It’s hard to find articles on current media outlets that represent unbiased views and a path to understanding the 2019 world of news distribution.
Diana Owen of Georgetown University provided a long article to the Washington Post. It is a chapter in her book, “The Age of Perplexity: Rethinking the World We Knew.”
She leads with the message that “the new media environment is dynamic and continues to develop in novel, sometimes unanticipated ways that have serious consequences for democratic governance and politics.
“New media have radically altered the way that government institutions operate, the way that political leaders communicate, the manner in which elections are contested and citizen engagement,” she wrote.
She explains that “The rise of new media has complicated the political system. Legacy media consisting of established mass media institutions that pre-date the internet, such as newspapers, radio shows and television news programs, coexist with new media that are the outgrowth of technological innovation. While legacy media maintain relatively stable formats, the litany of new media, which includes websites, blogs, video-sharing platforms, digital apps and social media, are continually expanding in innovative ways.”
“Ideally, the media serve several essential roles in a democratic society,” she wrote. “Their primary purpose is to inform the public, providing citizens with the information needed to make thoughtful decisions about leadership and policy. The media act as watchdogs checking government actions. They set the agenda for public discussion of issues and provide a forum for political community building by helping people to find common causes, identify civic groups and work toward solutions to societal problems.”
Owen offered this message, “Facts are facts. They aren’t colored by emotion or bias. They are indisputable. There is no alternative to a fact. Facts explain things. … Once facts are established, opinions can be formed. And while opinions matter, they don’t change the facts.”
In referring to the watchdog role, she explained that it provides a check on government abuses by supplying citizens with information and forcing government transparency.
Public support for the media’s watchdog role is substantial, with a Pew Research Center study finding that 70% of Americans believe that press reports can “prevent leaders from doing things that shouldn’t be done.”
She concluded her chapter with these words: “New media have both expanded and undercut the traditional roles of the press in a democratic society. On the positive side, they have vastly increased the potential for political information to reach even the most disinterested citizens. They enable the creation of digital public squares where opinion can be openly shared.”
She wrote that, unfortunately, “there are few effective checks on the rising tide of false information.”
As we race head-long into the political campaigns arising from the fact of a presidential election in November 2020, Owen’s article provides some important points about the current operations of the new media that should help all of us understand what the heck is going on.