Yesterday I had the opportunity to read an interesting article entitled “I Lost my Dad to Fox News” by Edwin Lyngar and it spoke to me somewhat.  This was not because of any specific political ideology I have, but because of the latest (and most fun) class I’ve had the opportunity to teach, Media and Politics.  I’ve always had an affinity for the media (as a Communications MS), but my love for politics has been evident since my college years.  I minored in Political Science, have volunteered on campaigns in the past and have always done my research when voting season rolls around.   This class was perfect for me to teach.

Before reading this blog piece, it’s important to read the article, as I don’t want to summarize it.  Any summary would not do it justice.  (The article is located at:   http://slnm.us/s7tyt23).  Also, I want to preface this article by saying I will not be adding any of my personal political commentary here, just a discussion of our present-day media.

The idea behind the blog piece is that our older generations are being influenced (to say the least) by the propaganda empire that is FOXNews.  I’d like to discuss several reasons why this is happening:  media conglomeration, demographics and gatekeeping.

The first reason that our older generation relies on FOXNews is media conglomeration.  Whether we like it or not, our media is owned by six major companies.  This leads to a multitude of problems, but one of the major problems with this is the bottom-line.  If these companies don’t have advertisers for their product, they don’t make money.  There is an inherent problem with media ownership in our present landscape.  News is no longer out to serve the public interest, it is to sensationalize stories to become more appealing to the viewer.  Why is this?  A viewer is now a consumer and therefore a potential customer for advertisers.  News quality is not what is important, making money is.  And while I’m sure this is no surprise to anyone, the problem is not likely to go away.

This leads to the second reason that FOXNews influences our older generation, demographics.  For those of you that don’t know, CNN leans left (democratic) and FOXNews leans right (republican).  There are many reasons why this may be, but demographics plays a key role.  There needs to be a news outlet that supports the older generation’s ideology. That doesn’t mean that FOXNews even believes what they broadcast; it means that there is a large segment of the population that wants to hear the news spun in this manner.

I don’t want to bog this piece down with a lot of Communication theory here, but one theory that needs to be discussed in this piece is the Uses and Gratifications theory.  Basically, this theory discusses that as news consumers, we will almost always seek out information that is in line with our viewpoints, regardless of who says it.  I gave this example in class:  If you are pro-life on the abortion issue, you seek out information that supports your pro-life standpoint.  Let’s say there are two articles about the topic, one pro-life, one pro-choice.  Even though the pro-choice article could have been written by someone with a doctorate that is very knowledgeable about the topic, you would still side with the pro-choice article even though it may have been written by someone with little or no education.  You do this because it reaffirms your own views on the topic, not because the person writing it is educated.  Twitter is the modern-day example of the Uses and Gratifications theory in play.  We follow those that have the same or similar viewpoints as we do and don’t follow those that do not share our viewpoint.

That said, there are large segments of our population that believe certain things about our country. One is the democrats, one is the republicans.  It’s well-known that the media typically leans to left because the democratic party is often progressive in their ideology.  Younger people tend to be more progressive in nature, while older people are typically more “stuck in their ways”.  FOXNews understands this and intentionally spins their stories to be in line with that republican ideology.  They want those watching their news to agree with their views and make it seem that the “liberal media” is against the republican party.  But really what they are doing is simply shaping their news to the demographic that they serve.  Take a look at some of the “experts” they bring to their programs.  Most of the experts will agree with the spin of the topic of the day.  If they do not, they are berated by the host or simply cutoff totally.  They do this because there are advertisers out there that need to hit this demographic.

The final reason that FOXNews influences our older generation is gatekeeping.  Gatekeeping refers to those people who have extreme power to determine what news makes the broadcast.  Imagine the power the owner and producers of FOXNews have.  They get to determine for a large segment of the country what news is worth being discussed.  One key thing to remember is that the news media doesn’t necessarily tell how to think, but what to think about.  So if all day FOXNews goes on and on about how Barack Obama’s new Healthcare plan is responsible for holding back our economy, those watching these newscasts will tend to believe what they are hearing over and over.

To me, this is the same reason that political radio talk-show hosts are rarely (if ever) moderate.  They have to appeal to certain demographics that the station is seeking.  That in turn determines what news will be broadcast and what spin that broadcast will contain.  I understand there are exceptions to some of the things I’ve mentioned, but media studies must generalize certain points.  I’d contend that the gatekeepers for FOXNews don’t even believe what they are saying (and the journalists most certainly do not), but as long as the overwhelming majority of the audience believes what is said, they’ve done their job.

Unfortunately, this trend will not change.  There was a comment in the article that FOXNews will die when the demographic passes on, but I don’t agree with this statement.  As we grow older, our ideologies change as is what is important to us as a human being.  FOXNews understands this and will alter their broadcasts to reflect what is important to the demographic that they seek.  Don’t count on FOXNews going anywhere anytime soon.

Paul M. Miller
Professor, Central Penn College
Social Media Editor, KollisionMedia

pmiller@kollisionmedia.com

Twitter: @SolutionsforAdv

LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/paul-miller/3b/b5/495

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