Are the media trying to influence or opinions?


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Are the media trying to influence our opinions? Analysed the coverage of Seb Coe and the Olympics, in a variety of newspapers.

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Are the media trying to influence or opinions?

  1. 1. 17 May 2007 Mass Communications 33177934 Assignment 2 Are the media trying to influence our opinions? Rationale The intentions of this essay are to analyse the possible sources that helped The Independent produce the story, and to establish the purposes, intentions and interests behind the news story. To do this there are some questions that need to be considered: ? Why was this story written, and why in this specific way? ? Could the story have been written differently? ? If so, was the story covered in a different way elsewhere? I hypothesise that the media are trying to influence our opinions and that each story is written in a certain way for a specific ‘mass audience’ whose attitudes they think they can control. I will use answers to the above and PR theories to ascertain whether my hypothesis was accurate or not. ‘Coe kindles the dream of a new Olympian age’ Purpose The story under scrutiny is ‘Coe kindles the dream of a new Olympian age’ (Appendix A – Article 1), printed on 07 July 2005 by The Independent. To answer the aforementioned questions, this article was written to emphasise to the public the positive points to winning the London 2012 bid but mainly as a tribute to Lord Coe and his substantial involvement in the bid that resulted in London’s victory, a victory that without Lord Coe would most possible not have occurred. This story could have and has been covered and written in many different ways by a diverse range of news outlets. Target Audience One thing that is evident from the content of the story in The Independent is the language used and the style in which it has been written, this is a definite intention which can be attributed to the type of audience that this article was aimed at: 1
  2. 2. 17 May 2007 Mass Communications 33177934 Assignment 2 “…on a smoggy night in Los Angeles, young Sebastian Coe was described as the Lord Byron of the running track. It was a prophetic utterance”. The difference between readers of tabloids and readers of broadsheets has never been proven but a study by Andersen, 2003, showed that broadsheet readers were more enlightened and that this may be due to the greater detail that broadsheets put into their political and social issues, this may correlate with a higher level of education and ‘news interest’ in their audience than tabloid readers, the study also reveals that the ‘broadsheet group’ had the most consistent set of attitudes towards libertarian/authoritarian issues. One probable reason that the same story is written differently depending on its target audience is because of the theory that one’s culture can determine the way in which we interpret a ‘message’. This is supported in a chapter by Schirato & Yell (2000), where they suggest: “….three components are essential to any understanding and analysis of Communication practices. These are: 1. the relationship between communication and culture; 2. the notion that meaning and practice are context specific; and 3. cultural literacy” In this case The Independent are aware that there audience a likely to be intellectuals interested in a story such as this, and the angle that has been presented and the language used support this awareness. The style of writing also supports The Independent’s readership as it is very long-winded, congested and factual, but lacks quotes and entertainment value. ‘Game, set and snatch!’ In complete contrast to this, on the same day, The Sun ran the story ‘Game, set and snatch!’ (Appendix B – Article 2) This story is written in a far more colloquial style than the first, this again is to maintain the interest of the particular type of reader that purchases The Sun, as an economic and social research paper commented (Gavin, 2005): 2
  3. 3. 17 May 2007 Mass Communications 33177934 Assignment 2 quot;It could be that Sun and Mirror readers buy the newspaper primarily for it’s’ coverage of sport and entertainment and not political or economic commentquot; Not only is the language a lot more relaxed but the angle of the story also leans towards the entertainment market rather than that of factual news. The main story is that Britain’s are celebrating their success in winning, again this angle may be to do with readership more than anything else as it has been shown that the sun is historically right-wing and a big labour supporter (British Expat Ltd, 2006), therefore the story is very patriarchal and this image is sustained through various quotations from the prime minister and the queen. In contrast to this the article in The Independent, a slightly left-wing supporter, contains no quotes from the Prime Minister, in fact barely a mention of his name. The style in which this article was written is a lot lighter, more entertaining and supported with many quotes and numbers sensationalising the story as oppose to supporting the facts, there is also more emphasis placed on the opinions of ‘popular’ characters in today’s society such as David Beckham. PR Sources “Public relations is about reputation - the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you”. (CIPR, 2006). Whether we realise it or not PR is going on around us everyday: “The most effective public relations work is that which leaves no indication whatsoever that it was the product of a PR agency - subtly influencing newsmakers to cast a story a certain way that pertains to the desired image of said agency's benefactors”. (D5G7, 2007) It is obvious if we consider the content of similar stories from two different newspapers; The Sun (Article 2), and the Daily Mail (Appendix C – Article 3), that both these stories arose from the same source; they were just written in different ways. 3
  4. 4. 17 May 2007 Mass Communications 33177934 Assignment 2 The most likely sources in this case, being such a big national story, would be a press release and a press conference, as press release would provide the journalists with facts, figures and supporting features (photos for example), prior to the announcement. A press conference would be the quickest, most efficient way to convey information to the media following a story such as this (as the outcome was not definite), a conference allows the information to be transmitted to several different media outlets simultaneously. In this instance you would expect all the coverage on this event would be identical, however, evidently this is not the case, but there are similarities which is what points to a press conference as the main PR source. Article 2 and Article 3 share many identical quotes for example; “the biggest prize in sport”. If these words and the others illustrated were not uttered at an intentional press conference then it is a massive coincidence that they found themselves in different papers on the same days, covering the same stories. However, it is also noticeable that the quotes have been applied in different ways, the above quote for instance was used in the opening paragraph of the Daily Mail story, a newspaper for ‘Stepford wives’ in which Articles tend to be written in one of two tones - either sycophantic praise of middle-class lifestyles and their trappings, or moral outrage at the ever-increasing wickedness of the modern world. it is rabidly conservative. On the other hand in a newspaper believed to be more interested in the ‘entertainment value’ of the news this quote was hidden amongst many as more of a sideline not a headline. The use of this PR source was not hugely evident in Article 1 as The Independent has chosen to focus further on the facts presented on the day rather than the quotes and perhaps ‘speculation’ of the event. This has clearly required a lot more in depth research into the news values of the event as oppose to a PR source, unless these facts were presented in a press pack form. This suggests that The Independent is aware of its reader’s interests and have adapted accordingly, portraying more positive support for my initial hypothesis. The Mass Audience “There are no masses, only ways of looking at people as masses” (Raymond Williams, 2001) 4
  5. 5. 17 May 2007 Mass Communications 33177934 Assignment 2 The above quote by Williams, 2001, supports the theory that although masses are not effectively real, audiences are treated as such, whether this is to make publication easier towards a predetermined ‘target audience’ is not yet known. The concept of the ‘mass audience’ came about during the industrial revolution, where in the countryside people were seen as close knit communities however, when moved to the cities, although the people were close physically this did not carry through to an expressive connection, the ‘masses’ were seen as an emotionally detached group. This emotionally detachment is discussed further in the Choo, 1995 chapter; where it is stated that “mass audiences tend to be passive”. To analyse whether the media expose this to their advantage we need to define passive audience in a deeper sense. An audience that is seen to be ‘passive’, passively responds to and accepts media content, rather than actively engaging intellectually and emotionally with it. This theory supports my primary hypothesis partially in such a way that if the media perceive their audience to be a passive one, then they do indeed believe that they can control the opinion of the audience by controlling the information the audience is exposed to. I feel in relation to the hypothesis this may be dependent on the type of audience the different media are approaching, for example, that of The Sun may be seen as more passive than that of The Independent as their readers may be better educated and therefore more willing to question the information they receive, again, this involves stereotyping the ‘typical’ readership of the media in question. Media Effects Do the media and public relations companies really believe that the media can affect us, and if so what kind of media effects do they think occur, and to what extent? It has never been proven to what extent the media affects us, nonetheless the media still exists, why is this? There have been four main phases throughout history in the case of media effects, the 1930s saw rise to the image of a powerful media, the belief was a simple cause and effects model, very basic, but also deemed to be very powerful, it was simply believed that one cause would lead to one effect. In the 1950s and 60s this was more restricted in the ‘limited-effects’ phase, it was 5
  6. 6. 17 May 2007 Mass Communications 33177934 Assignment 2 thought that there were effects following media exposure however these were limited to superficial aspects of life as oppose to major issues, there were also considered to be mediating factors involved determining the level of effect. In the 1970s a more powerful media effect was discovered, in this case it was developed into two models, and circumstances were taken into account. Finally, the most recent phase, the negotiated media influence phase, concluded that the media can have an effect in forming opinions in an audience, but that audience has the power to accept or reject those ideas. Conclusion The preliminary hypothesis: The media try to influence our opinions by communicating with us as a mass audience, dependent on the specified target market of that media. Following much research into pr theories and models, and using case studies from a variety of media I believe that there is definitely some intention on the media’s part to control or influence what we ‘think’ on particular topics by what they present to us. This has become evident in the variety of ways that the media communicates, for instance; the style of writing, the content, the language and the angle of story will fluctuate extensively between papers, with information gathered from the same PR sources. Of course, this is also an objective of the PR behind the story, but this is not what is under scrutiny at this present time. Through three examples, of the same initial story; The success of the London 2012 bid, from The Independent, The Sun and the Daily Mail, it is abundantly clear that they are targeting their information towards a specific audience, this audience is being viewed as a stereotypical mass in most cases. However, to adjust my original hypothesis, I believe that the intent of the media to influence their readers differs from paper to paper and story to story, this may be due to the level of passiveness that each media allocate to ‘their audience’, the political connotations of the story or merely depending on the personal opinion of those in control of the media. 6
  7. 7. 17 May 2007 Mass Communications 33177934 Assignment 2 Word Count: 2059 7