Monday, December 10, 2007

Media Choice

I just finished a book called Post-Broadcast Democracy: How media choice .... etc etc by Markus Prior (with the required long academic title after a colon, but let's skip that for now). Good stuff, lots to think about. I'm going to sum up a little of his argument and I'll probably mine it for more material in another post.

Here's a quote from page 19.

I argue that news consumption, learning about politics,
and electoral volatility have changed not so much
because people are different today, but rather because
the media environment is different.

Okay, anyone who has followed media research for the past ten years is not going to see much new in this statement, though Prior does some nifty analysis. He continues:

People have not necessarily changed; they have
merely changed the channel. And they would have
done it sooner, had they been given the chance.

Again, people studying audience fragmentation would not be surprised, but Prior does an excellent job of setting up his argument -- that we are now in a high-choice environment, in part due to cable TV, in part the Internet. The result? People with strong ideological viewpoints are about the only ones consuming news, while those without these partisan ties have shifted to entertainment fare. Again, nothing new here. Hell, I've been saying this for years. Prior, though, does a much better job of showing this through careful (book length, at times tedious) analysis.

He plays a bit with audience numbers (CNN, Fox) compared to network news (ABC, et al). My friends in telecom would gasp at his use of some Nielsen numbers, but his point is well taken -- even for a political scientist stumbling upon this thing called media and grappling with it.

Let's boil it down. With so much media to choose from (cable TV), we can go elsewhere, meaning those who never really liked news all that much can now migrate to other content. The partisan fanatics stick to news. News promotes turnout, entertainment does not. The news media see shrinking markets, and appeal to a more partisan audience, thus the red state, blue state nonsense. There is a feeling of a divided nation when, instead, it is a divided, small, set of voters.
There's a hell of a lot of good stuff here, more than I can cover, but I can't pass up this line from page 25:

But one of the key elements of my analysis is
completely new. Media content preferences --
what types of media content people prefer --
have not been used in the study of politics.

I added the color for emphasis.

Uses and Grats, Media Effects work, a ton of sociology, political communication stuff, and a body of related work, all point to the same thing Prior is trying to say. And he significantly downplays the role of media credibility and cynicism, with seems to almost fit the data better than his cable television diffusion model.

And yet, the point is well taken, and the book is well worth the read.

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