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Posted by on Jan 6, 2011 in Media | 0 comments

Stuff That Irritates Me

Yes, it has been awhile since I’ve blogged here. Graduate school has been more of a challenge than I ever imagined. No matter what the amorphous “they” tell you, going back to school after a 22-year absence is not an easy undertaking. Regardless, I survived the first semester and start another Jan. 18.

I don’t know how much I’ll be able to contribute to TMV before or after that date, but inspiration struck this morning, and I wanted to post before other obligations distracted me.

Today’s theme, as the title of the post suggests, is “stuff that irritates me.” And prime on the list, this morning, is the persistent but flawed notion that newspapers are obsolete.

Sure, as the Pew-generated charts linked above suggest, my generation and my son’s generation are increasingly relying on the omnipresent Internet for news. In fact, my son’s generation now prefers it above all other sources, including TV. But that does not mean newspapers are obsolete. To the contrary, the news organizations that produce newspapers remain terribly influential. In fact, they are prime drivers of the actual news that’s available on and consumed via the Internet.

A term paper I wrote in my first semester of graduate school concerned “agenda setting theory,” which is the notion (repeatedly tested and confirmed) that “the press may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling people what to think about.”* In other words, media don’t force us to believe something, but they exert a powerful influence over the menu or agenda of issues we deem to be the most important issues of the day.

In the literature on agenda setting, you’ll discover a related line of inquiry known as “intermedia agenda setting,” which considers questions such as these: “If the media shape the public’s agenda, who or what shapes the media’s agenda?” and “Do certain media have an outsized influence on the agenda of other media?”

Regarding the latter of those two questions, I reviewed a series of recent academic articles and the consensus among them was overwhelming: In publishing information about important issues of the day, new media (blogs, in particular) tend to mirror the “agenda” of traditional media (newspapers, in particular) and rely on those traditional media for original information about said issues.

Yes, there are exceptions. Yes, certain Net-based outlets (e.g., The Huffington Post) are challenging newspapers with original reporting. But by and large, newspapers and newspaper-centric media like The New York Times, Washington Post and Associated Press, still define the issues about which the rest of us write.

I do not intend, in my first and potentially only post of 2011, to offend the entire blogosphere, especially not my TMV colleagues. But if we’re honest with ourselves, I think we’d have to admit that, while our Internet home may now be the most popular of news destinations among the next generation, we and they still owe an immense debt of gratitude to newspapers, that less popular but still remarkably powerful medium of our fathers and grandfathers.

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* From Bernard Cohen’s 1963 book, The Press and Foreign Policy, p. 13.

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