Critically assess the claim that the news media have only minimal effects on public opinion and public behavior
Introduction
There is the prevalence of an argument in regard to the effect of new media on the public opinion and the public behaviour. Although there is a rich literature emphasizing the effect of whole media influence of people perception as well as influencing the decision of people in different issue, there is still literature that argues that the news media, specifically, in the current media environment has minimal influence on public opinion and public behaviour. Studies conducted in the United States shows that while overall media have a substantial influence on people decision; news media in the current media environment have little or no significant influence on people in regard to the decision. A study conducted by Holbert, Garrett and Gleason (2010, p. 18) clearly demonstrates that the news media have little influence on people. This is because, for the last 50 years, the mass media effect on people has changed making the tradition media approach inappropriate. In the regard, the media effects are most of the time characterised by three stage progression. Initially, a theory of strong effects followed by repudiation worked and currently a new model of minimal effects and followed by yet another repudiation and recovery of strong effect are taking place (Arceneaux and Johnson, 2010, p. 340).
As Hennig-Thurau, Malthouse, Friege, Gensler, Lobschat, Rangaswamy and Skiera (2010, p. 320) indicate, recent year has been a change in media environment, which has led, to a profound controversy in regard to whether we are entering to the new era of minimal effect. The author evaluates the most important media effects theories. According to this study the recent media environment changes have made tradition new media unimportant in influencing the decision of people. Secondly, the increased defragmentation of the media has caused partisan selective exposure among the people rendering them to make their decision subjectively. Finally, the increased accessibility of the online news has reduced susceptibility to the agenda set by the traditional media setting. Therefore, in the regard to the discussion this essay critically discusses that, currently the traditional news media have minimal effect on the decision made by people. This arises from the fact that different environment and dynamic technology have made news media less effective in influencing people decision. From analysis of the literature, the era of minimal effect has shown that the era has not yet come (McCombs, 2013, p. 35).
Overview of the current state
According to Holbert, Garrett and Gleason (2010, p. 20), the media effect notion is the major idea of the communication research tradition since interception. As Gerhards and Schäfer (2010, p. 150) characteristically show, communication research is simply about the effects. Additionally, is it can also refer to as study of art, but it is not. Through the development of communication theory, scholars agree that there is still a hot debate between the theories of significant and minimal effect. For example, “the greater thinkers of the contemporary of political communication were challenged with understanding the political, social, psychological, social and economic changes that are seen in the modern industrialized nation” Holbert, Garrett, and Gleason, 2010, p. 17). However, Chan and Stone (2011, p. 3) illustrate that the current societies are much different from the past, and this has led to the question of the effectiveness of paradigm drawn from them. For example, compared to the past, people are currently detached from institutions such as school, political parties and civic organizations that once used to provide shared information for interpretation, as well as receiving messages. Therefore, this led to the mounting questions to what is the implication of these current detachments to how people decode media messages (Holbert, Garrett and Gleason, 2010, p. 20).
Additionally, McCombs (2013, p. 40) indicates that information sources in the contemporary society have greatly proliferated, and at the same time have become individualized. The question that most media scholars face is whether the current media fragmentation and isolation from the society has made “mass media” concept out of date. Furthermore, still the scholars question whether the current environment forecast the return of the time of minimal effect. How is the new media, or mass media in the current society has minimal effect, and different from ancient environment, which proliferated, the occurrence of significant effects or mass effect.
However, to critically discuss how news media currently have minimal effluence on the decision of people, Messing and Westwood (2012, p. 35) indicate that it is necessary to look at some of the changes that are already in the society. In regard, retracing the origin of the field may provide some light to some of the communication technologies and societal changes that have brought about differences in composition of audiences, changes in information delivery, and observe experience of politic itself (Hennig-Thurau, Malthouse, Friege, Gensler, Lobschat, Rangaswamy and Skiera, 2010, p. 344).
Changes in the contemporary society
One case highlighted by Prior (2013, p. 110) in which “minimal effect” of media emerged from studies done between 1940s and 1950s. These studies consisted of a pre-mass communication media system. One of the underlying contexts for this scholarship is that there was a pre-mass communication media system, and strong group membership emanating from a group based society which was interconnected by political parties, churches, civil unions and service organizations. During this period, scholars agreed that media has minimal effect because messages relied through mass media was filtered before reaching the targeted audiences as proposed by a model developed by Kats and Lazarsfeld. Although some classic scholar revealed the necessity of television, it did not shake the then existing paradigm. McCombs (2013, p. 45).pointed out that, data gotten by Lazarsfeld, Katz and others supporters of minimal effect, supported the existence of minimal effect. This was explained through two ways. However, at the time, there was no convenient time for incorporation changing social structure, as well as changing technologies in a more comprehensive way. However, later, communication researchers started to discover direct effects, and also they provide a way of incorporating social influence into the communication media (Shehata and Strömbäck, 2013, p. 240).
On the other hand, Finkel (1993, p. 13) opines that the change from minimal effect to strong effect came without many people noticing. This is because there was little awareness and knowledge to track down some of the social changes that were taking place, such as people disconnecting from a group based society and greater increase of information through mass media open to a lot people. Bennett and Iyengar (2008, p. 715) indicate that, in any event, there is the current consensus reached by scholars that news does not influence people what to think about and how to think about”. On the other hand, most of the scholars also support the claim of minimal effect of the new media in decision public opinion and public behaviour (Feldman, 2011)
Reason to support the claim
According to Althaus and Tewksbury (2002, p.185), it is a paradox to say that new media has little influence on the decision made by the public while at the same time, there is clear evidence that link the use of mass media in a political campaign. The proponents of significant effect of mass media indicate that voters in any election rely heavily on the information relayed through campaigns in order to decide on who will govern. However, most of the time, citizens in the modern democracy know little about politics, and they also distance themselves from the public affairs. Therefore, when campaigns period nears, most of the people tune in, and the information they receive can greatly influence their decisions as shown from current research done on individual voting behaviour. Thus, it appear troublesome to know the outcome of an election if there is no clear understanding of the media coverage and also understanding of some of the themes stressed by the politicians. Additionally, election results are highly predictable especially through other forces outside the campaign politics. According to Neuman and Guggenheim (2011, p. 172), the possibility of the ruling government re-election is judged through by the state of prosperity at home and at peace at abroad (Finkel, 1993, p. 15).
However, classical studies, which stresses on the notion of minimal effect, counter the information of significant effect. For example, early research in voting choice and opinion formation Stempel and Hargrove (1996, p. 545) show a synthesis sociological aspect regarding to voting. According to these studies, people were likely to believe about something because of influence of other people and group identity. Additionally, classical sociological studies such as theories of diffusion and imitation influenced the work of these scholars. These studies hold the notion that the ordinary citizens have little capacity to reason or make a decision independently about politics, it also applies to matter of fashion. Their views are shaped their group or their experience and, therefore, they are not susceptible to direct influence of the media. At the time, media influences were seen as body on social filter and interpersonal cues as seen by the mentioned two step flow in the model developed by Katz and Lazarsfeld, and minimal effect school of media sociology (Althaus and Tewksbury, 2002, p.185).
Why do elections become more predictable when voters depend much on what they see and what they hear in a given campaign? According to the author, the best response to this puzzle is that campaigns confirms what people hold and believe privately about the nature of the country, the political parties as well as the candidate. Starting with a study conducted in 1944, social scholars believe that campaigns only reinforce people decisions and rally them to vote and do not introduce a new way of thinking. In addition, recent studies have clarified the essence of reinforcement. They indicate that campaigns communication reinforces people differently within the electorate; how these communications influence depend on prior level of information and interest of the individual (Althaus and Tewksbury, 2002, p.186). Supporters who are not knowledgeable are likely to be influenced by messages from their own party, and be adamant to messages from the rival party of any support to the rival party. On the other hand, non supporters seem to have different behaviour towards these messages (Althaus and Tewksbury, 2002, p. 187)
Furthermore, any message from the party influences low information supporters while only communications from the party that influences knowledgeable supports. However, for a long period Livingstone (2002, p. 20) indicate that there is a problem concerning the reinforcement of campaign information. Many people have been getting rid of campaign information produced or they have been using it inefficiently. There are two explanations from psychology which explain the reason why people behave this way. Political psychologists believe that, people use cognitive shortcut which include priming, cognitive and dissonance to determine what they would follow and what they would not follow. People are likely are likely to take information that is consistence with their beliefs and ignore information that go contrary to their beliefs. This explains why elections are predictable because people will believe information that is consistence with their private assessment; for example, private assessment of the economy. Additionally, political scholars also argue that people use private information to discount public information such as newspapers and ads. This is because public information is not credible and reliable compared to personal or private experiences. In the regard, elections are predictable because, a nation well-being is a combination of personal and private experiences for an individual.
Environmental change is one of the factors the proponents of media minimal effect have proposed to be the reason of its prevalence. According to Messing and Westwood (2012, p. 36), the profound environmental changes ignited a controversy of whether media effect on the public is entering a new era of minimal effect. While focusing on one of the media theories, agenda setting Stempel and Hargrove (1996, p. 547) study using panel and survey data and media analysis, conduct a study that evaluate the claims derived from the new era of minimal effect. Some of these claims are that the changing environment has reduced the traditional agenda setting of the media to non-significant. In regard, the contemporary world, the media environmental have dramatically changed. According to Messing and Westwood (2012, p. 36), this is an exceptional time in history where the social media is taking place. This bloodless revolution has changed the way people receive news, chat with friends, network, choose their dining preferences and buy everything from toilet paper to cars. Additionally, bloggers all over the world are talking about everything starting from wedding, business and politics. Hillygus (2005, p 160) opines that the current consumer generated media is so powerful, and it is the one that helped the election of the unlikely candidate Barack Obama.
Most scholars currently believe that the end of the traditional media is near, and many reporters who were earlier heavily relied are heading to extinction, this is because of the reduced space for editorial and the emergence of the proletariat blogger. With the rise of this form of environment, most scholars believe that they have reduced the traditional media to non-significance. As Stempel and Hargrove (1996, p. 549), a sociologist, declares, the current media environment has minimal influence on people opinion and public behaviour. For example, a study conducted on comparison of effect of tradition media and the contemporary media environment show that the current media have limited influence among people.
The study used data from contemporary and 1940s and 1950s presidential campaigns. Using the 1980s data, the study found that previous party campaigns had a very powerful electoral effect, something different in the current campaigns. The study indicates that majority votes results from factors such as party identification and presidential approval, which are evaluated before the start of political convection. Additionally, the changes of the campaign orientation have minimal or negligible effect on individual choice as well as minute changes on the electoral outcomes. The author argues that the result of the study represents “activation” campaign effect, and not reinforcing the already existing vote decision. The campaigns simply were to reignite the already existing party predisposition, and at the same moment making them electorally relevant. Furthermore, while the result from earlier campaigns showed potential to influence a large number of people, current campaigns, as a result of changed media environment have shown little influence (Neuman and Guggenheim, 2011, p. 176).
The second claim is that the increased opportunities have led to partisan selective exposure, which is the mechanism of the selective of the media effect. In regard, the selective exposure theory refers to the concept of individual likelihood to supports only the information that reinforces their pre-existing believes. According to Neuman and Guggenheim (2011), people choose different aspect of the exposed information based on their beliefs altitude and decision. Selective exposure is capable of affecting the decision making of an individual because some people may be not willing to change their views, as well as their beliefs. Studies have shown that selective exposure effect can influence decision making at individual and group level. Additionally, from a psychological perspective, selective exposure arouse from motivational and cognitive account. Hillygus (2005, p. 54) investigated the perceived information subjectively drive the information searcher in searching more information than beefore. In specific, they studied whether the receiver of information and those who made decisions were influenced by those who were providing information. The study found that the decision makers receive subjectively perceived information.
According to Hillygus (2005, p. 58) selective exposure also prevents the gathering of new information, and makes people to make decisions which are consistence with their beliefs. Essentially, those who make decision base their argument to what their heart follows. With the explanation of the self explanation theory, there is evidence that the changed media have led to the theory reduce the importance of the traditional.
The third claim is that the presence of many alternative sources of news reduces the susceptibility to agenda setting effects. According to Neuman and Guggenheim (2011, p.172), the current media system has many avenues in which the public can receive news regarding to what they are required. On the other hand, the theory of agenda setting effect developed by Finkel (1993) indicate that the presence of many source of news outlets such as online news outline newspaper reduces the susceptibility to the agenda setting from the tradition news media. On the other hand, some scholars have argued that although some evidences supporting the new era of minimal effect are already happening, the era has not yet arrived. Hillygus (2005, p 160) conducted a study that evaluates the three claims that signify the era of minimal effects. From the study, the scholars indicate that tradition news media still have an influence on agenda-setting influence, and this occur at the individual level, as well as at group level. Overall, the study provide a generalized view indicating that the new era of minimal effects has not yet arrived, and there is the likelihood that some new characteristic of media system are likely to surface in order to provide a transition face.
Conclusion
The era of minimal effect is an era in which mass media employed by people as an agent of mass influence on people opinion and behaviours fails to function. There is controversy among the media scholars in regarding to this period. Some of them indicate that the current changes in the media environment are a true representation of the new era of minimal effect. Three claims that represent the new era of minimal media effects include the recent media environment changes that have made tradition new media unimportant in influencing the decision of people. Secondly, the increased defragmentation of the media has caused partisan selective exposure among the people. Finally, the increased accessibility of the online news has reduced susceptibility to the agenda set by the traditional media setting. On the other hand, the opponent of this era indicate that the era has not yet come because the tradition news media still have an influence on agenda-setting influence, and this occur at the individual level, as well as at group level. They also indicate that the new era of minimal effects has not yet arrived, and there is the likelihood that some new characteristic of media system are likely to surface in order to provide a transition face.
Reference List
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Arceneaux, K., & Johnson, M. 2010. Does media fragmentation produce mass polarization? Selective exposure and a new era of minimal effects. Selective Exposure and a New Era of Minimal Effects.
Bennett, W. L., & Iyengar, S. 2008. A new era of minimal effects? The changing foundations of political communication. Journal of Communication, 58(4), 707-731.
Chan, J., & Stone, D. F. 2011. Media proliferation and partisan selective exposure. Public Choice, 1-24.
Feldman, L. 2011. The opinion factor: The effects of opinionated news on information processing and attitude change. Political Communication, 28(2), 163-181.
Finkel, S. E. 1993. Reexamining the ‘minimal effects’ model in recent presidential campaigns. Journal of Politics, 55(1), 1-21.
Gerhards, J., & Schäfer, M. S. 2010. Is the internet a better public sphere? Comparing old and new media in the USA and Germany. New Media & Society, 12(1), 143-160.
Hennig-Thurau, T., Malthouse, E. C., Friege, C., Gensler, S., Lobschat, L., Rangaswamy, A., & Skiera, B. 2010. The impact of new media on customer relationships. Journal of Service Research, 13(3), 311-330.
Hillygus, D. S. 2005. Campaign effects and the dynamics of turnout intention in election 2000. Journal of Politics, 67(1), 50-68.

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