Mass Media Research
The interest of sociologists in mass communication was stimulated by developments in technology allowing the reproduction and speedy transmission of messages. It began with the rise of the popular press, followed by the invention of film, sound broadcasting (or radio), and the audiovisual, including television and cable television. In the past decade, this interest has grown to embrace computer-influenced adaptations of these traditional mass media, the latest being the World Wide Web (www), which is part of the Internet, or the Information Superhighway.
All of us live in a world of media-constructed images that, presumably, significantly influence what we think and how we partition our attention, time, and other scarce resources. So pervasive has been the media presence that issues relating to these influences have also drawn the attention of researchers from disciplines other than sociology.
It is to Harold Lasswell (1947), an empirically oriented political scientist, that the social science community owes a succinct formula that lays out the major elements within the field of communication research: Who says what in which channel to whom and with what effects? Only some channels lend themselves to mass communication, which can be defined, in the terms of the above formula, as the transmission by professional communicators (who) of a continuous flow of a uniform content (what) by means of a complex apparatus (channel, or how) to a large, heterogeneous, and geographically dispersed audience (to whom), the members of which are usually anonymous to the communicator and to each other.
Not included in this definition of mass communication are its effects or, more broadly speaking, its consequences, toward which most of the sociological research effort has been directed. The physical or electronic transmission of message content does not in itself suffice for communication. Communication is indisputably social, in that it consists of a meeting of minds between communicator and audience, in the sense of mutual accommodation. Yet the nature and extent of effects have been, over the years, the central problem of sociological interest in media research.
Effects, however, do not stand alone as a separate and independent dimension for research. More accurately, scholars have investigated the effects of each element in Lasswell’s formula. For example, there has been analysis of what effects the different kinds of communicator controls may have, whether the who be defined by demographic characteristics and professional values of the communicator (Weaver and Wilhoit 1996; Weaver with Wu 1998) or as the growing big-business controls over mass media through concentration of ownership by not more than ten corporations (Bagdikian 1997). In other research, the effects of different kinds and amounts of media content have been analyzed to determine what was likely to have influenced particular audience behavior, as has been what difference it makes whether news is obtained from radio, television, or newspapers.
Media effects have been studied on three levels: the atomistic, the aggregate, and the societal. Effects on the atomistic level involve the cognitive processes and behavioral responses of individuals who make up the various mass audiences. By contrast, aggregate measures take into account only distributions that produce changes in averages usually expressed as net effects. Consequences for society have more to o with the political, cultural, and other institutional changes that represent cumulative adaptations over time to the dominance of a particular mass medium. Inferences based on the observation of effects on one level when ascribed to effects on a different level have often turned out to be invalid.
The Atomistic Level
Much of the media research effort has been a response to the operational needs of communicators and propagandists, or of those who wished to defend the public against what was perceived as the pernicious influence of the media. The basic problem has been that of precisely pinpointing effects: What were the characteristics of the potential audience? Who among them was susceptible? What were the determinants of their reactions?
To answer these and similar questions, audience research has typically focused on the situations in which mass communications are receivedand on the habits and cognitive processes that underlie the responses of individuals either to specific media messages or to some significant part of the media fare. The responses under scrutiny have ranged from the arousal of interest, gains in knowledge, the recognition of dangers, changes of opinion, and other attitudinal measures to such behavioral indicators as consumer purchases, electoral decisions, and the ‘‘elevation’’ of cultural taste.
Precisely because of its focus on the individual, this line of research tends to stress the diversity of ways in which individuals relate to media content. First of all, audiences are found to be stratified by education, interest, taste, habits, gender, and age. Taken together, education and age tend to account for considerable variance in media use. The observation that some content had only minimal audience penetration helped explain why some information campaigns failed. Consistent patterns of exposure to different kinds of content further suggested that members of the mass audience, by and large, found what suited their needs and interests.
Second, even common exposure turns out to be a less strong predictor of response than expected. Not everyone understands or understands fully, and reactions are affected by the preconceptions with which people approach the content, by preconceptions rooted in past socialization experience but also reflecting the perspective of groups with which they are associated or identify themselves. Audiences are obstinate and people have options in how they orient themselves to any particular set of messages. They can ignore, misunderstand, accept, find fault with, or be entertained by the same content. In other words, there is no assurance that anyone other than those, for whatever reason, already so disposed will accept the facts, adopt the opinion, or carry out the actions suggested by the mass communicator (Schramm 1973).
This downplaying of the importance of content elements by a methodical partitioning of the mass audience received systematic formulation in the ‘‘minimal effects’’ theorem, derived from Joseph Klapper’s review (1960) of certain empirical research findings of studies conducted mostly during the 1940s and 1950s. He generalized that certain factors, such as audience characteristics and a pluralistic media structure, which mediated between content and response, worked primarily in the service of reinforcement of prior attitudes. Changes triggered by exposure were pretty much limited to people whose situations already impelled them to move in that direction. Klapper did, however, acknowledge the power of mass communication to move people on matters with which they were unfamiliar and concerning which they had no distinct views of ingrained habits.
Strong evidence in favor of not-so-minimal effects has come from observations made in the laboratory, especially through the series of experimental studies on children, reported in Television and Social Behavior, conducted under the auspices of the U.S. Surgeon General (Murray and Rubinstein 1972). After exposure to programs that included ‘‘violent’’ behavior, subjects often engaged in similar behavior during their play, and were more likely than subjects not so exposed to commit other violent acts.
Such experiments generally have been set up to maximize the possibility of demonstrating direct effects. Thus, in this instance, children, especially young children, would be inclined to model their own behavior on what they see. Moreover, such findings of short-term effects observed in a play situation have to be considered within the context of the whole socialization experience over many years. Longitudinal studies and experimental studies of older children in a more natural setting have yielded results that are more ambiguous (Milavsky et al. 1973). Laboratories do not fully replicate communication situations of real life (Milgram 1973).
Over years of study, conflicting evidence emerged about the relation between mass media (largely televised) violence and its influence on aggressive behavior. Operational definitions of key variables, research designs, and support for research having come from the television industry or not, all have been viewed as possible influences on the research results themselves.
The media-violence effects issue is one in which research results have played an important role in public policy debates involving the broadcast industry often pitted against public interests. Decades of debate eventually led to passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, authorizing an electronic device called the V-chip, that wouldallow blocking programs with violent programming from television viewing (Rowland 1997).
In recent years, concern over the media-violence effects issue has been ‘‘exported’’ to the rest of the world through the multiple means of transmission and aggressive marketing by multinational corporate media interests. Public opinion surveys in all corners of the globe indicate disturbance by the ubiquitousness of television violence (Maherzi 1997).
The challenges posed by experimental studies have to be faced. Casual but repeated exposure to televised messages results in incidental learning. For example, content of advertising appeals gradually intrude into our consciousness until we associate a product with a particular brand name, or issues dominating the news become the criteria by which we measure the effectiveness of a political leadership. Insofar as the various mass media sources transmit similar content and play on similar themes, such limited effects, if they are cumulative, can produce shifts of significant proportions.
Because the responses of persons are so diverse, the effect of communication en masse has to be conveyed in some kind of summary measure—as an average, a trend, a general movement. From this perspective, the magnitude of the shift in the responses of individuals, or whether this represents reinforcement or a reversal, matters less than the general picture, taken over time.
How differently effects can appear when viewed from different perspectives, and at different periods of time, may be illustrated by reference to studies of the diffusion of innovations (Rogers 1995). Detailed documentation in the more than fifty-year tradition of diffusion studies has spanned many disciplines and many nations, bringing revision and fine-tuning to the original concepts. The early diffusion model was applied to post–World War II development programs in agriculture, family planning, public health, and nutrition. Today, the model is being applied to areas as diverse as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and the Internet.
The process by which innovations are adopted and spread suggests that early adopters, also called ‘‘influentials’’ or ‘‘opinion leaders,’’ depending on context, are more cosmopolitan in their orientation and hence more attuned to certain media messages. They select from the total stream the messages that best meet their needs and interests. Others will adopt an innovation only after its success has been demonstrated or, if that is precluded— as it would be in most political decisions— out of trust in the expertise of the pacesetters. One can account for the different behavior of leaders and followers in such situations—that is, why one person moves ahead and another is content to wait—in terms of personal characteristics and social relationships. Aggregate effects, on the other hand, have to do with whether or not there has been a general movement toward acceptance or rejection of the innovation.
The most direct measures of aggregate effects are to be found in two-variable relationships designed to show cause and effect, with one variable functioning as an indicator of media presence and the other representing the response. Many such combinations are possible. One can use media penetration (e.g., newspaper circulation, or the proportion of homes with a television set) or content characteristics (e.g., the number of violent acts in children’s programs, editorial endorsements, or issues emphasized in the news). This rules out media behavior, which is voluntary for individuals in the audience, and may bring into question the influence of still other, often unmeasured, variables that also account for the presumed effect.
As the age of television dawned, opportunities for ‘‘controlled’’ observation—comparing two matched areas, one receiving television and the other not yet within reach of the broadcast signal— were never fully exploited. Rarely did findings about the advent of television go beyond documenting the rather obvious fact that television viewing cut into the use of some other media, especially radio and to a lesser degree movie attendance and children’s comic book reading. Nor were the consequences of this reallocation of time at all clear.
A study of children in ‘‘Teletown’’ and ‘‘Radiotown,’’ the latter community still without television but comparable in other respects, concluded that before television, many children (had gone) through the same type of change as todayfrom fantasy-seeking media behavior toward reality- seeking media behavior (Schramm et al. 1961).
For another natural experiment, a researcher was able to identify a Canadian town that was to get television within a year, after being unable to obtain reception because of geographic location. Comparisons were made with two other communities, one that would receive a second television channel and one that remained the same that year, with four channels. Results showed that the arrival of television did make a difference in children’s reading skills, aggression levels, sex role stereotyping, and attendance at social events outside the home (Williams 1986).
Any such cause-effect evidence from natural experiments is lacking on matters relating to citizen participation among adults in national elections. Systematic comparisons between the turnout and overall responsiveness to ‘‘party’’ issues during the 1952 presidential election in counties with high TV penetration and low TV penetration revealed no consistent differences, probably because other media were already saturated enough with campaign material to have produced a high level of interest. Situations subject to such ‘‘ceiling’’ effects prevent further research in response to the presence of a new medium.
Variations in content, when they occur, have offered far more opportunities for controlled observations, many of which have challenged the conventional wisdom. That voters on the west coast of the United States would be dissuaded from voting in the presidential election once television, based on early returns, had declared a winner seemed only logical. Yet studies showed that westerners continued to cast ballots in roughly the same proportions as their compatriots in states where polls had already closed. In voting, they were evidently moved by considerations other than practical utility and by other competing media messages. Whatever the effects of such broadcast returns on the decision to vote or not to vote, they have been too small for detecting with present techniques of measurements (Lang and Lang 1984, ch. 5). As regards editorial endorsements, where the range of variations is greater, research has shown that such support gives candidates for minor offices, many of whom are only names on a ballot, an incremental but nevertheless distinct advantage over other minor candidates on the same slate.
Correlations that pair media use variables with some measure of response always imply change over time. The alternative is to conduct beforeand- after studies in response to events as they are being communicated via the mass media: a televised speech by a political leader, the announcement of an unexpected reversal of government policy, news of foreign crisis, or simply the flow of information about economic conditions and problems facing the country.
Polls before and after an appropriately timed speech have documented the power of a head of state to move opinion through appeals directed to the public. Speeches can create greater awareness. They are designed to focus attention on those issues and actions from which the politician stands to benefit. The effectiveness of such media events is apt to be greatest when an issue is just surfacing. Leaders also have the ability to make news. Even without an undisputed success, their public appearances, diligently reported by the news media, are used to dramatize their own role in promoting solutions to matters believed to be of general concern, thereby conferring status on themselves, as well as on the matters they seek to promote.
Careful analysis of the impact of many such events over the years again challenges the conventional wisdom. Neither speeches nor foreign travel by American presidents over the many administrations have, by themselves or in combination, uniformly shored up public support. Public response to these events has been highly dependent on the political context—that is, on whether they coincided with other events that tended to enhance the president’s standing or whether his administration was plagued by intractable problems, such as public concern about a declining economy, an indignation over American hostages whose release it could not effect, or revelations of governmental wrongdoing such as those that surfaced during Watergate and led to the resignation of Richard Nixon as chronicled by Lang and Lang (1983). What stands out in a long line of studies is the general correspondence over time between the overall amount of attention a topic, an issue, or a personality enjoys in the media and the audience’s awareness, interest in, and concern about these. Mass communication influences not so much whatpeople think (opinion) but what they think about (recognition). Insofar as there is enough common emphasis, the media perform an ‘‘agenda-setting’’ function (McCombs and Shaw 1972, 1976; Iyengar and Kinder 1987). Collectively, the media and the audience define the terms of public debate. Media attention also confers status on some of the many voices clamoring to be recognized.
Agenda-setting research requires at least two steps; that is, content analysis is conducted to define the media agenda, and surveys are used to identify the public or audience agenda. This simple formulation, which has been a central focus of effects research in political communication for some years, attributes to the media at one and the same time too much and too little influence. On the one hand, the media do not, all on their own, dictate or control the political agenda. Neither public awareness nor recognition of a problem is sufficient to stir a controversy on which people take sides. On the other hand, access to the media is a major resource for the advocates of particular policies. Concerns become issues through discussion in which political leaders, government officials, news and commentary in the press, and the voices of citizens reciprocally influence one another in a process more aptly characterized as ‘‘agenda building’’ (Lang and Lang 1984). In fact, three agendas—those of the media, the public, and the policy makers—all influence each other in a rather interactive political process (Rogers and Dearing 1988).
The Systemic Perspective
The dissemination of content via the mass communication system occurs in a highly selective fashion. Some information is privileged; other information is available only to those with the interest and resources to pay for it, thereby stratifying societies into the ‘‘haves’’ and have-nots,’’ or into the information rich and the information poor. The upshot of all the efforts to direct communication flow is a repertoire of images of events and ongoing social activities. Media organizations are themselves producers of content. The mass communications through which the world is brought into focus are, in the broadest sense, cultural creations that incorporate the perspectives of the producers and of others whose views have to be taken into account. This influence of the communications system on content, intended or not, is a source of bias often unrecognized by those responsible for it.
One has to differentiate between two sources of bias: technological and social. Technological bias stems from the physical characteristics of the medium. Harold Innis (1951), the Canadian institutional economist, distinguished between bias toward space and bias toward time. Paper, he averred, because of its light weight, was easily transported but also perishable, and so supported the development of centralized administration. The uniformity thus imposed over a given area (space) was usually at the expense of continuity (time). A more flexible medium could adapt to an oral tradition that favored spontaneous cooperation among autonomous units. Indeed, signs continue to point in the direction that cheaper and smaller electronic devices may be radically increasing the control individuals have over the information available to them and what to do with it (Beniger 1986). Information is central to the control individuals have over the social events of the world in which they live.
Applied mechanistically, without regard to who is in control, these categories lead to a simpleminded media determinism. Social bias has to do with how the capabilities intrinsic to the dominant medium are exploited. Television, in and of itself, may not have had a demonstrable effect on voter turnout but nevertheless contributed indirectly. Thus, a nonpartisan political coverage, designed not to offend but with an insatiable appetite for scandal, was implicit in the economic logic of aiming at the largest possible audience while the American regulatory system opened the way for a well-financed candidate could buy nearly unlimited time to air well-targeted, and often negative, political messages. Both trends fed into an already existing distrust of government. Meanwhile, campaign strategies adapted to the medium of television helped undermine the power of party machines to deliver votes. The nominating conventions in which political bosses once traded votes have been transformed into showpieces, played for a national audience as the curtain raiser for the U.S. presidential election campaign.
More generally, its penetration into the spheres of other institutions—political, cultural, educational, and so on—is what makes mass communication a potentially powerful influence on the societal level. It hardly matters whether the media are viewed as a resource or as a threat. The publicity generated through mass communication brings the norms of the larger society to bear on actions that once might have been considered privileged or at least shielded from public scrutiny. Conversely, the competition for visibility is an inducement for elite institutions to adopt at least some of the conventions of the media culture.
There remains the question of who sets these norms and standards. Some scholars have argued that repeated exposure to a sanitized media culture results in ‘‘mainstreaming’’ (Gerbner et al. 1986), or what has been commonly referred to as homogenizing consequences. Accordingly, all but a few of the diverse currents that feed into the kaleidoscope of minority United States cultures, including women and racial and ethnic minorities, receive comparatively little or no recognition. Lacking an effective institutional representation, they are more readily marginalized. Content analyses of character portrayal and the values espoused by heroes and villains, victims and perpetrators of violence in the popular entertainment fare, as well as by surveys of adults, adolescents, and children in the United States, have lent some support to the charge of ‘‘mainstreaming.’’ Such cultivation analysis in cross-cultural settings also is finding support for these kinds of media effects (Signorielli and Morgan 1990). Despite the premium on novelty, most media organizations are inclined not to stray too far from what is popularly accepted but will be likely to eagerly imitate any demonstrated success.
The representation of political views is similarly constrained. Despite the independence of the press and a few celebrated instances where a small number of persistent journalists initiated an inquiry, as when the Woodward and Bernstein team pursued the Watergate story, the more typical pattern is to wait until political actors have highlighted a problem. Usually, it is they, rather than the press, who define the terms of controversies over policy, as was the case in the much-studied limited role of the media, largely American and mostly Cable News Network (CNN), in the 1991 Persian Gulf conflict (Dennis et al. 1991; Media Development, 1991). To paraphrase W. Lance Bennett (1988), when the institutional voices speaking in protest are stilled, all but the more radical media are inclined to drop the issue as well. Discussion and diversity exist but usually within self-imposedlimits.
It should be clear that major media organizations, though important players, are less than fully separate from other establishments. Their influence on events is greatest when they act in conjunction with other agencies.
International, or Global, Research
Into the 1950s, mass communication research was very much a product of the United States: U.S. media programming and news events, U.S. media practices and policies, with necessary consideration of U.S. politics and society. There was a tendency for mass media research to concentrate on one aspect of the communication process originally outlined by Lasswell, namely effects. Later, research refocused some attention on other elements of the communication process—on what was produced and how it was produced.
Research also began exploring dimensions of mass media influence outside the United States. Some studies were international extensions of research already being conducted in the United States, as with the media-violence issue, diffusion of innovations, and cultivation analysis. For other research, the international perspective was the question under investigation: What should be considered when news, television entertainment programming, and other media products cross geopolitical boundaries?
In the 1950s, the identification of four theoretical perspectives of the press—authoritarian, communist, libertarian, and social responsibility— focused attention on the social, political, cultural, and philosophical underpinnings that determine how and why the mass media of various parts of the world are different (Siebert et al. 1956). Here, the press was defined as all available mass media responsible for dissemination of news. Some country-specific case studies have helped to elucidate these differences (Mickiewicz 1988; Alot 1982; Howkins 1982).
The post–World War II era was concerned with reconstruction and development of the socalled Third World and spawned a developmental perspective of the mass media (Schramm 1964; Lerner and Schramm 1967). A fifth concept of the press focused on revolutionary goals of the mass media, with China’s transitions over the past century and the recent emergence of terrorism as examples of present-day extensions of this perspective (Chu 1977; Lull 1991; Nacos 1994).
Debate over international communication issues has been strongly influenced by the political and economic imbalances among the nations of the world. So-called North-South debates juxtapose the concerns of the politically independent, industrialized, and developed part of the world against those of the newly independent countries, which have been trying to shed their colonial pasts and, because they have missed out on the Industrial Revolution, are still developing. Other debates between the East and the West have been reflections the cold-war conflicts between the former Soviet Union and the United States, in which an emergent group of nonaligned countries, largely in the developing world, have refused to take sides.
In the 1970s, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) became an outspoken supporter of efforts by this developing Third World to create a New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO) as the counterpart to calls for a less well known New World Economic Order. UNESCO formed an advisory commission of international scholars, diplomats, and specialists, headed by Irishman Sean MacBride, to study the world’s communications problems, and to address Third World protests against the domination of news flow from industrialized countries of the West to the rest of the world. It was also concerned with issues as diverse as governmental controls, censorship, cultural dominance or imperialism, concentration of media ownership and powerful control of transnational corporations, freedom and responsibility of the press, commercialization of mass media, protection of journalists when they are at work in countries other than their home, access to technology and infrastructure development, and rights to communication (International Commission for the Study of Communication Problems 1980).
Studies proliferated in relation to the various issues posited by the UNESCO report. ‘‘Cultural imperialism’’ that reflected political imperialism of older models from historical colonialism was the theoretical perspective from which empirical studies documented imbalances in the world’s media infrastructures and contents. The ‘‘media imperialist’’ was decidedly Western, and largely American. UNESCO together with professional organizations of scholars and practitioners supported large multicountry studies of international news flow (Sreberny-Mohammadi 1984; Kirat and Weaver 1985). These studies analyzed images, distortion in content, and the role of news agencies, and also explored factors that determine what becomes news (Galtung and Ruge 1965).
This research showed that certain factors do influence news production, such as economic considerations in distribution of news-gathering resources and ease of reporting; importance to the country producing the news in terms of trade, social and cultural ties, geographic proximity, and relative standing or status of nations in the eyes of others. Such findings have influenced shifts in mass media structures and output, such as the increase in national and regional news through agencies like the New China News Agency, also known as Xinhua, and the Caribbean News Agency (CANA).
In these nearly twenty years, the UNESCO debate over NWICO has faded and resurfaced more than once, and UNESCO-sponsored round table discussions continue on a regional basis to provide a forum for discussion of research on global communication issues. A recent UNESCO report on the status of the world’s mass media and how they are handling the challenges of new technologies claims that the problems identified by the MacBride Commission ‘‘still remain a burning issue’’ and are likely to continue to be the focus of research efforts at national, regional, and international levels (Maherzi 1997).
One issue highlighted in the original UNESCO report that has received considerable national and multinational research attention is the inequality of women and girls in societies around the globe, their disproportionate representation in mediarelated employment, and their stereotyped images in news and entertainment media portrayals. More than a decade behind the U.S. civil rights andwomen’s movements that triggered considerable mass media research with implications for local media practices, programming decisions and U.S. policy, this UNESCO report was to become pivotal in pitching these issues to the rest of the world for research and analysis.
The United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995, included women and media among the thirteen major substantive areas for consideration. There were reports on country specific surveys of media practices, characteristics and attitudes of those holding jobs in the media, and program content (All-China Journalists Association and Institute of Journalism, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences 1996) and studies that involved the coordination of data collection in many countries. For example, the Global Media Monitoring Project gathered data from news media—radio, television and newspapers— in seventy-one countries for representation and portrayal of women at one point in time: January 18, 1995. Based on the data, an overall report and separate regional reports were produced. The study provides a large database with policy implications for UNESCO and for media systems in many countries. A benchmark for measuring future change, the Media Monitoring Project’s study remains the most extensive survey of portrayals of women in the world’s news media that has been undertaken to date (Media Watch 1995).
On balance, however, it remains unclear from available research whether women and men working in the mass media take different approaches on issues or events, even if women and men have a different range of interests they select for media attention. Though there has been an increase in the number of women working in the media in the past few years, surveys also show that the world of media remains strongly male (Maherzi 1997).
Most recently, research questions emerging in international communications are centering on the concept of globalization of mass media producers and their products. The concentration and control of media industries into fewer and fewer transnational corporations has long been a concern in research that points to the negative effects of increasing global ‘‘homogenization.’’ It is not without some irony that, on the one hand, the results of mass media investigations have brought about international pressure for diversifying media products with voices of women and minorities of all kinds, while on the other hand, ownership of the world’s media is concentrated in the hands of a few corporate giants.
New Media Technologies
One of these corporate giants in the media world is Time Warner. Years ago, Warner Brothers produced films and Time produced a news magazine. Together, they are now also involved with other aspects of the media environment, including newspapers, magazines, television, cable television, radio, video games, telephones, and computers in the United States and around the world. Understanding why such a corporate giant was created is key to understanding the impacts of new media technologies: ‘‘Convergence’’ of technical infrastructures is leading to consolidation of media products and services.
The Internet, or the Information Superhighway, with the World Wide Web (www), is the most recent development, which has the potential to offer any or all of the aforementioned media products and services through on-line information networks. Current Internet services are transmitted via computer-telephone connections, but explorations of other methods of transmissions are under way, such as cable television and direct satellite links. Obviously, the corporate giants wish to be positioned to take their share of any new media offerings and to provide new delivery systems. What technology will deliver news and entertainment, as well as other information and services, in the future remains an open question.
Regardless of how the infrastructure question is decided, will the definition of ‘‘news’’ remain the same? Because of the vast storage capacity of computers, the role of editors and gatekeepers may change. With the ability of computers to allow more personalized reception of news offerings, will the ‘‘newspaper’’ still be considered a mass medium?
Internet-related services and e-mail already are providing new possibilities for on-line public opinion polls. But so far, such surveys are similar to volunteer call-in or write-in polls and are limited to Internet users. While the number of new Internet users grows daily, by the year 2000 the numbers ofU.S. adults on-line is expected to reach only 60 million (Pew Research Center 1996). Increasingly, on-line users are ‘‘decidedly mainstream,’’ according to a nationwide telephone survey, and for now, television is losing in their allocations of time (Pew Research Center 1998).
At the atomistic level, researchers have conducted ethnographic and clinical observation on how people relate to computers and how they may be reconstructing their basic sense of identity (Turkle 1995).
Is our new world more global or more local (Sreberny-Mohammadi et al. 1997)? Are we moving into Marshall McLuhan’s long-promised ‘‘global village‘‘? Or is it a global megalopolis? Are we moving from UNESCO’s ‘‘many voices, one world’’ to many worlds, one voice?
These are some of the many questions that will occupy media researchers in the near future.
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