To argue about the role of media in our lives would be only redundant since we already know and acknowledge the influence of media over our perception of the world. How the various news media including newspapers, television, radio and more recently Internet affect our thinking and shape our perception requires some close analysis of the way these agencies gather and present news. There is an interesting process that works behind the seemingly simple task of news presentation. For one the media is almost always biased regardless of how they defend their impartiality. We must remember that journalists are capable of molding our perception because they have a certain hidden agenda and if they were unbiased in their opinion, they would have had little impact on our thinking. In an unbiased news piece, it is up to the viewer or reader to decide whom he would side with. However the same kind of liberty is not given by traditional and modern news media as journalists almost always start their piece on an event with biased and pre-conceived notions. Either they are totally in favor of what happened or they are against it; whatever may be the case, journalist would try his best to get his message across (Allan, 1999). Similarly we witness the same biased approach to news writing and presentation on other media as well including TV and the Internet. Let us now compare the traditional media to new media to see which one is more influential and how they differ in their stories and presentation methods.
Internet is where many young adults look for latest news because this is where one can get news as and when it happens without having to wait for newspapers to arrive the next morning. But does that mean online newspapers are replacing print material or regular newspapers. The answer is an emphatic ‘No’. In a survey conducted by NAA titled “Synergize for Success” which is based on interviews of more than 3,000 Internet users, it was revealed that newspaper-reading habits of a large majority had not changed because of online news sites (1). However it was found in another research that Internet users often visit news sites to get the latest news and find no major differences in print and online content. Apart from independent online news sites with no print version, many regular newspapers have online websites, which are frequently updated to help users get the latest news as, and when it happens. The research conducted by Minnesota Opinion Research found that: “Aside from e-mail, the top three reasons people use the Internet are local news, national news and entertainment information” and that “Online newspaper readers consider their online newspaper to be a more useful source of advertising than TV, radio, shopping freebies or yellow pages” (2). This shows that online newspapers have managed to attract large majority of Internet users but have generally failed to accomplish a complete shift from print to Internet. Most users who read online newspapers are people who spend long hours online. It has been found that online news reading is directly proportional to the time one spends online. Most users have no complaints regarding content of online newspapers because it is very similar to when they read in print version. Online newspapers do not simply get material from print media and publish it online. They usually have their own news writers who develop information for online publishing. Only those online sites that have print versions of their newspapers too can be accused of uploading print material.
Now that we understand how newspaper and Internet differ, let us see how the traditional and modern media cover war. Wartime is probably the best time to witness and experience the influence of media on public perception. The fact that more than half the American population which consists of some highly educated, learned people believe that Islam teaches terrorism and most Muslims are terrorists is evidence enough of the influence of media. The media can sometimes totally even ruthlessly control the flow of information to ensure that public remains in the dark about some significant aspects of war and traditional media plays a bigger role in this regard than modern media. This is because newspapers, local and international press is still under some governmental control and journalists and editors are responsible for every word they write. On the contrary the same restriction is not present over the Internet where you can write anything, about anyone and publish it anonymously without fear of ever being caught. Newspapers can obliterate the truth and wartime is when the truth is deliberately shaped and sculpted according to the wishes of the government. This is what happened during the Persian Gulf War of 1990-91.
During the months leading up to the Persian Gulf War of 1990-91 and throughout the war itself the U.S. government succeeded, for the first time in U.S. history, in controlling almost totally what the public would be permitted to know about the conduct of military operations. That happened not because government is as yet all-powerful, but because a smug, arrogant, and self-righteous press was operating twentieth- and twenty-first-century technology with nineteenth-century concepts of organization, training, and management…. As with every major military story since the end of World War II, the press failed. It did not fail because of government censorship. Rather, it failed because of the inadequacies of its own training and organization, deficiencies that prevented it from reporting matters of crucial importance, even when all of the essential facts were in the public domain.” (Kennedy, 1993, ix-x)
Media is always biased, less trained, unprepared, and hasty or simply looking for sensationalism and that is the reason why the news that we receive is either insignificant or highly distorted. Apart from the reporting of various events during the recent Iraq War, which I trust were never reported accurately, the media also tried to divert public’s attention from pressing issues to those of minor significance by obsessing over trivial events. That media cannot be fully trusted for accurate account of events became a big issue when the story of Private Jessica Lynch came forth. Newspapers, televisions, local channels, radio stations and even the Internet obsessed over Jessica Lynch and her rescue from Iraqi forces. Almost overnight, she became the most important person in the world- an icon that everyone wanted to know more about. Lynch was presented as an epitome of courage and bravery and it appeared as if the only real purpose of having U.S. force in Iraq was to rescue Jessica Lynch. “In the fourteen days after her rescue, Lynch drew 919 references in major papers, according to a Nexis search. In that same period, General Tommy Franks, who ran the war, got 639 references, Vice President Dick Cheney 549, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz 389. She stood with the giants.” (Christopher Hanson, 2003)
Internet was no exception with the only difference that because of a large number of sites, we received other news as well. However Jessica Lynch was a war heroine for every media with print media taking the lead. Lengthy stories about Jessica lynch, her life, her childhood, her dreams and goals were presented and almost every news channel carried some stories about the woman who had become a national icon within few days.
The print media later realized its folly when the initial excitement over Jessica lynch story subsided. The Washington Times in its November 23, 2003 issue criticized the media for obsessing over Lynch when there were bigger issues confronting the nation: “To be fair, it isn’t surprising the media have jumped all over the Jessica Lynch story. Pretty, young and blond are three attributes not uncommon to success in the entertainment industry, and we all sympathize with the hardship Jessica endured during her capture in Iraq. However, intending no disrespect to her, Pfc. Lynch is not a heroine – which she herself recently acknowledged to Diane Sawyer in her first TV interview – but merely the victim of an unfortunate wrong turn.”
The media mood swings have actually created a great deal of confusion as public feels betrayed and misled after the media realized its own errors in reporting and the hype that it creates about a certain event. The war is a crucial time for any nation and this is when the public expects to be told the truth. However what we receive from newspapers and television is half-baked stories with candy-colored icing. For example during the U.S.-Iraq war, the media presented distorted picture of war and its purpose. The truth was told later but by then, it was already too late. The difference with the Internet is that news comes in from various quarters and we get to read news from other channels as well. This helps us in developing a more balanced view of war and other events. This is the reason why some Internet users even prefer online newspapers to print newspapers as the study revealed: “Online is preferred over print, in some cases by considerable margins, for respondents’ ability to find the information they need, the time they save finding the right information, entertainment, enjoyability, how the information is organized, how detailed it is and how useful the information is.” (5) For this reason we can conclude that while print newspapers will always be our main source of authentic information, online newspapers are rapidly catching up and may pose a threat to regular newspapers soon.
Stuart Allan, News Culture. Open University Press: Buckingham 1999
William V. Kennedy, The Military and the Media: Why the Press Cannot Be Trusted to Cover a War.: Praeger Publishers. Westport, CT. 1993.
The Washington Times. Lynch, West and Common Sense. November 23, 2003. B05.
Christopher Hanson, American Idol: The Press Finds the War’s True Meaning. Columbia Journalism Review. Volume: 42. Issue: 2. July-August 2003, 58+.
By NAA Market and Business Analysis Staff Print and Online Components Bring Strength to Newspapers
Rusty Coats Online newspapers: are they helping or killing their print parents? – American Press Institute June 01, 2002 http://www.americanpressinstitute.org/content/1434.cfm
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