Mass Media Theory

Element Descriptor

Turns out that the media isn’t a crystal clear pane, a window on the world. Who knew? But beyond “journalists are lazy” and “those who own the newspapers also own this land” what is going on? Not being able to explain the structural/systemic biases will leave you confused and sounding all tin-foil-hatty.

Level descriptors

NovicePractitionerExpertNinja
Aware of the systematic – rather than individual – nature of influence on newspapers and media (i.e. beyond lazy/corrupt journalists as an explanation.)
Basic awareness of churnalism and the Herman and Chomsky propaganda model
Able to compare and contrast different (local) media outlets (print and electronic media) and their accessibility to climate campaigners.Able to analyse daily and weekly content of local media, and show how it is framed around certain narratives, and how these are useful/not useful to ecological concernsLike an expert, only in other languages, with cross cultural and historical comparisons thrown in for laughs.

Element Overview Essay

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So, the reasons mass media theory is not understood, done badly is that it can slide over very easily into something that it is not, which is conspiracy theory. Also it requires us to go beyond very simple explanations of the ownership of newspapers, or the laziness and stupidity of individual journalists. When you start talking about structural filters, people assume that you are wearing a tinfoil hat to keep out the aliens mind control.

The consequences of not understanding theory of how mass media works, for example, the Herman and Chomsky propaganda model, or the Glasgow Media Group, is that you’re constantly enraged and surprised at the distortions, evasions, silences, and smears in the mass media, rather than seeing them for what they are, as a feature, not a bug.

The fixes for this are pretty straightforward. You need to be familiar with the Herman and Chomsky propaganda model and how it applies. And any additional points about for example, the way that science is or is not communicated in mainstream media. And you also need to keep up-to-date on the tricks of the trade and the ways that Social media has leveraged in this and private eye has a regular streets of shame feature, which also fills in some of the empirical gaps or adds empirical flavour to the theoretical underpinnings. You need to be able to explain this succinctly and not over egg the pudding by having it explain everything in an overarching theory. And as Chomsky points out, there are individual journalists doing very good work. And if you know how to read the mainstream media, especially the business press, you can in fact get a tolerably accurate picture of how the world is run and where It is going and once you have that, you’re going to need to up you’re staring into the abyss/ despair management skills even further. 

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Assessment Resources