Three College of Humanities and Social Sciences faculty members took the stage on Monday, Sept. 20, as a Fall for the Book panel, discussing today’s media climate.
Stephen Farnsworth and Robert Lichter, communication faculty members, spoke about media coverage of politics, especially during election season. Jack Censer, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, spoke about the media coverage of the 2002 D.C. sniper attacks. All three of the panelists authored recent works – Farnsworth and Lichter co-wrote The Nightly News Nightmare: Media Coverage of U.S. Presidential Elections, and Censer wrote On the Trail of the D.C. Sniper: Fear and the Media.
With nightly television news broadcasts no longer the household fixture they once were, Farnsworth said today’s news values include ease, sustainability and entertainment factors. In one example, Lichter said that news organizations often cover the election process extensively, often at the expense of candidates’ stances on significant political issues.
"Five of the six elections since 1988 featured more "horse race" news than [coverage of] substantive issues," Lichter said, citing research he and Farnsworth conducted for The Nightly News Nightmare. "Candidates are on-screen one sixth of the time as journalists who discuss them."
While much has been made of the downfall of news industry layoffs and the rising power of the Internet as a news source, Lichter’s numbers are relevant to many. The majority of news consumers in the U.S. rank television as one of their top two sources of news, Farnsworth said.
The Internet exposes stories to wider audiences and provides up-to-the-minute coverage, but as the Internet cuts into print newspaper circulation and television viewership, its sheer quantity of news remains unmatched. With many newspapers and news organizations using layoffs, cutbacks, furloughs and buyouts as means of survival, Censer offered a hopeful view of the future of media.
"Businesses are willing to pay for niche journalism," he said. "Information still sells. We just have to find a way to get paid for it."
Photo and thumbnail image from Wikimedia Commons user Jeff Maurone. Reproduced under Creative Commons licensing.
September 26, 2010