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Archive for January, 2009

The readings assigned for Wednesday, January 28th consisted of four excerpts. The first reading, “How Information Shapes Political Institutions,” discusses the Four Political Information Revolutions in the United States and their effects on society. The second reading, “Why Democracies Need an Unlovable Press,” explains that journalists are not free agents and are instead constrained by the opinions and views of established leaders. The third reading, “The Watchdog Role of the Press,” explicates when the role of watchdog press is most likely to work and when it is most likely to fail. The final reading, “Managed Democracy in Russia: Putin and the Press,” presents examples of independent media and their struggle to survive.
As discussed in Monday’s lecture on January 26th, there is political importance to mass media, one being the mass media acting as a watchdog. This fact was discussed thoroughly in the third reading. Watchdog journalism is independent scrutiny by the press of institutional activities aimed toward documenting, questioning, and investigating activities in order to provide timely information on issues of public concern.
Individuals can see examples of watchdog journalism everyday by reading a newspaper or watching the news on television. An example of watchdog journalism that is currently unfolding is of the impending impeachment trial of Illinois governor, Rob Blagojevich. Suspicions of Blagojevich led to an investigation of him and his secret agenda of auctioning off a senate chair to the highest bidder. This unfortunate situation is an ideal example of a concerning issue that the public would want to know about. Thanks to the efforts of watchdog journalism and the media, this knowledge was brought forth to the unaware public. Written by:Ashley Martens

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Reading Response

Kaitlin Adams
Mass Media Process and Effects
Qingjiang Yao
Response Paper #1
1/28/09

Information can have many definitions, but in Chapter One Bimber explains that is why it is important to understand its meaning. Along with being closely related to communication and also defined as a fact, information is strongly expressed in the reading as a “diversion, habit, or ritual, and fulfillment of a sense of duty or obligation”. This broad definition I feel intertwines information into every aspect of our lives and our communication. Being a part of a democracy or a society that thrives and exists on the use of information is the reason that Bimber continues on to discuss the history of the information regimes and revolutions, which demonstrate the continuous growth that information experiences. The main premise of this chapter is that information is more than just the transmission of information, but the force driving political changes.
Technology is a lot an important factor in our society because it changes information access and communication. Technology has also provided information a vehicle to become the more abundant, yet more specific. Information is accessible, but not understandable by all those that seek it. From a political standpoint, it leaves some being more informed and at the center of the information and others being excluded from the information. It is because of this information is in a current state of hierarchy from those that have it, to those that don’t.
In the next chapter Schudson begins by sharing the belief in freedom of the press, yet there are limits to the freedom. He lists them as source-dependence, journalists and editors abiding to professional norms, and viewing information through an educated and upper class lens. These constraints contribute to relying on official sources. A senator would be an example of an official source. I feel this is an important issue because with everyone seeking political type sources, it causes a steady flow of information that is politically infused with a bias opinion from someone else.
Watchdog journalism is a type of journalism is the act of uncovering the truth of deception and involves researching, asking questions, and being knowledgeable on pertinent information. This is a shortened version, but I felt the goal of this chapter was to express that there is support for this type of journalism, however there are problems that arise. I felt it was important to discuss the fact that journalists want to find the drama and the story that will make the front page. The lack of current number of watchdog stories shows that the media has changed in what it wants to provide to readers. I feel this is because there is a definite change in the stories in the news, there is a drive towards the negative and shocking, versus the positive.
This type of negative news is seen in the last chapter 35, which discussed Russia and the use of independent media. This chapter shows just how politics plays a role in what is shown in the media with the example of Segodnya being closed down. Independent media are still thriving in Moscow but the lesson learned was freedom of speech is a right, but there can be consequences.
Overall these four chapters were alike and different in many ways. I feel that they all address the fact that politics set up a hierarchy in the press. Our society is a democracy and there are different sides to be taken. Politics get involved and put a lens through the information. In every chapter politics played a role somewhere and it is quite evident that they shed light on certain issues and leave others alone.
Also I feel there was a definite change in the skill of journalism. Time changes technology and people and for example the watchdog journalism is less prevalent as it used to be in previous years. Instead of complete truth, there is a drive for drama and shock value. Also in the first chapter it discussed technology briefly and how it has changed information access and transmission. With our fast paced society I feel that technology and information will only get faster.

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Response paper #1

Diana Kelter
January 28, 2009
On January 20, 2009 millions of Americans were unable to be in Washington D.C for the inauguration of President Barack Obama. However, thanks to the age of information we live in, not only was the inauguration broadcast live on television and internet, but it was also continually available throughout the day at any time and any place. The press has become a valuable and necessary part of our political system. As this weeks readings describe the press is not only a valuable asset to the American public, but it affects the way our government runs. Since we cannot directly experience the press, we rely on them to inform us on what is happening. As communication levels change so does the organizational structures of politics, as Bruce Bimber describes. Therefore our communication and information levels have a direct influence on our political lives, even if we don’t pay attention to politics or care.
In the reading by Michael Schudson, he describes that in America we often complain about the features of the press, but we need to have this love- hate relationship in order for the press to perform its duties. In a world that is not always nice, I have to agree that our press should not make it appear as if it is. We watch the news to hear from those who know government best, not to hear the opinion of an ordinary citizen. The Press also fulfills a separate task of democracy, by keeping our leaders in check. This is known as a watchdog effect described in the reading by W. Lance Bennett and William Serrin. We should not take this information for granted, since in authoritarian countries such as the experience in Russia, reporting the truth can lead to your death, as described in the reading by Masha Lipman and Michael McFaul . While most of us cannot imagine living that way, it does show the deep connection that government type and media can have. In America today with the economic crisis, many Americans complain that too many government actions are done under cover, leaving the American people clueless to what is actually happening. This part of the reading is what I found most interesting, especially with President Obama’s entrance to office. He has mentioned many times how he plans to make government more transparent to the public. I cannot help but wonder what impact this will have on the press and how we view government. We also have to wonder if it changes the way our government leaders govern, with the public eye watching their moves more closely. Will it open up a new era of our information age, which future presidents will be expected to follow? These questions and many more are something that may depend on the success Obama has as well as how the Americans react to the change in the role of the Press being the Watchdog. However, one thing for sure is that the press will continue to have a dominant role in our political lives, well into the future.

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Joe Marshall

Reaction Paper

1/28/09

Impact of Public Opinion Polls

            This week’s reading dips into the idea of trying to understand how polls work and the effect that public opinion polls have on people whether their people who read polls in the newspaper, like my Dad, or a government official trying to get an idea of how the American people feel about an issue, like Barack Obama. The public opinion polls have only been around for about 60 years and at first were considered inaccurate because their sampling methods were not concrete. Now that sampling method have become more accurate, the polls have become more important in the national landscape. Since the public opinion polls have became so popular, Americans are learning more and more about their follow citizens and where they stand on a variety of topics. In this day in age, there are polls about everything from gay rights, health care, global warming or the war in Iraq. The reason for so many is because more and more people are learning things about their follow Americans from polls. Also polls are now things that can help make tough decision based on what the people think.

However unless the polls are done accurately and unbiased then it can lead to changing the public’s idea about issues. Learning how to understand how polls are done and depending on who does the polls are key factors when looking at if polls are accurate. Because of this, its leads some people to believe that polls are not very reliable and therefore not important. However, the new found popularity in polls would counter that. Some of the toughest questions that people want to figure can only be figured out with public opinion polls. If a business wants to determine what they should sell and how their business should be run, they can give a questionnaire to their customers to figure out what they can do better as a business. If a potential presidential candidate wants to run for his or her party, they can figure out where the public stands on the important issues and can help that candidate dictate what major issues they should focus on. The pervasiveness of the polls has become so important because people are now making very important decisions based off of polls. 

This year’s election was a great example of how important the public opinion polls have become. It seemed like every major television station, radio station, and newspaper had its own poll attempt to find America’s next president. I myself have never really gotten into election polls because there are so many of them and I got the perception that Barack Obama would eventually be the winner. However, I was surprised to see how interested my Dad was in these election polls. His new sudden interest in the election polls intrigued me to the point that I found myself looking for the most recent polls and asking my dad what he had heard on the radio that day about the polls. I think part of our interest in the polls was the fact that both my Dad and I are republicans and the closer it got to the election, John McCain kept moving up in the polls. But my Dad and I were so persuaded by these polls, that we thought McCain still had a chance to win.  

The main point that I got out of these first readings is the fact that I need to understand the polls for future reference because of how important they are becoming in the national landscape. Despite the facts that there are still people out there who think that polls aren’t accurate, polls are becoming more popular every day. Although I didn’t realize until this past election, I now know that polls are becoming very important in society. I am now more interested in polls after the last election and will make sure to keep on eye on polls because they are going to be around for a while.      

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Every great democracy relies on the volition of its citizens to create a solid political enterprise. The foundation of this enterprise resides in the citizens’ rights and most prominently in their franchise. Franchise always has and always will be the most sacred right that citizens can grant to themselves, without their vote democracy would be a contradiction. This ideology is congruous with Habermas when he states the three prongs of a democracy and puts the private autonomy of citizens at the top, citing their democratic and equal stature as decisive factors (Habermas 2). He goes onto say that these factors create the “normative bedrock” of democracies, further stressing their importance (Habermas 2). Now, the importance of voting is evident, but the insight one can gain from its scientific analysis is not.
In the case of analysis, it is important to understand what is being studied. Essentially, the focus of polls is on what is known as “public opinion” (Erikson 4). This label’s originates from a collection of scientists, but are ascribed to a prominent French philosopher and intellectual, Rousseau (Erikson 1). He coined the term in French, but years later prominent Americans like George Gallup, Henry Blumer and Lindsay Rogers would grasp this idea, gleaming profit and pioneering research from the ostensibly simple idea (Erikson 4).
However, the idea is in fact complex. To understand public opinion is to understand the whims and varying ideals of three hundred million, hardly an easy task. Now, over the years many have claimed to know the method, even with some success. Like the Literary Digest and its renowned straw polls, this made accurate predictions for decades, utilizing quotas and large samples in contrast to the “scientific” methodologies employed by Gallup and the others (Erikson 10). The straw poll’s failures outline the problems of the archaic methods, finally allowing the scientific techniques to blossom.
For the political realm, the scientific methodology ushered in an entirely different atmosphere. Essentially, the “political system” is rooted in “wild flows of messages” (Habermas 11). Prior to analysis, politicians did not have polls to dictate their agendas so they utilized powerful arguments to fight for their agendas, frequently converting citizens. With polls, politicians are malleable, mutating to satisfy the mob. Therefore, these “flows of messages” are much different contemporarily because they contain the volatile opinion of the public (Habermas 11). Politicians no longer stand by their agendas as strongly. The status quo has greatly changed and public opinion seems to be shaping it, but not as fast as you would think.
The one great part of political congruence in America is the country’s retention of the status quo. When the American people want something to change, they get it about half the time, but when they want it to remain the same they usually get the results they want (Erikson 328). Ostensibly, change would be good for many, creating jobs and different policies like Medicaid to make life easier, but the public seems to resist change. There are many theories addressing this, but according to Erikson they are not easy to evaluate nor are they scientific (333).
Paralleling the public’s resistance to change, the theory of Public Apathy as Public Contentment suggests that they do not vote because they like the way things are (Erikson 334). Although there is some truth to it, it seems more likely that the public could perhaps fear a larger government and laws that further breach their privacy or perhaps they are dissatisfied with the options presented. Living in a bipartisan country has the perquisite of simplicity in government decision making but it lacks the diversity a proportionate system can provide.
In the end, an argument like that will never be settled scientifically, but the attempts to do so will surely be relentless. As for the real science in politics, it seems that through the failure of the straw poll the American people have molded the government as it is today by breeding a new scientific poll. Utilizing this, they graft their wills onto politicians and shape the political agenda. Essentially, this begs the age-old question of what came first and instead of the cliché chicken or egg dilemma we sit between the political agenda and public opinion, hoping for a true congruence.

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Measuring the Public’s Assessment

            The readings for this week discussed polling the public in a democratic society. Are the people being polled well informed? How are the people informed? Are the polls accurate? How much of an impact does a poll make on the average American? All these questions were brought up to me while reading Erikson & Tedin, Asher, and Gawsier & Witt. Through the readings and a poll of this presidency campaign I was able to make a more informed decision on why we use polls every day.

            Generally the news media would like to hope that the people being polled are well informed, but that may not always be the case. Gawkier & Witt (1994) state that “polls measure what the public thinks. And what the public thinks on many issues is shaped, in part; by what people learn in news reports” (2). They use a triangular approach to explain how the system works. On the three points the public, the polls and the media. I believe that the average American is not as informed as he or she should be. Many times an uninformed person will make a decision based on what the people around them are saying. Hopefully, people will pay attention to the news media and be able to make informed decisions.

            A problem that occurs while using polls, accuracy, or making sure to get a sample from every population. Journalists use many different methods, but all of them have flaws in some way.  Gawsier & Witt say not using a scientific approach before beginning to poll people can cause serious flaws; for instance, “the man on the street method” (3). Journalists hope to find a more advanced approach that will be quicker and have a better poll of the entire population.

            Why do we use polls in a democratic society? Erikson & Tedin (2007) state “before polling, politicians were uncertain if the electorate was on their side” (13).  Today, many newspapers, magazines, and news broadcasters make new polls every day. Politicians are able to represent their people with a better understanding by looking at conducted polls.

            CBS News conducted several polls on approval ratings of presidents and on who would win this year’s presidential campaign. One poll that interested me, “Franklin Roosevelt had a 57% approval rating while 29% of Americans approved on how George W. Bush was handling his job. Sixty-seven percent disapproved–more than what approved for Roosevelt in 1939.” After reviewing this poll I question who was being polled that the numbers are so alarmingly vast. I realize that Roosevelt was an exceptional president, but how can we misjudge and elect a president that would have such a low approval rate. Another poll done by CBS News; which candidate would win this year’s presidential election? This particular poll was tremendously close to the actual outcome. CBS has a small margin of error in many of their polls.

            Mass media has become a valuable part of our political system. As an American citizen we are called upon to make decisions for our political leaders, through various ways, no matter how informed we are. The press’ role is to continue to enhance the way they gather information on the people. If the people attempt to know the minimum facts of politics, they will be informed enough to make educational decisions in standard polls. Thus, allowing out political leaders to better represent us.

 

 

References

Erikson, Robert S. & Tedin, Kent L., (2007). American Public Opinion (7th ed.). United States:     

            Stratford.

Frankovic, Kathleen. (2009, January 7). The Polling Challenges For 2009. CBS News.

            Retrieved January 26, 2009 from

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/01/07/opinion/pollpositions/main4704728.shtml.

Gawiser, Sheldon R. & Witt, G. Evans. (1994). A Journalist’s Guide To Public Opinion.

            Connecticut: West Port.

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Reaction #1

Josh Gilbert
Intro to Mass Topics of Communication-Yao
1-29-09
Reaction Paper #1
For this week I was only able to read the American Public Opinion book because the other two books were not available at the University book store. In any case the outline of the book was to show that the public has opinions on many issues but that these opinions have varying effects on policy. A main problem in pre-polling times was the fact that politicians and policy makers could not find out what the public really wanted because it would be too hard t actually talk to all people and get a good general feel. Instead policy reflected the views of first and foremost the candidate, but also the elitist company that often surrounded wealthy politicians. It was thought that the general public was not informed on the topics that were being discussed, and as demonstrated by Alexander Hamilton the public, “seldom judge or determine right”(p. 2). The electorate college in USA was utilized because it was a method to distance political leaders from the opinions of everyday citizens.
Public Opinion seems like a simple enough term but to define it in a rigid sense is often difficult. There are people who are apathetic to certain issues while having strong opinions on others. It is because of this that public opinion is hard to define, but our book defined it as the people who are of voting age and can make and informed decision. No matter what you do define as public opinion there is the problem in gauging and responding to public opinion. In 1936 George Gallup, a University of Iowa Graduate, developed a new method of polling that was more accurate than any others preceding it. The Gallup poll emerged out of necessity though because the most respected poll at the time, Literary Digest, incorrectly projected a FDR loss in his first election. The poll lost all its credibility and went bankrupt only a year after their incorrect prediction. An inherent problem with polls is that you do not know if they are correct until final results have been tabulated and you have something to gauge the predictions against. This has a problem too because polls sometimes have no final tabulation t grade against but are just constructed and taken for fact. Even Gallup had an incorrect prediction when he projected a Harry Truman loss. This prediction was not as bad though because the race was extremely close at the time and all other available polls got similar data as Gallup.
Polls present valuable data to policy makers but sometimes the polls are analyzed in varying ways. For example, polls on Foreign Policy are taken with a grain of salt because those issues are sometimes thought of as above the general public. The public is often not privy to all the knowledge of those in charge, and thus will not make the “correct” decisions all the time. There were 5 models presented in the first chapter of American Public Opinion that show the linkage between public opinion and public policies. The Rational-Activist depends on the fact that the people are well informed and will make good decisions. This is the democratic ideal but it is not the case in present day America for many possible reasons. Some may think there is no reason to think about subjects they have no control over because it is a common belief that one vote does not matter so there is no reason to waste time. Whatever the reasons are there is without a doubt a low level of interest in politics in America. Another linkage model is the Political Party model which reduces the roles of the citizens because there are defined platforms that parties debate on and people can pick on or the other instead of many possible candidates. Interest Group models link people and their representative, like the NRA or other specific opinions on issues. The Delegate model is dependant upon the rational-activist model being in process. It outline that leaders will follow what public opinion dictates because if they do not they will be voted out of office. The last model is the Sharing Model which stated that leader should try to satisfy public opinion and acknowledge the range of possible opinions.
Public opinion is inherently dynamic and because of this it is sometimes difficult to make policies off of. Take Medicare for example in which before it was enacted there was no one really calling for it but after it was put into action the approval for it skyrocketed. If policy was made off of public opinion Medicare would not be around, but policy to opinion linkage is much stronger on a state by state basis. Take a recent poll conducted in Iowa by the Pew Research center, “In a 2005 Pew Research Center poll, 86 percent of respondents, including 79 percent of social conservatives, supported increasing the minimum wage.” This staggering data was met with a quick raise in minimum wage above the national minimum to a state issued $6.15 an hour. I thought this was interesting because states have a narrower range of opinions on issues and as a result state governments have more freedom to enact laws that satisfy their own residents.
In the online article we read by Jürgen Habermas an argument for the normative theory and research was presented. I thought this was a little difficult to understand as a lot of the terms used I was unfamiliar with and the theory was new to me. One topic that directly related to me was the argument of Americans not caring about politics. This was the first year I was eligible to vote and I did exercise that option. I think that there is a new wave in young interest with this new historic president. It was interesting to read all this information I was completely unaware and sometimes ignorant to the fact. Being a biology major I normally focus my attention onto other areas but some of the reasons as to why the American public is uninterested stuck close to home. I thought the book was interesting even though a little dry at times.

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