, radio, and broadcast news networks, still strive to “set the agenda” to better inform and influence consumers of news. With competition from self-service news sites such as Huffington Post, GawThey do a good job, too. Although technology has advanced in leaps and bounds since the 1972 publication of McCombs’ and Shaw’s seminal work, “The Agenda-Setting Function of Mass Media,” the work of many newsroom publishers, editors, and reporters remains the same. They still choose the “who, what, when, where, why, and how” of published stories.

    In our very digitized age, these editors and newsroom staffers control not only the news, but the soundbites, video clips, and memes that come with and/or result from it. (Shallow point: perhaps we’ll always wonder about Howard Dean’s career had this instance of his innocuous enthusiasm not been recorded and re-played over and over on the 24-hour news networks: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDwODbl3muE&feature=related)

    Serious case in point: They are professionals who determine which photo pairings, sound bites, and video clips accompany stories. If I write about Kim Phuc, not many people are going to recall her story. However, if I show her photo (here: http://blisted.breakthrough.tv/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/kim-phuc.jpg) or just describe her story, outlining the image of her as the napalm-covered nine-year old girl she once was, running naked with third degree burns, how can that imagery — professionally captured, escape the U.S. conscience and memories retained from the Vietnam War? How could that have not have influenced policy makers, voters, and the world at large at the time, and still…today? That said, we can’t diminish the importance of social media platforms and citizen blogging when approaching the Arab Spring or the true China that lies just beyond that very strong national firewall. (Nor can I overlook how quickly #hashtags can trend or how memes can fall into the right hands: http://articles.latimes.com/2012/apr/11/news/la-pn-hillary-clinton-hops-onto-texts-from-hillary-meme-20120411.)

    However, comparing the old wartime photography traditions of yesteryear with today’s Twitter, meme-frenzy, and Reddit-based crowd is also akin to comparing apples and oranges. They’re different, but they’re both are fruits…of (different) labor. And continuing Gaby’s lovely food metaphors, as fruits, they both have have (nutritional?) value when consumed, and can serve different purposes.

    The mass media outlets are still largely responsible for the pitch, the angle, the fact-checking and, more importantly in these days of limited means, the financial and human resources that go into these stories. Citizen journalists are empowered to report and may consume news on more of an a la carte basis now, but doing so does not diminish the importance and validity of news information that has been carefully reported, edited, copy-edited, and cleared by the traditional, (ought to be!) objective editorial system in place at many of the world’s best newspapers and magazine bureaux. but In other words, they still have the important role of choosing the news they wish to highlight and the news they wish to downplay. In this sense, they are still very much the gatekeepers of information, news imagery, and therefore, influence.

    • And I should also add that by blogging our thoughts for SIS 640, I do believe we are accomplishing what Gaby wonders — we’ve consumed the agenda set for us and we’re also attempting to put agenda-setting into practice. =)

  2. Great blog post, Gaby. You’ve raised some interesting points. I think the media is still responsible for a great deal of agenda setting. As Mary Jo points out in the above comment, editors and newsroom staffers control media clips and sound bites, and the ones they choose can have a detrimental effect on a politician’s career (a la Howard Dean). Yet I believe that the Internet is quickly eroding the “power” that was once held by the press. Nowadays, if the media doesn’t cover it, a blogger or some enterprising soul will post about it online. A meme will spring up and before you know it, BOOM, you have news. Surely if the Internet had existed in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s day and age, someone would have revealed that the president was wheelchair bound. While I don’t think that the Internet age will ever truly banish agenda setting by the traditional media, it has certainly diminished it. On the flip side, of course, we now have to worry about agenda setting through social media campaigns such as KONY 2012. – Kira

  3. You are right that new media landscapes are not equal for everyone. These new public spheres (i.e.Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, etc.) are certainly social media outlets for people within the digital divide. In referencing the “digital divide” I am drawing on two points: 1) the expanding technological divide, which exists between industrialized states and the developing world, and 2) the manipulation/ deletion, and close monitor-ization of self-expressive views and ideas via new media tools within the last decade.

    The reason for the un-equalness in access, and freedom of expression are the political implications that states might face, which could effect not only a state’s national image, but its legitimacy and existence. Holding this in high regard, state media regulations and policies have been set in place to restrict & monitor media content, and news that is discussed. In China, particularly, new media landscapes are censored and monitored constantly to ensure that there are no anti-CCP messages being published, or shared.

    Presently, it appears that new public spheres and social media outlets are capable of creating agendas, and providing new avenues to access information. The inability to control these networks is the greatest worry of most nation-states today. While new media technology is an easily accessible tool for expressing oneself, the power over controlling the content inside these new media landscapes continues to rest in the hands of both the people and the states.

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