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Americans use many different sources of media to gain information about the government. This lesson explores American media information sources throughout history and looks at the influence of old and new media.

Media Information Sources

In 1960, presidential candidates Richard Nixon and John F.

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Kennedy participated in a debate. Some people listened to the debate on the radio, while others watched it on television. Afterward, most radio listeners thought Nixon won the debate, but the majority of television viewers thought Kennedy won. How can this be?Americans use several different media sources in order to gain information about the government.

A media source is any resource that serves as a means of communicating to a general, public audience. These sources are important because the medium in which we receive a message shapes the message.For example, television is a kind of visual media.

The combination of pictures and words often evoke an emotional response from viewers. Television viewers typically remember how a news story made them feel, rather than the details of the story. On the other hand, readers are much more likely to remember the details of a news story when they’ve read an article in the newspaper.So, while Nixon made several good political points during the debate, radio listeners were unable to see his sweating and uneasiness. Kennedy was photogenic and appeared calm and assured next to Nixon. Let’s take a further look at the most popular American media information sources and their influence on politics.

Print Media

Before anything else, we had print media.

Print media includes books, newspapers, newsletters and magazines. Though print media readership has declined in recent years, studies show that regular readers of print media are more politically active than those who get their news elsewhere. This makes print an important media source.

Print media in the U.S. began with The Federalist Papers, which were published and distributed to promote the ratification of the Constitution. Our early newspapers were typically propaganda, meaning they printed information that was biased or misleading in order to promote or publicize a particular political point of view.During this era, public officials and politicians didn’t worry much about what a newspaper printed about them. Each newspaper promoted a particular political agenda, so information was meant to be favorable to that stance.

But by the mid-19th century, many independent newspapers joined the market. This competition led to yellow journalism, which is journalism that exploits, distorts or exaggerates in order to attract readers. Yellow journalism made public officials more aware of the media’s role in coloring the public’s perception of them.Yellow journalism also led to our nation’s first investigative journalism.

Muckrakers were a group of journalists who exposed injustices and political corruption in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Muckraking tactics are still common today.For example, WikiLeaks is a website founded in 2006 so that whistleblowers can anonymously share confidential documents. WikiLeaks doesn’t investigate items, but provides a forum for others to publicize criminal or unethical behavior by public officials. WikiLeaks famously posted U.S. government documents exposing classified details about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Due to media sources like WikiLeaks, public officials know that even classified information can become ‘news.’

Broadcast Media

Next, let’s look at the development of broadcast media sources. Today, most Americans get their news and information from broadcast media, which includes radio, television and Internet. Radio was our first form of broadcast media and became popular in the 1920s. Broadcast media provided public officials with a more personal and direct way to reach out to citizens.

For example, President Franklin Roosevelt gave regular radio addresses known as fireside chats. These chats were broadcast between 1933 and 1944 in order to discuss various political issues, such as the banking crisis. Radio allowed Roosevelt to convey his stance directly to the public, using a warm and friendly delivery, rather than relying on reporters.Television became more prominent in the 1950s. It quickly grew to be a popular source of news and information, though it wasn’t as highly regarded as print media at the time.

With television, public officials could be seen in America’s households. Most seized the opportunity to leave favorable impressions. For example, Dwight Eisenhower was the first presidential candidate to use televised political ads.The 1960 presidential debate between Kennedy and Nixon was the first to be televised. It’s no wonder Nixon didn’t properly prepare for his new television image.

By the 1970s, public officials commonly hired make-up artists, speech coaches and other consultants in order to project the most likable image possible. President Ronald Reagan, a former actor, was well known for his polished and charismatic television presence during his 1980s presidency.

Internet Media

More recently, Internet media have provided a more immediate outlet for news and information. This is a form of broadcast media and includes any news or information gained from an Internet website. Note that, more Americans than ever before rely on online news sources instead of print, radio or television.Many newspapers, radio and television stations host news websites, where people can access news stories around the clock.

By the late 2000s, Internet media expanded to also include social media, which is Internet-based social interaction between users. Social media includes popular websites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and allows users to share and exchange information.Internet media are frequently interactive. For example, most Internet news articles allow readers to post comments that are accessible to other readers.

Also, people can personally tailor their news by subscribing to specialized sources, such as following a particular news source on Twitter.Internet media sources have a strong influence on traditional forms of media. In 2004, CBS news anchor Dan Rather publicly challenged President George W. Bush’s service record in the National Guard. News bloggers, who are generally not professional journalists, came to the president’s defense by publicly discrediting Rather’s sources of information. CBS eventually issued a public apology.

Many public officials are now wary that information can be quickly documented and disseminated through social media. This is a far cry from the days when a news story had to be written by a reporter, edited and printed before making its way to the public. Now, anyone can ‘report’ news to the public.

For example, presidential candidate Mitt Romney was speaking at a private fundraising dinner in 2012 when he said that 47 percent of Americans didn’t pay income taxes. A video of these controversial remarks quickly circulated through political blogs and social media and is largely credited for his failed campaign.

Lesson Summary

Let’s review.

Americans use several different media sources to gain information about the government. These are resources that serve as a means of communicating to a general, public audience. Media sources are important because the medium in which we receive a message shapes the message.Print media were developed first and include books, newspapers, newsletters and magazines. At first, public officials didn’t have to worry about media coverage since political parties ran the newspapers. Later, yellow journalism and muckraking meant public officials had to be careful of what was printed about them.

Broadcast media were developed next and include radio, television and Internet. Broadcast media provided public officials with a more personal and direct way to reach out to the citizens. The use of television meant public officials had to develop positive visual images.

Internet media are a form of broadcast media and include any news or information gained from an Internet website. This includes social media. Through social media, anyone can ‘report’ news to the public. This means public officials must be cautious that any information can become ‘news.’

Learning Outcome

After watching this lesson, you should be able to examine the history of American media sources and describe the various types.

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