The role of media in contemporary society

Topic 6 from Mass Media topic of AQA A level Sociology


The new media

While the traditional media involve different devices for different media content like printed format in newspapers, new media technology involves technological convergence where a single device combines various media technologies such as a smartphone enabling users to call and read news. New media is instant and worldwide rather than a newspaper which is only available to those who buy it

Features of the new media

Lister suggests what distinguishes the new from the traditional media:

  • Digitality - All data is converted into numbers which can be stored and distributed through screen based products. However, the terrestrial channels are still the most popular in the UK
  • Interactivity - People can now interact with the media such as through tweeting and shows such as Jimmy Kimmel's Mean Tweets. This has led to a collective intelligence. However, people have always been able to interact with media such as writing to magazines
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The new media

  • Hypertextuality - Everything on the internet is linked together allowing us to easily search information. However, 90% of content is the dark web which is hard to access
  • Dispersal - Individuals can upload information and media themselves such as YouTube channels which are popular showing its not just media managers who can do this. However, most are not widely watched
  • Virtuality - People exist in make believe worlds and live in fantasies through games like The Sims. However, most people still mainly focus on their real lives and these games are designed mainly for younger users
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Who uses the new media?

Most people use the new media more than traditional media now with 48% of all adults having Facebook. However, 16% of households in the UK still have no internet, this is mainly the elderly and low income families

Social class inequalities - The middle & upper classes are the biggest users of the new media as they can afford it. 65% of those who are not online are in the bottom two social classes. The digital divide refers to the gap between those people with effective access to the new media and those who don't have such access. Livingstone & Wang found that disadvantaged groups who lack digital skills experience a form of social exclusion which prevents them from participating in normal activities of society

Age differences - Younger people have grown up using the new media through school so 16-24 year olds are 10 times more likely to go online via a mobile than the over 55s. Young people are more likely to be confident in using new media technology, use it as a hobby and get their news from it rather than a newspaper

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Who uses the new media?

Gender differences - Games consoles and tablets are more popular among males and are three times more likely to watch videos. E readers are more popular among women and they send more texts and see the internet as a form of relaxation. Women are however less likely to have positive attitudes towards the internet and this could be down to sexual stereotyping

Location divide - Internet companies won't set up in LEDCs if they can't make a profit so only 25% of people in Africa have internet access. Language can also be a barrier as 85% of websites are in English. Dictators also like to control internet usage such as in North Korea and many countries are internet black holes where news is not free to circulate like in Syria. This contrasts massively to countries like Norway where 95% have internet access

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The effects of new media on traditional media

There has been a decrease in the number of newspapers being read with corporations now having related websites in a form of synergy because of the increase in internet usage. Changes influencing traditional media include:

  • Cheaper and more accessible digital technologies such as smartphones have allowed easier access to digital media
  • Fake news and hacking scandals leave people mistrusting traditional media like the News of the World
  • People prefer to access news online as its easier and up to date such as through the News app
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The effects of new media on traditional media

The effects of changes on traditional media

1. Shifts in traditional news flow cycles - The rise of citizen journalism where members of the public collect and spread news has increased the speed of news flows. This means journalists have less time to produce and spread the news particularly within the 24 hour cycles of traditional print media

2. Heightened accountability - Traditional media is now more scrutinised by the public because of citizen journalism. This is done through online blogs and Twitter

3. Evolving news values - The new media have enabled news organisations to provide more immediacy and proximity with photos and videos . Traditional media now has to incorporate non professional material like mobile phone videos to achieve this

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The effects of new media on traditional media

The reduced power of ownership?

McNair suggests the new media have meant that elite groups have less power to influence news agendas. Top down control by media owners is replaced by cultural chaos and the power of media control is shifting to the styles of citizen journalism undermining the influence of traditional media.

Philo says that agenda setting means the media can influence what we do not think about by removing issues from public discussion by simply avoiding them. It is difficult to criticise a dominant media account which provide the most information

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The effects of new media on traditional media

Changing relationships with media audiences

The new media have forced traditional media to be more accountable for complaints by allowing users to respond and criticise content such as the Pepsi advert which was taken down due to online criticism. The traditional media have to be more responsive in the way content is delivered such as 14 newspapers and magazines being in partership with Apple News which is where many young people get the news from now

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The significance of the new media in society

The cultural optimist/neophiliac view

In the UK we have the choice of over 500 TV channels and 172 million active websites. Everything is available online from shopping, networking to banking and people can contribute to a range of review websites such as Trip Advisor

Neophiliacs argue that the new media can give power to ordinary people as anyone can set up a website or blog with greater possibilities to comment and criticise. Social movements now use the new media to spread their ideas such as 38 Degrees which allows people to set up campaigns. An example showing this is in 2014 where Sheffield United Football Club was forced to withdraw an offer with convicted ****** Ched Evans due to an intense media campaign. A camera phone can now be the most important form of weapon in things such as protests like in the Arab spring protests where videos shot showed evidence of torture which was then put on global media

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The significance of the new media in society

Everyone has access to huge amounts of information from different sources such as finding out symptoms for illnesses online on NHS Choices giving people more power through information rather than being solely dependent on doctors. However, people could misread information and they also have access to false advertising

Postmodernist view on the media

Postmodernists believe that the new media contributes to social diversity and allows us to connect with people globally. This means relationships can form that would normally not exist regardless of age, gender or ethnicity and people can meet on chatrooms and keep in touch on FaceTime breaking down geographical barriers. There are 24 million daily active users in the UK logging in to Facebook

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The significance of the new media in society

Cultural pessimist view

They argue that it is hard to know what information to trust as we often don't know the source of information and whether it has been exaggerated. For example the Kony 2012 video oversimplified the issue by focusing on the views of white people and failed to say that Kony had left Uganda 6 years before. Major news corporations still get to dictate what information is important to audiences through cultural imperialism and the poorest people in society are still excluded

As the internet becomes more central to our lives companies such as Google have more power, the sort of which was once only held by governments. These private companies have the power to stifle free expression such as Amazon removing Wikileaks from its cloud computing servers after they released secret emails

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The significance of the new media in society

Many undemocratic regimes monitor and control new media use such as in China where messages are censored which could cause political problems. Western countries are also using similar surveillence techniques as in 2013 it was revealed that GCHQ was undergoing Project Tempora, an operation involving a huge data trawling of private messages even of innocent citizens. The vast majority of websites carry mainstream material which supports the dominant ideology and those websites which do criticise the status quo are under resourced, don't attract advertising and are marginalised.

The global nature of the new media means there is a lack of regulation by national bodies like Ofcom so p*rnography, cyber crime, racism etc can thrive unchecked. An example of this is how ISIS use media to advertise itself globally through video channels to spread its horrific message

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The significance of the new media in society

The new media are essentially driven by consumerism due to their need to make money for the companies who produce the technology. Cookies left on computers are a form of commericial surveillence as it stores information about consumer preferences allowing websites to bombard them with tailored adverts. Many cultural pessimists suggest there is no real increase in consumer choice as while digital media offers them more choice of what they want to read unlike newspapers they're not informed about other things they didn't know they wanted to be informed of

There are lots of examples of how the new media have operated to increase social control such as in 2012 a woman was jailed for abuse after she was filmed racially abusing Tube travellers which was then uploaded to YouTube. While some see this as a good thing this can also be used to monitor and control social protestors and highlight non conformist behaviour. The new media also causes an increase in social isolation as people spend more time online than communicating with their family and friends

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