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It's Beyoncé, the last few bars of "Hold Up." The upbeat DJ shouts at you that it's 7:41 and you'd better get going. But before you do, she adds, listen to a few words from your friends at Best Buy electronics, home of fast, friendly, courteous service—"Expert Service. Unbeatable Price!"
Before you get up, though, you take a quick pass at Facebook and Instagram. But you've gotta get going now. In the living room, you find your roommate has left the television on. You stop for a moment and listen: The economy is showing stronger signs of rebounding, brightening the employment picture for new college grads; several states are considering providing free high-speed Internet to all students to improve their access to the digital world; chaos continues to sweep across the Middle East; and you deserve a break today at McDonald's. As you head toward the bathroom, your bare feet slip on some magazines littering the floor—Wired, Rolling Stone, People. You need to talk to your roommate about cleaning up!
After showering, you quickly pull on your Levi's, lace up your Nike cross-trainers, and throw on an Under Armour jacket. No time for breakfast; you grab a Nature Valley granola bar and your tablet and head for the bus stop. As the bus rolls up, you can't help but notice the giant ad on its side: another Transformers movie. Rejecting that as a film choice for the weekend, you sit down next to a teenager listening to music on his Beats headphones and playing a video game. You fire up your tablet and bury yourself in Snapchat, Twitter, and your favorite news app, scanning the lead stories and the local news and then checking out Doonesbury and Garfield.
Hopping off the bus at the campus stop, you run into your friend Chris. You walk to class together, talking about last night's The Walking Dead episode. It's not yet 9:00, and already you're involved in mass communication. In fact, like 60% of Americans, you're involved with media on your smartphone first thing in the morning, even before you get out of bed (Hunter, 2014).
In this chapter we define communication, interpersonal communication, mass communication, media, and culture and explore the relationships among them and how they define us and our world. We investigate how communication works, how it changes when technology is introduced into the process, and how differing views of communication and mass communication can lead to different interpretations of their power. We also discuss the opportunities mass communication and culture offer us and the responsibilities that come with those opportunities. Always crucial, these issues are of particular importance now, when we find ourselves in a period of remarkable development in new communication technologies. This discussion inevitably leads to an examination of media literacy, its importance, and its practice.
In its simplest form, communication is the transmission of a message from a source to a receiver. For more than 70 years now, this view of communication has been identified with the writing of political scientist Harold Lasswell (1948). He said that a convenient way to describe communication is to answer these questions:
Says what?
Page 5Through which channel?
To whom?
With what effect?
Expressed in terms of the basic elements of the communication process, communication occurs when a source sends a message through a medium to a receiver, producing some effect. This idea is straightforward enough, but what if the source is a professor who insists on speaking in a technical language far beyond the receiving students' level of skill? Obviously, communication does not occur. Unlike mere message-sending, communication requires the response of others. Therefore, there must be a sharing (or correspondence) of meaning for communication to take place.
A second problem with this simple model is that it suggests that the receiver passively accepts the source's message. However, if our imaginary students do not comprehend the professor's words, they respond with "Huh?" or look confused or yawn. This response, or feedback, is also a message. The receivers (the students) now become a source, sending their own message to the source (the offending professor), who is now a receiver. Hence, communication is a reciprocal and ongoing process with all involved parties more or less engaged in creating shared meaning. Communication, then, is better defined as the process of creating shared meaning.
Communication researcher Wilbur Schramm, using ideas originally developed by psychologist Charles E. Osgood, developed a graphic way to represent the reciprocal nature of communication (Figure 2). This depiction of interpersonal communication—communication between two or a few people—shows that there is no clearly identifiable source or receiver. Rather, because communication is an ongoing and reciprocal process, all the participants, or "interpreters," are working to create meaning by encoding and decoding messages. A message is first encoded, that is, transformed into an understandable sign and symbol system. Speaking is encoding, as are writing, printing, and filming a television program. Once received, the message is decoded; that is, the signs and symbols are interpreted. Decoding occurs through listening, reading, or watching that television show.
the ongoing and reciprocal nature of the communication process. There is, therefore, no source, no receiver, and no feedback. The Page 6reason is that, as communication is happening, both interpreters are simultaneously source and receiver. There is no feedback because all messages are presumed to be in reciprocation of other messages. Even when your friend starts a conversation with you, for example, it can be argued that it was your look of interest and willingness that communicated to her that she should speak. In this example, it is improper to label either you or your friend as the source—who really initiated this chat?—and, therefore, it is impossible to identify who is providing feedback to whom.
Not every model can show all aspects of a process as complex as communication. Missing from this representation is noise—anything that interferes with successful communication. Noise is more than screeching or loud music when you are trying to work online. Biases that lead to incorrect decoding, for example, are noise, as is a page torn out of a magazine article you want to read or that spiderweb crack in your smartphone's screen.
Encoded messages are carried by a medium, that is, the means of sending information. Sound waves are the medium that carries our voice to friends across the table; the telephone is the medium that carries our voice to friends across town. When the medium is a technology that carries messages to a large number of people—as the Internet carries text, sounds, and images and radio conveys the sound of music and news—we call it a mass medium (the plural of medium is media). The mass media we use regularly include radio, television, books, magazines, newspapers, movies, sound recordings, cell phones, and computer networks. Each medium is the basis of a giant industry, but other related and supporting industries also serve them and us—advertising and public relations, for example. In our culture we use the words media and mass media interchangeably to refer to the communication industries themselves. We say, "The media entertain" or "The mass media are too conservative (or too liberal)."
We speak, too, of mass communication. Mass communication is the process of creating shared meaning between the mass media and their audiences. Schramm recast his and Osgood's general model of communication to help us visualize the particular aspects of the mass communication process (Figure 3). This model and the original Osgood-Schramm model have much in common—interpreters, encoding, decoding, and messages—but it is their differences that are most significant for our understanding of how mass communication differs from other forms of communication. For example, whereas the original model includes "message," the mass communication model offers "many identical messages." In addition, the mass communication model specifies "feedback," whereas the interpersonal communication model does not. When two or a few people communicate face to face, the participants can immediately and clearly recognize the feedback residing in the reciprocal messages (our boring professor can see and hear the students' disenchantment as they listen to the lecture). Things are not nearly as simple in mass communication. In Schramm's mass communication model, feedback is represented by a dotted line labeled "delayed inferential feedback." This feedback is indirect rather than direct. Page 7Television executives, for example, must wait a day, at the very minimum, and sometimes a week or a month, to discover the ratings for new programs. Even then, the ratings measure only how many sets are tuned in, not whether people liked or disliked the programs. As a result, these executives can only infer what they must do to improve programming; hence the term inferential feedback. Mass communicators are also subject to additional feedback, usually in the form of criticism in other media, such as a television critic writing a column in a newspaper. The differences between the individual elements of interpersonal and mass communication change the very nature of the communication process. How those alterations influence the message itself and how the likelihood of successfully sharing meaning differs are shown in Figure 4. For example, the immediacy and directness of feedback in interpersonal communication free communicators to gamble, to experiment with different approaches. Their knowledge of one another enables them to tailor their messages as narrowly as they wish. As a result, interpersonal communication is often personally relevant and possibly even adventurous and challenging. In contrast, the distance between participants in the mass communication process, imposed by the technology, creates a sort of "communication conservatism." Feedback comes too late to enable corrections or alterations in communication that fails. The sheer number of people in many mass communication audiences makes personalization and specificity difficult. As a result, mass communication tends to be more constrained, less free. This does not mean, however, that it is less potent than interpersonal communication in shaping our understanding of ourselves and our world.
Culture is the learned behavior of members of a given social group. Many writers and thinkers have offered interesting expansions of this definition. Here are four examples, all from anthropologists. These definitions highlight not only what culture is but also what culture does:
Culture is the learned, socially acquired traditions and lifestyles of the members of a society, including their patterned, repetitive ways of thinking, feeling, and acting. (Harris, 1983, p. 5)
Culture lends significance to human experience by selecting from and organizing it. It refers broadly to the forms through which people make sense of their lives, rather than more narrowly to the opera or art of museums. (Rosaldo, 1989, p. 26)
Culture is the medium evolved by humans to survive. Nothing is free from cultural influences. It is the keystone in civilization's arch and is the medium through which all of life's events must flow. We are culture. (Hall, 1976, p. 14)
Culture is an historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbolic forms by means of which [people] communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes toward life. (Geertz, as cited in Taylor, 1991, p. 91)
Culture as Socially Constructed Shared Meaning
Virtually all definitions of culture recognize that culture is learned. Recall the opening vignette. Even if this scenario does not exactly match your early mornings, you probably recognize its elements. Moreover, all of us are familiar with most, if not every, cultural Page 8Page 9reference in it. Transformers, Rolling Stone, McDonald's, Under Armour, Garfield—all are points of reference, things that have some meaning for all of us. How did this come to be?
Creation and maintenance of a more or less common culture occurs through communication, including mass communication. When we talk to our friends, when a parent raises a child, when religious leaders instruct their followers, when teachers teach, when grandparents pass on recipes, when politicians campaign, and when media professionals produce content that we read, listen to, or watch, meaning is being shared and culture is being constructed and maintained.
Culture serves a purpose. It helps us categorize and classify our experiences; it helps define us, our world, and our place in it. In doing so, culture can have a number of sometimes conflicting effects.
LIMITING AND LIBERATING EFFECTS OF CULTURE A culture's learned traditions and values can be seen as patterned, repetitive ways of thinking, feeling, and acting. Culture limits our options and provides useful guidelines for behavior. For example, when conversing, you do not consciously consider, "Now, how far away should I stand? Am I too close?" You simply stand where you stand. After a hearty meal with a friend's family, you do not engage in mental self-debate, "Should I burp? Yes! No! Arghhhh. ..." Culture provides information that helps us make meaningful distinctions about right and wrong, appropriate and inappropriate, good and bad, attractive and unattractive, and so on. How does it do this?
Obviously, it does so through communication. Through a lifetime of communication, we have learned just what our culture expects of us. The two examples given here are positive results of culture's limiting effects. But culture's limiting effects can be negative, such as when we are unwilling or unable to move past patterned, repetitive ways of thinking, feeling, and acting or when we entrust our "learning" to teachers whose interests are selfish, narrow, or otherwise inconsistent with our own.
U.S. culture, for example, values thinness and beauty in women. How many women endure weeks of unhealthy diets and succumb to potentially dangerous surgical procedures in search of a body that for most is physically unattainable? How many women are judged by the men and other women around them for not conforming to our culture's standards of thinness and beauty? Why is the expression "fat shaming" in our language? Why are 40% to 60% of girls aged 6 to 12 concerned about their weight or about becoming too fat? Why do 42% of girls in first, second, and third grade want to be thinner, and why are 81% of 10-year-olds—girls and boys—afraid of being overweight? Why do over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors like skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives (National Eating Disorders Association, 2016)? Why do almost 1.3 million adolescent girls in the United States have anorexia (Pai & Schryver, 2015)?
Now consider how this situation may have come about. Our parents did not bounce us on their knees when we were babies, telling us that thin was good and fat was bad. Think back, though, to the stories you were told and the television shows and movies you watched growing up. The heroines (or, more often, the beautiful love interests of the heroes) were invariably tall, beautiful, and thin. The bad guys were usually mean and fat. From Disney's depictions of Snow White, Cinderella, Belle, Jasmine, and Pocahontas to the impossible dimensions of most video game and comic book heroines, the message is embedded in the conscious (and unconscious) mind of every girl and boy: You can't be too thin or too beautiful! As it is, 69% of women and 65% of girls cite constant pressure from advertising and media to reach unrealistic standards of beauty as a major factor fueling their anxiety about their appearance (Dove, 2016). And it does not help that these messages are routinely reinforced throughout the culture, for example in the recent explosion of day spas for girls as young as 3 that "honor the feminine" while the little misses are treated "like a Kardashian" (Turkewitz, 2015, p. A1).
This message and millions of others come to us primarily through the media, and although the people who produce these media images are not necessarily selfish or mean, their motives are undeniably financial. Their contribution to our culture's repetitive ways of thinking, feeling, and acting is most certainly not primary among their concerns when preparing their communication.
Culture need not only limit. That media representations of female beauty often meet with debate and disagreement points out the fact that culture can be liberating as well. This is so because cultural values can be contested. In fact, today, we're just as likely to see strong, intelligent female characters who save the day like Brave's Merida, Mulan's Fa Mulan, and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs's Sam Sparks as we are movie princesses who need to be saved by the hero.
Page 11Especially in a pluralistic, democratic society such as ours, the dominant culture (or mainstream culture)—the one that seems to hold sway with the majority of people—is often openly challenged. People do meet, find attractive, like, and love people who do not fit the standard image of beauty. In addition, media sometimes present images that suggest different ideals of beauty and success. Actresses Sofia Vergara, Dascha Polanco, and Mindy Kaling; singers/actresses Beyoncé and Jennifer Lopez; and comedian Amy Schumer all represent alternatives to our culture's idealized standards of beauty, and all have undeniable appeal (and power) on the big and small screens. Liberation from the limitations imposed by culture resides in our ability and willingness to learn and use new patterned, repetitive ways of thinking, feeling, and acting; to challenge existing patterns; and to create our own.
whale a fish? Maybe you have heard others do it. This error occurs because when we think of fish, we think "lives in the water" and "swims." Fish are defined by their "aquatic culture." Because water-residing, swimming dolphins, porpoises, and whales share that culture, we sometimes forget that they are mammals, not fish.
We, too, are defined by our culture. We are citizens of the United States; we are Americans. If we travel to other countries, we will hear ourselves labeled "American," and this label will conjure up stereotypes and expectations in the minds of those who use and hear it. The stereotype, whatever it may be, will probably fit us only incompletely, or perhaps hardly at all—perhaps we are dolphins in a sea full of fish. Nevertheless, being American defines us in innumerable important ways, both to others (more obviously) and to ourselves (less obviously).
Within this large, national culture, however, there are many smaller, bounded cultures (or co-cultures). For example, we speak comfortably of Italian neighborhoods, fraternity row, the South, and the suburbs. Because of our cultural understanding of these categories, each expression communicates something about our expectations of these places. We think we can Page 12predict with a good deal of certainty the types of restaurants and shops we will find in the Italian neighborhood, even the kind of music we will hear escaping from open windows. We can predict the kinds of clothes and cars we will see on fraternity row, the likely behavior of shop clerks in the South, and the political orientation of the suburb's residents. Moreover, the Page 13people within these cultures usually identify themselves as members of those bounded cultures. An individual may say, for example, "I am Italian American" or "I'm from the South." These smaller cultures unite groups of people and enable them to see themselves as different from other groups around them. Thus culture also serves to differentiate us from others.
In the United States, we generally consider this a good thing. We pride ourselves on our pluralism, on our diversity, and on the richness of the cultural heritages represented within our borders. We enjoy moving from one bounded culture to another or from a bounded culture to the dominant national culture and back again.
Problems arise, however, when differentiation leads to division. All Americans are traumatized by horrific events such as the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the 2016 mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, but those tragedies are compounded for the millions of Muslim Americans whose patriotism is challenged simply because they belong to a particular bounded culture. Not only are the number of cases of violence against Muslims in America at an all-time high (Lichtblau, 2016), but the Department of Homeland Security reports that incidents of Muslim American terrorism continue to be far less common than right-wing or antigovernment terrorism, and cooperation from the Muslim American community has been essential in its efforts to investigate domestic threats (Shane, 2016); still we continue to see examples of overt discrimination. For example, in the wake of a serious increase in hateful online and public commentary following the release of its 2015 film American Sniper, movie studio Warner Bros. felt compelled to issue a statement declaring that it "denounces any violent, anti-Muslim rhetoric, including that which has been attributed to viewers of American Sniper. Hate and bigotry have no place in the important dialogue that this picture has generated about the veteran experience" (Mandell, 2015). Muslim Americans' religion, skin color, and clothing "communicate" disloyalty to the United States to many other Americans. Just as culture is constructed and maintained through communication, it is also communication (or miscommunication) that turns differentiation into division.
Yet U.S. citizens of all colors, ethnicities, genders, nationalities, places of birth, economic strata, and intelligence levels often get along; in fact, we can communicate, can prosper, and can respect one another's differences. Culture can divide us, but culture also unites us. Our culture represents our collective experience. We converse easily with strangers because we share the same culture. We speak the same language, automatically understand how far apart to stand, appropriately use titles or first or last names, know how much to say, and know how much to leave unsaid. Through communication with people in our culture, we internalize cultural norms and values—those things that bind our many diverse bounded cultures into a functioning, cohesive society. Culture is the world made meaningful; it is socially constructed and maintained through communication. It limits as well as liberates us; it differentiates as well as unites us. It defines our realities and thereby shapes the ways we think, feel, and act.
A culture's values and beliefs reside in the stories it tells. Who are the good guys? Who are the bad guys? How many of your childhood heroines were even slightly overweight? How many good guys dressed in black? How many heroines lived happily ever after without marrying Prince Charming? Probably not very many. Our stories help define our realities, shaping the ways we think, feel, and act. "Stories are sites of observations about self and society," explains media theorist Hanno Hardt (2007). "These fictional accounts are the constitutive material signs of a shared conversation" (p. 476). Therefore, the "storytellers" have a responsibility to tell their stories in as professional and ethical a way as possible.
At the same time, we, the audience for these stories, also have opportunities and responsibilities. We use these stories not only to be entertained but also to learn about the world around us, to understand the values, the way things work, and how the pieces fit together. We have a responsibility to question the tellers and their stories, to interpret the stories in ways consistent with larger or more important cultural values and truths, to be thoughtful, and to reflect on the stories' meanings and what they say about us and our culture. To do less is to miss an opportunity to construct our own meaning and, thereby, culture.
For example, Women's Health recently joined a host of other publications, promising to ban expressions like "bikini body" and "drop two sizes" from its covers (McNiel, 2016), and lingerie company Aerie vowed to no longer use photoshopped models in its ads (and saw sales surge; Mosbergen, 2016). Brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev discontinued its promotion of Bud Light as "the perfect beer for removing 'no' from your vocabulary for the night" (Schultz, 2015). And in 2016, toy maker Mattel announced that it would begin selling new versions—curvy, petite, and tall—of its formerly anatomically impossible fashion doll Barbie, all in a variety of skin tones, eye colors, and hairstyles (Abrams, 2016). In each case, the cultural conversation—on social media, among friends, and in the mass media—demanded a different, and better, way of talking about women and girls.
No matter how we choose to view the process of mass communication, it is impossible to deny that an enormous portion of our lives is spent interacting with mass media. On a typical Sunday night, about 40 million people in the United States will tune in to a prime-time television show. Video viewing is at an all-time high and accounts for more than half of all adult Americans' leisure-time activity. Ninety-six percent of all U.S. homes have at least one set, and 95% of those homes have high-definition sets (Television Advertising Bureau, 2017). Seventy percent of TV viewers admit to binge viewing, watching five or more episodes of a series in one sitting, and 93% multitask while watching (Sharma, 2016), meaning the average American actually enjoys 31 hours and 28 seconds of activity in any given day (Ault, 2015). On Facebook alone, 1.8 billion people daily watch more than 100 million hours of video (Constantine, 2016). We listen to nearly four hours of music every day (Ault, 2015), and we spend more than $11 billion a year at the movies, buying just over 1.3 billion tickets (Barnes, 2017). If Facebook were its own country, its 1.8 billion monthly active users would make it the largest in the world. Facebook alone accounts for 6% of all the time the world's Internet users spend online (Smith, 2015). Sixty-three percent of American households are home to at least one person who plays video games three or more hours a week, and half of all U.S. homes have a game console, averaging two per home (Entertainment Software Association, 2016).
Just under 4 billion people across the globe are connected to the Internet, 50% of the planet's population and a 918% increase since 2000. Eighty-nine percent of North Americans use the Internet, a 196% increase since 2000 ("Internet users," 2016). Annual global Internet traffic passed the zettabyte (that's 1,000 exabytes, which is 1 billion gigabytes) threshold in 2016 and will reach 2.3 zettabytes per year by 2020. Worldwide Internet traffic has increased five-fold over the past five years and will increase three-fold over the next five years. That traffic in 2020 will be 95 times greater than it was in 2005. By 2020 nearly a million minutes of video content will cross the Internet every second, and it would take you more than 5 million years to watch all the video that will travel the Internet each month (Cisco Systems, 2016). You can see Americans' media preferences in Figure 5 and how those preferences have changed over the last few years. Despite the pervasiveness of mass media in our lives, many of us are dissatisfied with or critical of the media industries' performance and much of the content provided. For example, only 17% of adults feel that entertainment media provide "very good" or "excellent" value (Smith, 2011). People's evaluations of the news media have also become more negative over the last decade. Their trust in each of the three major news sources—television, newspapers, and the Internet—has fallen to its lowest level since 1994, continuing a "decades-long decline in the share of Americans saying they have 'a great deal' or 'quite a lot' of confidence" in their media (Dugan, 2014). Their faith in the "media's ability to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly" has also dropped to a historic low of 32% of all Americans (Swift, 2016). Seventy percent believe that the news media have "a negative effect on the nation" (Geiger, 2016).
Page 16Our ambivalence—we criticize, yet we consume—comes in part from our uncertainties about the relationships among the elements of mass communication. What is the role of technology? What is the role of money? And what is our role in the mass communication process?
To some thinkers, it is machines and their development that drive economic and cultural change. This idea is referred to as technological determinism. Certainly there can be no doubt that movable type contributed to the Protestant Reformation and the decline of the Catholic Church's power in Europe or that television changed the way members of American families interact. Those who believe in technological determinism would argue that these changes in the cultural landscape were the inevitable result of new technology.
But others see technology as more neutral and claim that the way people use technology is what gives it significance. This perspective accepts technology as one of many factors that shape economic and cultural change; technology's influence is ultimately determined by how much power it is given by the people and cultures that use it.
This disagreement about the power of technology is at the heart of the controversies that always seem to spring up with the introduction of new communication technologies. Are we more or less powerless in the wake of advances such as the Internet, the World Wide Web, and instant global audio and visual communication? If we are at the mercy of technology, the culture that surrounds us will not be of our making, and the best we can hope to do is make our way reasonably well in a world outside our control. But if these technologies are indeed neutral and their power resides in how we choose to use them, we can utilize them responsibly and thoughtfully to construct and maintain whatever kind of culture we want. As film director and technophile Steven Spielberg explained, "Technology can be our best friend, and technology can also be the biggest party pooper of our lives. It interrupts our own story, interrupts our ability to have a thought or daydream, to imagine something wonderful because we're too busy bridging the walk from the cafeteria back to the office on the cell phone" (quoted in Kennedy, 2002, p. 109). Or, as the character Dr. Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum) said in Spielberg's 1997 The Lost World: Jurassic Park, "Oooh! Ahhh! That's how it always starts. Then later there's running and screaming."
Technology does have an impact on communication. At the very least it changes the basic elements of communication (see Figure 4). But what technology does not do is relieve us of our obligation to use mass communication responsibly and wisely.
Money, too, alters communication. It shifts the balance of power; it tends to make audiences products rather than consumers.
The first newspapers were financially supported by their readers; the money they paid for the paper covered its production and distribution. But in the 1830s a new form of newspaper financing emerged. Publishers began selling their papers for a penny—much less than it cost to produce and distribute them. Because so many more papers were sold at this bargain price, publishers could "sell" advertising space based on their readership. What they were actually selling to advertisers was not space on the page—it was readers. How much they could charge advertisers was directly related to how much product (how many readers) they could produce for them.
Page 17This new type of publication changed the nature of mass communication. The goal of the process was no longer for audience and media to create meaning together. Rather, it was to sell those readers to a third participant—advertisers.
Some observers think this was a devastatingly bad development, not only in the history of mass communication but in the history of democracy. It robbed people of their voice, or at least made the voices of the advertisers more powerful. Others think it was a huge advance for both mass communication and democracy because it vastly expanded the media, broadening and deepening communication. Models showing these two different ways of viewing mass communication are presented in the box "Audience as Consumer or Audience as Product?" Which model makes more sense to you? Which do you think is more accurate? ABC journalist Ted Koppel told The Washington Post, "[Television] is an industry. It's a business. We exist to make money. We exist to put commercials on the air. The programming that is put on between those commercials is simply the bait we put in the mousetrap" (in "Soundbites," 2005, p. 2). Do you think Koppel is unnecessarily cynical, or is he correct in his analysis of television?
The goals of media professionals will be questioned repeatedly throughout this book. For now, keep in mind that ours is a capitalist economic system and that media industries are businesses. Movie producers must sell tickets, book publishers must sell books, and even public broadcasting has bills to pay.
This does not mean, however, that the media are or must be slaves to profit. Our task is to understand the constraints placed on these industries by their economics and then demand that, within those limits, they perform ethically and responsibly. We can do this only by being thoughtful, critical consumers of the media.
As it is impossible to overstate the importance of writing, so too is it impossible to overstate the significance of Johannes Gutenberg's development of movable metal type. Historian S. H. Steinberg (1959) wrote in Five Hundred Years of Printing:
Neither political, constitutional, ecclesiastical, and economic, nor sociological, philosophical, and literary movements can be fully understood without taking into account the influence the printing press has exerted upon them. (p. 11)
Marshall McLuhan expressed his admiration for Gutenberg's innovation by calling his 1962 book The Gutenberg Galaxy. In it he argued that the advent of print is the key to our modern consciousness, because although literacy—the ability to effectively and efficiently comprehend and use written symbols—had existed since the development of the first alphabets more than 5,000 years ago, it was reserved for very few, the elites. Gutenberg's invention was world-changing because it opened literacy to all; that is, it allowed mass communication.
THE PRINTING PRESS Printing and the printing press existed long before Gutenberg perfected his process in or around 1446. The Chinese were using wooden block presses as early as 600 c.e. and had movable clay type by 1000 c.e. A simple movable metal type was even in use in Korea in the 13th century. Gutenberg's printing press was a significant leap forward, however, for two important reasons.
Gutenberg was a goldsmith and a metallurgist. He hit on the idea of using metal type crafted from lead molds in place of type made from wood or clay. This was an important advance. Not only was movable metal type durable enough to print page after page, but letters could be arranged and rearranged to make any message possible, and Gutenberg was able to produce virtually identical copies.
In addition, Gutenberg's advance over Korean metal mold printing was one of scope. The Korean press was used to produce books for a very small, royal readership. Gutenberg saw his invention as a way to produce many books for profit. He was, however, a poor businessman. He stressed quality over quantity, in part because of his reverence for the book he was printing, the Bible. He used the highest-quality paper and ink and turned out far fewer volumes than he otherwise could have.
Other printers, however, quickly saw the true economic potential of Gutenberg's invention. The first Gutenberg Bible appeared in 1456. By the end of that century, 44 years later, printing operations existed in 12 European countries, and the continent was flooded with 20 million volumes of 7,000 titles in 35,000 different editions (Drucker, 1999). THE IMPACT OF PRINT Although Gutenberg developed his printing press with a limited use in mind, printing Bibles, the cultural effects of mass printing have been profound.
Handwritten or hand-copied materials were expensive to produce, and the cost of an education, in time and money, had made reading an expensive luxury. However, with the spread of printing, written communication was available to a much larger portion of the population, and the need for literacy among the lower and middle classes grew. The ability to read became less of a luxury and more of a necessity; eventually literacy spread, as did education. Soldiers at the front needed to be able to read the emperor's orders. Butchers needed to Page 19understand the king's shopping list. So the demand for literacy expanded, and more (and more types of) people learned to read.
Tradespeople, soldiers, clergy, bakers, and musicians all now had business at the printer's shop. They talked. They learned of things, both in conversation and by reading printed material. As more people learned to read, new ideas germinated and spread, and cross-pollination of ideas occurred.
More material from various sources was published, and people were freer to read what they wanted when they wanted. Dominant authorities—the Crown and the Church—were now less able to control communication and, therefore, the people. New ideas about the world appeared; new understandings of the existing world flourished.
In addition, duplication permitted standardization and preservation. Myth and superstition began to make way for standard, verifiable bodies of knowledge. History, economics, physics, and chemistry all became part of the culture's intellectual life. Literate cultures were now on the road to modernization.
Printed materials were the first mass-produced product, speeding the development and entrenchment of capitalism. We live today in a world built on these changes. Use of the printing press helped fuel the establishment and growth of a large middle class. No longer were societies composed of rulers and subjects; printing sped the rise of democracy. No longer were power and wealth functions of birth; power and wealth could now be created by the industrious. No longer was political discourse limited to accepting the dictates of Crown and Church; printing had given ordinary people a powerful voice.
Tech writer Kevin Kelly connected printing directly to freedom and the rule of law:
When technology shifts, it bends the culture. Once, long ago, culture revolved around the spoken word. The oral skills of memorization, recitation, and rhetoric instilled in societies a reverence for the past, the ambiguous, the ornate, and the subjective. Then, about 500 years ago, orality was overthrown by technology. Gutenberg's invention of metallic moveable type elevated writing into a central position in the culture. By means of cheap and perfect copies, text became the engine of change and the foundation of stability. From printing came journalism, science and the mathematics of libraries and law. (2008, p. 48)
Television influences our culture in innumerable ways. One of its effects, according to many people, is that it has encouraged violence in our society. For example, American television viewers overwhelmingly say there is too much violence on television. Yet, almost without exception, the local television news program that has the largest proportion of violence in its nightly newscast is the ratings leader. "If it bleeds, it leads" has become the motto for much of local television news. It leads because people watch.
So, although many of us are quick to condemn improper media performance or to identify and lament its harmful effects, we rarely question our own role in the mass communication process. We overlook it because we participate in mass communication naturally, almost without conscious effort. We possess high-level interpretive and comprehension skills that make even the most sophisticated television show, movie, or magazine story understandable and enjoyable. We are able, through a lifetime of interaction with the media, to read media texts.
Media literacy is a skill we take for granted, but like all skills, it can be improved. And if we consider how important the mass media are in creating and maintaining the culture that helps define us and our lives, it is a skill that must be improved.
Hunter College media professor Stuart Ewen (2000) emphasized this point in comparing media literacy with traditional literacy. "Historically," he wrote, "links between literacy and democracy are inseparable from the notion of an informed populace, conversant with the issues that touch upon their lives, enabled with tools that allow them to participate actively in public deliberation and social change. . . . Literacy was about crossing the lines that had historically separated men of ideas from ordinary people, about the enfranchisement of those who had been excluded from the compensations of citizenship" (p. 448). To Ewen, and others committed to media literacy, media literacy represents no less than the means to full participation in the culture.
Media scholar Art Silverblatt (2008) identifies seven fundamental elements of media literacy. To these we will add an eighth. Media literacy includes these characteristics:
A critical thinking skill enabling audience members to develop independent judgments about media content. Thinking critically about the content we consume is the very essence of media literacy. Why do we watch what we watch, read what we read, listen to what we listen to? Is that story you saw on Twitter real? If we cannot answer these questions, we have taken no responsibility for ourselves or our choices. As such, we have taken no responsibility for the outcome of those choices.
An understanding of the process of mass communication. If we know the components of the mass communication process and how they relate to one another, we can form Page 21expectations of how they can serve us. How do the various media industries operate? What are their obligations to us? What are the obligations of the audience? How do different media limit or enhance messages? Which forms of feedback are most effective, and why?
An awareness of the impact of media on the individual and society. Writing and the printing press helped change the world and the people in it. Mass media do the same. If we ignore the impact of media on our lives, we run the risk of being caught up and carried along by that change rather than controlling or leading it.
Strategies for analyzing and discussing media messages. To consume media messages thoughtfully, we need a foundation on which to base thought and reflection. If we make meaning, we must possess the tools with which to make it (for example, understanding the intent and impact of film and video conventions, such as camera angles and lighting, or the strategy behind the placement of images on a newspaper's website). Otherwise, meaning is made for us; the interpretation of media content will then rest with its creator, not with us.
An understanding of media content as a text that provides insight into our culture and our lives. How do we know a culture and its people, attitudes, values, concerns, and myths? We know them through communication. For modern cultures like ours, media messages increasingly dominate that communication, shaping our understanding of and insight into our culture.
The ability to enjoy, understand, and appreciate media content. Media literacy does not mean living the life of a grump, liking nothing in the media, or always being suspicious of harmful effects and cultural degradation. We take high school and college classes to enhance our understanding and appreciation of novels; we can do the same for media texts.
Learning to enjoy, understand, and appreciate media content includes the ability to use multiple points of access—to approach media content from a variety of directions and derive from it many levels of meaning. Thus, we control meaning making for our own enjoyment or appreciation. For example, we can enjoy any one of the hit movies from the Hunger Games trilogy as an action-laden adventure full of explosions, danger, and romance, the perfect holiday blockbuster. But as movie buffs we might see it as a David-and-Goliath, underdog-takes-on-the-powerful-villain tale. Or we might read it as an analogy for what's happening in America's contemporary economy of growing income inequality and harshness of life for those near the bottom. Maybe it's a history lesson disguised as dystopian fiction, reminding us that our country was born of revolution against those who would rule us. Or maybe it's just a fun way to spend a Saturday night, entertained by the same industry that so delighted us with other special-effects extravaganzas, like Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Doctor Strange, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
In fact, television programs such as Blackish, The Daily Show, The Simpsons, Game of Thrones, and Family Guy are specifically constructed to appeal to the media literacy skills of sophisticated viewers while providing entertaining fare for less skilled consumers. Blackish and The Daily Show are produced as television comedies, designed to make people laugh. But they are also intentionally produced to provide more sophisticated, media-literate viewers with opportunities to make personally interesting or relevant meaning. Anyone can laugh while watching these programs, but some people can empathize with the daily travails of an upper-middle-class African American family working to deal with race while they pursue the American Dream (Blackish), or they can examine the failings and foibles of contemporary politics and journalism (Daily Show).
Development of effective and responsible production skills. Traditional literacy assumes that people who can read can also write. Media literacy also makes this assumption. Our definition of literacy (of either type) calls not only for effective and efficient comprehension of content but also for its effective and efficient use. Therefore, media-literate individuals should develop production skills that enable them to create useful media messages. If you have ever tried to make a narrative home video—one that tells a story—you know that producing content is much more difficult than consuming it. If you have ever posted to Snapchat or Instagram or uploaded a video to YouTube, you are indeed a media content producer; why not be a good media content producer?
Page 22An understanding of the ethical and moral obligations of media practitioners. To make informed judgments about the performance of the media, we also must be aware of the competing pressures on practitioners as they do their jobs. We must understand the media's official and unofficial rules of operation. In other words, we must know, respectively, their legal and ethical obligations. Return, for a moment, to the question of televised violence. It is legal for a station to air graphic violence. But is it ethical? If it is unethical, what power, if any, do we have to demand its removal from our screens? Dilemmas such as this are discussed at length in the chapter on media freedom, regulation, and ethics.
Consuming media content is simple. Push a button and you have images on a television or music on your car's radio. Come up with enough cash and you can see a movie or buy an e-book. Media-literate consumption, however, requires a number of specific skills:
Page 23The ability and willingness to make an effort to understand content, to pay attention, and to filter out noise. As we saw earlier, anything that interferes with successful communication is called noise, and much of the noise in the mass communication process results from our own consumption behavior. When we watch television, often we are also doing other things, such as eating, reading, or chatting on the phone. We drive while we listen to the radio. We text while we read. Obviously, the quality of our meaning making is related to the effort we give it.
An understanding of and respect for the power of media messages. We are surrounded by mass media from the moment we are born. Just about every one of us can enjoy them. Their content is either free or relatively inexpensive. Much of the content is banal and a bit silly, so it is easy to dismiss media content as beneath serious consideration or too simple to have any influence.
We also disregard media's power through the third-person effect—the common attitude that others are influenced by media messages but that we are not. That is, we are media literate enough to understand the influence of mass communication on the attitudes, behaviors, and values of others but not self-aware or honest enough to see its influence on our lives.
The ability to distinguish emotional from reasoned reactions when responding to content and to act accordingly. Media content is often designed to touch us at the emotional level. We enjoy losing ourselves in a good song or in a well-crafted movie or television show; this is among our great pleasures. But because we react emotionally to these messages does not mean they don't have serious meanings and implications for our lives. Television images, for example, are intentionally shot and broadcast for their emotional impact. Reacting emotionally is appropriate and proper. But then what? What do these images tell us about the larger issue at hand? We can use our feelings as a point of departure for meaning making. We can ask, "Why does this content make me feel this way?"
The development of heightened expectations of media content. We all use media to tune out, waste a little time, and provide background noise. When we decide to watch television, we are more likely to turn on the set and flip channels until we find something passable than we are to read the listings to find a specific program to view. When we search for online video, we often settle for the "10 most shared today," or we let Netflix choose for us. When we expect little from the content before us, we tend to give meaning making little effort and attention.
A knowledge of genre conventions and the ability to recognize when they are being mixed. The term genre refers to the categories of expression within the different media, such as "evening news," "documentary," "horror movie," or "entertainment magazine." Each genre is characterized by certain distinctive, standardized style elements—the conventions of that genre. The conventions of the evening news, for example, include a short, upbeat introductory theme and one or two good-looking people sitting at a large, modern desk. When we hear and see these style elements, we expect the evening news. We can tell a documentary film from an entertainment movie by its more serious tone and a number of talking heads. We know by their appearance—the use of color, the types of images, and the amount of text on the cover—which magazines offer serious reading and which provide entertainment.
Knowledge of these conventions is important because they cue or direct our meaning making. For example, we know to accept the details in a documentary film about the Boston Marathon bombings as more credible than those found in Patriots Day, the 2016 Hollywood movie about the terrorist attack.
This skill is also important for another reason. Sometimes, in an effort to maximize audiences (and therefore profits) or for creative reasons, media content makers mix genre conventions. Is Deepwater Horizon fact or fiction? Is Meredith Vieira a journalist, a talk show host, or a showperson? Extra! and E! News look increasingly like CNN's reporting and the CBS Evening News. Reading media texts becomes more difficult as formats are co-opted.
The ability to think critically about media messages, no matter how credible their sources. It is crucial that media be credible in a democracy in which the people govern because the media are central to the governing process. This is why the news media are Page 24sometimes referred to as the fourth branch of government, complementing the executive, judicial, and legislative branches. This does not mean, however, that we should accept uncritically everything they report. But it is often difficult to arrive at the proper balance between wanting to believe and accepting what we see and hear unquestioningly, especially when frequently we are willing to suspend disbelief and are encouraged by the media themselves to see their content as real and credible.
But media-literate people know not to discount all news media; they must be careful to avoid the hostile media effect, the idea that people see media coverage of important topics of interest as less sympathetic to their position, more sympathetic to the opposing position, and generally hostile to their point of view regardless of the quality of the coverage (Tsfati & Cohen, 2013). There are indeed very good media sources, just as there are those not deserving of our respect. Media literacy, as you'll read throughout this text, helps us make that distinction.
A knowledge of the internal language of various media and the ability to understand its effects, no matter how complex. Just as each media genre has its own distinctive style and conventions, each medium also has its own specific internal language. This language is expressed in production values—the choice of lighting, editing, special effects, music, camera angle, location on the page, and size and placement of headlines. To be able to read a media text, you must understand its language. We learn the grammar of this language as early as childhood—for example, we know that when the television image goes "all woosielike," the character is dreaming.
Let's consider two versions of the same movie scene. In the first, a man is driving a car. Cut to a woman lying tied up on a railroad track. What is the relationship between the man and the woman? Where is he going? With no more information than these two shots, you know automatically that he cares for her and is on his way to save her. Now, here is the second version. The man is driving the car. Fade to black. Fade back up to the woman on the tracks. Now what is the relationship between the man and the woman? Where is he going? It is less clear that these two people even have anything to do with each other. We construct completely different meanings from exactly the same two scenes because the punctuation (the quick cut/fade) differs.
Media texts tend to be more complicated than these two scenes. The better we can handle their grammar, the more we can understand and appreciate texts. The more we understand texts, the more we can be equal partners with media professionals in meaning making.
"It's Beasts of No Nation, a movie about the brutality inflicted on child soldiers in Africa."
"I heard this just came out in theaters. How are you watching it on your phone?"

"Netflix released it day-and-date. It was available to stream online the same day that it first played in theaters."
"That sounds like a cool experiment. Can I watch with you?"
Day-and-date release isn't an "experiment"; filmmakers, big and small, have been using the strategy for some time. Big-budget Snowpiercer (2013), star-studded Bachelorette (2012), Margin Call (2011), and political documentary Trumpland (2016) are just some of the more successful examples. In the case of 2014's The Interview, the studio had little choice but to release the movie online after North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un threatened revenge against theaters because he didn't like being spoofed in an American movie. These online hits are not only good examples of day-and-date releases, but they also represent a fact of modern media life: There is a seismic shift going on in the mass media—and therefore in mass communication—that dwarfs the changes to the media landscape wrought by television's assault in the 1950s and 1960s on the preeminence of radio and the movies. Encouraged by the Internet, digitization, and mobility, producers are finding new ways to deliver new content to audiences. The media industries are in turmoil, and audience members, as they are confronted by a seemingly bewildering array of possibilities, are now coming to terms with these new media. Will you pay for movie downloads? How much? What will you pay for on-demand television programs? Would you be willing to view the commercials they contain if you could pay a bit less per show? Would you pay more or less for classic programming than for contemporary shows? Would you be willing to watch a movie or television show on a small screen? How will you listen to the radio—satellite radio or terrestrial radio or digital terrestrial radio or streamed Internet radio? If it's streamed over the Internet, is it still "radio"? You may not hold the physical newspaper in your hands, but when you access a newspaper's story on its app (abbreviation for application; software for mobile digital devices), you're reading the newspaper. Or are you? Back to day-and-date. There are technologies that provide day-and-date release for all movies from partner studios. Screening Room offers digital delivery of new releases to your home day-and-date. The set-top box costs $150, and you pay $50 for each movie. Or maybe you'd prefer Prima Cinema, the technology that allows you to watch new releases at home, for the low, low price of $35,000 (Barnes, 2016)? On which platform (the means of delivering a specific piece of media content) might you most enjoy watching your movies? Would you be willing to pay more or less for different platforms? In theater? On your tablet or phone? On a wide-screen home TV? What is the most you would be willing to pay? These are precisely the kinds of questions that audiences will be answering in the next several years. Media-literate audiences will be better equipped to do so.
The way we interact with the mass media is indeed changing. While this shift is good news for media consumers, it has not necessarily been beneficial for the established media industries. Just how much pain has been produced by this "perfect storm" of rapid technological change and our shifting consumption behavior?
Although Americans spend over $11 billion a year at the movies, they continue to buy fewer tickets per person every year than they did in the 1920s (Barnes, 2017). Only 11% of Americans go to the movies once a month or more ("Changes," 2017).
Page 33The number of music CDs sold fell 13.9% between 2014 and 2015, producing a 17% drop in the dollar value of those sales (Friedlander, 2016).
Fifteen years ago, the four major broadcast networks commanded 61% of all television viewing. Today their share hovers around 30%. The top-rated program in 1980 was Dallas, viewed in more than 34% of all homes with a television; in 1990 it was Cheers, watched by 21% of all TV homes; today it is Sunday Night Football, drawing about 13%.
The rate of decline in DVD sales increased from 10.9% in 2014 to 12% in 2015, costing the movie studios an $800 million dollar loss in their primary source of home entertainment income (Wallenstein, 2016).
American newspaper industry revenues declined 4.4% from 2015 to 2016, and 45% over the previous 10 years (Sass, 2017).
The U.S. magazine industry saw a 3.2% drop in advertising and circulation revenue from 2015 to 2016 (Sass, 2017).
Listenership to American commercial AM and FM radio has fallen from 96% of Americans 12 years old and over in 2001 to 91% today, and sale of on-air advertising fell 3% between 2014 and 2015 (Vogt, 2016).
Indeed, what this turmoil indicates is that the challenge facing the traditional media industries today is how to capture a mass audience now fragmented into millions of niches, that is, into increasingly smaller subaudiences. What is clear is that although we are consuming media in new and different ways, our levels of consumption are at an all-time high.
Global media consumption rose 1.4% from 2014 to 2015, driven by a 27.7% increase in mobile media usage. Across the globe, people average 177 minutes of television a day, accounting for 41% of their media engagement (Barnard, 2016). The typical American spends 10 hours and 39 minutes of screen time a day (Howard, 2016). The average American teen spends more than nine hours a day engaged simultaneously with many different screens, media multitasking across the TV set, the computer, video games, and handheld devices (Rideout, 2015). You can see teens' daily activity across all media in Figure 1. We watch 8 billion videos every day on Facebook (Savage, 2016) in addition to the 5 billion a day we watch on YouTube (Statistics, 2016). This does not include the 100 million hours a day of Netflix movies and TV shows streamed by its 87 million worldwide subscribers (Smith, 2016) or all of the viewing by millions of people who watch on their video game consoles or any of the growing number of other video services like HBO Now, CBS All Access, Roku, Amazon Prime, Sling TV, Hulu, and a score more. And that decline in DVD sales and rentals mentioned earlier? It's being made up by electronic sell-through (EST), the buying of digital download movies that annually brings studios more than $1.6 billion in new revenue (Wallenstein, 2016). In fact, Americans are watching more videos, listening to more music, reading more often, playing more video games, consuming more news, and accessing the Internet more often than ever before; they are simply doing it in new and different ways. For media industries, these facts offer good news—readers, viewers, and listeners are out there in ever-increasing numbers, and they value the mass communication experience. These data also offer good news for literate media consumers—their consumption choices will shape the media landscape to come and, inevitably, the mass communication process itself. Media industries face a number of challenges that promise to alter their relationship with their audiences. Concentration of media ownership and conglomeration can constrict the number and variety of voices available to audiences. Those audiences are becoming fragmented, potentially making it more difficult for media organizations to reach them. Globalization not only fragments the audience even more, but it can also make it less profitable for a media company to tailor its fare for its own homeland. Hypercommercialization might allow those companies to earn more income, but at what price to an audience awash in commercials? And fueling all this change is convergence—the erosion of traditional distinctions among media. As we've already seen, content typically associated with onePage 34 medium is quite likely to be delivered by any number of other media; we, the platform-agnostic audience members, having no preference on which medium to consume content, seem quite content with that state of affairs.
Ownership of media companies is increasingly concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. Through mergers, acquisitions, buyouts, and hostile takeovers, a very small number of large conglomerates is coming to own more and more of the world's media outlets. For example, in 2015 telecommunication conglomerate AT&T acquired satellite TV provider DirecTV for $49 billion, and cable company Charter Communications acquired Time Warner Cable for $57 billion. In 2016, another telecom giant, Verizon, bought Yahoo and its many Web brands (TechCrunch, Huffington Post, Flickr, and Tumblr, to name just a few) for nearly $5 billion; Internet giant Microsoft bought LinkedIn for $26 billion; and AT&T, the country's second-largest wireless carrier, was back in the acquisition market, bidding $85 billion for the multinational media and entertainment conglomerate Time Warner and its holdings such as HBO, CNN, Bleacher Reports, DC Comics, and the Warner Bros. movie studio. Media observer Ben Bagdikian reported that in 1997 the number of media corporations with "dominant power in society" was 10. Today six companies—Comcast, News Corp., Disney, Viacom, Time Warner, and CBS—own 90% of the media content consumed by AmericansPage 35 (Corcoran, 2016). This concentration of ownership is more than an economic issue. It is a fundamental principle of our democracy that we have a right to information from a wide diversity of viewpoints so that we can make up our own minds. Democracy—rule by the people—requires an independent media. This is the crux of Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black's eloquent defense of a vibrant media in his 1945 Associated Press v. U.S. decision: "The First Amendment rests on the assumption that the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public, that a free press is a condition of a free society." Closely related to concentration is conglomeration, the increase in the ownership of media outlets by larger, nonmedia companies. The threat is clear, explained Vermont senator Bernie Sanders:
What you've got today . . . is about a half a dozen major media conglomerates that own and control the distribution of the information that the American people receive. That is a massive concentration of control. And what is never discussed about this is, What is the goal of these major media conglomerates? Is it to educate the American people? Is it to give the five sides of the issue? No. Their function as major media conglomerates, owned by very large financial interests, is to make as much money as they possibly can. . . . This is a disaster for democracy. (in Smiley, 2016)
You can read more about conglomeration in the box titled "The Quest for Profit or Serving Democracy?"
But the conflict of interest between profit and public service is only one presumed problem with conglomeration. The other is the dominance of a bottom-line mentality and its inevitable degradation of media content. Variety's Peter Bart explains that the "corporate giants" that own media companies are in a "race for consolidation [that] continues to accelerate, burying movies, magazines, books, and music under still more layers of corporate number-crunchers." Wall Street, he argues, favors risk-free companies, whether they are media outlets or supermarkets (2014, p. 28). Bart was speaking of media in general. As for journalism, former CBS anchor Dan Rather added, "The larger the entities that own and control the news operations, the more distant they become" (quoted in Auletta, 2001, p. 60). New York University law professor Burt Neuborne warned:
The press has been subsumed into a market psychology, because they are now owned by large conglomerates, of which they are simply a piece. And they (news organizations) are expected to contribute their piece of the profit to the larger pie. You don't have people controlling the press anymore with a fervent sense of responsibility to the First Amendment. Concentrating on who's sleeping with whom, on sensationalism, is concentrating on essentially irrelevant issues. (as quoted in Konner, 1999, p. 6)
Evidence for Professor Neuborne's appraisal abounds. In 1982, 60% of American journalists said they had "almost complete freedom" in selecting the stories they would cover. Now, only 34% say they can make that claim ("Hard Numbers," 2014). The number of full-time statehouse newspaper reporters fell by more than one-third between 2003 and 2014. Only 164 full-time newspaper journalists now report on the bills, debates, possible corruption, and politicians in the nation's 50 state capitals (Barber, 2014). Only 21 of 50 states currently have even one daily newspaper reporter assigned to Washington, DC, to cover Congress (Lu & Holcomb, 2016). This produces news deserts, communities starved for news vital to their existences (Oreskes, 2016). There is social scientific evidence that this "impoverishment of local political news in recent years is driving down citizen engagement," producing voters who are less politically active, less knowledgeable about political candidates, and less likely to vote (Hayes, 2015). And in 2015, the hottest year in recorded history, a year that saw a dramatic increase in America's level of income inequality, and a year in which there were several high-profile police shootings of young African American men and a number of deadly terrorist attacks at home and across the globe, the most-reported news story on the three largest commercial television networks—ABC, CBS, and NBC—was winter weather, not climate change, not the economy, and not the world's refugee crisis (ADT Research, 2016).
There are, however, positive observations on concentration and conglomeration. Many industry professionals argue that concentration and conglomeration are not only inevitable but necessary in a telecommunications environment that is increasingly fragmented and internationalized; companies must maximize their number of outlets to reach as much of thePage 36 divided and far-flung audience as possible. If they do not, they will become financially insecure, and that is an even greater threat to free and effective mediated communication because advertisers and other well-monied forces will have increased influence over them.
Another defense of concentration and conglomeration has to do with economies of scale; that is, bigger can in fact sometimes be better because the relative cost of an operation's output declines as the size of that endeavor grows. For example, the cost of collecting the news or producing a television program does not increase significantly when that news report or television program is distributed over 2 outlets, 20 outlets, or 100 outlets. The additional revenues from these other points of distribution can then be plowed back into even better news and programming. In the case of conglomeration, the parallel argument is that revenues from a conglomerate's nonmedia enterprises can be used to support quality work by its media companies.
The potential impact of this oligopoly—a concentration of media industries into an ever smaller number of companies—on the mass communication process is enormous. What becomes of shared meaning when the people running communication companies are more committed to the financial demands of their corporate offices than they are to their audiences, who are supposedly their partners in the communication process? What becomes of the process itself when media companies grow more removed from those with whom they communicate? And what becomes of the culture that is dependent on that process when concentration and conglomeration limit the diversity of perspective and information? Or are the critics making too much of the issue? Is this unnamed manager of newspaper chain 10/30 Communications correct when he says, "Many companies in our industry have wrongly divided their focus among many customer groups. We do not. Our customer is the advertiser. Readers are our customers' customers" (in Wemple, 2016)?
In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, one in which the media not only badly judged the outcome but left many important policy issues uncovered, Joshua Benton, of the Nieman Journalism Lab, wrote, "One way to think of the job journalism does is telling a community about itself, and on those terms the American media failed spectacularly this election cycle. That Donald Trump's victory came as such a surprise—a systemic shock, really—to both journalists and so many who read or watch them is a marker of just how bad a job we did . . . The troubling morning-after realization is that the structures of today's media ecosystem encourage that separation, and do so a little bit more each day" (2016). A post-election survey offered evidence of how badly journalists failed to understand and report the true mood of many in the nation—not only did a majority, 57%, of Americans say the media had too much influence in the election, they gave that performance a grade of D+ ("Low Marks," 2016).
What were the problematic "structures of today's media ecosystem" that led to this poor grade? Two of the most commonly cited problems were directly related to the drive for profit. The first was serious cuts in the number of working journalists as media companies shed staff to bolster their bottom lines in an already tough media economy. The "brutal economics of the news business . . . decimat[ed] newsrooms around the country and [left] fewer people to grapple with what was a gargantuan story," argued Columbia Journalism Review's Kyle Pope (2016). The second was the degradation of the news itself, the "desperation for clicks and ratings that guarantees that civic and democratic values will always be trumped by commercial and entertainment demands," in the words of The Nation's John Nichols (2016)—or, as The Guardian's Katherine Viner (2016) put it, the profit-driven drift "away from public-service journalism and toward junk-food news." We knew all about Hillary Clinton's e-mails (which received more coverage than all other policy issues combined; Alterman, 2016) and Mr. Trump's sensitivity to his hand size and the leaked video where he describes sexually grabbing women,Page 37 but there was little examination of the candidates' policies. There was not a single question on climate change in any of the three presidential debates, and a Harvard University analysis determined that only 9% of the news in the country's 10 major media outlets was devoted to issues (Hahessy, 2016). Where was reporting on economic instability and inequality? On why so many citizens now think the American Dream is exactly that, a dream? "Whatever you say about this year's election coverage," lamented The New York Times's Jim Rutenberg, "it killed at the box office" (2016, p. B1).
The Internet, especially social networking sites that traded in false news and flat-out lies, was another reason often cited for the media's failure to see the true story behind Americans' great dissatisfaction with the status quo. Mr. Benton offered this evidence: "I'm from a small town in south Louisiana. The day before the election, I looked at the Facebook page of the current mayor. Among the items he posted there in the final 48 hours of the campaign: Hillary Clinton Calling for Civil War If Trump Is Elected. Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President. Barack Obama Admits He Was Born in Kenya. FBI Agent Who Was Suspected of Leaking Hillary's Corruption Is Dead." All were lies spread far and wide online and twice as likely to be read on social media than stories from legitimate new sites (Mandese, 2016). Many critics argued that voters' reliance on unedited and unverified reports on Facebook and other Internet outlets was itself a product of traditional media's profit-motivated turn away from real to junk-food news. As mainstream news becomes more fatuous, celebrity-obsessed, and advertiser-friendly, it begins to lose its value. When only 32% of Americans have a fair or great deal of trust in the media (Swift, 2016), why shouldn't people get "news" from people they trust, someone who's like them? But, as Martin Baron, executive editor of The Washington Post, explained, "If you have a society where people can't agree on basic facts, how do you have a functioning democracy?" (in Rutenberg, 2016, p. B1).
Enter your voice in the cultural forum. Regardless of your favored candidate in that contentious campaign, how well do you think the media performed? Journalism professionals were nearly unanimous in their self-criticism; how much of it do you think is deserved? Does the quest for corporate profit make it more or less likely that we the people can count on the media to serve our democratic needs?
Closely related to the concentration of media ownership is globalization. It is large, multinational conglomerates that are doing the lion's share of media acquisitions. The potential impact of globalization on the mass communication process speaks to the issue of diversity of expression. Will distant, anonymous, foreign corporations, each with vast holdings in a variety of nonmedia businesses, use their power to shape news and entertainment content to suit their own ends? Here in America the concern is that media companies, with an eye toward an expanding worldwide market for their fare, will tailor their content to the widest possible global audience, ignoring story and character in their television shows and movies in favor of car chases and explosions. Foreign audiences understand big-time action and adventure; nuance and subtlety don't translate as well. Abroad, the worry is that high-quality American media content will overwhelm local media industries and local cultures. As it is, almost every country in the world, including our friends in Canada, puts limits of some sort on the amount and type of U.S. media content they allow across their borders. There is, however, an alternative view to these concerns. Different people from different cultures can learn from one another through the exchange of their different media. Rather than fear the sharing of the stories we tell, we should embrace them. In addition, defenders of increased globalization point to the need to reach a fragmented and widespread audience—the same factor that fuels concentration—as encouraging this trend. They also cite the growing economic clout of emerging democracies (and the need to reach the people who live in them) and the increasing intertwining of the world's economies as additional reasons globalization is necessary for the economic survival of media businesses.
The nature of the other partner in the mass communication process is changing too. Individual segments of the audience are becoming more narrowly defined; the audience itself is less of a mass audience. This is audience fragmentation.
Page 38Before the advent of television, radio and magazines were national media. Big national radio networks brought news and entertainment to the entire country. Magazines such as Life, Look, and the Saturday Evening Post once offered limited text and many pictures to a national audience. But television could do these things better. It was radio with pictures; it was magazines with motion. To survive, radio and magazines were forced to find new functions. No longer able to compete on a mass scale, these media targeted smaller audiences that were alike in some important characteristic and therefore more attractive to specific advertisers. So now we have magazines such as Psychology Today and Brides, and radio station formats such as Country, Urban, and Lithuanian. This phenomenon is known as narrowcasting, niche marketing, or targeting.
Technology has wrought the same effect on television. Before cable television, people could choose from among the three commercial broadcast networks—ABC, CBS, NBC—one noncommercial public broadcasting station, and, in larger markets, maybe an independent station or two. Now, with cable, satellite, and Internet video streaming, people have literally millions of viewing options. The television audience has been fragmented. To attract advertisers, each channel now must find a more specific group of people to make up its viewership. Nickelodeon targets kids, for example; TV Land appeals to baby boomers; Spike aims at young men; and Bravo seeks upper-income older people.
The new digital technologies promise even more audience fragmentation, almost to the point of audiences of one. For example, cable companies have the ability to send very specific commercials not only to specific neighborhoods but even to individual homes. Television network NBC does the same in its on-demand programming. And if you've ever used an Internet search engine, you know that the ads you see are specific to you based on the history of your overall Internet use. So, too, are the search results you're offered. Zonecasting technology allows radio stations to deliver different commercials to specific neighborhoods, and location-based mobile advertising, as you no doubt know well, lets marketers directly send ads targeted at you wherever you are in that moment.
But if these audience-fragmenting addressable technologies—technologies permitting the transmission of very specific content to equally specific audience members—are changing the nature of the mass media's audiences, then the mass communication process itself must also change. What will happen as smaller, more specific audiences become better known to their partners in the process of making meaning? What will happen to the national culture that binds us as we become increasingly fragmented into demographically targeted taste publics—groups of people bound by little more than an interest in a given form of media content? Will there be a narrowing of our collective cultural experience, as media's storytelling function is disrupted because we are each listening to stories we individually preselect or that are preselected for us? "Maybe one day," wonders Creativity magazine editor Teressa Iezzi, "you won't be able to say anything to anyone because a common language or the ability to grapple with or laugh at something outside of your comfort zone will have fallen away" (2007, p. 11). National Public Radio's Michael Oreskes (2016) adds, "'Nichefication' may strengthen the business prospects of [media] companies, but it weakens their ability to serve the public."
There is an alternative view, however. Audience may well be fragmenting, but the interactivity encouraged and facilitated by the digital media will reconnect and reconfigure us into more numerous, more robust, more varied communities. There is indeed a lot of conversation, curiosity, and sharing taking place on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook; yes, it can be small and juvenile, but very often it is passionate, informative, observant, clever, subversive, and maybe even community-building.
The costs involved in acquiring numerous or large media outlets, domestic and international, and of reaching an increasingly fragmented audience must be recouped somehow. Selling more advertising on existing and new media and identifying additional ways to combine content and commercials are the two most common strategies. This leads toPage 39 hypercommercialism. The rise in the number of commercial minutes in a typical broadcast television show is evident to most viewers, as more than 17% of a prime-time broadcast network hour is devoted to commercials. Cable channels devote 21% of their program hour to commercials, in part by speeding up the video to make more commercial time available (Ember, 2016; Morran, 2015). Hypercommercialization has hit the Internet as well, as you surely know as you try to separate the brand tweets from those of the real people you follow on Twitter and work to block the endless commercials on your Facebook news feed.
The sheer growth in the amount of advertising is one troublesome aspect of hypercommercialism. But for many observers, the increased mixing of commercial and noncommercial media content is even more troubling. Of course, not everyone has a problem with this practice. Angela Courtin, chief marketing officer of movie and television studio Relativity Media, explains, "We have come to an intersection of media and content where marketing is content and content is marketing" (in Downey, 2015). What do you think of these "intersections"? A typical prime-time unscripted program, for example The Voice, has more than 14 minutes of product placement and more than 15 minutes of actual commercial breaks, meaning that one-half of its hour is devoted to promotion. Tinder shows up regularly on The Mindy Project; the vice-principal on The Fosters loves the new school tablets so much she calls them by their full name, "the Kindle Paperwhite e-reader." The star of Jane the Virgin is a regular at Target, and whenever a character on any show on the FX cable channel has a beer, it's a MillerCoors product (Nussbaum, 2015). So ubiquitous has this product placement—the integration, for a fee, of specific branded products into media content—become, that the Writers Guild of America demands additional compensation for writing what are, in effect, commercials. The producers' response is that product placement is not a commercial; rather, it represents a new form of content, brand entertainment—when brands are, in fact, part of and essential to the program. Toyota, Kraft Foods, Chase credit cards, and Cigna insurance are recurring "characters" on Top Chef. Musical artists not only take payment to include brands in their songs; some, for example Mariah Carey, now integrate brands into their CD booklets. Music channel Vevo retroactively inserts products into already existing music videos. Celebrities like Rihanna, Kylie Jenner, and Teen Mom star Chelsea Houska accept payments from brands to push their wares on Instagram (Davis, 2016). Time and Sports Illustrated magazines run ads on their covers, and many e-books come not only with products integrated into their story lines but also with links to the sponsors' websites.
Sometimes hypercommercialism involves direct payments of cash in exchange for exposure rather than "mere" branding. Many television stations around the country, for example Channels 17 and 99 in Naperville, Illinois, sell entire segments of their morning news and talk shows to local businesses. Many radio stations now accept payment from record promoters to play their songs, an activity once illegal and called payola. It is now quite acceptable as long as the "sponsorship" is acknowledged on the air.
Again, as with globalization and concentration, where critics see damage to the integrity of the media themselves and disservice to their audiences, defenders of hypercommercialism argue that it is simply the economic reality of today's media world.
Movie studios make their titles available not only on DVD and EST but for handheld video game systems as well. Cable's AMC runs a slate of webisodes, Web-only television shows, to accompany its hit series The Walking Dead. Satellite provider Dish Network offersPage 40 interactive, TV remote-based play of classic video games. Magazines Allure and Vanity Fair maintain digital video channels and produce their own television shows. The iPod Nano music player contains an FM tuner. Video game consoles don't just let players download movies and television shows, surf the Internet, check their Facebook accounts, and tune in to the Weather Channel and the BBC; they also offer streaming of tens of thousands of feature films. Ken Burns unveiled his documentary series Prohibition on the iPad and iPhone a week before its airing on PBS, when it was simultaneously streamed over the Internet and broadcast in advance of its availability on DVD and on iTunes. You can subscribe to National Geographic and play its issue-matched video game online or on a smartphone. There are tens of thousands of U.S. commercial and noncommercial and foreign radio stations delivering their broadcasts over the Web.
You can read The New York Times or Time magazine and hundreds of other newspapers and magazines on a variety of screens. And what can "newspapers, magazines, and books," "radio and recordings," and "television and film" really mean (or more accurately, really be) now that we can access digital texts, audio, and moving images virtually anyplace, anytime via Wi-Fi (wireless Internet) and handheld devices? This erosion of distinctions among media is called convergence, and it has been fueled by three related phenomena that have overwhelmed the mass communication process all at once. First is the digitization of almost all content, making it possible to transmit and share information across all platforms. Second is the increasing data speed of both wired and wireless networks, making access to that digitized content fast, easy, and seamless. Third are the remarkably fast and ongoing advances in communication technology that make once-unimagined ideas quite possible.
The traditional lines between media are disappearing. Concentration is one reason for this convergence. If one company owns newspapers, an online service, television stations, book publishers, a magazine or two, and a film company, it has a strong incentive to get the greatest use from its content, whether news, education, or entertainment, by using as many channels of delivery as possible. The industry calls this synergy, and it is the driving force behind several recent mergers and acquisitions in the media and telecommunications industries. In 2012 Facebook bought photo-sharing platform Instagram for $1 billion to gain access to its app-based mobile services and to make its Facebook offerings more visual, therefore increasing the site's value to advertisers. In 2014 Apple, deciding that the future of music was streaming, not downloads, paid $3.2 billion for the headphone and music streaming company Beats Music; and YouTube, wanting to bring real-time video game play to its already massive array of channels, paid more than $1 billion for the game-streaming service Twitch. In 2015, Activision paid nearly $6 billion for King Digital Entertainment in order to move its console-bound games like Call of Duty and World of Warcraft to more mobile platforms where King, with hits like Candy Crush, was dominant.
A second reason for convergence is audience fragmentation. A mass communicator who finds it difficult to reach the whole audience can reach its component parts through various media. A third reason is the audience itself. We are increasingly platform agnostic, having no preference for where we access our media content. Will this expansion andPage 41 blurring of traditional media channels confuse audience members, further tilting the balance of power in the mass communication process toward the media industries? Or will it give audiences more power—power to choose, power to reject, and power to combine information and entertainment in individual ways? Convergence killed the video store, victimized by video downloads, streaming, and online rentals—products of the convergence of movies, video, and the Internet. Convergence is strangling the bookstore as well, victimized by downloads and portable e-readers, smartphones, and tablets—products of the convergence of print, the Internet, and smartphones.
Traditionally, the content producer, the source, in the mass communication process is a large, hierarchically structured organization—for example, Pixar Studios, the Philadelphia Inquirer, or CBS Television. And as we saw, the typical consequence of this organizational structure is scant room for individual vision or experimentation. But in the age of the Internet, with its proliferation of blogs (regularly updated online journals that comment on just about everything), social networking sites such as Facebook where users post all variety of free personal content, and other websites, the distinction between content consumer and content provider disappears. Now, Interpreter A can be an independent musician self-releasing her music online, a lone blogger, a solitary online scrapbooker, or two pals who create digital videos. Traditional media outlets routinely make use of people as sources who would have once been called amateurs. For example, publishes the work of 1,400 contributors, and the Dallas Morning News maintains an unpaid network of several dozen "civilians." Fox television network stations across the country provide "citizen journalists" with an app, Fresco, that operates like a 24/7 newsroom. It assigns stories to be covered, and once the users' images and video are verified for accuracy and aired, they are paid for their work (Jessell, 2016). Internet domain company Go Daddy traditionally airs a viewer-created commercial during the Super Bowl. Tens of millions of producers, big and small, distribute their video fare on the Internet. Sites like Vuze, Joost, and Blip Networks strike financial deals with producers, again big and small, for content for their own sites and for syndication to others. And what are Snapchat's 150 million and Instagram's 500 million monthly users who upload 800 million and 80 million images a day, respectively, if not producers of a huge amount of sometimes very engaging content?
In the newly evolving model of mass communication, content providers are just as likely to be individuals who believe in something or who have something to say as they are big media companies in search of audiences and profits. Now sources themselves, they are the people formerly known as the audience, and it is not simply technological change that has given them voice. It is the reduction of the cost of entry for content production to nearly $0 that those digital technologies have wrought that has made them all creators. "Rates of authorship are increasing by historic orders of magnitude. Nearly universal authorship, like universal literacy before it, stands to reshape society by hastening the flow of information and making individuals more influential," wrote futurists Denis Pelli and Charles Bigelow. "As readers, we consume. As authors, we create. Our society is changing from consumers to creators" (2009).
Page 42What are the likely consequences of this change? Will the proliferation of content sources help mitigate the effects of concentration and conglomeration in the traditional media industries? Will the cultural forum be less of a lecture and more of a conversation? Will new and different and challenging storytellers find an audience for their narratives? Does journalist William Greider (2005), speaking specifically of the news, overstate when he says, "The centralized institutions of press and broadcasting are being challenged and steadily eroded by widening circles of unlicensed 'news' agents—from talk-radio hosts to Internet bloggers and others—who compete with the official press to be believed. These interlopers speak in a different language and from many different angles of vision. Less authoritative, but more democratic" (p. 31)?
The message in the traditional mass communication model is typically mechanically produced, simultaneously sent, inflexible, and unalterable. Once AMC airs tonight's episode of The Walking Dead, it has aired tonight's episode of The Walking Dead. The consequence? Audiences either like it or don't like it. The program either succeeds or fails. But we've already seen that different commercial spots can be inserted into programs sent into specific homes. You can buy only four tracks of an artist's latest CD, add three more from an earlier release, and listen to a completely unique, personally created album. Every music-streaming service now available allows you to create your own personalized "radio station" or playlist. RSS, or really simple syndication, feeds are aggregators that allow Web users to create their own content assembled from the Internet's limitless supply of material. Some of the most popular are Bloglines, Sitrion, and Digg Reader. Users tell the aggregator what sites to collect, or their topics of interest, or even their favorite writers. As soon as any new content in their preselected categories appears online, it is automatically brought to their RSS file. The Breaking News app, for example, brings aggregated news on more than 90,000 topics to people and news organizations alike. As such, these aggregated "messages" are infinitely alterable, completely unique, and thoroughly idiosyncratic. Alternate-ending DVDs permitting viewers to "re-edit" an existing movie at home are old hat by now. But what do you think of director Steven Soderbergh's vision for a digital movie future? Some time ago he said that when theaters convert from film to digital projection, he would plan to exhibit multiple, different versions of the same film. "I think it would be very interesting to have a movie out in release," he said, "and then, just a few weeks later say, 'Here's version 2.0, recut, rescored.' The other version is still out there—people can see either or both" (in Jardin, 2005, p. 257). Well, it's more than 10 years later and digital projection is a reality. But alternate-ending movies haven't hit the big screen yet. Is it because the movie industry is content to stay with its mechanically produced, simultaneously sent, inflexible, unalterable films, or is it because we aren't ready for them yet?
Page 43What will be the impact on the mass communication process when content producers no longer have to amass as large an audience as possible with a single, simultaneously distributed piece of content? When a producer can sell very specific, very idiosyncratic, constantly changing content to very specific, very idiosyncratic, constantly changing consumers, will profitability and popularity no longer be so closely linked? What will "popular" and "profitable" messages really mean when audience members can create infinitely "alterable" messages? What will happen when the mass communication process, long dependent on appointment consumption (audiences consume content at a time predetermined by the producer and distributor; for example, a movie time at a theater, your favorite television show at 9:00 on Tuesdays, news at the top of the hour, your magazine in your mailbox on the third of the month), evolves more completely to consumption on demand (the ability to consume any content, anytime, anywhere)?
In the traditional model of the mass communication process, feedback is inferential and delayed—what is a newspaper's circulation, what were this weekend's box office numbers for that movie, what are that program's ratings? Likewise, the audience is typically seen as large and heterogeneous, known to content producers and distributors in a relatively rudimentary way, little more than basic demographics. But digital media have changed what content creators and distributors know about their audiences (Interpreter B) because they have changed how audiences talk back to those sources (feedback). Silicon Valley marketing consultant Richard Yanowitch explains, "The Internet is the most ubiquitous experimental lab in history, built on two-way, real-time interactions with millions of consumers whose individual consumption patterns can for the first time be infinitesimally measured, monitored, and molded." Adds Google advertising executive Tim Armstrong, "Traditionally, the focus has been on the outbound message. But we think the information coming back in is as important or more important than the messages going out" (both in Streisand & Newman, 2005, p. 60).
In today's mass communication, every visit to a specific Web address (and every click of a mouse once there), every download of a piece of content, and every product bought online provide feedback to someone. But it isn't just the Internet—every selection of a channel on cable or satellite; every rental or purchase by credit card of a CD, DVD, video game, or movie ticket; and every consumer product scanned at the checkout counter or purchased from an Internet-connected vending machine is recorded and stored in order to better identify us to Interpreter A, whoever that might be. But this raises the question, Who is Interpreter A? It might be content providers who want to serve us more effectively because they know us so much more thoroughly than they once did when relying solely on demographics. Or it could be those who would make less honorable use of the feedback we so willingly provide—for example, identity thieves or a potential employer who would deny you a job because of your political or religious beliefs.
At the end of his 1967 book The Selfish Gene, noted evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins introduced the term meme. He likened them to genes, "Memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation" (in Gleick, 2011). He continued his analogy, arguing that, like genes, memes compete with each other for limited resources; memes compete for attention, because without attention they cease to be. And while he was speaking of any idea that spreads from person to person in a culture, he came to accept the Internet-based meaning of meme, an online idea or image that is repeatedly copied, manipulated, and shared. "The meaning is not that far away from the original. It's anything that goes viral," Dawkins said. "In the original introduction to the word meme . . . I did actually use the metaphor of a virus. So when anybody talks about something going viral on the Internet, that is exactly what a meme is" (in Solon, 2013).
For Professor Dawkins, memes were how ideas come into being, are propagated, and (if they survive) serve their host, the culture in which they flourish. But what of Internet memes specifically? Critics of meme culture argue that the ideas most likely to be spread—go viral—are the ones most guaranteed to attract attention. So we spend (or possibly waste) time on epic fail videos and funny cat pictures with oddly spelled slogans (the I Can Has Cheezburger Meme network has hundreds of millions of page and video views each month). But maybe we aren't wasting time. Maybe we're building community by creating, viewing, and sharing ideas. "My generation turns to memes... so that we can connect and relate," wrote millennial college student Ashley Perling (2016, p. A24). But, ask critics, what kind of meaningful community can be built around memes like My Food Looks Funny and You're Doing It Wrong? But maybe Perling is right; as we all learned in grammar school, sharing is caring.
Still, unlike the traditional media that carry cultural ideas, bound as they are by economic and ethical considerations, memes "represent a new 'Wild West' in entertainment, where account holders, sometimes having millions of followers, can simply post whatever they want with little review or backlash... Memes succeed in condensing [ideas] into bite-size humor, for all to find acceptable and swallow without protest" (Tulsi, 2016). After all, they're just jokes. So because they attract more life-sustaining attention than kindness and thoughtfulness, racist and misogynistic memes flourish.
Meme culture became especially relevant during the 2016 presidential election when memes were created to attack both major candidates. Social media saw endless variations of Lock Her Up and Trump's Taco Bowl memes, as well as memes consisting of fabricated quotes and figures that sought to sway voters. The platform of then-candidate Donald Trump largely consisted of securing the U.S. southern border, deporting illegal immigrants, and monitoring or completely halting the immigration of any Muslims into the United States, all promises that appealed to the alt-right, a group of white nationalists who created the benign-sounding name in an attempt to normalize their agenda. They embraced Trump as their candidate and utilized meme culture to spread their messages widely, most notably with Pepe the Frog memes. The Pepe the Frog cartoon, originally created in 2005 by artist Matt Furie and a hit meme subject on its own for years, was appropriated by white nationalists in 2016. Used in this racist manner, Pepe was declared a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League. Sufficiently dismayed by its vile use, Furie killed off Pepe from his comic series in 2017 (Hunt, 2017). However, the dark side of memes is that once in the culture, no one can control their use; even seemingly harmless or humorous images can spread hateful or inaccurate messages.
Memes survive because we spread them. They attract our attention, and we send them on to attract the attention of others. But maybe this is how it should be in our new era of mass communication. We now have the opportunity to express ourselves, however seriously or frivolously, to offer our own point of view, however well-founded or off-the-wall, all without someone else vetting us, telling us we matter. This is the Internet's great gift to mass communication. But it is its greatest challenge. What do we do with this immense freedomPage 45 and the power it grants each of us? As a media-literate individual, you understand and respect the power of media messages and you know that media content is a text providing insight into our culture and our lives. So the choice is yours: how will you use the Internet and social media? Memes are easy and fun; you are free to create and share them, to have a laugh, to skewer or honor. But the Internet and social media are also sites for more meaningful personal and cultural expression. You are free to undertake that more valuable, if a bit more difficult, work. What will you do? This question and some answers run throughout this text; the lessons you draw from what you read will be your own.
An important part of being media literate is having critical thinking skills enabling you to develop independent judgments about media and media content. Challenge your own skill by predicting which media will survive and which will disappear as a result of the dramatic technological, economic, and audience-preference turmoil currently shaking the traditional media industries. Which will change and how? The answers depend on you and your media choices. In 1954, when television was doing to movies, newspapers, magazines, and radio what the Internet and smartphones are doing to today's media, communication scholar Wilbur Schramm created the fraction of selection to answer the question, "What determines which offerings of mass communication will be selected by a given individual?" It looks like this:
It suggests that you weigh the level of reward you expect from a given medium or piece of content against how much effort—in the broadest sense—you make to secure that reward. Now, consider your own media consumption. For example, how do you typically watch movies: at the theater, streamed, downloaded, on disc, wait for them to come to cable? What "data" would go in your numerator? In your denominator? Create your personal formula for other media consumption as well. News on the Internet versus the newspaper? Popular music on commercial radio versus streamed from the Internet? Compare your outcomes with those of your friends. Based on your results, can you speculate on tomorrow's media winners and losers?
essential to our democracy because access to a wide array of information from a wide array of sources is the foundation of our self-governance. But media, because of their power and the conflicting demands of profit and service under which they operate, are (and should be) open to some control. The level and sources of that control, however, are controversial issues for the media, in the government, and in the public forum. After studying this chapter, you should be able to
Outline the history and development of our contemporary understanding of the First Amendment.
Explain the justification for and exercise of media regulation.
Distinguish between a media system that operates under a libertarian philosophy and one that operates under a social responsibility philosophy.
Define and discuss media ethics and how they are applied.
Describe the operation and pros and cons of self-regulation.
Better consider the use of anonymous sources. UP UNTIL NOW, EVERYTHING HAD BEEN RIGHT ABOUT THE JOB. Editor of a major college daily newspaper makes a great résumé entry; you are treated like royalty at school events; and you get to do something good for your campus and, if you do your job well, even for the larger world out there. But as the tension around you grows, you start to wonder if it's all worth it.
First there was the blow-up over your proposed editorial decrying President Obama's refusal to honor Edward Snowden's request for a pardon (Emmons & LaChance, 2016). Snowden was the whistle-blower (most of your staff said traitor) who in May 2013 revealed the existence of a top-secret National Security Agency program that collected the online data of all Americans through access to the servers of the major Internet companies, Web giants like Verizon, Google, Facebook, and Apple. The Prism program, as it was called, was officially aimed at detecting foreign terrorists, but the materials Snowden provided to The Washington Post, which won a Pulitzer Prize for its reporting on the surveillance, and to England's The Guardian newspaper made it clear that all Americans' Internet activity was being collected and stored. Snowden willingly identified himself as the whistle-blower, saying, "I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong." Nonetheless, the government charged Snowden with espionage, bringing with it a possible death sentence. Snowden fled first to Hong Kong and then to Russia as politicians of all political stripes called for his arrest and even his assassination.
You wanted to write that Snowden's revelations were as valuable as those in Daniel Ellsberg's release of the Pentagon Papers. They had generated what you believed to be a much needed public discussion about the balance between liberty and security, as well as important questions about the relationship between journalism and the government.
Then there was the issue of that tweet from Donald Trump, the man who would soon replace Barack Obama in the White House after he won the electoral college but lost the popular vote by almost 3 million votes, a rare occurrence in U.S. elections. The president-elect had just announced on Twitter, "I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally." But there was no evidence that illegal voting had occurred, and even Republican voting commissioners around the country confirmed the integrity of the ballot box. So what, you asked your staff, should your paper's headline read? Politico used "Trump Claims Millions Voted Illegally." CBS went with "Trump: 'Millions Voted Illegally for Hillary Clinton.'" CNN led with "Trump Falsely Claims 'Millions of People Who Voted Illegally' Cost Him Popular Vote" (all in Calderone, 2016). You wanted something a bit stronger than even CNN's falsely. To you, a spurious claim that our elections could be so badly corrupted was a challenge to the people's trust in our democracy. The majority of your staff wanted no adjectives or adverbs at all; they wanted to use only Mr. Trump's words, as did Politico and CBS. That, they insisted, ensured objectivity. You argued that objectivity and truthfulness are not the same. What is our job as journalists? you asked your colleagues. Isn't it to tell the truth?
In these instances you've argued in favor of more, rather than less, public awareness. This is America; who can have a problem with that? You run the Snowden editorial, and your election headline reads, "Trump Lied About Millions of Illegal Votes." You get 181 angry phone calls and e-mails, 17 longtime advertisers pull their regular weekly ads, and your assistant editor and two other staffers quit the paper.
These dilemmas, routinely faced by real college and professional editors, highlight two important lessons offered in this chapter. First, what is legal may not always be what is right. Second, when media practitioners do try to do the right thing, they have to consider the interests, needs, and values of others besides themselves.
In this chapter, we look at how the First Amendment has been defined and applied over time. We study how the logic of a free and unfettered press has come into play in the area of broadcast deregulation. We also detail the shift in the underlying philosophy of media freedom from libertarianism to social responsibility theory. This provides the background for our examination of the ethical environment in which media professionals must work as they strive to fulfill their socially responsible obligations.
Democracy government by the people—requires a free press. The framers of the Bill of Rights understood this because of their experience with the European monarchies from which they and their forebears had fled. They based their guarantee of this privileged position to the press on libertarianism, the philosophy of the press asserting that good and rational people can tell right from wrong if presented with full and free access to information; therefore, censorship is unnecessary. Libertarianism is based on the self-righting principle, originally stated in 1644 by English author and poet John Milton in his book Areopagitica. His argument was simple: The free flow or trade of ideas, even bad or uncomfortable ones, will inevitably produce the truth because a rational and good public will correct, or right, any errors. You can see the self-righting principle expressed by Thomas Jefferson in the earliest days of our democracy:
The people are the only censors of their governors; and even their errors will tend to keep them to the true principles of their institution. To punish these errors too severely would be to suppress the only safeguard of the public liberty. The way to prevent these irregular interpositions of [affronts to] the people is to give them full information of their affairs, through the channel of public papers, and to contrive that those papers should penetrate the whole mass of the people. (in Hartmann, 2017)
But even the First Amendment and libertarian philosophy did not guarantee freedom of the press. The Alien and Sedition Acts were passed a scant eight years after the Constitution was ratified, making it illegal to print criticism of government or its leaders. And Milton himself was to become the chief censor of Catholic writing in Oliver Cromwell's English government.
In 2006 California passed a law that would have required the labeling of violent video games and banned their sale to children under 18 years old. The gaming industry sued, and the case, Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association (2011), eventually made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where in a 7−2 decision, justices ruled that "a state possesses legitimate power to protect children from harm . . . but that does not include a free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed." In his dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer, citing the scientific evidence linking viewing violent games and aggression, argued that he found "sufficient grounds in these studies and expert opinions for this court to defer to an elected legislature's conclusion that the video games in question are particularly likely to harm children."
The issues of free speech and the possible harmful effects of violent video games were of sufficient interest to thrust this decision firmly into the cultural forum, but it was former Justice Antonin Scalia's assertion that drew the most attention: "Because speech about violence is not obscene," it cannot be regulated even when children are involved and even when it involves portraying the sexual assault of a human being, but speech about sex has long been restricted, especially when children are involved, so therefore it is censorable (Brown v. Entertainment, 2011). The decision's critics interpreted this as "violence is normal but sex, even nonviolent and consensual, is not." Employing as an example a gruesome game sequence from Mortal Kombat II in which a young woman is ripped in two by freakishly large combatants, Jon Stewart explained the decision to his Daily Show viewers, "The state has no interest in restricting the sale of [violent video games] to children, but if while being disemboweled, this woman were to [expose her breast], regulate away" (2011). Enter your voice. Is this a "win" for the First Amendment, a loss, or a split decision? Why, in our culture, does media violence merit greater free speech protection than media sex?
Just what "press" enjoys First Amendment protection? The Supreme Court, in its 1952 Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson decision, declared that movies were Page 349protected expression. In 1973 Justice William O. Douglas wrote in CBS v. Democratic National Committee (1973),
What kind of First Amendment would best serve our needs as we approach the 21st century may be an open question. But the old fashioned First Amendment that we have is the Court's only guideline; and one hard and fast principle has served us through days of calm and eras of strife, and I would abide by it until a new First Amendment is adopted. That means, as I view it, that TV and radio... are all included in the concept of "press" as used in the First Amendment and therefore are entitled to live under the laissez faire regime which the First Amendment sanctions.
Advertising, or commercial speech, enjoys First Amendment protection. This was established by the Supreme Court in 1942. Despite the fact that the decision in Valentine v. Christensen went against the advertiser, the Court wrote that just because expression was commercial did not necessarily mean that it was unprotected. Some justices argued for a "two-tiered" level of protection, with commercial expression being somewhat less worthy of protection than noncommercial expression. But others argued that this was illogical because almost all media are, in fact, commercial, even when they perform a primarily journalistic function. Newspapers, for example, print the news to make a profit.
In its 1967 Time, Inc. v. Hill decision, the Supreme Court applied similar logic to argue that the First Amendment grants the same protection to entertainment content as it does to nonentertainment content. Is an entertainingly written news report less worthy of protection than one that is dully written? Rather than allow the government to make these kinds of narrow and ultimately subjective judgments, the Supreme Court has consistently preferred expanding its definition of protected expression to limiting it.
One example of the clash of competing liberties is the conflict between free press (First Amendment) and fair trial (Sixth Amendment). This debate typically takes two forms: (1) Can pretrial publicity deny citizens judgment by 12 impartial peers, thereby denying them a fair trial? (2) Should cameras be allowed in the courtroom, supporting the public's right to know, or do they so alter the workings of the court that a fair trial is impossible?
Courts have consistently decided in favor of fair trial in conflicts between the First and Sixth Amendments, but it was not until 1961 that a conviction was overturned because of Page 350pretrial publicity. In Irvin v. Dowd the Court reversed the death sentence conviction of accused killer Leslie Irvin because his right to a fair trial had been hampered by press coverage that labeled him "Mad Dog Irvin" and reported crimes he had committed as a juvenile, his military court-martial, his identification in a police lineup, his failure to pass a lie detector test, his confession to numerous robberies, and his willingness to trade a guilty plea for a life sentence. As a result of this publicity, of 430 potential jurors screened before the trial by attorneys, 370 said they were already convinced Irvin was guilty. Nonetheless, although "tainted" by pretrial publicity, four of the 370 were seated as jurors. The Court determined that Irvin's trial was therefore unfair.
Print reporters have long enjoyed access to trials, but broadcast journalists have been less fortunate. In 1937, after serious intrusion by newspaper photographers during the 1935 trial of Bruno Hauptmann, accused of kidnapping the baby of transatlantic aviation hero Charles Lindbergh, the American Bar Association (ABA) adopted Canon 35 as part of its Code of Judicial Ethics. This rule forbade cameras and radio broadcasting of trials. In 1963 the ABA amended the canon to include a prohibition on television cameras. This, however, did not settle the issue of cameras in the courtroom.
Texas was one of three states that did not subscribe to Canon 35. When Texas financier Billy Sol Estes's conviction for theft, swindling, and embezzlement was overturned by the Supreme Court because of "the insidious influence" (Justice William Douglas's words) of cameras on the conduct of the trial, the wisdom of banning television seemed settled. But Justice Clark counseled, "When advances in [broadcast journalism] permit reporting . . . by television without their present hazards to a fair trial we will have another case" (Estes v. State of Texas, 1965). In other words, cameras were back in if they posed no hazard to the principle of fair trial.
In 1972 the ABA replaced Canon 35 with Canon 3A(7), allowing some videotaping of trials for specific purposes but reaffirming its opposition to the broadcast of trial proceedings. But in 1981 the Supreme Court, in Chandler v. Florida, determined that television cameras in the courtroom were not inherently damaging to fairness. Today, all 50 states allow cameras in some courts—47 permit them in trial courts—and the U.S. Congress continues to debate opening up federal courts, including the Supreme Court, to cameras. For now, photography and broadcast of federal trials is banned by Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 53. These limits persist despite the fact that three-quarters of Americans favor cameras in the Supreme Court, whose proceedings are otherwise released in transcripts and audio recordings (Scola, 2014).
Libel, the false or malicious publication of material that damages a person's reputation, and slander, the oral or spoken defamation of a person's character, are not protected by the First Amendment. The distinction between libel and slander, however, is sufficiently narrow that "published defamation, whether it is in a newspaper, on radio or television, in the movies, or whatever, is regarded since the 1990s as libel. And libel rules apply" (Pember, 1999, p. 134). Therefore, if a report (1) defames a person, (2) identifies that person, and (3) is published or broadcast, it loses its First Amendment protection.
A report accused of being libelous or slanderous, however, is protected if it meets any one of three tests. The first test is truth. Even if a report damages someone's reputation, if it is true, it is protected. The second test is privilege. Coverage of legislative, court, or other public activities may contain information that is not true or that is damaging to someone's reputation. The press cannot be deterred from covering these important news events for fear that a speaker's or witness's comments will open it to claims of libel or slander. The third test is fair comment; that is, the press has the right to express opinions or comment on public issues. For example, theater and film reviews, however severe, are protected, as is commentary on other matters in the public eye.
For public figures, however, a different set of rules applies. Because they are in the public eye, public figures are fair game for fair comment. But does that leave them open to reports that are false and damaging to their reputations? The Supreme Court faced this issue in 1964 in New York Times v. Sullivan. In 1960 the Committee to Defend Martin Luther King bought a full-page ad in The New York Times asking people to contribute to Dr. King's defense fund. The ad detailed abuse of Dr. King and other civil rights workers at the hands of the Montgomery, Alabama, police. L. B. Sullivan, one of three elected commissioners in that city, sued the Times for libel. The ad copy was not true in some of its claims, he said, and because he was in charge of the police, he had been "identified."
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the newspaper. Even though some of the specific facts in the ad were not true, the Times had not acted with actual malice. The Court defined the standard of actual malice for reporting on public figures as knowledge of its falsity or reckless disregard for whether or not it is true.
There is much less confusion about another important aspect of press freedom, prior restraint. This is the power of the government to prevent the publication or broadcast of expression. U.S. law and tradition make the use of prior restraint relatively rare, but there have been a number of important efforts by government to squelch content before dissemination.
In 1931 the Supreme Court ruled in Near v. Minnesota that freedom from prior restraint was a general, not an absolute, principle. Two of the four exceptions it listed were in times of war when national security was involved and when the public order would be endangered by the incitement to violence and overthrow by force of orderly government. These exceptions were to become the basis of two landmark prior restraint decisions. The first, involving The New York Times, dealt with national security in times of war; the second, focusing on protecting the public order, involved publishing instructions for building an atomic bomb.
On June 13, 1971, at the height of the Vietnam War, The New York Times began publication of what commonly became known as the Pentagon Papers. The papers included detailed discussion and analysis of the conduct of that unpopular war during the administrations of presidents Kennedy and Johnson. President Nixon's National Security Council (NSC) had stamped them top secret. Believing that this was an improper restriction of the public's right to know, NSC staff member Daniel Ellsberg gave copies to the Times. After the first three installments had been published, the Justice Department, citing national security, was able to secure a court order stopping further publication. Other newspapers, notably The Washington Post and The Boston Globe, began running excerpts while the Times was silenced until they, too, were enjoined to cease.
On June 30, 1971, the Supreme Court ordered the government to halt its restraint of the Times's and other papers' right to publish the Pentagon Papers. Among the stirring attacks on prior restraint written throughout its decision was Justice Hugo Black's:
In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government's power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. (New York Times v. United States, 1971)
Then came the case of the magazine The Progressive. In 1979 the magazine announced its intention to publish instructions on how to make a hydrogen bomb. President Jimmy Carter's Justice Department successfully obtained a court order halting publication, even though the article was based on information and material freely obtained from public, nonclassified Page 353sources. Before the case could come to court, several newspapers published the same or similar material. The Justice Department immediately abandoned its restraint, and six months later The Progressive published its original article.
Another form of press expression that is not protected is obscenity. Two landmark Supreme Court cases established the definition and illegality of obscenity. The first is the 1957 Roth v. United States decision. The Court determined that sex and obscenity were not synonymous, a significant advance for freedom of expression. It did, however, legally affirm for the first time that obscenity was unprotected expression. The definition or test for obscenity that holds even today was expressed in the 1973 Miller v. State of California decision. Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote that the basic guidelines must be
(a) whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest, (b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law, and (c) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.
The problem for the courts, the media, and the public, of course, is judging content against this standard. For example, what is patently offensive to one person may be quite acceptable to others. What is serious art to one may be serious exploitation to another. And what of an erotic short story written online by an author in New York City but accessed and read by people in Peoria, Illinois? Whose community standards would apply?
An additional definitional problem resides in pornography. Pornography is protected expression. The distinction between obscenity and pornography may, however, be a legal one. Sexually explicit content is pornography (and protected) until a court rules it illegal; then it is obscene (and unprotected). The difficulty of making such distinctions can be seen in Justice Potter Stewart's famous declaration in Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964), "I may not be able to come up with a definition of pornography, but I certainly know it when I see it," and his dissent two years later in Ginzburg v. United States (1966), "If the First Amendment means anything, it means that a man cannot be sent to prison merely for distributing publications which offend a judge's sensibilities, mine or any others." Clearly, the issues of the definition and protection of obscenity and pornography may never be clarified to everyone's satisfaction.
The First Amendment has application to a number of specific issues of media responsibility and freedom.
Obscenity and pornography are rarely issues for broadcasters. Their commercial base and wide audience make the airing of such potentially troublesome programming unwise. However, broadcasters frequently do confront the issue of indecency. According to the FCC, indecent language or material is that which depicts sexual or excretory activities in a way that is offensive to contemporary community standards.
The FCC recently modified, much to broadcasters' dissatisfaction, its way of handling indecency complaints, making it easier for listeners and viewers to challenge questionable content. Stations must now prove they are innocent; in other words, a complaint has validity by virtue of having been made. To broadcasters, this "guilty until proven innocent" approach is an infringement of their First Amendment rights, as it requires them to keep tapes of all their content in the event they are challenged, even in the absence of evidence that a complaint has merit.
The debate over indecency, however, has been confounded by a number of events. First, a huge surge in complaints (from 111 in 2000 to more than a million in 2004) followed two specific broadcast events: the split-second baring of Janet Jackson's breast at the 2004 Super Bowl football game and rocker Bono's spontaneous award-show utterance of an expletive later that year. And even though the FCC's own data revealed that 99.9% of the complaints, most with identical wording, originated with one group, the conservative Christian Parents Television Council, it still boosted indecency fines by 100% (Rich, 2005; SoundBites, 2005).
Then, faced with penalties of up to $325,000, there was a series of high-profile incidents of broadcaster self-censorship, among them CBS affiliates' refusal to air 9/11 Camera at Ground Page 354Zero honoring the New York City police, firefighters, and other rescue personnel who lived and died on that tragic day because some on-screen rescuers uttered curses as they fought through the inferno. The award-winning documentary had aired four years earlier without a single complaint. Citing examples such as this, lawsuits by NBC and Fox eventually made their way in 2012 to the Supreme Court which, in its unanimous FCC v. Fox decision, overturned the Commission's indecency rulings, not because the FCC had no right to make such judgments but because it did not give broadcasters "fair notice" as to what was and was not permissible; that is, the rules were too vague to be constitutional (Barnes, 2012). Today, the Commission regulates language that is so "grossly offensive" to "members of the public" that it becomes a "nuisance." But language found "grossly offensive" just a few years ago is quite common in our everyday conversations today. As such, the FCC acts in only the most egregious cases.
The difficulty of balancing the public interest and broadcasters' freedom is at the heart of the debate over deregulation and the relaxation of ownership and other rules for radio and television. Changes in ownership rules have always been controversial, but relaxation of the regulation of broadcasters' public service obligations and other content controls have provided just as much debate.
The courts have consistently supported the FCC's right to evaluate broadcasters' performance in serving the public interest, convenience, and necessity. Naturally, that evaluation must include some judgment of the content broadcasters air. Broadcasters long argued that such "judgment" amounted to unconstitutional infringement of their First Amendment freedom. Many listeners and viewers saw it as a reasonable and quite small price to pay for the use of their (the public's) airwaves.
The Supreme Court resolved the issue in 1943 in National Broadcasting Co. v. United States. NBC argued that the FCC was no more than a traffic cop, limited to controlling the "flow of traffic." In this view, the regulation of broadcasters' frequency, power, times of operation, and other technical matters was all that was constitutionally allowable. Yet the Court turned what is now known as the traffic cop analogy against NBC. Yes, the justices agreed, the commission is a traffic cop. But even traffic cops have the right to control not only the flow of traffic but its composition as well. For example, drunk drivers can be removed from the road. Potentially dangerous "content," like cars with faulty brakes, can also be restricted. It was precisely this traffic cop function that required the FCC to judge content. The commission was thus free to promulgate rules such as the Fairness Doctrine, which required broadcasters to cover issues of public importance and to be fair in that coverage, and ascertainment, which required broadcasters to ascertain or actively and affirmatively determine the nature of their audiences' interest, convenience, and necessity.
Page 355But the Fairness Doctrine, ascertainment, and numerous other regulations, such as rules on children's programming and overcommercialization, disappeared with the coming of deregulation during the Reagan and Clinton administrations. License renewal, for example, was once a long and difficult process for stations, which had to generate thousands of pages of documents to demonstrate that they not only knew what their audiences wanted and needed but had met those wants and needs. The burden of proof in their efforts to keep their licenses rested with them. Had they been fair? Had they kept commercial time to acceptable levels? What was their commitment to news and public affairs? Now deregulated, renewal is conducted through a much less onerous process that satisfies broadcasters but angers advocates of greater media responsibility. Broadcasters simply file brief quarterly reports with the commission indicating compliance with technical and other FCC rules. Then, when their licenses are up for renewal (every eight years), they file a short, postcardlike renewal application. This may be convenient for broadcasters, but former FCC commissioner Michael Copps calls this an "automatic, no-questions-asked eight-year extension... nothing more than conferring monopoly power with no public oversight" (2014, p. 38).
The deregulation drive began in earnest with President Reagan's FCC chair, Mark Fowler, in the 1980s. Fowler rejected the trustee model of broadcast regulation. He saw many FCC rules as an unconstitutional infringement of broadcasters' rights and believed that "the market" was the audience's best protector. He said that special rules for the control of broadcasting were unnecessary, likening television, for example, to just another home appliance. He called television no more than "a toaster with pictures."
This view of deregulation is not without its critics. Republican and Democratic congressional leaders, liberal and conservative columnists, and numerous public interest groups from across the political spectrum continue to campaign against such fruits of deregulation as concentration, conglomeration, overcommercialization, the abandonment of regulation of children's television, the lowering of decency standards, and the debasement of news. Their argument for rolling back the deregulation of broadcasting rests in the philosophy of noted First Amendment scholar Alexander Meiklejohn (1960), who argued more than half a century ago that what is forbidden is regulation limiting the media's freedom,
but not legislation to enlarge and enrich it. The freedom of mind which benefits members of a self-governing society is not a given and fixed part of human nature. It can be increased and established by learning, by teaching, by the unhindered flow of accurate information, by giving men [sic] health and vigor and security, by bringing them together in activities of communication and mutual understanding. And the federal legislature is not forbidden to engage in that positive enterprise of cultivating the general intelligence upon which the success of self-government so obviously depends. On the contrary, in that positive field the Congress of the United States has a heavy and basic responsibility to promote the freedom of speech. (pp. 19-20; italics added)
The First Amendment protects expression. Copyright—identifying and granting ownership of a given piece of expression—is designed to protect the creator's financial interest in that expression. Recognizing that the flow of art, science, and other expression would be enhanced by authors' financial interest in their creation, the framers of the Constitution wrote Article I, Section 8 (8), granting authors exclusive rights to their "writings and discoveries." A long and consistent history of Supreme Court decisions has ensured that this protection would be extended to the content of the mass media that have emerged since that time.
The years 1978 and 1998 saw extensive rewritings of U.S. copyright law. Copyright now remains with creators (in all media) for the span of their lives, plus 70 years. During this time, permission for the use of the material must be obtained from the copyright holder, and if financial compensation (a fee or royalty) is requested, it must be paid. Once the copyright expires, the material passes into the public domain, meaning it can be used without permission.
The exception to copyright is fair use, instances in which material can be used without permission or payment. Fair use includes (1) limited noncommercial use, such as photocopying a passage from a novel for classroom use; (2) use of limited portions of a work, such as excerpting a few lines or a paragraph or two from a book for use in a magazine article; (3) use that does not decrease the commercial value of the original, such as videotaping a daytime football game for private, at-home evening viewing; and (4) use in the public interest, such as Consumer Reports's use of pieces of drug company television commercials to highlight its media literacy efforts.
Two specific applications of copyright law pertain to recorded music and cable television. Imagine the difficulty cable companies would have in obtaining permission from all the copyright holders of all the material they import and deliver to their subscribers. Yet the cable operators do make money from others' works—they collect material from original sources and sell it to subscribers. The solution to the problem of compensating the creators of the material carried by cable systems was the creation of the Copyright Royalty Tribunal, to which cable companies paid a fee based primarily on the size of their operations. These moneys were then distributed to the appropriate producers, syndicators, and broadcasters. Congress abolished the Copyright Royalty Tribunal in 1993, leaving cable copyright issues in the hands of several different arbitration panels under the auspices of the Library of Congress.
Now imagine the difficulty songwriters would have in collecting royalties from all who use their music—not only film producers and radio and television stations, but bowling alleys, supermarkets, and restaurants. Here the solution is the music licensing company. The two biggest are the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI). Both collect fees based on the users' gross receipts and distribute the money to songwriters and artists.
The Internet has forced a significant rethinking of copyright, one that disturbs many advocates of free expression. They fear that efforts to protect the intellectual property rights of copyright holders are going too far. The expansion of copyright, argues technology writer Dan Gillmor, gives "the owners of intellectual property vast new authority, simultaneously shredding users' rights" (2000, p. 1C).
For example, in January 2000, a California superior court, citing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, ruled the posting of DVD decryption software to be illegal (see the chapter on the Internet and social media). The defendants argued that they did not violate copyright. The court ruled against them because they posted "tools" on the Web that might allow others to violate copyright. Tech writer Gillmor scoffed, "Let's ban cars next. Were you aware that bank robbers use them for getaways?" (2000, p. 6C). In August of that same year, a New York court reaffirmed the ban on posting decryption software, adding that even posting links to sites offering the software was a violation of copyright.
Copyright exists, say critics of its expansion, to encourage the flow of art, science, and expression, and it grants a financial stake to creators, not to enrich those creators but to ensure that there is sufficient incentive to keep the content flowing. "It's always important to remember that copyright is a restriction on free speech, and it's a constitutionally granted restriction on free speech," argued copyright expert Siva Vaidhyanathan (in Anderson, 2000, p. 25). In other words, tightening copyright restrictions can have the effect of inhibiting the flow of art, science, and expression.
Page 357The digital rights management (DRM) debate escalated with the Supreme Court's 2005 MGM v. Grokster decision (see the chapter on radio, recording, and popular music). The entertainment industries were heartened by the ruling that a technology was illegal if it "encouraged" copyright infringement; digital rights activists and technologists were appalled. The Court had disallowed Hollywood's 1984 challenge to videotape (Sony Corp. v. Universal City Studios, the so-called Betamax decision) precisely because VCR, even if some people used it to violate copyright, had "substantial non-infringing uses." But Grokster, argued its critics, changed that standard from a technology's primary, noninfringing use to the question of whether innovators "created their wares with the 'intent' of inducing consumers to infringe" (Gibbs, 2005, p. 50).
But as we've seen at several junctures of this text, a reassessment of DRM and copyright is under way, as the involved parties seem to be seeking accommodation. One effort is Creative Commons, a nonprofit corporation founded in 2001 as an easy way for people to share and build on the work of others, consistent with the rules of copyright. Creative Commons provides users with free licenses and other legal tools to mark (copyright) their creative work with the level of freedom they wish it to carry, granting to others specific rights to share, remix, or even use it commercially. As for the traditional media companies, all the major record labels now sell much of their catalogs with limited or no DRM. Low-cost streaming of virtually all movie and television content is ubiquitous. Most of the world's books will soon find themselves living online with quite robust reader access. Most big media companies are embracing websites like YouTube and Facebook, willing to forfeit a bit of DRM control in exchange for exposure of their content. As such, the problem of piracy may be best solved by doing nothing, argues Richard Cooper, who works for an online intelligence company. "A lot of people engaged in video piracy, or at least hacking video piracy, breaking the DRM and so forth, are doing it for the kudos. They see every new anti-piracy measure that comes out as a challenge and something that needs to be cracked. This is their hobby" (in Bednarski, 2016). The future of copyright and DRM, then, is being negotiated in the culture right now. You and other media consumers sit on one side of the table; the media industries are on the other. You will be in a stronger position in these cultural negotiations if you approach these developments as a media-literate person.
As we saw at the beginning of this chapter, the First Amendment is based on the libertarian philosophy that assumes a fully free press and a rational, good, and informed public. But we have also seen in this chapter that the media are not necessarily fully free. Government control is sometimes allowed. Corporate control is assumed and accepted. During the 1930s and 1940s, serious doubts were also raised concerning the public's rationality and goodness. As World War II spread across Europe at the end of the 1930s, libertarians were hard-pressed to explain how Nazi propaganda could succeed if people could in fact tell right from wrong. As the United States was drawn closer to the European conflict, calls for greater government control of press and speech at home were justified by less-than-optimistic views of the "average American's" ability to handle difficult information. As a result, libertarianism came under attack for being too idealistic.
Time magazine owner and publisher Henry Luce then provided money to establish an independent commission of scholars, politicians, legal experts, and social activists who would study the role of the press in U.S. society and make recommendations on how it should best operate in support of democracy. The Hutchins Commission on Freedom of the Press, named after its chairperson, University of Chicago chancellor Robert Maynard Hutchins, began its work in 1942 and, in 1947, produced its report "The Social Responsibility Theory of the Press."
Social responsibility theory is a normative theory—that is, it explains how media should ideally operate in a given system of social values—and it is the standard against which the public should judge the performance of the U.S. media. Other social and political systems adhere to different normative theories, and these will be detailed in the chapter on global media.
Social responsibility theory asserts that media must remain free of government control, but in exchange media must serve the public. The core assumptions of this theory are a cross Page 358between libertarian principles of freedom and practical admissions of the need for some form of control on the media (McQuail, 1987):
Media should accept and fulfill certain obligations to society.
Media can meet these obligations by setting high standards of professionalism, truth, accuracy, and objectivity.
Media should be self-regulating within the framework of the law.
Media should avoid disseminating material that might lead to crime, violence, or civil disorder or that might offend minority groups.
The media as a whole should be pluralistic, reflect the diversity of the culture in which they operate, and give access to various points of view and rights of reply.
The public has a right to expect high standards of performance, and official intervention can be justified to ensure the public good.
Media professionals should be accountable to society as well as to their employers and the market.
In rejecting government control of media, social responsibility theory calls for responsible, ethical industry operation, but it does not free audiences from their responsibility. People must be sufficiently media literate to develop firm yet reasonable expectations and judgments of media performance. But ultimately it is practitioners, through the conduct of their duties, who are charged with operating in a manner that obviates the need for official intrusion.
Ethics are rules of behavior or moral principles that guide our actions in given situations. The word comes from the Greek ethos, which means the customs, traditions, or character that guide a particular group or culture. In our discussion, ethics specifically refer to the application of rational thought by media professionals when they are deciding between two or more competing moral choices. "Unlike rules of law," explains media ethicist Patrick Plaisance, "which generally set forth boundaries of our behavior and guide us on what we cannot or should not do, the focus of ethics . . . is more active, or positive: It deals with what we ought to do as moral agents with personal and social obligations" (2014, p. 83).
For example, it is not against the law to publish the name of a rape victim. But is it ethical? It is not illegal to stick a microphone in a crying father's face as he cradles the broken body of his child at an accident scene. But is it ethical?
The application of media ethics almost always involves finding the most morally defensible answer to a problem for which there is no single correct or even best answer. Let's return to the grieving father. The reporter's job is to get the story; the public has a right to know. The man's sorrow is part of that story, but the man has a right to privacy. As a human being he deserves to be treated with respect and to be allowed to maintain his dignity. The reporter has to decide whether to get the interview or leave the grief-stricken man in peace. That decision is guided by the reporter's ethics.
In applying ethics, the person making the decisions is called the moral agent; she or he, as ethicist Plaisance explained, has specific personal and social obligations that invariably bring together conflicting interests—for example, those of the editor, readers, and advertisers in this chapter's opening vignette.
Media ethicist Louis Day (2006) identified six sets of individual or group interests that often conflict:
The interests of the moral agent's individual conscience; media professionals must live with their decisions.
The interests of the object of the act; a particular person or group is likely to be affected by media practitioners' actions.
The interests of financial supporters; someone pays the bills that allow the station to broadcast or the newspaper or magazine to publish.
The interests of the institution; media professionals have company loyalty, pride in the organization for which they work.
The interests of the profession; media practitioners work to meet the expectations of their colleagues; they have respect for the profession that sustains them.
The interests of society; media professionals, like all of us, have a social responsibility. Because of the influence their work can have, they may even have greater responsibilities than do many other professionals.
In mass communication, these conflicting interests play themselves out in a variety of ways. Some of the most common, yet thorniest, require us to examine such basic issues as truth and honesty, privacy, confidentiality, personal conflict of interest, profit and social responsibility, and protection from offensive content.
Do public figures forfeit their right to privacy? In what circumstances? Are the president's marital problems newsworthy if they do not get in the way of the job? Who is a Page 360public figure? When are people's long-ago stints in drug rehab newsworthy? Do you report the names of people who have been raped or the names of juvenile offenders? What about sex offenders? How far do you go to interview grieving parents? When is secret taping permissible?
Our culture values privacy. We have the right to maintain the privacy of our personal information. We use privacy to control the extent and nature of the interactions we have with others. Privacy protects us from unwanted government intrusion. The media, however, by their very nature, are intrusive. Privacy proves to be particularly sensitive because it is almost a metaethic, a fundamental value. Yet the applied ethics of the various media industries allow, in fact sometimes demand, that privacy be denied.
The media have faced a number of very important tests regarding privacy in recent years. Media pursuit of celebrities is one. In 2014, the California legislature passed antipaparazzi legislation designed to make illegal the photography of celebrities' children in a manner that "seriously alarms, annoys, torments, or terrorizes" them. Celebrities are public figures. They therefore lose some right to privacy. But what about their children? How much privacy are they entitled to? People surely want to know about them, and what constitutes tormenting and terrorizing anyway? Despite complaints that this law infringed on photographers' First Amendment rights, most objective observers would say that the protection of children is more important than selling a few more magazines.
But other privacy issues aren't as clear. For example, what about reporters outing "prominent gay politicians who were in the closet but worked for homophobic causes in the interest... of their political careers?" in the words of Michael Rogers, who maintains a blog dedicated to doing just that. Politicians are certainly in the public eye and therefore not entitled to the same degree of privacy as most others, but aren't their private lives their private lives? There is "an important distinction between outing and reporting," counters Rogers. "Outing is the indiscriminate disclosure of someone's sexual orientation without his or her consent. Reporting is not at all indiscriminate—and it has a higher purpose. What my blog did was reveal the hypocrisy of politicians, to show that people who control the nation's political and legal systems often have different standards for themselves" (2014). As you can imagine, there is more disagreement among media professionals on this issue than there is on photographing celebrities' kids.
An important tool in contemporary news gathering and reporting is confidentiality, the ability of media professionals to keep secret the names of people who provide them with information. Without confidentiality, employees could not report the misdeeds of their employers for fear of being fired; people would not tell what they know of a crime for fear of retribution from the offenders or unwanted police attention. The anonymous informant nicknamed "Deep Throat" would never have felt free to divulge the Nixon White House involvement in the Republican break-in of the Democratic Party's Watergate campaign offices were it not for the promise of confidentiality from Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward.
But how far should reporters go to protect a source's confidentiality? Should reporters go to jail rather than divulge a name? Every state in the Union, except Wyoming, and the District of Columbia has either a shield law, legislation that expressly protects reporters' rights to maintain sources' confidentiality in courts of law, or court precedent upholding that right. There is no shield law in federal courts, and many journalists want it that way. Their fear is that once Congress makes one "media law" it may want to make another. For example, media professionals do not want the government to legislate the definition of "reporter" or "journalist."
The ethics of confidentiality are regularly tested by reporters' frequent use of quotes and information from "unnamed sources," "sources who wish to remain anonymous," and "inside sources." Often the guarantee of anonymity is necessary to get the information, but is this fair to those who are commented on by these nameless, faceless newsmakers? Don't these people—even if they are highly placed and powerful themselves—have a right to know their accusers?
As we've seen, ethical decision making requires a balancing of interests. But what of a media professional's own conflicts of interest? Should media personalities accept speaking fees, consulting contracts, or other compensation from groups that may have a vested interest in issues they may someday have to cover? Must media organizations disclose any and all possible conflicts of the commentators who appear in their news shows?
Consider these situations. When the United States in April 2017 launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles into Syria in response to that country's chemical gas attack against its own people, pundits were quick to praise the action. Among those cheering on the strike were Fox News military analyst Jack Keane (a member of the board of directors of General Dynamics, maker of the Tomahawk's launch system) and Ed Rogers of The Washington Post (a lobbyist for Raytheon, the missile's manufacturer). In neither case did the news outlet acknowledge those potential conflicts of interest (Hananoki, 2017). When Donald Trump's presidential campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was removed from his position in June 2016, he was Page 362quickly hired by CNN as a political commentator. The cable network did not tell its viewers that Lewandowski was bound by a nondisclosure and nondisparagement agreement that was part of the terms of his termination with the Trump campaign and that he remained on the campaign's payroll. Lewandowski not only honored his agreement with his former employer, but he was secretly advising Mr. Trump throughout his time at CNN (Alterman, 2017). Other conflict-of-interest issues bedevil media professionals. The ongoing wars in the Middle East raise the problem of embedding, reporters accepting military control over their reporting in exchange for close contact with the troops. The interests in conflict here are objectivity and access—do reporters pay too high a price for their exciting video or touching personal interest stories? This access journalism—reporters acting deferentially toward news sources in order to ensure continued access—is sometimes subtle, as when Chuck Todd, NBC's chief political correspondent and host of Meet the Press, explained why he does not ask tough questions of the politicians who sit across from him: "We all sit there, because we all know, the first time we bark is the last time that they do the show. You say something, and sometimes it is last time they will ever come on your show. There is that balance" (2014). Sometimes it is more obvious, as when the Sinclair Broadcast Group promised to televise its interviews with presidential candidate Donald Trump on its 164 stations across the country "without commentary" in exchange for greater access to the candidate himself and the campaign (Dawsey & Gold, 2016). In either case, it offers much more power over journalists than is warranted because, according to Columbia Journalism Review's Ross Barkan, "the best reporting is done on the margins, away from the siren charms of power and prestige." He quotes Pulitzer Prize−winning journalist Robert Caro: "It is more difficult to challenge a man's facts over cocktails than over a conference table" (2016). The box entitled "Journalists as Truth Vigilantes?" offers a look at another ethical issue facing journalists and how well or poorly they deal with the issue.
The New York Times public editor Arthur Brisbane wanted to use his blog to make a difference. With a 2012 post entitled "Should the Times be a Truth Vigilante?" he hoped to create a discussion with his readers about the proper role of journalists when the people they cover express obvious falsehoods. So he wrote, "If the newspaper's overarching goal is truth, oughtn't truth be embedded in its principal stories?" What he hoped his readers would consider was how his reporters should respond when politicians lie or dissemble repeatedly; would it be proper for them to identify the misstatement "right at the point where the article quotes it?" (2012).
What had moved him to ask the question was criticism from his own paper's Paul Krugman, who complained that Times reporters had repeatedly allowed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to accuse President Obama of the bad habit of apologizing for our country. Not a habit; never happened even once, said Krugman, and Brisbane agreed. The paper's reporters, however, never said so in their coverage of candidate Romney. But here Brisbane was not sure whether they should or should not. Would correcting one politician's view of the facts over another's, he wondered online, violate his paper's standard of objectivity?
The post did indeed make a difference, but not quite the one Brisbane had anticipated. In the words of Salon's Glen Greenwald, it "sparked such intense reaction because it captured and inflamed long-standing anger toward media outlets for mindlessly amplifying statements without examining whether they're true... [It's] basically the equivalent of pondering in a medical journal whether doctors should treat diseases, or asking in a law review article whether lawyers should defend the legal interests of their clients, etc.: reporting facts that conflict with public claims (what Brisbane tellingly demeaned as being 'truth vigilantes') is one of the defining functions of journalism" (2012). But journalism has changed, explained media critic Jay Rosen: "Somewhere along the way, truth-telling was surpassed by other priorities the mainstream press felt a stronger duty to. These include such things as 'maintaining objectivity,' 'not imposing a judgment,' 'refusing to take sides' and sticking to what I have called the 'view from nowhere'" (2012).
But did Brisbane really make a difference? Journalist Clay Shirky says yes because, having publicly asked if a journalist should work for her or his readers instead of serving as "a stenographer to politicians, the question cannot now be unasked." Each day that our media continue to "fail at what has clearly surfaced as their readers' preference on the matter," he added, "will be a day in which that gap remains uncomfortably visible" (2012).
The media industries are just that—industries. They exist not only to entertain and inform their audiences but also to make a profit for their owners and shareholders. What happens when serving profit conflicts with serving the public?
In 2016, for example, VeloNews, a bicycling magazine, planned to publish a story about the specifications of a highly anticipated new bike from manufacturer Shimano. When its editor called Shimano for comment on the then-secret product, the manufacturer demanded that the magazine kill the story or it would cancel all of its advertising for the remainder of the year. VeloNews ran the story nonetheless (Herman, 2016). A year earlier, news and entertainment website BuzzFeed was forced to launch an internal review after it was revealed that at least three posts had been deleted because the advertising department complained that they were critical of the site's advertisers (Trotter, 2015). In February 2010, 173 Toyota dealers, primarily in the southeastern United States, shifted their advertising from ABC affiliates to non-ABC stations as "punishment" for the aggressive coverage of Toyota's safety problems by that network and its chief investigative reporter Brian Ross. To its credit, ABC refused to soften its reporting (Rhee & Schone, 2010). In reality, these concessions to advertisers and their interests are rarely acknowledged, nor are they so often so explicitly demanded. As media law expert Charles Tillinghast explained, "One need not be a devotee of conspiracy theories to understand that journalists, like other human beings, can judge where their interests lie, and what risks are and are not prudent, given the desire to continue to eat and feed the family. . . . It takes no great brain to understand one does not bite the hand that feeds—or that one incurs great risk by doing so" (2000, pp. 145-146).
Balancing profit and social responsibility is a concern not just for journalists. Practitioners in entertainment, advertising, and public relations often face this dilemma. Does an ad agency Page 364accept as a client the manufacturer of sugared children's cereals even though doctors and dentists consider these products unhealthy? Does a public relations firm accept as a client the trade office of a country that forces prison inmates to manufacture products in violation of international law? Does a syndication company distribute the 1950s television series The Amos 'n' Andy Show knowing that it embodies many offensive stereotypes of African Americans?
Moreover, balancing profit and the public interest does not always involve big companies and millions of dollars. Often, a media practitioner will face an ethical dilemma at a very personal level. What would you do in this situation? The editor at the magazine where you work has ordered you to write an article about the 14-year-old daughter of your city's mayor. The girl's addiction to amphetamines is a closely guarded family secret, but it has been leaked to your publication. You believe that this child is not a public figure. Your boss disagrees, and the boss is the boss. By the way, you've just put a down payment on a lovely condo, and you need to make only two more installments to pay off your car. Do you write the story?
To aid practitioners in their moral reasoning, all major groups of media professionals have established formal codes or standards of ethical behavior. Among these are the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics, the American Society of News Editors' Statement of Principles, the Radio-Television Digital News Association's Code of Broadcast News Ethics, the American Advertising Federation's Advertising Principles of American Business, and the Public Relations Society of America's Code of Professional Standards for the Practice of Public Relations. These are prescriptive codes that tell media practitioners what they should do. For example, the Society of Professional Journalists in 2014 approved a new Code of Ethics. Its preamble reads,
Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair, and thorough. An ethical journalist acts with integrity.
To some, these codes are a necessary part of a true profession; to others, they are little more than unenforceable collections of clichés that restrict constitutional rights and invite lawsuits from outsiders. They offer at least two important benefits to ethical media practitioners: They are an additional source of information to be considered when making moral judgments, and they represent a particular media industry's best expression of its shared wisdom. To others, however, they are meaningless and needlessly restrictive. Ethicists Jay Black and Ralph Barney, for example, argue, "The fact should be evident that the First Amendment has a primary purpose of protecting the distribution of ideas... from restriction efforts by legions of 'regulators.' Ethics codes should be considered among those 'regulators.'" They continue, "It is indeed not difficult to find examples of codified professional ethics that ultimately become self-serving. That is, they tend to protect the industry, or elements of the industry, at the expense of individuals and other institutions, even of the full society" (1985, pp. 28-29).
In addition to industry professional codes, many media organizations have formulated their own institutional policies for conduct. In the case of the broadcast networks, these are enforced by Standards and Practices Departments. Local broadcasters have what are called policy books. Newspapers and magazines standardize behavior in two ways: through operating policies (which spell out standards for everyday operations) and editorial policies (which identify company positions on specific issues). Many media organizations also utilize ombudsmen, practitioners internal to the company who serve as "judges" in disputes between the public and the organization. Sometimes they have titles such as public editor or reader advocate. Despite data indicating that having an ombudsman fosters increased credibility among readers and audiences, only 20 American news outlets, half as many as a decade ago, still maintain the position (Rieder, 2013). Some news organizations, for example The Washington Post, which eliminated its ombudsman in 2013, use a readers' representative, who regularly responds to outside criticism.
These mechanisms of normative ethics are a form of self-regulation, designed in part to forestall more rigorous or intrusive government regulation. In a democracy dependent on mass communication, they serve an important function. We are suspicious of excessive government involvement in media. Self-regulation, however, has certain limitations:
Media professionals are reluctant to identify and censure colleagues who transgress. To do so might appear to be admitting that problems exist; whistle-blowers in the profession are often met with hostility from their peers.
The standards for conduct and codes of behavior are abstract and ambiguous. Many media professionals see this flexibility as a necessary evil; freedom and autonomy are essential. Others believe the lack of rigorous standards renders the codes useless.
As opposed to those in other professions, media practitioners are not subject to standards of professional training and licensing. Again, some practitioners view standards of training and licensing as limiting media freedom and inviting government control. Others argue that licensing has not had these effects on doctors and lawyers.
Page 366Media practitioners often have limited independent control over their work. Media professionals are not autonomous, individual professionals. They are part of large, hierarchically structured organizations. Therefore, it is often difficult to punish violations of standards because of the difficulty in assigning responsibility.
Critics of self-regulation argue that these limitations are often accepted willingly by media practitioners because their "true" function is "to cause the least commotion" for those working in the media industries (Black & Whitney, 1983, p. 432). True or not, the decision to perform his or her duties in an ethical manner ultimately rests with the individual media professional. As Black and Barney explain, an ethical media professional "must rationally overcome the status quo tendencies... to become the social catalyst who identifies the topics and expedites the negotiations societies need in order to remain dynamic" (p. 36).
As you read in this chapter, the use of anonymous sources for news stories is often essential. Journalists rely on sources to provide information for the stories they publish, and those sources may well be reluctant to share sensitive or critical information in the absence of anonymity because their careers, sometimes even lives, may depend on remaining unnamed. Journalism benefits in another way, as well. The press must always be seen as independent. So if journalists are viewed as extensions of the government because they too easily give up their sources, few people with important but sensitive information will be willing to come forward ever again. But granting anonymity to sources comes with risks. As such, as part of a 2016 overhaul of its policies regarding anonymous sources, the top editors of The New York Times sent an e-mail to their journalistic staff that read, in part,
At best, granting anonymity allows us to reveal the atrocities of terror groups, government abuses or other situations where sources may risk their lives, freedom or careers by talking to us. In sensitive areas like national security reporting, it can be unavoidable. But in other cases, readers question whether anonymity allows unnamed people to skew a story in favor of their own agenda. In rare cases, we have published information from anonymous sources without enough questions or skepticism—and it has turned out to be wrong.
Margaret Sullivan, the paper's public editor, offered her assessment of the practice:
I'm not in favor of banning anonymous sources, although I've written repeatedly about their overuse. Many important stories—some of the most important, in fact—could never have been written if their sources had not been kept confidential. Reporters risk a lot to protect those sources, and they need to be able to do so. But there's a big difference between, for example, a national security article that simply can't be written with on-the-record sources and the other kinds of anonymity one often sees. That latter category includes allowing unnamed government officials to use the press as a megaphone, to float politically sensitive trial balloons, or to disparage their enemies without accountability. In short, not much rises anywhere near the level of Watergate or an exposé about warrantless government eavesdropping. (Both in Sullivan, 2016)
As such, the Times set out its new policy:
Special rules apply when the lead of a story—that is, the primary news element—is based entirely on one or more anonymous sources. All such stories must be presented by the department head to one of the paper's top three editors.
Every other use of anonymous sourcing anywhere in any story must be personally approved in advance by the department head or deputy.
Page 367Direct quotes from anonymous sources will be allowed only in rare instances and with the approval of the department head or deputy.
As a reminder, it continues to be a hard-and-fast rule that at least one editor must know the specific identity of any anonymous source before publication.

What is your reaction when you read or hear a story based on anonymous sources? Do you tend to be skeptical? Is your skepticism based on the story's content; that is, are you more likely to accept information provided by an unnamed source if it confirms your position on a topic? Do the Times rules seem adequate, too much, or too little? Why? If you accept Times deputy executive editor Matt Purdy's assertion that anonymously sourced stories are "journalistic I.E.D.s" that could explode unexpectedly and damage the paper and its journalistic credibility, can you make an argument for never using them at all?

If there is any single lesson from this chapter, it is that the legal and regulatory rules that bind mass media organizations are rarely problematic. A law is a law. You may not like it, but you know what it is and what the price for violation may be. But ethics, the values and norms that guide practice where there is no legal bright line, are the dilemmas that challenge media organizations and media-literate consumers the greatest. Yes, reporters' and editors' jobs would be much easier if they did not have to rely on anonymous sources. Our jobs as news consumers would likewise be easier if we always knew a story's sources and their motivations. But that is not the real world of mass communication, nor should it be. A world that is that easy to negotiate would not be interesting enough to engage journalism or us.
But this one was a bit out of the ordinary. Chris wanted investment advice on the best place to put a fairly sizable inheritance from a hardly known uncle. Your reply—Newspapers!—caused something of a stir, not only with Chris, but with just about everyone else who heard about it. Tired of defending yourself over and over again, you posted your argument on your Facebook page for the world to see:
OK, everybody, newspapers? It's not as crazy as Chris makes it sound. Yes, the economics of the newspaper industry are in bad shape. But as an investment, newspapers are a good deal. They make money! You might ask why Amazon founder Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post or sports mogul John Henry purchased The Boston Globe? Good question, but a better question is why does billionaire investor Warren Buffett own so many papers, buying 28 in the last few years alone (Zipin, 2016)? "You don't hear about community papers going out of business," Chip Hutcheson, president of the National Newspaper Association, said, "It's not the doom and gloom that major-market papers face" (in Knolle, 2016). Buffett knows newspapers are an indispensable local medium, so indispensable, his papers earn a 10% after-tax profit (better than most businesses). This not only makes him and his investors money, but now banks are also starting to look at papers again as a place to put their money. That means more investment, which means a better product, which means more profit. So yes, newspapers! Like all traditional media they are undergoing massive change, but many are still doing pretty well!
In this chapter we examine that massive change and what it means for the relationship between the newspaper and its readers. We start with a look at the medium's roots, beginning with the first papers and following them from Europe to colonial America, where many of the traditions of today's free press were set. We study the cultural changes that led to the creation of the penny press and to competition between these mass circulation dailies that gave us "yellow journalism."
We then review the modern newspaper in terms of its size and scope. We discuss different types of newspapers and the importance of newspapers as an advertising medium. The wire and feature services, important providers of newspaper content, are also highlighted.
We then detail how the relationship between medium and audience is shifting as a result of the loss of competition within the industry, hypercommercialism in the guise of commercial pressure on papers' editorial content, the positive and negative impacts of new and converging technology, newspapers' gravitation to online formats, and changes in the nature of newspaper readership. Finally, we test our media literacy skill through a discussion of how to read the newspaper—for example, interpreting the relative positioning of stories.
In Caesar's time, Rome had a newspaper, the Acta Diurna (actions of the day). It was carved on a tablet and posted on a wall after each meeting of the Senate. Its circulation was one, and there is no reliable measure of its total readership. However, it does show that people have always wanted to know what was happening and that others have helped them do so.
Page 77The newspapers we recognize today have their roots in 17th-century Europe. Corantos, one-page news sheets about specific events, were printed in English in Holland in 1620 and imported to England by British booksellers who were eager to satisfy public demand for information about Continental happenings that eventually led to what we now call the Thirty Years' War.
Englishmen Nathaniel Butter, Thomas Archer, and Nicholas Bourne eventually began printing their own occasional news sheets, using the same title for consecutive editions. They stopped publishing in 1641, the same year that regular, daily accounts of local news started appearing in other news sheets. These true forerunners of our daily newspaper were called diurnals, but by the 1660s the word newspaper had entered the English language (Lepore, 2009).
Political power struggles in England at this time boosted the fledgling medium, as partisans on the side of the monarchy and those supporting Parliament published papers to bolster their positions. When the monarchy prevailed, it granted monopoly publication rights to the Oxford Gazette, the official voice of the Crown. Founded in 1665 and later renamed the London Gazette, this journal used a formula of foreign news, official information, royal proclamations, and local news that became the model for the first colonial newspapers.
In the colonies, bookseller/print shops became the focal point for the exchange of news and information, which led to the beginning of the colonial newspaper. It was at these establishments that broadsides (sometimes referred to as broadsheets), single-sheet announcements or accounts of events imported from England, would be posted. In 1690 Boston bookseller/printer (and coffeehouse owner) Benjamin Harris printed his own broadside, Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick. Intended for continuous publication, the country's first paper lasted only one day; Harris had been critical of local and European dignitaries, and he had also failed to obtain a license.
More successful was Boston postmaster John Campbell, whose 1704 Boston News-Letter survived until the Revolution. The paper featured foreign news, reprints of articles from England, government announcements, and shipping news. It was dull and expensive. Nonetheless, it established the newspaper in the colonies.
The Boston News-Letter was able to survive in part because of government subsidies. With government support came government control, but the buildup to the Revolution helped establish the medium's independence. In 1721 Boston had three papers. James Franklin's New-England Courant was the only one publishing without authority. The Courant was popular and controversial, but when it criticized the Massachusetts governor, Franklin was jailed for printing "scandalous libels." When released, he returned to his old ways, earning himself and the Courant a publishing ban, which he circumvented by installing his younger brother Benjamin as nominal publisher. Ben Franklin soon moved to Philadelphia, and without his leadership the Courant was out of business in three years. Its lasting legacy, however, was demonstrating that a newspaper with popular support could indeed challenge authority.
In Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin established a print shop and later, in 1729, took over a failing newspaper, which he revived and renamed the Pennsylvania Gazette. By combining the income from his bookshop and printing businesses with that from his popular daily, Franklin could run the Gazette with significant independence. Even though he held the contract for Philadelphia's official printing, he was unafraid to criticize those in authority. In addition, he began to develop advertising support, Page 78which also helped shield his newspaper from government control by decreasing its dependence on official printing contracts for survival. Ben Franklin demonstrated that financial independence could lead to editorial independence. It was not, however, a guarantee. The first daily newspaper to appear in the 13 colonies, Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick lasted all of one edition. Benjamin Franklin published America's first political cartoon—"Join, or Die," a rallying call for the colonies—in his Pennsylvania Gazette in 1754. In 1734 New York Weekly Journal publisher John Peter Zenger was jailed for criticizing that colony's royal governor. The charge was seditious libel, and the verdict was based not on the truth or falsehood of the printed words but on whether they had been printed. The criticisms had been published, so Zenger was clearly guilty. But his attorney, Andrew Hamilton, argued to the jury, "For the words themselves must be libelous, that is, false, scandalous and seditious, or else we are not guilty" (in Pusey, 2013). Zenger's peers agreed, and he was freed. The Zenger trial became a powerful symbol of colonial newspaper independence from the Crown.
At the turn of the 19th century, New York City provided all the ingredients necessary for a new kind of audience for a new kind of newspaper and a new kind of journalism. The island city was densely populated, a center of culture, commerce, and politics, and especially because of the waves of immigrants that had come to its shores, demographically diverse. Add to this growing literacy among working people, and conditions were ripe for the penny press, one-cent newspapers for everyone. Benjamin Day's September 3, 1833, issue of the New York Sun was the first of the penny papers. Day's innovation was to price his paper so inexpensively that it would attract a large readership, which could then be "sold" to advertisers. Day succeeded because he anticipated a new kind of reader. He filled the Sun's pages with police and court reports, crime stories, entertainment news, and human interest stories. Because the paper lived up to its motto, "The Sun shines for all," there was little of the elite political and business information that had characterized earlier papers.
Soon there were penny papers in all the major cities. Among the most important was James Gordon Bennett's New York Morning Herald. Although more sensationalistic than the Sun, the Herald pioneered the correspondent system, placing reporters in Washington, DC, and other major U.S. cities as well as abroad. Correspondents filed their stories by means of the telegraph, invented in 1844. Horace Greeley's New York Tribune was an important penny paper as well. Its nonsensationalistic, issues-oriented, and humanitarian reporting established the mass newspaper as a powerful medium of social action.
People typically excluded from the social, cultural, and political mainstream quickly saw the value of the mass newspaper. The first African American newspaper was Freedom's Journal, published initially in 1827 by John B. Russwurm and the Reverend Samuel Cornish. Others soon followed, but it was Frederick Douglass who made best use of the new mass circulation style in his newspaper The Ram's Horn, founded expressly to challenge the editorial policies of Benjamin Day's Sun. Although this particular effort failed, Douglass had established himself and the minority press as a viable voice for those otherwise silenced. Douglass's North Star, founded in 1847 with the masthead slogan "Right is of no Sex—Truth is of no Color—God is the Father of us all, and we are all Brethren," was the most influential African American newspaper before the Civil War.
The most influential African American newspaper after the Civil War, and the first black paper to be a commercial success (its predecessors typically were subsidized by political and church groups), was the Chicago Defender. First published on May 5, 1905, by Robert Sengstacke Abbott, the Defender eventually earned a nationwide circulation of more than 230,000. After Abbott declared May 15, 1917, the date of "the Great Northern Drive," the Defender's central editorial goal was to encourage southern black people to move north.
"I beg of you, my brothers, to leave that benighted land. You are free men. . . . Get out of the South," Abbott editorialized (as quoted in Fitzgerald, 1999, p. 18). The paper would regularly contrast horrific accounts of southern lynchings with northern African American success stories. Within two years of the start of the Great Drive, more than 500,000 former slaves and their families moved north. Within two more years, another 500,000 followed.
Native Americans found early voice in papers such as the Cherokee Phoenix, founded in 1828 in Georgia, and the Cherokee Rose Bud, which began operation 20 years later in Oklahoma. The rich tradition of the Native American newspaper is maintained today around the country in publications such as the Oglala Sioux Lakota Country Times and the Shoshone-Bannock Sho-Ban News, as well as on the World Wide Web. For example, the Cherokee Observer, the Navajo Times, and News from Indian Country can all be found online.
Throughout this early period of the popularization of the newspaper, numerous foreign-language dailies also began operation, primarily in major cities in which immigrants tended to settle. By 1880 there were more than 800 foreign-language newspapers published across America in German, Polish, Italian, Spanish, and various Scandinavian languages (Sloan, Stovall, and Startt, 1993). As you'll see later in this chapter, the modern foreign language press is enjoying significant success in today's era of flat or falling readership for more mainstream papers.
In 1883 Hungarian immigrant Joseph Pulitzer bought the troubled New York World. Adopting a populist approach to the news, he brought a crusading, activist style of coverage to numerous turn-of-the-century social problems—growing slums, labor tensions, and failing farms, to name a few. The audience for his "new journalism" was the "common man," and he succeeded in reaching readers with light, sensationalistic news coverage, extensive use of illustrations, and circulation-building stunts and promotions (for example, an around-the-world balloon flight). Ad revenues and circulation figures exploded.
Page 80Soon there were other new journalists. William Randolph Hearst applied Pulitzer's successful formula to his San Francisco Examiner, and then in 1895 he took on Pulitzer himself in New York by purchasing the failing New York Morning Journal. The competition between Hearst's Morning Journal and Pulitzer's World was so intense that it debased newspapers and journalism as a whole, which is somewhat ironic in that Pulitzer later founded the prize for excellence in journalism that still bears his name.
Drawing its name from the Yellow Kid, a popular cartoon character of the time, yellow journalism was a study in excess—sensational sex, crime, and disaster news; giant headlines; heavy use of illustrations; and reliance on cartoons and color. It was successful at first, and other papers around the country adopted all or part of its style. Although public reaction to the excesses of yellow journalism soon led to its decline, traces of its popular features remain. Large headlines, big front-page pictures, extensive use of photos and illustrations, and cartoons are characteristic even of today's best newspapers.
The years between the era of yellow journalism and the coming of television were a time of remarkable growth in the development of newspapers. From 1910 to the beginning of World War II, daily newspaper subscriptions doubled and ad revenues tripled. In 1910 there were 2,600 daily papers in the United States, more than at any time before or since. In 1923, the American Society of Newspaper Editors issued the "Canons of Journalism and Statement of Principles" in an effort to restore order and respectability after the yellow era. The opening sentence of the Canons was, "The right of a newspaper to attract and hold readers is restricted by nothing but considerations of public welfare." The wire services internationalized. United Press International started gathering news from Japan in 1909 and was covering South America and Europe by 1921. In response to the competition from radio and magazines for advertising dollars, newspapers began consolidating into newspaper chains—papers in different cities across the country owned by a single company. Hearst and Scripps were among the most powerful chains in the 1920s. For all practical purposes, the modern newspaper had now emerged. The next phase of the medium's life, as we'll soon see, begins with the coming of television. Many yellow papers, especially those of Pulitzer and Hearst, used the sinking of the Maine as a call to war with Spain, hoping that war coverage would build circulation.
Forty-nine percent of U.S. adults, 121 million people, will read a printed newspaper in an average week (half of them read exclusively in print; Meo, 2016); when digital readership is included, newspapers reach 8 in 10 Americans every month (Benninghoff, 2016).
The industry that serves those readers looks quite different from the one that operated before television became a dominant medium. There are now fewer papers. There are now different types of papers. They deliver the news on different platforms, and more newspapers are part of large chains.
The advent of television at the end of World War II coincided with several important social and cultural changes in the United States. Shorter work hours, more leisure, more expendable cash, movement to the suburbs, and women joining the workforce in greater numbers all served to alter the newspaper-reader relationship. When the war ended, circulation equaled 1.24 papers per American household per day; today that figure is 0.37 per household per day (Gitlin, 2013).
The number of daily newspapers also continues to fall. There were more than 1,600 in 1990; the current total is around 1,300. Big-name dailies like the Baltimore Examiner, Page 81New York Sun, Honolulu Advertiser, Albuquerque Tribune, Cincinnati Post, Kentucky Post, and Birmingham Post-Herald have closed shop. Denver's 150-year-old Rocky Mountain News has folded, and the 146-year-old Seattle Post-Intelligencer converted to Web-only. The 101-year-old Christian Science Monitor shut down its print operation to become an online daily and a weekend newsmagazine. One year alone, 2009, saw 105 newspapers go out of business (Maharidge, 2016). Circulation has suffered years of decline, and ad revenues are falling at a rapid pace. Today's newspapers are buffeted by technological and economic change like no other traditional medium. You can see how readers access the modern newspaper on its different platforms in Figure 1.
As newspapers close shop, journalism suffers. "You know who loves this new day of the lack of journalism? Politicians. Businessmen. Nobody's watching them anymore," warns Russ Kendall, a veteran newspaper journalist now self-employed as a pizza maker. "I have a deep fear about what is happening to journalism. No one else is going to do what we do. In that way, we create a community. Television and radio only show up at the big things. They don't show up at school-board meetings, the local drainage board. If your community is going to cut trash collection to every other week, television is not going to come," added another former long-time journalist forced into retirement (Maharidge, 2016, pp. 22-23).
Page 82What is it that journalists do that no one else will? They do time-consuming and labor-intensive reporting. They go out and talk to people. They constantly dig for sources and leads; they read documents; they search for facts and information; they ferret out and tell the untold stories. They know the beats they cover; they strive for objectivity, and they have editors who check their facts and guard against unwarranted assumptions and conscious or unconscious bias. Journalists are the people's eyes, ears, and voices. And their numbers are dwindling. In 2007 there were 55,000 full-time journalists working at America's newspapers. Today there are 32,900 (Maharidge, 2016).
But over the last several years, hoping to make a difference, hundreds of nonprofit newsrooms—staffed by veteran and newly minted professional journalists—have sprung up to fill the void. Some are funded by foundations, some receive voluntary payments from their for-profit media partners, and some, for example the Texas Tribune (to cover the state legislature) and St. Louis's Beacon Reader (to cover race relations in and around St. Louis), practice crowdfunded journalism, where journalists pitch stories to readers who contribute small amounts of money for those they want to see completed. Large investigative reporting nonprofits ProPublica and the Center for Public Integrity are backed by major philanthropies like the Ford and Knight Foundations. And while some nonprofit newsrooms are small and serve local communities and local media, many maintain partnerships with major national media. The New York Times uses the work of nonprofit newsrooms in Chicago, San Francisco, and other locations to strengthen its reporting in those locales. In addition to the Times, major media outlets such as 60 Minutes, National Public Radio, Salon, USA Today, NBC-owned television stations, The Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg Businessweek, and The Washington Post make regular use of several nonprofits' investigative reporting on controversial and expensive investigations into issues like natural gas drilling, abuse of federal stimulus dollars, and the failure of many of the nation's coroner and medical examiner offices. Have nonprofit newsrooms made a difference? "We see a lot of legacy publications doing the formulaic press conference stuff—whereas the indie publishers have never felt an obligation to do everything, because they couldn't" answers Matt DeRienzo, executive director of Local Independent Online News Publishers. "What they are doing, in many cases, is more enterprising, more investigative stuff. They step off the hamster wheel and get to what's really at the heart of community. . . . We never want to be the sixth person at a press conference, and we never will be" (in Mullin, 2016b). Columbia Journalism Review maintains a list of hundreds of nonprofit newsrooms on their website.
To be a daily, a paper must be published at least five times a week. The circulation of big-city dailies has dropped over the past 30 years, and they continue to lose circulation at a rate approaching 10% a year. Many old, established papers, including the Philadelphia Bulletin and the Washington Star, have stilled their presses in recent years. When the Chicago Daily News closed its doors, it had the sixth-highest circulation in the country.
Page 83As big cities cease to be industrial centers, homes, jobs, and interests have turned away from downtown. Those large metropolitan dailies that are succeeding have used a number of strategies to cut costs and to attract and keep more suburban-oriented readers. Some publish zoned editions—suburban or regional versions of the paper—to attract readers and to combat competition for advertising dollars from the suburban papers. But once-customary features like these zoned editions (Providence Journal), stand-alone book review sections (Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post), weekly magazines (Los Angeles Times), classified sections (Cincinnati Enquirer, The Boston Globe), even daily home delivery (Cleveland Plain Dealer, Vermont's Rutland Herald) are disappearing as papers big and small battle declining ad revenue and rising production and distribution costs.
The New York Times is a special large metropolitan daily. It is a paper local to New York, but the high quality of its reporting and commentary, the reach and depth of both its national and international news, and the solid reputations of its features (such as the weekly Times Magazine and the Book Review) make it the nation's newspaper of record. Its print circulation hovers between 640,000 and 700,000 a day, and its digital subscribers bring that number to more than 3 million daily readers.
One hundred and thirty U.S. cities are served by at least one Spanish-language publication. This number has remained constant for some time as publications backed by English-language papers, such as the Tribune Company's Hoy (in several cities) and the Dallas Morning News's Al Día, join more traditional weekly and semiweekly independent Spanish-language papers, such as the nation's several La Voz Hispana papers. This stability is a result of three factors. First, the big dailies have realized, as have all media, that to be successful (and, in this case, to reverse ongoing declines in circulation) they must reach an increasingly fragmented audience. Second, at 18% of the population, self-described Hispanic or Latino people represent not only a sizable fragment of the overall audience but America's fastest-growing minority group. Third, because the newspaper is the most local of the mass media, and nonnative English speakers tend to identify closely with their immediate locales, Spanish-language papers—like most foreign-language Page 84papers—command a loyal readership, one attractive to advertisers who have relatively few other ways to reach this group. In fact, annual advertising spending on Hispanic and Latino media is growing at a rate of 17%, far exceeding that of overall U.S. ad spending ("Hispanic Ad Spending," 2016).
African American papers, as they have for a century and a half, remain a vibrant part of this country's ethnic press. African Americans represent about 12% of the total population. But because English is their native language, African Americans typically read mainstream papers. In fact, after whites they represent the second-largest group of newspaper readers in the country. Still, 200 dailies, weeklies, and semiweeklies aim specifically at African Americans. And papers like the Amsterdam News in New York, the Los Angeles Sentinel, and the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, the second-oldest minority publication in America, specialize in urban-based journalism unlike that found in the traditional mainstream dailies.
A robust ethnic press exists beyond Spanish-language and African American papers. For example, New York City is home to foreign-language papers serving nationalities speaking 50 different languages—in the Bs alone there are Bangladeshi, Bosnian, Brazilian, Bulgarian, and Byelorussian. The Is have Indian, Iranian, Irish, Israeli, and Italian. In addition, the United States is home to more than 200 other foreign language papers.
Much of the 35% of the newspaper that is not advertising space is filled with content provided by outside sources, specifically the news and feature services. News services, as we've already seen, collect news and distribute it to their members. (They are no longer called "wire" services because they no longer use telephone wires. Today material is more likely to come by computer network or satellite.) Unlike the early days of the wire services, today's member is three times more likely to be a broadcast outlet than a newspaper. These radio and television stations receive voice and video, as well as written copy. In all cases, members receive a choice of material, most commonly national and international news, state and regional news, sports, business news, farm and weather reports, and human interest and consumer material.
The feature services, called feature syndicates, do not gather and distribute news. Instead, they operate as clearinghouses for the work of columnists, essayists, cartoonists, and other creative individuals. Among the material provided (by satellite, by computer, or physically in packages) are opinion pieces such as commentaries by Ellen Goodman or Garrison Keillor; horoscope, chess, and bridge columns; editorial cartoons, such as the work of Scott Willis and Ben Sergeant; and comics, the most common and popular form of syndicated material. Among the major syndicates, the best known are the New York Times News Service, King Features, Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA), The Washington Post News Service, and United Feature Syndicate.
The newspaper industry has seen a dramatic decline in competition. This has taken two forms: loss of competing papers and concentration of ownership. In 1923, 502 American cities had two or more competing (having different ownership) dailies. Today, fewer than 12 have separate competing papers. With print circulation and advertising revenues continuing to fall for urban dailies, very few cities can support more than one paper. Congress attempted to reverse this trend with the 1970 Newspaper Preservation Act, which allowed joint operating agreements (JOAs). A JOA permits a failing paper to merge most aspects of its business with a successful local competitor as long as their editorial and reporting operations remain separate. The philosophy is that it is better to have two more-or-less independent papers in one city than to allow one to close. Six cities, including Detroit, Michigan, and Charleston, West Virginia, currently have JOAs.
The concern that drove the creation of JOAs was editorial diversity. Cities with only one newspaper have only one newspaper editorial voice. This runs counter to two long-held Page 86American beliefs about the relationship between a free press and its readers:
Truth flows from a multitude of tongues.
The people are best served by a number of antagonistic voices.
These are the same values that fuel worry over concentration as well. What becomes of political, cultural, and social debate when there are neither multiple nor antagonistic (or at least different) voices? Media critic Robert McChesney offered this answer: "As ownership concentrated nationally in the form of chains, journalism came to reflect the partisan interests of owners and advertisers, rather than the diverse interests of any given community" (2007, p. 13). Today, five chains—Gannett (112 papers), McClatchy (88), Tronc (12), Advance Publications (63), and Media News Group (58)—receive nearly half of all newspaper industry revenue.
Chains are not new. Hearst owned several big-city papers in the 1880s, but at that time most cities enjoyed significant competition between papers. Now that most communities have only one paper, nonlocal chain or conglomerate control of that voice is more problematic. Additional concern is raised about chain ownership when the chain is also a media conglomerate, owning several different types of media outlets, as well as other nonmedia companies. Will the different media holdings speak with one corporate voice? Will they speak objectively, and will they cover at all the doings of their nonmedia corporations?
Chains do have their supporters. Although some critics see big companies as more committed to profit and shareholder dividends, others see chains such as McClatchy, winner of numerous Pulitzer Prizes and other awards, as turning expanded economic and journalistic resources toward better service and journalism. Some critics see outside ownership as uncommitted to local communities and issues, but others see balance and objectivity (especially important in one-paper towns). Ultimately, we must recognize that not all chains operate alike. Some operate their holdings as little more than profit centers; others see profit residing in exemplary service. Some groups require that all their papers toe the corporate line; others grant local autonomy. Gannett, for example, openly boasts of its dedication to local management control.
As in other media, conglomeration has led to increased pressure on newspapers to turn a profit. This manifests itself in three distinct but related ways—hypercommercialism, erasure of the distinction between ads and news, and ultimately, loss of the journalistic mission itself.
Many papers, such as USA Today, The New York Times, the Orange County Register, and Michigan's Oakland Press and Macomb Daily, sell ad space on their front pages, once the exclusive province of news. Other papers, Rhode Island's Providence Journal, for example, take this form of hypercommercialism halfway, affixing removable sticker ads to their front pages. Many papers now permit (and charge for) the placement of pet obituaries alongside those of deceased humans. The Southeast Missourian sells letters-to-the-editor placement to those who want to support political candidates.
A second problematic outcome of conglomeration, say critics, is that the quest for profits at all costs is eroding the firewall, the once inviolate barrier between newspapers' editorial and Page 87advertising missions. Although they find the position of "advertorial editor" at the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner—whose salary is split equally between the newsroom and advertising department—strikingly inappropriate, most papers of all sizes face the same problem. "We're all salespeople now," said Mike Wilson, editor of the Dallas Morning News (in Parker, 2015).
"There's definitely more interaction as newspapers have come under more financial pressure," said Steve Proctor, deputy managing editor for sports and features at The Baltimore Sun. "It used to be if you had a newspaper in town you were able to make a steady profit. Now, like so many other things in the world, newspapers are more at the whim of the opinions of Wall Street analysts. There's a lot more pressure to increase the profit margin of the paper, and so that has led to a lot more interplay between the newsroom and the business side of the paper" (quoted in Vane, 2002, pp. 60-61). One particularly dramatic example of that interplay is sponsored content, "content that matches the form and function of editorial but is, in fact, paid for by an advertiser" (Dool, 2017). There are many names for the practice, including branded content, native advertising, brand journalism, and content marketing, but whatever the label, the strategy of permitting advertisers to pay for or even create articles that look like traditional editorial content is common as newspapers try to find new sources of income. Sometimes the material is written by the paper's journalists; other times it is provided by the sponsor or its advertising agency. In either case, the story typically looks in tone and design like content usually found on the paper's site or in its pages and is intended to "take on the form and function of the platform it appears on" (Buscemi, 2016). All papers of size now engage in the practice, and it promises to make up a quarter of the industry's revenues by 2018 (Sass, 2016a). The Wall Street Journal, for example, maintains an in-house Custom Studios team staffed with experienced editors, journalists, and designers. The New York Times has a 100-person Brand Studio in its ad department. Sponsored content, while now common in all ad-supported media, remains quite controversial, as you'll read in the chapter on magazines. But for now, the question remains, "How can advertising intentionally designed to look like a newspaper's editorial content serve any purpose other than to diminish people faith in its 'real' journalism?"
Newspapers will die, say conglomeration's critics, because they will have abandoned their traditional democratic mission, a failure all the more tragic because despite falling circulation, more newspapers might have remained financially healthy had they invested rather than cut when times were good. In the era of record revenues and record profits, papers were laying off staff, closing state and regional bureaus, hiring younger and less experienced reporters, and shrinking their newsholes—the amount of space given to news. Newspaper owners were so focused on profit margins that the editors who worked for them were distracted from finding and running great stories. For example, in 1995, at the time The Baltimore Sun closed its 85-year-old, 86,000-circulation afternoon edition, it was achieving 37% profit margins. Nonetheless, it fired nearly 100 editors and reporters. "In the years before the Internet deluge, [these] men and women who might have made The Sun a more essential vehicle for news and commentary—something so strong that it might have charged for its product online—were being ushered out the door so that Wall Street could command short-term profits in the extreme," wrote press critic John Nichols (2009, p. C5).
Why so much talk about money? You and the new digital technologies are why. You are increasingly moving your media consumption online. The Internet has devastated newspapers' advertising income. For example, one social networking site, Facebook, siphoned off $1.3 billion dollars in local ad dollars from newspapers in 2016 alone, with 79% of local advertisers—the lifeblood of the industry's hard-copy business—cutting their print advertising to fund their digital spending (Edmonds, 2016a).
The Internet has proven equally financially damaging in its attack on newspapers' classified advertising business. Before the Internet, classified advertising was the exclusive domain of local newspapers. Today, the Internet overwhelms newspapers' one-time dominance through commercial online classified advertising sites (for example, eBay,, and, advertisers connecting directly with customers on their own sites and bypassing newspapers altogether, and communitarian-minded (that is, free community-based) sites. Craigslist, for example, originating in San Francisco in 1995, is now in more than 700 cities Page 88across 70 different countries. Craigslist alone cost local papers more than $5 billion in classified ad revenues from 2000 to 2007, and as a whole, online classified sites have reduced papers' income from classified advertising from $20 billion in 2000 to under $5 billion today (Seamans & Zhu, 2013; Edmonds et al., 2013). Advertising losses are most striking in employment (more than 90%) and auto sales classifieds (more than 80%; Edmonds et al., 2013). To counter career sites like, about one-third of the papers across the country created their own national service, CareerBuilder, which rivals Monster's number of listings but not income. Two hundred dailies also have an affiliation with Yahoo!'s HotJobs service. Dozens more work with competitor-turned-partner To counter online auto sales classified sites, as well as real estate and general merchandise sites, virtually every newspaper in the country now maintains its own online classified pages. These efforts, however, have done little to save newspapers' one-time classified dominance.
The problem of the loss of classified ad income is magnified by the exodus of young people, that highly desirable demographic, from print to electronic news sources. Only 5 out of 100 American hard-copy newspaper readers are under 29 years old, as young people favor the Web over print (Mitchell et al., 2016). Not only do the Internet and the World Wide Web provide readers with more information and more depth, and with greater speed, than the traditional newspaper, but they empower readers to control and interact with the news, in essence becoming their own editors in chief. As a result, the traditional newspaper is reinventing itself by converging with these very same technologies. And 2016 seems to have been a watershed year in papers' convergence with the Web as, among other things, the number of people employed in digital publishing exceeded the number working at newspapers for the first time in history (Sass, 2016b); the Newspaper Association of America dropped "newspaper" from its name, becoming the News Media Alliance, and began accepting digital-only news sites as members (Edmonds, 2016b); the American Society of News Editors announced that it would estimate a newspaper's size not by circulation but by monthly web traffic in setting membership dues (Mullin, 2016a); newspaper chain Tribune Publishing reinvented itself as Tronc, a "content curation and monetization company focused on creating and distributing premium, verified content" (Surowiecki, 2016, p. 35); and Facebook began offering free online training for journalists (Albeanu, 2016).
Still, the marriage of newspapers to the Web has not yet proved financially successful for the older medium. The problem is replacing analog dollars with digital dimes. In other words, despite heavy traffic on newspaper websites—8 in 10 adults who go online will visit a newspaper website—online readers simply are not worth as much as print readers. In fact, newspapers so far have been able to replace every $7 of lost print ad revenue with only $1 of digital ad revenue. Combining subscription fees and advertising, the newspaper industry was earning $1,449 per reader in 2000. Now it takes in under $800 per customer (McChesney, 2013; Chittum, 2014). Still, there are encouraging signs.
The Internet Public Library lists and provides Web links to thousands of online newspapers for every state in the union and most foreign countries. These papers have adopted a variety of strategies to become "relevant on the Internet." The Washington Post, for example, has joined with Newsweek magazine, cable television channel MSNBC, and television network NBC to share content among all the parties' websites and to encourage users to link to their respective sites. Others (for example, The Boston Globe, the Miami Herald, and The Kansas City Star) have adopted just the opposite approach, focusing on their strength as local media by offering websites specific to their newspapers. Each offers not only what readers might expect to find in these sites' parent newspapers but also significant additional information on how to make the most of the cities they represent. These sites are as much city guides as they are local newspapers.
The local element offers several advantages. Local searchable and archival classified ads offer greater efficiency than do the big national classified ad websites such as and No other medium can offer news on crime, housing, neighborhood politics, zoning, school lunch menus, marriage licenses, and bankruptcies—all searchable by street or zip code. Local newspapers can use their websites to develop their own linked secondary sites, thus providing impressive detail on local industry. For example, the San Jose Mercury News's focuses on the digital industries. Another localizing strategy is for online papers to build and maintain message boards and chat groups on their sites that deal with important issues. One more bow to the power of the Web—and users' demands for interactivity—is that most papers have begun their own blog sites, inviting readers and journalists to talk to one another.
Page 89Despite all this innovation and the readership it generates ("Newspapers don't have a demand problem," said former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, "they have a business-model problem"; in Fallows, 2010, p. 48), papers still face two lingering questions about their online success. The first, as we've seen, is how they will earn income from their Web operations. Internet users expect free content, and for years newspapers were happy to provide their product at no cost, simply to establish their presence online. Unfortunately, they now find that people are unwilling to pay for what the papers themselves have been giving away for free online. So, newspapers have to fix their business models.
Among those "fixes" are papers that rely on advertising for their online revenue. Many continue to provide free access, hoping to attract more readers and, therefore, more advertising revenue. Some papers even offer free online classifieds to draw people to their sites (and their paid advertisers). Other papers, recognizing that the Internet surpassed print papers as readers' source of news in 2009 (Mindlin, 2009), are experimenting with variations of a paywall, that is, making all or some of their content available only to those visitors willing to pay. Many papers, large and small, have strict paywalls; readers gain access only by paying for it. The Wall Street Journal and The Newport Daily News employ this method. The New York Times offers a metered system—print subscribers get all online content for free, but nonsubscribers are limited to a specified number of free stories before they have to pay. Today, 80% of papers with more than 50,000 circulation maintain a paywall of some form (Lichterman, 2016).
This digital readership raises the second question faced by online newspapers: How will circulation be measured? In fact, if visitors to a newspaper's website are added to its hard-copy readership, newspapers are more popular than ever; that is, they are drawing readers in larger numbers than ever before. Therefore, if many online papers continue to rely on a free-to-the-user, ad-supported model to boost their "circulation," how do they quantify that readership for advertisers, both print and online? Industry insiders have therefore called for a new metric to more accurately describe a paper's true reach, especially as ad rates are determined by how many impressions—the number of times an online ad is seen—an individual article can generate. "Circulation," they say, should be replaced by integrated audience reach, the total number of readers of the print edition plus those unduplicated Web readers who access the paper only online or via a mobile device. This is not insignificant given the heavy traffic enjoyed by newspaper websites. For example, The Washington Post had at its peak a daily circulation of 800,000 but now reaches more than 80 million unique readers a month (Edmonds, 2016b). But there is the danger that new metrics might encourage newspapers to chase click bait, stories designed to gain impressions rather than make an impression. You can learn about this potential problem in the box entitled "Attracting Readers with Click Bait."
Newspaper readers are moving to the Web, but the industry is still struggling to find a way to better monetize that digital migration to make up for the massive loss of print advertising revenue. A question now in the cultural forum, then, is how far should papers go to bring even more readers, especially demographically prized young adults, to their sites? With hard-copy newspapers, the solution to the problem of attracting readers was easy: In addition to news, offer sports, entertainment news, weather, comics, horoscopes, and lifestyle reporting—something for everyone—and readers who might come for one or more of those features (a) bought the paper Page 90and saw the ads (good for business) and (b) might come across some hard news and opinion of interest as they flipped through the pages in search of their desired content (good for developing an informed public). This model worked well for nearly two centuries. It didn't matter why people bought the paper; even if they bought it only for the sports, they still bought the whole package. And that's how advertising rates were set—how many people bought the whole package.
But the Internet is different. People link directly to the stories that interest them. They can read only sports, only weather, only the crossword puzzle. With the Internet, ad rates are determined by how many impressions a story can generate. Professional reporters researching and writing engaging stories to create more impressions should be good news for journalism, but critics inside and outside the industry complain that isn't what's happening. Quite the opposite is now true as reporters are required to write more sensational stories to attract more readers. Journalist Frédéric Filloux warns, "The audience-building process is shifting its focus from quality to unabated eyeball collection tactics, with pernicious consequences . . . Collecting eyeballs is a diversion of publisher resources. As the ad model loses steam, focusing on page views generates less and less value and leads to commoditized, lowest-common-denominator news content" (2016). Another journalist, Danielle Ryan, is even more critical: "Quantity and speed are vastly superior in importance to quality and factual accuracy. In this self-amplifying social media culture, the number of Twitter followers a reporter has confirms their worthiness. The more retweets we receive, the more we confirm our own bias. The quality journalism that does appear in the midst of it all is fumbling to grab our attention through a mountain of far more appealing trash: listicles, quizzes, stenography masquerading as reporting, opinion masquerading as 'explainer' pieces, propaganda, conspiracy, fake news and cute cat videos" (2017).
Journalists are increasingly judged (and paid) not by the quality of their reporting but by Web metrics—real-time tracking of the number of clicks, impressions, Tweets, and Facebook likes their work can attract. Good, argue some observers; this empowerment of the audience "constitutes a healthy check on the worst habits of journalistic elite" (Christin, 2014).
Enter your voice. Is this good? The newspaper—and the news—have always lived a dual life, simultaneously a commodity and a public good. But has the Internet tipped the balance too far in the direction of commodity, simply something to be bought and sold? Could you, as a reporter, resist chasing impressions with click bait? Knowing that the vast majority of this country's professionally reported serious news comes from newspapers (Copps, 2014), does the reliance on Web metrics and the rush toward paying reporters based on their quantity of impressions and page views trouble you? Will it mean more quickly written and less-researched news? More lists of best places to eat, feel-good stories, and articles with more conjecture than facts? Do you agree with New York Times media reporter David Carr's warning that "journalism's status as a profession is up for grabs. A viral hit is no longer defined by the credentials of an individual or organization. The media ecosystem is increasingly a pro-am affair, where the wisdom—or prurient interest—of the crowd decides what is important and worthy of sharing" (2014, B1)? Defend your answer.
Half of all adult Americans own at least one e-reader or tablet. In addition, nearly 80% of all online adults have a smartphone (Smith, 2017). Data such as these have added to the newspaper industry's optimism about its digital future, especially because not only do a large majority of U.S. adults, 81%, get their news from websites, apps, and social networking sites, more than half of those folks prefer to get their news on mobile devices (Mitchell et al., 2016). Most smartphone and tablet users access the news via apps, and 82% use more than one news app per day (Ault, 2016). You can see the most popular news apps in Figure 2. "There will always be improvements in technology, but it's hard to beat a lightweight, portable and highly legible, multimedia-driven delivery vehicle," said American Society of News Editors former president Ken Paulson, speaking specifically about tablets, "It's a newspaper amplified" (in Johnson, 2012, p. 20). The industry shares Mr. Paulson's enthusiasm. Eighty-eight percent of U.S. newspapers make their content available for mobile devices, up from just about half in 2009. In fact, some papers, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News, for example, have experimented with programs to subsidize their readers' purchase of tablets. These mobile technologies are of great interest to newspapers because they are especially attractive to Page 91young readers who otherwise have abandoned print. In fact, when all technologies are considered, young adults not only rival their parents in the amount of news they consume, they are more likely to prefer reading the news than watching or listening to it (Mitchell, 2016), and because 64% of 18- to 24-year-olds claim online as their primary news source, that means they are reading digital news (Richter, 2016).
Access to newspapers on tablets and smartphones has been further encouraged by apps and digital services designed specifically to link mobile readers with the news. With Apple News, for example, readers can select topics and publications and have stories instantly delivered without having to move from app to app. Scroll is a monthly subscription service that collates a selection of stories from a wide variety of news outlets and delivers them, without ads, to people's digital devices. Scroll joined existing digital news delivery options like Blendle, an app that lets users buy individual articles, and Facebook's Instant Articles and Google's AMP, both offering streamlined, fast-loading news articles specifically for mobile users. Young readers have abandoned print, but their consumption of news rivals that of their parents thanks to mobile communication devices.
Newspaper publishers know well that print newspaper readership in the United States is least prevalent among younger people. A declining number of young people reads a daily paper. Look at Figure 3. Note the dramatic difference in readership between younger and older folks. How do you feel about the fact that so few young people read the paper? The problem facing newspapers, then, is how to lure young people (readers of the future) to their pages. Online and alternative weeklies might be two solutions, but the fundamental question remains: Should newspapers give these readers what they should want or what they do want? Some newspapers confront this problem directly. They add inserts or sections directed toward, and sometimes written by, teens and young people. This is good business. But traditionalists disagree with another youth-targeted strategy—altering other, more serious (presumably more important) parts of the paper to cater to the infrequent and non-newspaper reader. As more newspaper professionals adopt a market-centered approach in their pursuit of what media ethicist Jay Black (2001, p. 21) calls (fairly or unfairly?) the "bifurcating, self-indulgent, highly transient, and significantly younger audiences whose pocketbooks are larger than their attention spans"—using readership studies, focus groups, and other tests of customer satisfaction to design their papers—they increasingly find themselves criticized for "cheapening" both the newspaper as a medium and journalism as an institution.
What happens to journalistic integrity, critics ask, to community service, to the traditional role of newspapers in our democracy, when front pages are given over to reports of starlets' affairs, sports heroes' retirements, and full-color photos of plane wrecks because this is what younger readers want? As topics of interest to the 18- to 35-year-old reluctant reader and nonreader are emphasized, what is ignored? What happens to depth, detail, and precision as stories get shorter and snappier? And this is happening, as many major news organizations now require that their reporters keep their stories between 300 and 500 words, allowing only 700 words for the "top two stories" they're covering (Farhi, 2014), and that's when they aren't writing click bait. What kind of culture develops on a diet of soft news (sensational stories that do not serve the democratic function of journalism) rather than hard news (stories that help citizens make intelligent decisions and keep up with important issues of the day)? Molly Ivins offered a pessimistic answer. The late columnist suggested that newspapers aren't dying; they're committing suicide. "This is the most remarkable business plan," she told Editor & Publisher. "Newspaper owners look at one another and say, 'Our rate of return is slipping a bit; let's solve the problem by making our product smaller and less helpful and less interesting'" (in Nichols, 2009, p. 14).
The "softening" of newspapers raises a potential media literacy issue. The media-literate person has an obligation to be aware of the impact newspapers have on individuals and society and to understand how the text of newspapers offers insight into contemporary culture. We might ask ourselves: Are we getting what we asked for? What do we as a people and as individuals want from our newspaper? Do we understand the role newspapers play in our democratic process? Are we fully aware of how newspapers help shape our understanding of ourselves and our world?
In a 1787 letter, Thomas Jefferson wrote to a colleague, "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without Page 93government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter." Would he write that about today's newspaper, a newspaper increasingly designed to meet the wants, needs, and interests of younger, occasional newspaper readers or those who do not read at all?
There is another view, however—that there is no problem here at all. Ever since the days of the penny press, newspapers have been dominated by soft news. All we are seeing today is an extension of what has always been. Moreover, nonreaders are simply going elsewhere for the hard news and information that were once the sole province of newspapers. They're going online, to television, and to specifically targeted sources, including magazines and newsletters.
Newspapers tell readers what is significant and meaningful through their placement of stories in and on their pages. Within a paper's sections (for example, front, leisure, sports, and business), readers almost invariably read pages in order (that is, page 1, then page 2, and so on). Recognizing this, papers place the stories they think are most important on the earliest pages. Newspaper jargon for this phenomenon has even entered our everyday language. "Front-page news" means the same thing in the living room as in the pressroom.
The placement of stories on a page is also important (Figure 4). English readers read from top to bottom and from left to right. Stories that the newspaper staff deems important tend to be placed above the fold and toward the left of the page. This is an important aspect of the power of newspapers to influence public opinion and of media literacy. Relative story placement is a factor in agenda setting—the way newspapers and other media influence not only what we think but also what we think about. A media-literate newspaper reader should be able to make judgments about other layout decisions. The use of photos suggests the importance the editors assign to a story, as do the size and wording of headlines, the employment of jumps (continuations to other pages), and placement of a story in a given section. A report of a person's death on the front page, as opposed to the international section or in the obituaries, carries a different meaning, as does an analysis of an issue placed on the front page as opposed to the editorial page.
Moreover, this "grammar" holds for online newspapers as well, especially when, like the Philadelphia Inquirer, they offer a "digital replica" of each edition. Other papers, the New York Times for example, provide a digital version of their front page that is not an exact replica but still maintains the traditional values of left-to-right and above-and-below-the-fold. And as you might imagine, many papers, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Providence Journal for example, take advantage of the Web's ease of navigation and present a "front page" that offers a wide array of headlines and images that link to stories throughout the edition, freeing readers to make their own determination of what is newsworthy.
When you started at More you thought you'd made it. Twenty years in business and a million subscribers. Stories for smart, professional women, and none of that Photoshop, skinny-model stuff. But now it's gone, closed. She'd like you to move to a new magazine. It's Eat This, Not That!, based on an advice column from Men's Health magazine that became a book series. It features articles on topics like nutrition-wise recipes and how to make good decisions when eating at fancy restaurants.
But you're thinking this really isn't up your alley; you're a general-interest sort of person. Recipes and nutrition seem, well, narrow. Maybe you'll leave the magazine business altogether. The handwriting seems to be on the wall. In 2015 alone, 35 magazines closed shop. Jet, the 63-year-old "bible" of African American readers, closed the year before; so did Ladies' Home Journal after 130 years and with more than 3 million subscribers. Over at Interlink Media, the folks who put out Motor Trend and Automobile killed 12 of their car-related books in one day, including Popular Hot Rodding and Rod & Custom. But maybe the handwriting isn't so clear; there are quite a few new magazines hitting the stands. In that same dark year there were 237 new print magazines launched, a one-year net gain of 202 magazines (Association of Magazine Media, 2016).
Perhaps you can stay in magazines but move to the digital side. There are a lot of new digital-only publications starting up; Podster has been a hit with podcasters, and SeniorsSkiing is doing well with aging baby boomers. Maybe the Web is the way to go. But even there the evidence is inconclusive. The first Web-only magazines, Slate and Salon, are profitable, and there has indeed been a lot of exciting activity—Vice has a huge online presence, Allure and Vanity Fair launched digital video channels to enrich their online presence, and traditional books like The Atlantic and Esquire publish weekly digital mini-mags exclusively for mobile devices. Big magazine companies like Time Inc. and Hearst have even begun dropping the title "publisher" from their organizational charts because, as Time Inc.'s president Mark Ellis explained, publisher denotes a "print-centric company" rather than a "digital-first" operation (Sass, 2016b). But although online magazines seem promising, they have yet to replace their lost print ad revenues with money from their digital operations (much like the situation with newspapers). So maybe you'll just stay with what you love. Eat This, Not That! it is!
In this chapter we examine the dynamics of the contemporary magazine industry—paper and online—and its audiences. We study the medium's beginnings in the colonies, its pre-Civil War expansion, and its explosive growth between the Civil War and World War I. This was the era of the great mass circulation magazines, and it was also the time of the powerful writers known as muckrakers.
Influenced by television and by the social and cultural changes that followed World War II, the magazine took on a new, more narrowly focused nature, which provided the industry with a growing readership and increased profits. We detail the various categories of magazines, discuss circulation research, and look at the ways the industry protects itself from competition from other media and how advertisers influence editorial decisions. The influence of convergence runs through all these issues. Finally, we investigate some of the editorial decisions that should be of particular interest to media-literate magazine consumers.
In 1821 The Saturday Evening Post appeared. Starting life in 1729 as Ben Franklin's Pennsylvania Gazette, it was to continue for the next 148 years. Among other successful early magazines were Harper's (1850) and Atlantic Monthly (1857). Cheaper printing and growing literacy fueled expansion of the magazine as they had for the book (see the chapter on books for more). But an additional factor in the success of the early magazines was the spread of social movements such as abolitionism and labor reform. These issues provided compelling content, and a boom in magazine publishing began. In 1825 there were 100 magazines in operation; 25 years later there were 600. Because magazine articles increasingly focused on matters of importance to U.S. readers, publications such as the United States Literary Gazette and American Boy began to look less like London publications and more like a new and unique product. Journalism historians John Tebbel and Mary Ellen Zuckerman called this "the time of significant beginnings" (1991, p. 13); it was during this time that the magazine developed many of the characteristics we associate with it even today. Magazines and the people who staffed them began to clearly differentiate themselves from other publishing endeavors, such as books and newspapers. The concept of specialist writers took hold, and their numbers rose. In addition, numerous and detailed illustrations began to fill the pages of magazines.
Still, these early magazines were aimed at a literate elite interested in short stories, poetry, social commentary, and essays. The magazine did not become a true national mass medium until after the Civil War.
The modern era of magazines can be divided into two parts, each characterized by a different relationship between medium and audience.
Mass circulation popular magazines began to prosper in the post-Civil War years. In 1865 there were 700 magazines publishing; by 1870 there were 1,200; by 1885 there were 3,300. Crucial to this expansion was the women's magazine. Suffrage—women's right to vote—was the social movement that occupied its pages, but a good deal of content could also be described as how-to for homemakers. Advertisers, too, were eager to appear in the new women's magazines, hawking their brand-name products. First published at this time are several magazines still familiar today, for example Good Housekeeping.
There were several reasons for this phenomenal growth. As with books, widespread literacy was one reason. But the Postal Act of 1879, which permitted mailing magazines at cheaper second-class postage rates, and the spread of the railroad, which carried people and publications westward Page 102from the East Coast, were two others. A fourth was the reduction in cost. As long as magazines sold for 35 cents—a lot of money for the time—they were read largely by the upper class. However, a circulation war erupted between giants McClure's, Munsey's Magazine, and The Saturday Evening Post. Soon they, as well as Ladies' Home Journal, McCall's, Woman's Home Companion, Collier's, and Cosmopolitan, were selling for as little as 10 and 15 cents, which brought them within reach of many working people.
This 1870s price war was made possible by the newfound ability of magazines to attract growing amounts of advertising. Social and demographic changes in the post-Civil War era—urbanization, industrialization, the spread of roads and railroads, and development of consumer brands and brand names—produced an explosion in the number of advertising agencies (see the chapter on advertising). These agencies needed to place their messages somewhere. Magazines were the perfect outlet because they were read by a large, national audience. As a result, circulation—rather than reputation, as had been the case before—became the most important factor in setting advertising rates. Magazines kept cover prices low to ensure the large readerships coveted by advertisers. The fifth reason for the enormous growth in the number of magazines was industrialization, which provided people with leisure time to read and more personal income to spend on that free time.
Magazines were truly America's first national mass medium. Like books, they served as an important force in social change, especially in the muckraking era of the first decades of the 20th century. Theodore Roosevelt coined this label as an insult, but the muckrakers wore it proudly, using the pages of The Nation, Harper's Weekly, The Arena, and even mass circulation publications such as McClure's and Collier's to agitate for change. Their targets were the powerful. Their beneficiaries were the poor.
The mass circulation magazine grew with the nation. From the start there were general interest magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post, women's magazines such as Good Housekeeping, pictorial magazines such as Life and Look, and digests such as Reader's Digest, which was first published in 1922 and offered condensed and tightly edited articles for people on the go in the Roaring Twenties. What these magazines all had in common was the size and breadth of readership. They were mass market, mass circulation publications, both national and affordable. As such, magazines helped unify the nation. They were the television of their time—the dominant advertising medium, the primary source for nationally distributed news, and the preeminent provider of photojournalism.
Between 1900 and 1945, the number of families who subscribed to one or more magazines grew from 200,000 to more than 32 million. New and important magazines continued to appear throughout these decades. For example, African American intellectual W. E. B. DuBois founded and edited The Crisis in 1910 as the voice of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Time was first published in 1923. Its brief review of the week's news was immediately popular (it was originally only 28 pages long). It made a profit within a year. The New Yorker, "the world's best magazine," debuted in 1925. This McClure's cover captures the spirit of the Roaring Twenties as well as the excitement of the burgeoning magazine industry. Much respected today, Harper's gave early voice to the muckrakers and other serious observers of politics and society.
In 1956 Collier's declared bankruptcy and became the first of the big mass circulation magazines to cease publication. But its fate, as well as that of other mass circulation magazines, had actually been sealed in the late 1940s and 1950s following the end of World War II. Profound alterations in the nation's culture—and, in particular, the advent of television—changed the relationship between magazines and their audience. No matter how large their circulation, magazines could not match the reach of Page 103television. Magazines did not have moving pictures or visual and oral storytelling. Nor could magazines match television's timeliness. Magazines were weekly, whereas television was continuous. Nor could they match television's novelty. In the beginning, everything on television was of interest to viewers. As a result, magazines began to lose advertisers to television.
The audience changed as well. As we've seen, World War II changed the nature of American life. The new, mobile, product-consuming public was less interested in the traditional Norman Rockwell world of The Saturday Evening Post (closed in 1969) and more in tune with the slick, hip world of narrower interest publications such as GQ and Esquire, which spoke to them about their new and exciting lives. And because World War II had further urbanized and industrialized America, people—including millions of women who had entered the workforce—had more leisure and more money to spend. They could spend both on a wider array of personal interests and on magazines that catered to those interests. Where there Page 104were once Look (closed in 1971) and The Saturday Evening Post, there were now Flyfishing, Surfing, Ski, and Easyrider. The industry had hit on the secret of success: specialization and a lifestyle orientation. All media have moved in this direction in their efforts to attract an increasingly fragmented audience, but it was the magazine industry that began the trend. A wide array of specialized magazines exists for all lifestyles and interests. Here are some of the 7,200 special interest consumer magazines available to U.S. readers.
Exactly who is the audience for magazines? Industry research indicates that it is a large and demographically attractive audience. Ninety percent of American adults consume magazines either in print or digital form, a proportion that grows to 95% when considering only people younger than 25. They read on average 8.6 print magazines a month, and the heaviest readers tend to be younger, under 35. It is a diverse audience, as these data remain near constant across all ethnicities. In fact, African American, Hispanic American, Asian American, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adults read more magazines a month than does the overall American population. You can see the level of readership for these different groups in Figure 1. It is also an educated and well-off audience. For example, magazines are the preferred medium among households with incomes over $150,000. How readers use magazines also makes them an attractive advertising medium. Magazines sell themselves to potential advertisers based not only on the number and demographic desirability of their readers but on readers' engagement with and affinity for magazine advertising. Engagement refers to the depth of the relationship between readers and the magazine advertising they see. People choose to read specific magazines for specific reasons. They have an existing interest that brings them to a particular publication. As a result, the magazine and its ads speak to them. In addition, as opposed to many other media, radio and television for example, readers' commitment to the magazine, and by extension its sponsors, is manifested in cash; that is, they pay to access that advertising. The success of publications like Wine Spectator, Cigar Aficionado, Whisky Advocate, and Scrap & Stamp Arts Magazine rests heavily on readers' passion for their content, both editorial and commercial. Affinity, how much readers enjoy magazine advertising, is demonstrated by industry research showing that readers say not only that they trust magazine advertising more than Internet and television advertising but also that they value it as a way to learn about new products. It touches them deeply, gets them to try new things, inspires them to buy things, gives them something to talk about, and brings to mind things they enjoy (all data from Association of Magazine Media, 2016).
Magazine specialization exists and succeeds because the demographically similar readership of individual publications is attractive to advertisers. Marketers want to target ads for their products and services to those most likely to respond to them. Despite modest revenue declines over the last few years, this remains a lucrative situation for the magazine industry. The average editorial-to-advertising-page ratio is 54% to 46%, and the industry takes in more than $28 billion a year in revenue, about 50% of that amount generated by advertising. Magazines command 7.5% of all the dollars spent on major media advertising in this country (Sass, 2016c; "U.S. Ad Spending," 2016). And of particular importance to marketers, the return on advertising dollars spent is higher for magazines than for any other medium (Guaglione, 2016). The brands that buy the most magazine advertising are shown in Figure 3. Magazines are often further specialized through split runs, special versions of a given issue in which editorial content and ads vary according to some specific demographic or regional grouping. People, for example, will sell A-B splits in which every other copy of the national edition will carry a different cover, regional splits by state and by major metropolitan area, and splits targeting the top 10 and top 20 largest metropolitan areas. Magazines work to Page 107Page 108make themselves attractive to advertisers in other ways, especially as the industry, like all traditional media, deals with tough economic conditions. One strategy is single-sponsor magazines—having only one advertiser throughout an entire issue. Health publication Walk It Off uses this technique exclusively, and even venerable titles like The New Yorker (Target stores) and Time (Kraft foods) publish single-sponsor issues on occasion. Another strategy is to make accountability guarantees. The Week, for example, promises that independent testing will demonstrate that its readers recall, to an agreed-upon level, a sponsor's ad; if they do not, the advertiser will receive free ad pages until recall reaches that benchmark. Many of the large publishers—Meredith, Hearst, Condé Nast, and Time Inc. for example—also offer similar guarantees. (But for a look at a magazine with no advertising at all, see the essay, "No Ads? No Problem: Consumer Reports.")
Very few magazines survive today without accepting advertising. Those that are ad-free insist that freedom from commercial support allows them to make a greater difference in the lives of their readers. Ms., for example, cannot advocate development of strong, individual females if its pages carry ads that suggest beauty is crucial for women's success. Ms. began in 1972 as a Warner Communications publication and has gone through several incarnations as both a for-profit and a not-for-profit publication. Today it is published four times a year, maintains an online version, carries no advertising, and remains committed to advancing the cause of women and feminism on a global scale. In 2016, Prevention decided to go ad-free in order to return "to its historical position as an authoritative, impartial voice in the health and wellness community" (Dool, 2016). But it is Consumer Reports that makes the no-advertising case most strongly—it must be absolutely free of outside influence if its articles about consumer products are to maintain their well-earned reputation for fairness and objectivity. As its editors explain on the magazine's website, their mission is to test products and services and inform and protect consumers, all the while remaining independent and impartial. To do this, the magazine accepts no outside advertising, nor does it accept free products for its testing. Its only agenda is the interests of consumers. So protective is the magazine of that independence that it refuses to let its ratings be used in any advertising of the products and services it evaluates, even those that it judges superior.
Consumer Reports, first published in 1936 as Consumer Union Reports and boasting an initial circulation of 400, charges for access to its Web version. Its 3.2 million online subscribers pay the same rate as its 3.8 million print readers. Nonetheless, its Web readership is among the highest of the world's online magazines, and its print circulation is higher than that of all but a few major magazines, exceeding that of titles like Good Housekeeping, Sports Illustrated, and People.
The Web version does offer a good deal of free information, especially when evaluated products may cause health and safety problems. Also occasionally available for free is special content, such as an ongoing series of media literacy videos examining the persuasive appeals used in consumer drug advertising. But subscribers have access to much more. For example, there are videos of front and side impact tests on just about every vehicle sold in this country. The Web Consumer Reports maintains a searchable archive of all tests and their results as well as up-to-the-minute evaluations of new products.
Because the electronic version has no paper, printing, trucking, or mailing expenses, it actually makes more money than its print sibling. To increase profits on its print version, Consumer Reports is produced on less expensive paper rather than the glossy stock used by most magazines, and as a nonprofit group, it pays lower postage rates than other consumer magazines.
Another magazine that, like Ms., Prevention, and Consumer Reports, eschews advertising because it sees it as inimical to its larger mission of making a difference with its particular category of reader is Adbusters. Founded in 1989, Adbusters boasts a worldwide print circulation of 120,000 and won the Utne Reader Award for General Excellence three times in its first six years of operation. It aims to help stem the erosion of the world's physical and cultural environments by what it views as greed and commercial forces. Its online version allows users to download spoofs of popular ad campaigns and other anticonsumerism spots for use as banner ads on their own sites.
Magazines price advertising space in their pages based on circulation, the total number of issues of a magazine that are sold. These sales can be either subscription or single-copy sales. For the industry as a whole, about 90% of all sales are subscription. Some magazines, however—Woman's Day, TV Guide, and Penthouse, for example—rely heavily on single-copy sales. Subscriptions have the advantage of an ensured ongoing readership, but they are sold below the cover price and have the additional burden of postage included in their cost to the publisher. Single-copy sales are less reliable, but to advertisers they are sometimes a better barometer of a publication's value to its readers. Single-copy readers must consciously choose to pick up an issue, and they pay full price for it.
A third form of circulation, controlled circulation, refers to providing a magazine at no cost to readers who meet some specific set of advertiser-attractive criteria. Free airline and hotel magazines fit this category. Although they provide no subscription or single-sales revenue, these magazines are an attractive, relatively low-cost advertising vehicle for companies seeking narrowly defined, captive audiences. United Airlines' Hemispheres, for example, has 12 million monthly readers with an annual household income of $146,600, the highest of any American print magazine. They're well-educated, too, as half have a college degree (Hemispheres, 2016). These "custom publishing" magazines are discussed in more detail later in this chapter. Controlled circulation magazines like United Airlines' Hemispheres take advantage of readers' captivity, offering them high-quality travel-oriented fare. They offer advertisers access to a well-educated, affluent readership.
Regardless of how circulation occurs, it is monitored through research. The Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) was established in 1914 to provide reliability to a booming magazine industry playing loose with self-announced circulation figures. In 2012, recognizing that "circulation" should include digital editions and apps, the ABC became platform agnostic and renamed itself the Alliance for Audited Media (AAM). The AAM provides reliable circulation figures as well as important population and demographic data. Circulation data are often augmented by measures of pass-along readership, which refers to readers who neither subscribe nor buy single copies but who borrow a magazine or read one in places like a doctor's office or library. The print version of WebMD Magazine, for example, has a circulation of 1.4 million, but as it sits in doctors' offices and is passed along, its total monthly readership can reach as high as 10 million (WebMD, 2016).
This traditional model of measurement, however, is under increasing attack. As advertisers demand more precise assessments of accountability and return on their investment, new metrics beyond circulation are being demanded by professionals inside and outside the industry (see the chapter on advertising). Timeliness is one issue. Monthly and weekly magazines can, at best, offer data on how many issues they've shipped, but advertisers must typically wait for days after a particular issue is released for actual readership numbers, and for additional pass-along readership, even longer than that. It can take as long as 10 weeks for a magazine to reach 100% of its total readership (Association of Magazine Media, 2016). Others argue that it is one thing for magazine publishers to boast of engagement and affinity, but how are they measured? As a result, the advertising and magazine industries are investigating new measurement protocols. For example, in 2014 the Association of Magazine Media introduced Magazine Media 360, a metric combining magazines' print and tablet audience, unique visitors to their Web and mobile sites, and unique video views of magazines' video channels (if any). This number is published monthly in addition to a second report that tracks magazines' presence on social media. A spokesperson for the association explained that measures of readership based on printed pages "in a world where 80% of magazine media advertisers invest in other platforms in addition to print reflect only one format and simply aren't comprehensive and therefore not accurate" (Sebastian, 2014, p. 12). Nonetheless, for now, "mere" circulation remains the primary basis for setting magazine ad rates.
Several magazines, most prominently Time, offer advertisers the option of choosing between total audience and paid circulation when setting advertising rates. Total audience combines print and Web readership. An advertiser may be willing to pay more for those who buy subscriptions, assuming greater commitment to the magazine and its advertisers; another may prefer paying for as many readers as possible, paying a bit less for online readers. In Time's case, for example, the paid circulation number of just over 3 million becomes a total audience of five times that size.
Online magazines have emerged, made possible by convergence of magazines and the Internet. Rare is the magazine that does not produce a digital version, and almost all that do Page 110offer additional content and a variety of interactive features not available to readers of their hard-copy versions. Different publications opt for different payment models, but most provide online-only content for free and charge nonsubscribers for access to print magazine content that appears online. This strategy encourages readers who might otherwise go completely digital (and drop print) to renew their subscriptions. This is important to publishers and their advertisers because ads in hard-copy magazines are more effective and therefore more valuable: print magazine advertising produces greater increases in brand awareness, brand favorability, and purchase intent than online magazine advertising (Association of Magazine Media, 2016).
Several strictly online magazines have been attempted. In 1996, former New Republic editor Michael Kinsley moved from Washington, DC, to Washington State to publish the exclusively online magazine Slate for Microsoft. The Washington Post Company bought Slate from Microsoft in 2004 to increase its online presence. Two years earlier, several staffers from the San Francisco Chronicle, armed with $100,000 in start-up money from Apple Computer, went online with Salon. Both Salon and Slate wanted to do magazine journalism—a mix of breaking news, cultural criticism, political and social commentary, and interviews—at the Internet's speed with the Internet's interactivity and instant feedback.
Although both pioneers regularly draw sizable audiences—Salon has 11.4 million unique monthly readers worldwide and Slate has 20.4 million—it took them both more than a decade to become profitable. One reason is that, as opposed to sites produced by paper magazines, purely online magazines must generate original content, an expensive undertaking, yet they compete online for readers and advertisers as equals with those subsidized by paper magazines. In addition, these sites must compete with all other websites on the Internet. They are but one of an infinite number of choices for potential readers, and they do not enjoy the security of an audience loyal to a parent publication.
As with books and newspapers, mobile digital media are reshaping the relationship between magazines and readers. In 2012, a group of major magazine publishers came together to create Next Issue, basically a Netflix for magazines. Now called Texture, a relatively low monthly fee gains readers full access to more than 300 magazines. Then in 2015, Magzter, which already offered a "newsstand" of apps that allowed users to buy single issues of more than 5,000 magazines, expanded its service to include the sale of full subscriptions to more than 8,000 titles. Today, there are a number of other digital subscription services operating. Zinio offers access to more than 5,000 magazines. Amazon Prime, through a feature called Prime Reading, gives its members access to a number of high-profile magazines. Although app subscribers make up only 4% of overall magazine circulation (Brustein, 2015), many publications have very sizable mobile readership, for example ESPN the Magazine's 65.5 million monthly unique readers, Forbes's 36.2 million, and WebMD's 31.5 million ("Number of Unique," 2016).
Page 111And interestingly, smartphones and tablets now make hard-copy magazines more attractive to readers and advertisers now that quick response (QR) codes appear on virtually all consumer magazines. When readers use a scanner app on their smartphones to capture the image of these square barcodes containing smaller squares and rectangles inside, they are instantly directed to a publisher's or marketer's website, increasing engagement. QR code use, while not overwhelming—the average mobile user makes just over four scans a year ("Death of QR," 2016)—nonetheless contributes to the industry's economic stability. Even easier to use are near-field communication (NFC) chips, tags embedded in magazines that connect readers to advertisers' digital content when they simply hold their smartphones near an ad; there is no need to have the correct app or to take a picture of a code.
Another trend finds its roots in the magazine industry's response to an increasingly crowded media environment. Custom publishing is the creation of magazines specifically designed for an individual company seeking to reach a very narrowly defined audience, such as favored customers or likely users or buyers. If you've ever stayed at an Airbnb home-sharing location, for example, you might well have come across Airbnb Magazine, distributed for free to member hosts. WebMD, the medical information website, distributes for free to 85% of all American doctors' offices a magazine of the same name. Its monthly print circulation of 1.4 million is read by more than 10 million people, a number further expanded by its 78 million digital readers and the more than 53 million unique monthly mobile visitors (WebMD, 2016). Forty-one percent of business-to-customer marketers use custom print magazines, as do 36% of business-to-business marketers (Spaight, 2016). Naturally, such specifically targeted magazines take advantage of readers' engagement with and affinity for magazine advertising.
There are two broad categories of custom publishing. A brand magazine is a consumer magazine, complete with a variety of general interest articles and features, published by a retail or other business for readers having demographic characteristics similar to those of consumers with whom it typically does business. These publications carry ad pages not only for the products of their parent business but for others as well. Were you surprised by Costco Connection's inclusion on the list of magazines with the highest print circulations in Figure 2? Its 8.74 million subscribers make it the largest-circulation print monthly in America (the two AARP publications ranked above it are not monthlies). For example, energy drink maker Red Bull publishes Red Bulletin; Kraft has been publishing Food & Family for more than 20 years; and among others, Dodge, Hallmark, Bloomingdale's, Saks Fifth Avenue, Crunch Fitness, and Sea Ray boats all have successful brand magazines. A small but growing number of brand magazines, for example Enterprise Car Rental's Pursuits with Enterprise, are digital-only. Brand magazines recognize two important contemporary realities of today's media environment: (a) The cost of retaining existing customers is significantly lower than that of recruiting new ones, and (b) in an increasingly hypercommercialized and cluttered mass media system, advertisers who want to connect with their customers can rely on the engagement and affinity inherent in a good magazine to overcome growing consumer cynicism and suspicion.
Closely related is the magalogue, a designer catalog produced to look like a consumer magazine. Abercrombie & Fitch, J. Crew, Harry Rosen, Saks Fifth Avenue, Net-A-Porter, Asos, Frank & Oak, Bergdorf Goodman, and Diesel all produce catalogs in which models wear for-sale designer clothes. Designers, photographers, writers, and editors from major fashion magazines typically contribute to these publications, and they are occasionally available for sale at newsstands (for example, Net-A-Porter's Porter).
As we've seen, the move toward specialization in magazines was forced by the emergence of television as a mass-audience, national advertising medium. But television again—specifically cable television—eventually came to challenge the preeminence of magazines as Page 112a specialized advertising medium. Advertiser-supported cable channels survive using precisely the same strategy as magazines—they deliver to advertisers a relatively large number of consumers who have some important demographic trait in common. Similar competition also comes from specialized online content providers, such as ESPN's several sports-oriented sites and the Discovery Channel Online. Magazines are well positioned to fend off these challenges for several reasons.
First is internationalization, which expands a magazine's reach, making it possible for magazines to attract additional ad revenues for content that, essentially, has already been produced. Internationalization can happen in one of several ways. Some magazines, Time and Monthly Review, for example, produce one or more foreign editions in English. Others enter cooperative agreements with overseas companies to produce native-language versions of essentially U.S. magazines. For example, Hearst and the British company ITP cooperate to publish British and Middle Eastern editions of Esquire, two of the 18 international versions of the men's magazine. ITP and Hearst also team up on the Dubai version of the fashion magazine Harper's Bazaar and 75 other titles in the Middle East and India. Often, American publishers prepare special content for foreign-language editions. Elle has 42 local-language versions of its magazine, including countries like Argentina, Serbia, Poland, Thailand, and Turkey. Vogue offers 19 in locales such as China, Greece, and Portugal. Cosmopolitan alone has 64 international editions. The internationalization of magazines will no doubt increase as conglomeration and globalization continue to have an impact on the magazine industry as they have on other media businesses.
Second is technology. The Internet and satellites now allow instant distribution of copy from the editor's desk to printing plants around the world. The result—incredibly quick delivery to subscribers and sales outlets—makes production and distribution of even more narrowly targeted split runs more cost-effective.
Third is the sale of subscriber lists and a magazine's own direct marketing of products. Advertisers buy space in specialized magazines to reach a specific type of reader. Most magazines are more than happy to sell those readers' names and addresses to those same advertisers, as well as to others who want to contact readers with direct mail pitches. Many magazines use their own subscriber lists and Web visitors' details for the same purpose, marketing products of interest to their particular readership. Some magazines meet television's challenge by becoming television themselves. Fox Television Studios, for example, produces Web-based programs based on Hearst publications CosmoGirl and Popular Mechanics. Allure, Maxim, and Vanity Fair maintain video channels; Teen Vogue alone has five. Vice, which began in 1994 as the 16-page free publication Voice of Montreal, has an Emmy Award-winning news show on HBO and more than 50 video series across the Internet. Condé Nast has long had interests in film and video. Its Condé Nast Entertainment division produces films (No Exit; Argo; Eat, Pray, Love) and several scripted and reality TV shows for a number of networks (The New Yorker Presents on Amazon Prime and Whale War on Animal Planet), and it maintains video channels for 19 of its titles (Steel, 2016).
Sometimes controversial is the influence that some advertisers attempt to exert over content. This influence is always there, at least implicitly. A magazine editor must satisfy advertisers as well as readers. One common way advertisers' interests shape content is in the placement of ads. Airline ads are moved away from stories about plane crashes. Cigarette ads rarely appear near articles on lung cancer. In fact, it is an accepted industry practice for a magazine to provide advertisers with a heads-up, alerting them that soon-to-be-published content may prove uncomfortable for their businesses. Advertisers can then request a move of their ad, or pull it and wait to run it in the next issue. Magazines, too, often entice advertisers with promises of placement of their ads adjacent to relevant articles.
But complementary copy—content that reinforces the advertiser's message, or at least does not negate it—is problematic when creating such copy becomes a major influence in Page 113a publication's editorial decision making. This happens in a number of ways. Editors sometimes engage in self-censorship, making decisions about how stories are written and which stories appear based on the fear that specific advertisers will be offended. Some magazines, Architectural Digest, for example, identify companies by name in their picture caption copy only if they are advertisers. But many critics inside and outside the industry see a growing crumbling of the wall between advertising demands and editorial judgment.
This problem is particularly acute today, say critics, because a very competitive media environment puts additional pressure on magazines to bow to advertiser demands. For example, a Sears marketing executive suggested that magazines needed to operate "in much less traditional ways" by allowing advertisers to "become a part of the storyline" in their articles (Atkinson, 2004). Lexus, for example, asks the magazines it advertises in to use its automobiles in photos used to illustrate editorial content. But most troubling are advertisers who institute an ad-pull policy, the demand for an advance review of a magazine's content, with the threat of pulled advertising if dissatisfied with that content. The advertising agencies for oil giant BP and financial services company Morgan Stanley shocked the magazine industry by demanding just that—in the case of BP, insisting that it be informed "in advance of any news text or visuals magazines plan to publish that directly mention the company, a competitor, or the oil-and-energy industry" (Sanders & Halliday, 2005). Events like this moved Advertising Age to editorialize against what they saw as an attack on magazines' independence and editorial integrity. Ad-pull policies damage trust between readers and magazines, they argued, "the very thing that gives media their value to advertisers to begin with" ("Shame on BP," 2005). This concern is overwrought, say many industry people. When the American Society of Magazine Editors announced in 2008 that it would revise its guidelines to protect magazines' editorial integrity, there was significant pushback. "As long as it's interesting to the reader, who cares?" argued one editor, speaking for the dissenters. "This ivory-tower approach that edit[orial] is so untouchable, and what they're doing is so wonderful and can't be tainted by the stink of advertising just makes me sick" (in Ives, 2008).
The critics' question, however, remains, "How can a magazine function, offering depth, variety, and detail, when BP and Morgan Stanley are joined by scores of other advertisers, each demanding to preview content, not for its direct comment on matters of importance to their businesses, but for controversy and potential offensiveness? What will be the impact on the ideals of a free press and of free inquiry?"
Equally controversial and far more common is sponsored content, articles paid for by advertisers. You can see the depth of the dispute in the essay "Sponsored Content: Deceitful or Necessary . . . or Both?"
You may have read the story on the future of medicine on Forbes's website, titled "Brand Voice." Maybe you saw the one on the history of hedge funds on the Wall Street Journal's site with the heading "Sponsor Generated Content." Perhaps you caught that piece on the history of Ellis Island, labeled "Paid Post," on the New York Times site. As interesting and informative as they might have been, they were actually ads for Showtime, Dell, and Airbnb, respectively. Would you have clicked on these stories had you known they were ads? The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) believes you might not have, judging these labels as intentionally deceptive. As a result, in late 2015 the FTC issued guidelines for the use and labeling of sponsored content—sometimes called branded content, brand journalism, native advertising, or content marketing.This returned discussion of the practice, expected to annually generate more than one-quarter of news media's ad revenues and $20 billion for all media by 2018, to the cultural forum (Deziel, 2016; Edmonds, 2016). Sponsored content first caused controversy in early 2013, when the online edition of The Atlantic ran a long, laudatory article on the Church of Scientology. For several reasons, including the publication of a best-selling book critical of the religion, Scientology was in the news at the time, so the magazine's decision to do the story made good journalistic sense. But it was quickly discovered that the piece was actually a paid placement written not by The Atlantic's journalists but by the Church of Scientology itself.Since that time, the practice has become not only commonplace across all media but also essential to many magazines' survival. For example, Slate relies on sponsored content for 50% of its revenue, The Atlantic earns three-quarters of its digital advertising revenue from sponsored content, and Gawker makes one-third of its revenue from the practice (Moses, 2016; Herrman, 2016; Deziel, 2016). To be sure, there is significant industry disagreement over its use. Sponsored content "is, at least on some level, inherently contradictory" writes Folio magazine senior editor Greg Dool. "Publishers must satisfy their clients' needs by promoting a brand message that blends seamlessly with the articles that surround it, while also being careful to avoid misleading consumers as to the specific nature of the content they're reading" (2017). That's fine, say critics, but an ad is an ad and should be labeled as such. If "ethical labeling ruins your business model," argued one-time Atlantic writer Andrew Sullivan, "it's proof that your business model isn't ethical" (2013). Nonetheless, all seemed well until the FTC issued its guidelines and the debate over sponsored content re-erupted.The FTC wrote, "Terms likely to be understood include 'Ad,' 'Advertisement,' 'Paid Advertisement,' 'Sponsored Advertising Content,' or some variation thereof. Advertisers should not use terms such as 'Promoted' or 'Promoted Stories,' which in this context are at best ambiguous and potentially could mislead consumers that advertising content is endorsed by a publisher site." But was asking publications to call an ad an ad the equivalent of "asking snipers to wear fluorescent orange," in the words of prominent sponsored-content critic Bob Garfield (2015)? After all, offering these ads in the same visual layout and format as the publication's surrounding editorial content can serve no other purpose than to deceive, especially as the industry's own research demonstrates that 54% of readers do indeed feel deceived (Lazauskas, 2016). But the alternative may not be much better, as research also indicates that seeing "advertisement" in the label "native advertisement" actually damages the reputation of the magazine publishing that content, at least in part because readers see publications working hand-in-hand with advertisers to be somewhat less than honest (McVerry, 2016).Enter your voice. Is sponsored content intended to deceive? If not, why not identify it using the FTC's preferred labels? Does it alter your opinion knowing that somewhere between 7% and 18% of readers can't identify sponsored stories as paid marketing messages (McVerry, 2016), or that 40% of sponsored stories fail to conform to the FTC's guidelines (Media Radar, 2016)? But the reality for most magazines, and most news media for that matter, is that people work to avoid ads, especially online, and sponsored content may be the only way those outlets can earn sufficient ad revenue to survive. Should they die on the altar of "ethics" or "good journalism"? What's a little deception if the stories are well-written and informative? Do you accept the argument that the magazine industry must loosen its standards, even if only a little and even if only online, in order to compete in a tough media environment? Why or why not? Does the availability of the free app AdDetector, which adds a bright red warning banner to pieces of sponsored content, make a difference in your answer? Would you use it? Why or why not?
Detecting the use of and determining the informational value of complementary copy and sponsored content is only one reason media literacy is important when reading magazines. Another necessary media-literacy skill is the ability to understand how graphics and other artwork provide the background for interpreting stories. Some notable incidents suggest why.
Kerry Washington, African American actress and star of the television series Scandal, appeared on an April 2016 cover of Adweek. Her skin had been lightened and her nose photoshopped to appear smaller. Adweek denied it had made anything other than "minimal adjustments," but Ms. Washington and her fans felt otherwise. For them, this was especially disconcerting because it had happened to the star just a year earlier when InStyle lightened her skin to the point that she appeared to be Caucasian. Then, just a few weeks after the Adweek incident, People, in declaring tennis champion Serena Williams "one of the world's most beautiful people," published a photo of Ms. Williams that had been altered to slim her waist (Sass, 2016a). A media-literate reader might ask, "Why isn't one of the world's most beautiful people beautiful enough?"
Another example of digital fakery raises a different question, one articulated by an unexpected source. Receiving recognition from Glamour magazine at its annual Woman of the Year Awards in 2013, singer Lady Gaga used her time at the winner's podium to challenge the common magazine practice of graphically altering the faces and bodies of the women who appear in their pages and on their covers. Citing her own recent Glamour cover, she said, "I felt my skin looked too perfect. I felt my hair looked too soft. . . . I do not look like this when I wake up in the morning. . . . What I want to see is the change on your covers. . . . When the covers change, that's when culture changes" (in Monde, 2013).
The American Medical Association found this common practice of altering images sufficiently harmful that at its 2011 annual meeting it voted to encourage magazine industry efforts to discontinue its use. The AMA board argued not only that altered images of women's bodies create unrealistic expectations in young people, but also that decades of social science research tie these unrealistic media images to eating disorders and other childhood and adolescent health problems. Some in the magazine industry have responded. Seventeen, acknowledging a teen-driven online movement to publish more unretouched photos, committed itself to a "Body Peace Treaty" in which it promised to never again change girls' body or face shapes and to begin including in its pages only images of girls and models who appear healthy. Vogue instituted its "Health Initiative," stating it would ban from its pages all models under 16 years old and super-skinny models who appear to have an eating disorder.
An additional media literacy issue here has to do with maintaining the confidence of audience members. As digital altering of images becomes more widespread—and its occurrence better known—will viewers and readers come to question the veracity of even unaltered images and the truthfulness of the stories that employ them? "With new technology, faking or doctoring photographs has never been simpler, faster, or more difficult to detect," explains American Journalism Review's Sherry Ricchiardi. "Skilled operators truly are like magicians, except they use tools like Photoshop . . . to create their illusions." John Long, chair of the Ethics and Standards Committee of the National Press Photographers Association, adds, "The public is losing faith in us. Without credibility, we have nothing; we cannot survive" (both in Ricchiardi, 2007, pp. 37-38).
What do you think? Did you see any of these images? Did you know they had been altered? If you did, would that have changed your interpretation of the stories they represented? Does the fact that major media outlets sometimes alter the images they present to you Page 116as news lead you to question their overall integrity? Do you believe that media outlets that use altered images have an obligation to inform readers and viewers of their decision to restructure reality? How does it feel to know that almost all of the images that we see in our daily newspapers and news magazines today are altered in some way? Although Adweek said it had made "minimal adjustments" to its April 2016 cover, actress Kerry Washington and her fans complained that her image had been altered to make her skin lighter and her nose smaller.
"We are listening to the radio."
"I mean something other than this."
"You want music?"
"Yes, please, anything but public radio. Too much talk."
"OK. Here."
"What! That's the classical music station!"
"What's wrong with that?"
"Nothing . . . much."
"What's that supposed to mean, 'Nothing . . . much'?"
"Nothing . . . much. Let me choose."
"OK. You find a station."
"Fine. Here."
"What's that?!"
"It's the New Hot One. All the hits all the time."
"That's not music."
"You sound like my parents."
"I don't mean the stuff they play isn't music; I mean the DJ is just yammering away."
"Hang on. A song is coming up. Anyway, this is funny stuff."
"I don't find jokes about wheelchair races funny."
"It's all in fun."
"Fun for whom?"
"What's your problem today?"
"Nothing, I just don't find that kind of stuff funny. Here, I'll find something."
"What's that?"
"The jazz station."
"Give me a break. How about Sports Talk?"
"Nah. How about All News?"
"No way. How about the All Talk station?"
"Why? You need another fix of insulting chatter?"
"How about silence?"
"Yeah, how about it?"
In this chapter we study the technical and social beginnings of both radio and sound recording. We revisit the coming of broadcasting and see how the growth of radio's regulatory, economic, and organizational structures led to the medium's golden age.
The chapter covers how television changed radio and produced the medium with which we are now familiar. We review the scope and nature of contemporary radio, especially its rebirth as a local, fragmented, specialized, personal, and mobile medium. We examine how these characteristics serve advertisers and listeners. The chapter then explores the relationship between radio, the modern recording industry, popular music, and the way new and converging technologies serve and challenge all three. The convenience of algorithm-based music preference—and what that means for the music we hear—inspires our discussion of media literacy.
Because both applied for patents within months of one another in the late 1890s, there remains disagreement over who "invented" radio, Eastern European immigrant Nikola Tesla or Guglielmo Marconi, son of a wealthy Italian businessman and his Irish wife. Marconi, however, is considered the "Father of Radio" because not only was he among the first to send signals through the air, but he was also adroit at gaining maximum publicity for his every success. His improvements over earlier experimental designs allowed him to send and receive telegraph code over distances as great as two miles by 1896. His native Italy was not interested in his invention, so he used his mother's contacts in Great Britain to find support and financing there. England, with a global empire and the world's largest navy and merchant fleets, was naturally interested in long-distance wireless communication. With the financial and technical help of the British, Marconi successfully transmitted wireless signals across the English Channel in 1899 and across the Atlantic in 1901. Wireless was now a reality. Marconi was satisfied with his advance, but other scientists saw the transmission of voices by wireless as the next hurdle, a challenge that was soon surmounted.
In 1903 Reginald Fessenden, a Canadian, invented the liquid barretter, the first audio device permitting the reception of wireless voice transmissions. His 1906 Christmas Eve broadcast from Brant Rock, a small New England coastal village, was the first public broadcast of voices and music. His listeners were in ships at sea and a few newspaper offices equipped to receive the transmission.
Later that same year American Lee DeForest invented the audion tube, a vacuum tube that improved and amplified wireless signals. Now the reliable transmission of clear voices and music was a reality. But DeForest's second important contribution was that he saw radio as a means of broadcasting. The early pioneers, Marconi included, had viewed radio as a device for point-to-point communication—for example, from ship to ship or ship to shore. But in the 1907 prospectus for his radio company DeForest wrote, "It will soon be possible to distribute grand opera music from transmitters placed on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House by a Radio Telephone station on the roof to almost any dwelling in Greater New York and vicinity. . . . The same applies to large cities. Church music, lectures, etc., can be spread abroad by the Radio Telephone" (as quoted in Adams, 1996, pp. 104-106). Soon, countless "broadcasters" went on the air. Some were giant corporations, looking to dominate the medium for profit; some were hobbyists and hams, playing with the medium for sheer joy. There were so many "stations" that havoc reigned. Yet the promise of radio was such that the medium continued to mature until World War I, when the U.S. government ordered "the immediate closing of all stations for radio communications, both transmitting and receiving."
The late 1800s have long been considered the beginning of sound recording. However, the 2008 discovery in a Paris archive of a Page 15410-second recording by an obscure French tinkerer, Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville, has some audio historians rethinking recording's roots. Scott recorded a folk song on a device he called a phonautograph in 1860, and he always thought that Thomas Edison had stolen credit that should have been his ("Edison Not," 2008). Nonetheless, in 1877 prolific inventor Edison patented his "talking machine," a device for replicating sound that used a hand-cranked grooved cylinder and a needle. The mechanical movement caused by the needle passing along the groove of the rotating cylinder and hitting bumps was converted into electrical energy that activated a diaphragm in a loudspeaker and produced sound. The drawback was that only one "recording" could be made of any given sound; the cylinder could not be duplicated. In 1887 that problem was solved by German immigrant Emile Berliner, whose gramophone used a flat, rotating, wax-coated disc that could easily be copied or pressed from a metal master. Two equally important Berliner contributions were the development of a sophisticated microphone and later (through his company, RCA Victor Records) the import from Europe of recordings by famous opera stars. Now people had not only a reasonably priced record player but records to play on it. The next advance was introduction of the two-sided disc by the Columbia Phonograph Company in 1905. Soon there were hundreds of phonograph or gramophone companies, and the device, by either name, was a standard feature in U.S. homes by 1920. More than 2 million machines and 107 million recordings were sold in 1919 alone. Public acceptance of the new medium was enhanced even more by the development of electromagnetic recording in 1924 by Joseph P. Maxwell at Bell Laboratory.
The parallel development and diffusion of radio and sound recording is significant. For the first time in history, radio allowed people to hear the words and music of others who were not in their presence. On recordings they could hear words and music that may have been created days, months, or even years before. And the technology changed not only music, but people's relationship with it: individual pieces of music became shorter to fit onto records; on-demand listening, rather than attending scheduled performances, became the norm; listening alone rather than in groups became common; people began defining themselves by their favored genre of music; and despite the fears of the new technology's critics, rather than people giving up making their own music, there was a burst of interest in playing music as listeners were inspired by what they were hearing (Thompson, 2016). In 1887 Emile Berliner developed the flat disc gramophone and a sophisticated microphone, both important to the widespread public acceptance of sound recordings for the home. Nipper, the trademark dog for his company, RCA Victor, is on the scene even today.
The idea of broadcasting—that is, transmitting voices and music at great distances to a large number of people—predated the development of radio. Alexander Graham Bell's telephone Page 155company had a subscription music service in major cities in the late 1800s, delivering music to homes and businesses by telephone wires. A front-page story in an 1877 edition of the New York Daily Graphic suggested the possibilities of broadcasting to its readers. The public anticipated and, after DeForest's much publicized successes, was eager for music and voices at home. Russian immigrant David Sarnoff, then an employee of the company American Marconi, recognized this desire and in 1916 sent his superiors what has become famously known as the "Radio Music Box Memo." In this memo Sarnoff wrote of
a plan of development which would make radio a "household utility" in the same sense as the piano or phonograph. The idea is to bring music into the house by wireless. . . . The receiver can be designed in the form of a simple "Radio Music Box" and arranged for several different wavelengths, which should be changeable with the throwing of a single switch or pressing of a single button. (Sterling & Kitross, 1990, p. 43)
The introduction of broadcasting to a mass audience was delayed in the first two decades of the 20th century by patent fights and lawsuits. Yet when World War I ended, an enthusiastic audience awaited what had become a much-improved medium. In a series of developments that would be duplicated for television at the time of World War II, radio was transformed from an exciting technological idea into an entertainment and commercial giant. To aid the war effort, the government took over the patents relating to radio and continued to improve radio for military use. Thus, refinement and development of the technical aspects of radio continued throughout the war. Then, when the war ended in 1919, the patents were returned to their owners—and the bickering was renewed.
Concerned that the medium would be wasted and fearful that a foreign company (British Marconi) would control this vital resource, the U.S. government forced the combatants to merge. American Marconi, General Electric, American Telephone & Telegraph, and Westinghouse (in 1921)—each in control of a vital piece of technology—joined to create the Radio Corporation of America (RCA). RCA was a government-sanctioned monopoly, but its creation avoided direct government control of the new medium. Twenty-eight-year-old David Sarnoff, author of the Radio Music Box Memo, was made RCA's commercial manager. The way for the medium's popular growth was paved; its success was guaranteed by a public that, because of the phonograph, was already attuned to music in the home and, thanks to the just-concluded war, was awakening to the need for instant, wide-ranging news and information.
On September 30, 1920, a Westinghouse executive, impressed with press accounts of the number of listeners who were picking up broadcasts from the garage radio station of company engineer Frank Conrad, asked him to move his operation to the Westinghouse factory and expand its power. Conrad did so, and on October 27, 1920, experimental station 8XK in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, received a license from the Department of Commerce to broadcast. On November 2 this station, renamed KDKA, made the first commercial radio broadcast, announcing the results of the presidential election that sent Warren G. Harding to the White House. By mid-1922, there were nearly 1 million radios in American homes, up from 50,000 just a year before (Tillinghast, 2000, p. 41). This cover of an 1877 newspaper proved prophetic in its image of speakers' ability to "broadcast" their words.
As the RCA agreements demonstrated, the government had a keen interest in the development, operation, and diffusion of radio. At first government interest focused on point-to-point communication. In 1910 Congress passed the Wireless Ship Act, requiring that all ships using U.S. ports and carrying more than 50 passengers have a working wireless and operator. Of course, the wireless industry did not object, as the legislation boosted sales. But after the Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic in 1912 and it was learned that hundreds of lives were lost needlessly because other ships in the area had left their radios unattended, Congress passed the Radio Act of 1912, which not only strengthened rules regarding Page 156shipboard wireless but also required that wireless operators be licensed by the Secretary of Commerce and Labor.
The Radio Act of 1912 established spheres of authority for both federal and state governments, provided for distributing and revoking licenses, fined violators, and assigned frequencies for station operation. The government was in the business of regulating what was to become broadcasting, a development that angered many operators. They successfully challenged the 1912 act in court, and eventually President Calvin Coolidge ordered the cessation of government regulation of radio despite his belief that chaos would descend on the medium.
He proved prophetic. The industry's years of flouting the 1912 act had led it to the brink of disaster. Radio sales and profits dropped dramatically. Listeners were tired of the chaos. Stations arbitrarily changed frequencies, power, and hours of operation, and there was constant interference between stations, often intentional. Radio industry leaders petitioned Commerce Commissioner Herbert Hoover and, according to historian Erik Barnouw—who titled his 1966 book on radio's early days A Tower in Babel—"encouraged firmness" in government efforts to regulate and control the competitors. The government's response was the Radio Act of 1927. Order was restored, and the industry prospered. But the broadcasters had made an important concession to secure this saving intervention. The 1927 act authorized them to use the airwaves, which belonged to the public, but not to own them. Broadcasters were thus simply the caretakers of the airwaves, a national resource.
The act further stated that when a license was awarded, the standard of evaluation would be the public interest, convenience, or necessity. The Federal Radio Commission (FRC) was established to administer the provisions of the act. This trustee model of regulation is based on two premises (Bittner, 1994). The first is spectrum scarcity. Because broadcast spectrum space is limited and not everyone who wants to broadcast can, those who are granted licenses to serve a local area must accept regulation. The second reason for regulation revolves around the issue of influence. Broadcasting reaches virtually everyone in society. By definition, this ensures its power.
The Communications Act of 1934 replaced the 1927 legislation. The FRC gave way to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and its regulatory authority, which continues today, was cemented. The wireless-telegraphy room of the Titanic. Despite the heroic efforts of wireless operator Jack Philips, hundreds of people died needlessly in the sinking of that great ocean liner because ships in its vicinity did not monitor their receivers.
While the regulatory structure of the medium was evolving, so were its financial bases. The formation of RCA had ensured that radio would be a commercial, profit-based medium. The industry supported itself through the sale of receivers; that is, it operated radio stations in order to sell radios. The problem was that once everybody had a radio, people would stop buying them. The solution was advertising. On August 22, 1922, New York station WEAF accepted the first radio commercial, a 10-minute spot for Long Island brownstone apartments. The cost of the ad was $50.
The sale of advertising led to the establishment of national radio networks. Groups of stations, or affiliates, all broadcasting identical content from a single distributor, could deliver larger audiences, realizing greater advertising revenues, which would allow them to hire bigger stars and produce better programming, which would attract larger audiences, which could be sold for even greater fees to advertisers. RCA set up a 24-station network, the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), in 1926. A year later it bought AT&T's stations and launched a second network, NBC Blue (the original NBC was renamed NBC Red). The Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) was also founded in 1927, but it struggled until 26-year-old millionaire cigar maker William S. Paley bought it in 1928, making it a worthy competitor to NBC. The fourth network, Mutual, was established in 1934 largely on the strength of its hit Western The Lone Ranger. Four midwestern and eastern stations came Page 157together to sell advertising on it and other shows; soon Mutual had 60 affiliates. Mutual differed from the other major national networks in that it did not own and operate its own flagship stations (called O&Os, for owned and operated). By 1938 the four national networks had affiliated virtually all the large U.S. stations and the majority of smaller operations as well. These corporations grew so powerful that in 1943 the government forced NBC to divest itself of one of its networks. It sold NBC Blue to Life Saver candy maker Edward Noble, who renamed it the American Broadcasting Company (ABC).
The fundamental basis of broadcasting in the United States was now set:
Radio broadcasters were private, commercially owned enterprises rather than government operations.
Governmental regulation was based on the public interest.
Stations were licensed to serve specific localities, but national networks programmed the most lucrative hours with the largest audiences.
Entertainment and information (news, weather, and sports) were the basic broadcast content.
Advertising formed the basis of financial support for broadcasting.
The golden age of radio shone even more brightly as the United States entered World War II in 1941. Radio was used to sell war bonds, and much content was aimed at boosting the nation's morale. The war increased the desire for news, especially from abroad. The conflict also caused a paper shortage, reducing advertising space in newspapers. No new stations were licensed during the war years, and the 950 existing broadcasters reaped all the broadcast advertising revenues, as well as additional ad revenues that otherwise would have gone to newspapers.
Sound recording benefited from the war as well. Prior to World War II, recording in the United States was done either directly to master metal discs or on wire recorders, literally magnetic recording on metal wire. But GIs brought a new technology back from occupied Germany, a tape recorder that used an easily handled paper tape on a reel. Then, in 1947, Columbia Records introduced a new 33⅓ rpm (rotations-per-minute) long-playing plastic record. A big advance over the previous standard of 78 rpm, it was more durable than the older shellac discs and played for 23 rather than 3⅓ minutes. Columbia offered the technology free to all other record companies. RCA refused the offer, introducing its own 45 rpm disc in 1948. It played for only 3⅓ minutes and had a huge center hole requiring a special adapter. Still, RCA persisted in its marketing, causing a speed war that was settled in 1950 when the two giants compromised on 33⅓ as the standard for classical music and 45 as the standard for pop. And it was the 45, the single (played on cheap plastic record players that cost $12.95; Menard, 2015), that sustained the music business until the mid-1960s, when the Beatles not only ushered in the "British invasion" of rock 'n' roll but also transformed popular music into a 33⅓ album-dominant cultural force, shaping today's popular music and helping reinvent radio.
Radio more than survived; it prospered by changing the nature of its relationship with its audiences. The easiest way to understand this is to see pretelevision radio as television is today—nationally oriented, broadcasting an array of recognizable entertainment program formats, populated by well-known stars and personalities, and consumed primarily in the home, typically with people sitting around the set. Posttelevision radio is local, fragmented, specialized, personal, and mobile. Whereas pretelevision radio was characterized by the big national networks, today's radio is dominated by formats, a particular sound characteristic of a local station.
Who are the people who make up radio's audience? In an average week, approximately 265 million people, 93% of all Americans 12 and over, will listen to the radio. Broadcast radio's audience growth, however, is stagnant. That 93% figure is in fact a decline from the 95.6% who listened in 2009. And while the audience's size has remained relatively constant for the last few years, time spent listening has fallen, dropping several minutes in that span. But most troubling to radio professionals is that time listening among young people is in decline (Washenko, 2016). The industry itself attributes this situation to dissatisfaction with unimaginative programming, hypercommercialization—on average between 12 and 16 minutes of commercials an hour—and the availability of online music Page 159sources and mobile technologies like tablets and smartphones. Broadcast veteran Bob Lefsetz explains, "If you don't think new [digital] services will kill [commercial] radio, you must like inane commercials, you must like me-too music, you must think airplay on one of these outlets will sell millions of albums, but that almost never happens anymore" (2013, p. 30). As it is, 68% of Americans now listen to audio on digital devices (Hassan, 2016); and where 96% of U.S. adults owned a radio in 2008, today that number is 79%, 68% if we consider only 18- to 34-year-olds (Owen, 2016). Figure 1 shows the percentage of Americans by age group who listen to the radio each week. Percentage of Americans Who Listen to the Radio Every Week by Age.Source: Washenko, A., "Nielsen Finds Radio Reach Holds Steady in Q3 2015," Rain News, February 19, 2016. Online:
Although FMs constitute 60% of all commercial stations (to AMs' 40%), as much as 85% of all listening is on FM. In fact, from 2015 to 2016, while the numbers of commercial, noncommercial, and low power FM stations all increased, the number of AM stations actually decreased (Federal Communications Commission, 2016). This has to do with the technology behind each. The FM (frequency modulation) signal is wider, allowing the broadcast not only of stereo (sound perceived from multiple channels, for example bass and drums from the left speaker and guitars and vocals from the right) but also of better fidelity to the original sound than the narrower AM (amplitude modulation) signal. As a result, people attracted to music gravitate toward FM. People favoring news, sports, and information tend to find themselves listening to the AM dial. AM signals travel farther than FM signals, making them perfect for rural parts of the country. But rural areas tend to be less heavily populated, and most AM stations serve fewer listeners.
Many of today's FM stations are noncommercial—that is, they accept no advertising. When the national frequency allocation plan was established during the deliberations leading to the 1934 Communications Act, commercial radio broadcasters persuaded Congress that they alone could be trusted to develop this valuable medium. They promised to make time available for religious, children's, and other educational programming. No frequencies were set aside for noncommercial radio to fulfill these functions. At the insistence of critics who contended that the commercial broadcasters were not fulfilling their promise, in 1945 the FCC set aside all FM frequencies between 88.1 and 91.9 megahertz for noncommercial radio. Today these noncommercial stations not only provide local service, but many also offer national network quality programming through affiliation with National Public Radio (NPR) and Public Radio International (PRI) or through a number of smaller national networks, such as Pacifica Radio.
When radio became a local medium, it could no longer program the expensive, star-filled genres of its golden age. The problem now was how to program a station with interesting content and do so economically. A disc jockey (DJ) playing records was the best solution. Stations soon learned that a highly specialized, specific audience of particular interest to certain advertisers could be attracted with specific types of music. Format radio was born. Of course, choosing a specific format means accepting that many potential listeners will not tune in. But in format radio, the size of the audience is secondary to its composition.
American radio is home to about 60 different formats, from the most common, which include Country, Top 40, Album-Oriented Rock, and All Talk, to the somewhat uncommon, for example, World Ethnic. Many stations, especially those in rural areas, offer secondary services (formats). For example, a country station may broadcast a religious format for 10 hours on Saturday and Sunday. Figure 2 shows those typical formats. A more precise number and listing is difficult because radio's specialization allows for an infinite variety of formats, for example Houston's B92, whose format changed from News to All-Beyoncé in 2014 (although that experiment lasted only one week). Format radio offers stations many advantages beyond low-cost operations and specialized audiences that appeal to advertisers. Faced with falling listenership or loss of advertising, a station can simply change DJs and music. Neither television nor the print media have this content flexibility. When confronted with competition from a station with a similar format, a station can further narrow its audience by specializing its formula even more.
Music format radio requires a disc jockey. Someone has to play the music and provide the talk. The modern DJ is the invention of Todd Storz, who bought KOWH in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1949. He turned the radio personality/music formula on its head. Before Storz, radio announcers would talk most of the time and occasionally play music to rest their voices. Storz wanted more music, less talk. He thought radio should sound like a jukebox—the same few songs people wanted to hear played over and over again. His Top 40 format, which demanded strict adherence to a playlist (a predetermined sequence of selected records) of popular music for young people, up-tempo pacing, and catchy production gimmicks, became the standard for the posttelevision popular music station. Gordon McClendon of KLIF in Dallas refined the Top 40 format and developed others, such as Beautiful Music, and is therefore often considered, along with Storz, one of the two pioneers of format radio.
The business of radio is being altered by deregulation and changes in ownership rules. To ensure that there were many different perspectives in the cultural forum, the FCC had long limited the number of radio stations one person or company could own to one AM and one FM locally and seven AMs and seven FMs nationally. These numbers were revised upward in the late 1980s, and controls were almost totally eliminated by the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Now, due to this deregulation, there are no national ownership limits, and one person or company can own as many as eight stations in one area, depending on the size of the market. This situation has allowed duopoly—one person or company owning Page 163and managing multiple radio stations in a single market—to explode. Since the passage of the 1996 act, more than 10,000 radio stations have been sold, and there are now 1,100 fewer station owners, a 30% decline. The vast majority of these sales have been to already-large radio groups such as iHeart Media and Cumulus, with 850 and 459 stations, respectively. As a result, in 25 of the 50 largest radio markets, three companies claim 80% of all listeners. In over 40 cities, one-third of the radio stations are owned by a single company, leading insiders to identify the industry's two biggest problems not as competition from new digital technologies, but first, "control of the industry in the hands of a few giants" and a close second, "decline of local radio with its deep communities ties" (Editors, 2015).
The concern over these issues runs deep. Local public affairs shows now make up less than one-half of 1% of all commercial broadcast time in the United States. "There is a crisis," said FCC Commissioner Michael Copps (2011), "when more than one-third of our commercial broadcasters offer little to no news whatsoever to their communities of license. America's news and information resources keep shrinking and hundreds of stories that could inform our citizens go untold and, indeed, undiscovered." As for the music, a few years ago, when Clear Channel (now iHeart Media) and Cumulus collectively laid off hundreds of DJs in a move toward automated (no live DJ) and nationally syndicated programming, veteran Los Angeles rock DJ Jim Ladd said, "It's really bad news. It was people in my profession that first played Tom Petty, first played the Doors. But the people programming stations now are not music people—they're business people" (in Knopper, 2011, p. 19). LPFM, 10- to 100-watt nonprofit community radio stations with a reach of only a few miles, are one response to "the homogenization of the FM band." As a result of the Local Community Radio Act of 2010, which enjoyed wide bipartisan support in Congress, 1,069 LPFM stations, serving all 50 states, now offer opportunities for additional radio voices to serve their local listenerships. The FCC encourages the growth of LPFM with regular online webinars explaining the application process to potential operators of this local medium designed, in the words of the FCC, "to empower community voices, promote media diversity, and enhance local programming" (in Sokoloct, 2016, p. B1).
After World War II, African Americans in the United States refused to remain invisible. Having fought in segregated units in Europe and proven their willingness to fight and die for freedom abroad, they openly demanded freedom at home. President Harry Truman, recognizing the absurdity of racial separation in the self-proclaimed "greatest democracy on earth," desegregated the armed forces by executive order in 1948. These early stirrings of equality led to a sense among African Americans that anything was possible, and that feeling seeped into their music. What had been called cat, sepia, or race music took on a new tone. While this new sound borrowed from traditional black music—gospel, blues, and laments over slavery and racial injustice—it was different, much different. Music historian Ed Ward said that this bolder, more aggressive music "spoke to a shared experience, not just to black (usually rural black) life," and it would become the "truly biracial popular music in this country" (Ward, Stokes, & Tucker, 1986, p. 83).
Hundreds of small independent record companies sprang up to produce this newly labeled rhythm 'n' blues (R&B), music focusing on Americans' shared experience with topics like sex and alcohol that were part of life for people of all colors. With its earthy lyrics and thumping dance beat, R&B very quickly found an audience in the 1950s, one composed largely of urban blacks (growing in number as African Americans increasingly migrated north) and white teenagers.
The major record companies took notice, and rather than sign already successful R&B artists, they had their white artists cover the black hits. The Penguins' "Earth Angel" was covered by the reassuringly named Crew Cuts, who also covered the Chords' "Sh-Boom." Chuck Berry's "Maybellene" was covered by both the Johnny Long and Ralph Marterie orchestras. Even Bill Haley and the Comets' youth anthem "Shake, Rattle and Roll" was a cover of a Joe Turner tune.
But these covers actually served to introduce even more white teens to the new music, and these kids demanded the original versions. This did not escape the attention of Sam Phillips, who in 1952 founded Sun Records in an effort to bring black music to white teens. "If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound, I could make a billion dollars," he is reported to have mused (in Menard, 2015, p. 83). In 1954 he found that man: Elvis Presley, whose breakout hit, Hound Dog, was a cover of R&B singer Big Mama Thornton's 1953 song.
The situation also caught the attention of Cleveland DJ Alan Freed, whose nationally distributed radio (and later television) show featured black R&B tunes, never covers. Freed began calling the music he played rock 'n' roll (to signify that it was black and white youth music), and by 1955, when Freed took his show to New York, the cover business was dead. Black performers were recording and releasing their own music to a national audience, and people of all colors were tuning in.
Now that the kids had a music of their own, and now that a growing number of radio stations were willing to program it, a youth culture began to develop, one that was antagonistic toward their parents' culture. The music was central to this antagonism, not only because it was gritty and real but also because it exposed the hypocrisy of adult culture.
For young people of the mid-1950s and 1960s, the music of Little Richard, Fats Domino, Ray Charles, and Chuck Berry made a lie of all that their parents, teachers, and government leaders had said about race, the inferiority of African Americans, and African Americans' satisfaction with the status quo.
Ralph Bass, a producer for independent R&B label Chess Records, described the evolution to historian David Szatmary. When he was touring with Chess's R&B groups in the early 1950s, "they didn't let whites into the clubs. Then they got 'white spectator tickets' for the worst corner of the joint. They had to keep the white kids out, so they'd have white nights sometimes, or they'd put a rope across the middle of the floor. The blacks on one side, the whites on the other, digging how the blacks were dancing and copying them. Then, hell, the rope would come down, and they'd all be dancing together. Salt and pepper all mixed together" (Szatmary, 2000, p. 21).
R&B and rock 'n' roll did not end racism. But the music made a difference, one that would eventually make it possible for Americans who wanted to do so to free themselves of racism's ugly hold. Rock music (and the radio stations that played it) would again nudge the nation toward its better tendencies during the antiwar and civil rights movements of the late 1960s. And it is against this backdrop, a history of popular music making as real a difference as any piece of official legislation, that contemporary critics lament the homogenizing of popular music. Music can and has made a difference. Can and will it ever again? they ask.
Three major recording companies control 63% of the global recorded music market. Two (Sony and Universal) control nearly half of the world's $15 billion global music sales. Two of the three are foreign-owned:
Sony, controlling about 21% of the world music market, is a Japanese-owned corporate group. Its labels include Columbia, Epic, RCA, and Arista.
New York-based Warner Music Group, controlling about 15%, is owned by billionaire Len Blavatnik's Access Industries and several private investors. Its labels include Atlantic, Asylum, and Warner Brothers.
Universal Music Group, controlling about 27%, is owned by French conglomerate Vivendi Universal and controls labels such as EMI, MCA, Capitol, and Def Jam Records ("Market Share," 2016).
Critics have long voiced concern over conglomeration in the music business, a concern that centers on the traditional cultural value of music, especially for young people. Multibillion-dollar conglomerates typically are not rebellious in their cultural tastes, nor are they usually willing to take risks on new ideas. These duties have fallen primarily to the independent labels, companies such as Real World Records and Epitaph. Still, problems with the music industry-audience relationship remain.
Cultural homogenization is the worrisome outcome of virtually all the world's influential recording being controlled by a few profit-oriented giants. If bands or artists cannot immediately deliver the goods, they aren't signed. So derivative artists and manufactured groups dominate—for example, Miley Cyrus and One Direction. Moreover, popular music is increasingly the product not of individual genius or artistry but of mathematical songwriting, songs written specifically to be commercial hits. They are "written to track, which means a producer makes a beat. Then a songwriter listens to it and attempts to generate words that fit that beat, sometimes singing nonsense until the language begins to take shape. It's more about how lyrics sound than what they mean. This has become a bedrock part of the industry" (Lansky, 2015/2016, p. 124).
The dominance of profit over artistry worries many music fans. When a major label must spend millions to sign a bankable artist such as Michael Jackson ($250 million to his estate) or Jay Z ($150 million) or Adele ($130 million), it typically pares lesser-known, potentially more innovative artists from its roster. The chase for profit has also produced an increase in the number of product placements in songs (Timberg, 2015a) and the use of computer algorithms to determine which songs are sufficiently similar to existing hits to warrant production (Timberg, 2015b). Critics and industry people alike see these practices as problems for the industry, as well as for the music and its listeners. Record industry sales have dropped consistently over the past two decades, with small gains in 2015 for both the U.S. (0.09%) and global (3.2%) markets finally halting the decline (Friedlander, 2016; Richter, 2016b). The reason for this state of affairs, say many music critics, is not Internet piracy, as is often asserted by the recording industry, but the industry itself. As the industry relies more heavily on superficial, disposable pop stars, it tells people that the music is superficial and disposable. As they increasingly rely on the same big stars, there is little new music for fans to discover and buy. In 1981, for example, 31 songs from 29 different artists hit Billboard's Number 1; in 2016, only 11 songs from 10 different artists reached Number 1 (Justin Bieber appeared twice, and Drake, with others, three times; Timberg, 2016a). What helps keep the industry afloat is continued strength in sales of catalog albums, albums more than 18 months old. In fact, catalog albums outsold new releases for the first time in 2015 (Singleton, 2016). But new releases cannot become catalog albums unless the artists and their music are worthy of fans' devotion and money. Look at the names of the best-selling albums and artists in Figure 4. How many current artists and albums do you think will ever join these ranks? Critics of the ascendance of profits over artistry argue that the industry simply lacks the patience to develop new sounds and careers. Promotion overshadows the music, say the critics. If groups or artists don't come across well on television or are otherwise a challenge to promote (for example, they do not fit an easily recognizable niche), they aren't signed. Again, the solution is to create marketable Page 166artists from scratch. Promoting tours is also an issue. If bands or artists do not have corporate sponsorship for their tours, there is no tour. If musicians do not tour, they cannot create an enthusiastic fan base. But if they do not have an enthusiastic fan base, they cannot attract the corporate sponsorship necessary to mount a tour. This makes radio even more important for the introduction of new artists and forms of music, but radio, too, is increasingly driven by profit-maximizing format narrowing and is therefore dependent on the major labels' definition of playable artists. As a result, when the Internet began to undermine a complacent industry's long-profitable business model, it was ill prepared to meet the challenges that came its way. Radio veteran Lefsetz comments again, "Music has become a second-class citizen because it's got no self-respect. . . . The enemy is not the techies, but those who make the music and promote it—who have no conviction and can't say no to a payday. We judge everything by money, and however much we've got is never enough" (2015, p. 26).
We have seen how television fundamentally altered radio's structure and relationship with its audiences. Television, specifically the cable channel MTV, changed the recording industry, too. MTV's introduction in 1981 helped pull the industry out of its disastrous 1979 slump, but at a price. First, the look of concerts has changed. No longer is it sufficient to pack an artist or group into a hall or stadium with a few thousand screaming fans. Now a concert must be an extravagant multimedia event approximating the sophistication of a music video. The set for Lady Gaga's recent "Born This Way Ball" tour, for example, required 15 moving trucks to haul it from venue to venue. This means that fewer acts take to the road, changing Page 167the relationship between musicians and fans. Second, the radio-recording industry relationship has changed. Even as MTV began to program fewer and fewer music videos, record companies grew even more reliant on television to introduce new music. For example, labels now time record releases to artists' television appearances, and new and old tunes alike find heavy play on television shows. American Idol contestants and the cast of Glee sold tens of millions of songs before both shows left the air (Barker, 2014), with newer programs such as America's Got Talent, Star, Empire, and Nashville taking their place introducing and selling music to fans. And if television has become the new radio, so has the Internet. YouTube, the world's largest source of streaming music (Richter, 2016a), served as the career launchpad for pop star Justin Bieber, who in 2007 used a series of homemade videos of his 12-year-old self singing in the mirror and around his hometown to catch the eye of the star-hungry record industry, as it did for 16-year-old New Zealander Lorde. Her success as a self-release, free-download Internet music star led Universal to commercially distribute her work, making both the song "Royals" and the artist global smash hits. Universal has since established Awesomeness Music, a label specifically designed to record YouTube talent like Cimorelli, singing sisters from California whose channel has more than 2.7 million subscribers. TV is the new radio. TV shows like Empire, pictured here, Star, and Nashville introduce and sell new music to their fans.
The convergence of radio and satellite has aided the rebirth of the radio networks. Music and other forms of radio content can be distributed quite inexpensively to thousands of stations. As a result, one "network" can provide very different services to its very different affiliates. Sports broadcaster ESPN, for example, maintains its own radio network, and Westwood One distributes the Rick Dees Weekly Top 40. In addition, Westwood One, through its syndication operations, delivers thousands of varied network and program syndication services to almost every commercial station in the country. The low cost of producing radio programming, however, makes the establishment of other, even more specialized networks possible. Satellites, and sometimes now fiber optic Internet, make access to syndicated content and formats affordable for many stations. Syndicators can deliver news, top 10 shows, and other content to stations on a market-by-market basis. They can also provide entire formats, requiring local stations, if they wish, to do little more than insert commercials into what sounds to listeners to be a local broadcast.
Satellite has another application as well. Many listeners now receive "radio" through their cable televisions in the form of satellite-delivered services such as DMX (Digital Music Express) and Music Choice. Direct satellite home, office, and automobile delivery of audio by digital audio radio service (DARS) brings Sirius XM Radio to more than 30 million American subscribers by offering hundreds of commercial channels—primarily talk, sports, and traffic—and commercial-free channels—primarily music. Those numbers will likely continue to grow because the company has arrangements with every major carmaker in the country to offer its receivers as a factory-installed option. DARS has proven to be sufficiently inexpensive, reliable, and technologically sophisticated that Norway, in 2017, ceased all terrestrial broadcasting, making DARS its standard radio-delivery technology. Several other European countries are considering the same move.
Radio's convergence with digital technologies is nowhere more pronounced and potentially profound than in Web radio, the delivery of "radio" directly to individual listeners over the Internet, and in podcasting, streaming or downloading of audio files recorded and stored on distant servers.
First, we'll discuss Web radio. Tens of thousands of "radio stations" exist on the Web in one of two forms: radio simulcasts and bitcasters. Radio simulcasts are traditional, over-the-air stations transmitting their signals online. Some simply re-create their original broadcasts, but more often, the simulcast includes additional information, such as song lyrics or artists' biographical information and concert dates. Bitcasters, Web-only radio stations, can be accessed only online. There are narrowly targeted bitcasts, such as Indie 103.1, a Los Angeles alternative rock station, and, a Christian station webcasting from Birmingham, Alabama. But the most dramatic evidence of the popularity of bitcasting exists in the success of the scores of streaming services that allow the simultaneous downloading and accessing of music.
The most successful streaming service, Pandora, is platform agnostic, available on virtually every new digital device, not only the obvious ones like smartphones, televisions, and car radios, but also the less obvious devices, for example WiFi-enabled refrigerators. Listeners, who collectively log more than 1.9 billion hours a month (Smith, 2016), can pay a small monthly fee to hear the service without commercials, but the vast majority of its 250 million subscribers (78 million active monthly users) tune in for free and hear demographic- and taste-specific commercials. Pandora accomplishes this ad specificity by coupling it with its Music Genome Project. After listeners tell Pandora what artists they like, the Genome Project, according to the company, "will quickly scan its entire world of analyzed music, almost a century of popular recordings—new and old, well known and completely obscure—to find songs with interesting musical similarities to your choice." Listeners can create up to 100 unique "stations," personally refining them even more if they wish, and at any time, they can purchase the tune they are hearing with a simple click.
With 50 million paying subscribers worldwide (100 million overall), Spotify came to the United States in 2011. Using a "freemium model," it offers listeners more than 30 million songs. They can listen for free, hearing commercials and living with limits on how much music they can stream, or they can pay a small monthly fee for premium limitless, commercial-free listening. Including other streaming services such as Slacker, Amazon Music Unlimited, Apple Music, Napster, Deezer, and Tidal, half of U.S. Internet users stream music, and this on-demand radio is the country's fastest-growing way to listen to music, as the number of individual songs streamed increased more than 76% from 2015 to 2016, to 251 billion (Friedman, 2017). You can see the shifts in how people consume recorded music in Figure 5. Podcasts can also be streamed, but because they are posted online, they do not necessarily require streaming software. They can be downloaded, either on demand or automatically (typically by subscription), to any digital device that has an MP3 player, including PCs, laptops, and smartphones. There are tens of thousands of active podcasters online, and they cover every conceivable topic on which an individual or organization cares to comment, with Christian, Music, Comedy, TV/Film, and News/Politics being the most popular genres (Ault, 2015). And while podcasting was begun in earnest in 2004 by individual techies, audio bloggers, and DJ-wannabes, within a year they were joined by "professional" podcasters such as record companies, commercial and public radio stations, and big media companies like Page 169ESPN, CNN, Bravo, and Disney. Listenership has also exploded as smartphones and Bluetooth-enabled cars have become ubiquitous and as more people have broadband Internet access. Fifty-seven million Americans listen to podcasts every month. They tend to be younger, loyal to their chosen podcast, and comfortable with advertising, ensuring the financial future of the form (Herrman, 2016).
One of radio's distinguishing characteristics, as we've seen, is its portability. Smartphones and tablets reinforce that benefit. For example, more than half of all streaming music listening is mobile, and there are scores of free iPhone and Android music apps. Two-thirds of U.S. smartphone users stream music daily, averaging 45 minutes of listening (Hassan, 2016).
Much smartphone and tablet listening occurs via social networking sites; for example, you can link your Spotify and Pandora accounts to your Facebook account. But social networking sites actually play a much more important role in connecting fans to musical artists and their work. Artists themselves are using the Internet in general for their own production, promotion, and distribution, bypassing radio and the recording companies altogether. Musicians create their own sites and connect with sites designed specifically to feature new artists, such as, both allowing fans to hear (and in some cases, even download) new tunes for free; buy music downloads, CDs, and merchandise; get concert information and tickets; and chat with artists and other fans. They build their own YouTube channels to connect directly with listeners and use crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter to finance production and distribution of their art ($153 million for music projects since 2009; Johnson, 2015). On the world's largest social networking site, Facebook, musicians communicate directly with listeners on fan pages, create and manage their own profiles, offer music apps, and showcase performance events. They use Twitter to reach fans with news and other short notes of interest to keep them involved and encourage retweets to grow the size of their listening community. Instagram and Snapchat serve much the same function, but with the benefit of photos and video. On Periscope artists can create live audio and video content and broadcast it from their mobile devices anywhere, anytime. And like any other social networking site, Periscope connects fans with one another through sharing and live discussions. You may never have heard of the bands Hawthorne Heights, Pomplamoose, or Nicki Bluhm and the Gamblers, but using social networking and the Internet, they have created commercially and artistically meaningful careers. Big-name artists, too, have been gravitating to the Web for years. In 1999, Public Enemy released "There's a Poison Goin' On" exclusively online for the first four weeks of the album's release and was the first band to have music available for download. Thom Yorke also released his album "Tomorrow's Modern Boxes" online, as did U2 with "Songs of Innocence" and Beyoncé with her fifth solo album, "Beyoncé." Artists like Lady Gaga, Kanye West, and Jay Z have exclusive deals with digital stores like Amazon and iTunes. Adele's "Hello" had more than 2 billion YouTube views in its first two months of release. Even the stars are bypassing the big labels. Kanye West and Jay Z have exclusive distribution deals with Amazon and iTunes.
In the 1970s the basis of the recording industry changed from analog to digital recording. That is, sound went from being preserved as waves, whether physically on a disc or tape, to conversion into 1s and 0s logged in millisecond intervals in a computerized translation process. When replayed at the proper speed, the resulting sound was not only continuous but pristine—no hum, no hiss. The CD, or compact disc, was introduced in 1983 using digital coding on a 4.7-inch disc read by a laser beam. In 1986 "Brothers in Arms" by Dire Straits became the first million-selling CD. In 1988 the sale of CDs surpassed that of vinyl discs for the first time; by 1999 they accounted for 88% of industry revenues; today, CDs account for only 22% of that income (Friedlander, 2016; Perry, 2016).
Convergence with computers and the Internet offers other challenges and opportunities to the recording industry. The way the recording industry operates has been dramatically altered by the Internet. Traditionally, a record company signed an artist, produced the artist's music, and promoted the artist and music through a variety of outlets but primarily through the distribution of music to radio stations. Then listeners, learning about the artist and music through radio, went to a record store and bought the music. But this has changed. Music fans now have access to more music from a greater variety of artists than ever before. And while it is true that the top 1% of all bands and solo artists collects more than three-quarters of all the revenue from recorded music (Hunter-Tilney, 2016), more artists than ever are building profitable musical careers by finding new ways of interacting with their fans and the music industry, as you can read in the essay "The Future of the Music Business?"
The Internet music revolution began with the development of MP3, compression software that shrinks audio files to less than a tenth of their original size. Originally developed in 1987 in Germany, it began to take off in the early 1990s as more users began to hook up to the Internet with increasingly faster modems. This open source software, or freely downloaded software, permits users to download recorded music. Today, given the near-universal presence of computers, smartphones, and tablets, rare is the American—especially young American—who cannot access online music.
The crux of the digital problem for recording companies was that they sold music "in its physical form," whereas MP3 permitted music's distribution in a nonphysical form. Page 171First discussed as "merely" a means of allowing independent bands and musicians to post their music online where it might attract a following, MP3 became a headache for the recording industry when music from the name artists they controlled began appearing on MP3 sites, making piracy, the illegal recording and sale of copyrighted material and high-quality recordings, a relatively simple task. Not only could users listen to their downloaded music from their hard drives, but they could make their own CDs from MP3 files and play those discs wherever and whenever they wished.
Rather than embrace MP3, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), representing all of the United States's major labels, responded to the threat by developing their own "secure" Internet technology, but by the time it was available for release it was too late: MP3, driven by its availability and ease of use, had become the technology of choice for music fans already unhappy with the high cost of CDs and the necessity of paying for tracks they didn't want in order to get the ones they did. "The industry thought it was selling music," industry analyst James McQuivey explains. "It was really selling physical objects containing music—CDs—and it wasn't prepared for people buying fewer of them" (in Sommer, 2014, p. BU1). The CD is quickly going the way of the audio tape and 8-track cartridge. It has been replaced by the download. Downloading occurs in two forms: industry-approved and P2P (peer-to-peer).
The recording industry has seen a 25% decline in revenue in the last 10 years (Richter, 2016b); that is a fact. But how it, artists, and fans will shape the future of the music business is less certain. Legendary recording executive David Geffen explained, "The music business, as a whole, has lost its faith in content. Only 10 years ago, companies wanted to make records, presumably good records, and see if they sold. But panic has set in, and now it's no longer about making music, it's all about how to sell music. And there's no clear answer about how to fix that problem." Columbia Records head Rick Rubin added, "Fear is making the record companies less arrogant. They're more open to ideas" (both in Hirschberg, 2007, pp. 28-29). There is, in fact, no shortage of ideas, and they are being debated in the cultural forum.
Talking Heads leader David Byrne wrote, "What is called the music business today is not the business of producing music. At some point it became the business of selling CDs in plastic cases, and that business will soon be over. But that's not bad news for music, and it's certainly not bad news for musicians" (2008, p. 126). He detailed six ideas for reshaping the relationship between the recording industry, musical artists, and fans:
The 360 deal (sometimes called an equity or multiple rights deal) renders artists brands. Every aspect of their careers—recording, merchandising, marketing, touring—is handled by the label. Because artists and their music are "owned" by the label, that company, freed from the tyranny of the hit CD, will ostensibly take a long-term perspective in its artists' careers. The Pussycat Dolls have a 360 deal with Interscope Records. Madonna left Warner after 25 years with that label to sign a $120 million 360 deal with concert promoter Live Nation.
The standard distribution deal is how the music business operated for decades. The label pays for the recording, manufacturing, distribution, and promotion of its artists' music. The label owns the copyright to the music, and artists earn their percentage of profits only after all the recording, manufacturing, distribution, and promotion costs have been recouped by the label.
The license deal is the same as a standard distribution arrangement except that artists retain the copyright to their music and ownership of the master recordings, granting the rights to both to a label for a specified period of time, usually seven years. After that, artists are free to do with their music what they wish. Canadian rockers Arcade Fire have such an arrangement with indie label Merge Records.
The profit-sharing deal calls for a minimal advance from a label, and as such, it agrees to split all profits with the artist before deducting its costs. Artists maintain ownership of the music, but because the label invests less in them than it might otherwise, they may sell fewer records. Both sides benefit, however. Page 172The label takes a smaller risk; the artist receives a greater share of the income. Byrne's Talking Heads has a profit-sharing arrangement with label Thrill Jockey for its album Lead Us Not into Temptation.
A manufacturing and distribution deal requires artists to undertake every aspect of the process except manufacturing and distribution. They retain ownership and rights to their music but assume all other costs, for example, recording, marketing, and touring. Big labels avoid these deals because there is little profit in it for them. Smaller labels benefit from association with well-known artists, such as Aimee Mann, and artists have the benefit of artistic freedom and greater income (although they take on greater risk).
The self-distribution model grants artists the greatest freedom. They play, produce, market, promote, and distribute the music themselves. Byrne calls this "freedom without resources—a pretty abstract sort of independence" (2008, p. 129), but many artists big and small, aided by the Internet, have opted for this model. Musicians are using their own sites, social networking sites, and sites designed specifically to feature new artists to connect directly with listeners. Fans can hear and buy music and merchandise, check concert schedules and buy tickets, and chat with artists and other fans. Bouquet is one of the thousands of musical artists using the Internet to self-distribute and connect with fans, and today there are 45% more people self-identifying as "self-employed musician" than there were in 2001 (Johnson, 2015).
Enter your voice. After all, the success of any or all of these different ideas depends on your willingness to buy the music that they produce. Which of these models do you think will dominate music's future, if any? The first, a 360 deal, gives musicians the least artistic freedom but the greatest guarantee of success. The last, self-distribution, grants the greatest freedom but the smallest guarantee of success. Which of the six options would you choose? Why? Might different models work better for different kinds of acts or for artists at different levels of notoriety? In which form would you be most comfortable buying your favorite music? If it were up to you, what would you pay for a download of your favorite artist's latest release? Why? Byrne thinks the upheaval in the music business is "not bad news for music, and it's certainly not bad news for musicians." Do you agree? Will independence from the big labels and their demand for profitable hits free artists to make the music they want? Will there be more or less music of interest to you?
Illegal file sharing proved the popularity of downloading music from the Internet. So the four major labels combined to offer "approved" music download sites. None did well. They offered downloads by subscription, that is, a certain number of downloads per month for a set fee. In addition, they placed encrypted messages in the tunes that limited how long the song would be playable and where the download could be used and copied. As a result, illegal file sharing continued. But it was Apple's 2003 introduction of its iPod and iTunes Music Store that suggested a better strategy. Yes, Apple ceased production of the iPod in 2014, largely because of the ubiquity of other mobile music devices, but it taught fans that they could simply buy and own albums and individual songs for as little as 99 cents. Apple controlled only 5% of the PC market, yet it sold over a million tunes in its first week of operation, signaling the inevitability of the cyber revolution. Still, the major labels insisted that their music be downloaded with copy protection built in. But when Sony became the last of the major labels to relent, announcing in 2008 that it would allow the sale of much of its catalog free of copy protection, the distribution and sale of music by Internet became standard, aided by the 2009 announcement from the world's leading music retailer, iTunes, that it would sell downloads from its 10-million-title catalog without antipiracy restrictions. There are now hundreds of legally licensed sites selling tens of millions of different music tracks. Digital music sales surpassed physical sales for the first time in 2011, and the CD's 9% share of sales is a far cry from its dominance of 60% to 70% of all sales just a few years ago. In fact, downloads now account for 34% of the U.S. music industry's recording revenues. And as you read earlier, streaming services like Slacker, Amazon Page 173Music Unlimited, Apple Music, Spotify, and Pandora offer an additional means of access to digital music beyond downloading. These free and subscription sites now account for 34.4% of the industry's revenue (Friedlander, 2016). Not coincidentally, the number of brick-and-mortar record stores in America has been halved since 2003, their function—that which hasn't been displaced by the Internet—taken over by retail giants like Walmart and Target that account for a majority of all physical music retail sales. But even they are stocking fewer CDs, and Starbucks, in 2015, went as far as to stop selling discs altogether.
Despite the availability of industry-approved music downloads, illegal downloading still occurs. The 53 million U.S. Internet users who admit to piracy annually download as much as $20 billion worth of digitally pirated recorded music (Resnikoff, 2016). Sites such as Gnutella and Freenet use P2P technologies, that is, peer-to-peer software that permits direct Internet-based communication or collaboration between two or more personal computers while bypassing centralized servers. P2P allows users to visit a constantly and infinitely changing network of machines through which file sharing can occur. The record companies (and movie studios) challenged P2P by suing the makers of its software. In 2005, the Supreme Court, in MGM v. Grokster, unanimously supported industry arguments that P2P software, because it "encouraged" copyright infringement, rendered its makers liable for that illegal act. The industry's next challenge, then, is BitTorrent, file-sharing software that allows anonymous users to create "swarms" of data as they simultaneously download and upload "bits" of a given piece of content from countless untraceable servers. And while these P2P sharing sites account for the large majority of music theft, their share, once as high as 99%, is being eroded by another form of piracy, stream ripping—saving streamed media to a file on a personal device to be accessed locally—from sites like YouTube and music streaming sites. Half of 16- to 24-year-olds admit to regularly stream ripping (Garrahan, 2016).
No matter what model of music production and distribution eventually results from this technological and financial tumult, serious questions about the Internet's impact on copyright (protecting content creators' financial interest in their product) will remain. See the chapter on media freedom, regulation, and ethics for more on copyright.
There is scientific evidence that the music you listen to is a reflection of who you are. Psychologist Adrian North's research shows that jazz fans generally have high self-esteem and are creative, outgoing, and at ease; classical music fans have high self-esteem, are creative, introverted, and at ease; rap fans have high self-esteem and are outgoing; rock and heavy metal fans often have low self-esteem, are creative, not hard-working, not outgoing, gentle, and at ease; and pop music fans have high self-esteem, are hardworking, outgoing, and gentle but are not creative and not at ease. As Professor North explains, "People do actually define themselves through music and relate to other people through it" (in Collingwood, 2016). But what if you are choosing your music not because it reflects who you are, but because it's all you know? Keeping in mind that an important element of media literacy is an understanding that media content is a text that provides insight into culture and our lives, you might have a difficult time disputing influential French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu's argument that "nothing more clearly affirms one's 'class,' nothing more infallibly classifies, than tastes in music" (1979, p. 18). And how would you answer novelist Nick Hornby's question, "If you own all the music ever recorded in the entire history of the world [because of streaming], then who are you?" (in Thompson, 2016, p. 35).
So why do you listen to the music you do? At a time when almost every song ever recorded is equally accessible, are you making a personally meaningful decision on your choices of this Page 174particular form of media content? Maybe not. This is the age of music by algorithms, writes popular culture critic Scott Timberg, "Algorithms—whether driving your streaming playlists, your Amazon recommendations, or suggestions on iTunes—are about driving you closer and closer to what you already know. And instead of taking you toward what you want to listen to, they direct you toward slight variations of what you're already consuming" (2016b). So how will you ever find that new sound, the one that reflects the true or maybe evolving you? It's not easy. Because of downloads and streaming, songs, rather than albums, are the new musical currency. You may have bought Adele's album "25" because you liked Hello, but you would also have been introduced to other forms of musical expression, up-beat versus ballad, for example. You might have gone into a music store and serendipitously discovered new music because a knowledgeable clerk turned you on to it, or you heard something interesting over the store's speakers, or you happened upon a CD filed next to the one you were originally looking for. You might have tuned in to an independent radio station (now rare) or read a newspaper's coverage of the local music scene (even rarer). Pandora has its Genome Project; Google Play matches data points with your location to give you what it thinks you want to hear given where you are and its prediction of what you are doing; and Spotify boasts of employing a trillion data points from 35 million songs and 2.5 million artists to help it tell you what you want to listen to (Hunter-Tilney, 2016). That may be great if that's all you want—more of what the data points say you want—but is that what music is supposed to be? If you are what you listen to, are you content with Spotify's data-driven version of you? Remember the lesson from this chapter's discussion of race and rock 'n' roll—music can be a powerful force of community and social change. But if music is just another well-researched, technology-delivered commodity, how does it become important to and for you?
Media-literate music fans understand that they don't know what they don't know. If you've never heard klezmer, how do you know you don't like it? You might "hate" jazz, but does that mean Kenny G, Arturo Sandoval, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, or Diana Krall? How can you say you dislike jazz, or country, pop, or classical, if you've never exposed yourself to its many forms? Media literacy means making personally meaningful use of media content. Relying on a distant algorithm's trillions of pieces of data to dictate that use diminishes not only music's social and cultural function but music's entertainment value as well. So, what will you listen to next? John Cusack and Jack Black in High Fidelity (2000) remind us that knowledgeable music store personnel were once the inspiration for finding new music.
"Not for what I'm doing. I'm going to be a TV star."
"A TV star?"
"Well, first a YouTube star, then a TV star, and maybe then the movies, like Roman Atwood."
"Roman Atwood. He has more than 10 million subscribers to his YouTube pranks channel and 11 million subscribers to his vlog YouTube channel."
"Wait, is this the guy who tricked his girlfriend into thinking that one of their kids was killed in an accident? That's some prank."
"For real. It got him a movie deal from Lionsgate. His movie, Natural Born Pranksters, was number 2 on the 2016 iTunes movie chart, right behind the Star Wars movie. And I bet you never heard of PewDiePie either. He has nearly 40 million subscribers to his YouTube video game channels and makes about $7 million a year. Tyler Oakley? Eight million subscribers; he went from YouTube to The Amazing Race. Have you heard of Andrea Russett? She's an actress whose YouTube videos earned her more than 2.5 million subscribers and a role in the movie Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (all in "10 Standout," 2016). I'm using YouTube's Creator Hub to help me get started and make my mark. YouTube even has YouTube Spaces where people like me can go to produce their shows and maybe even get funding for good ideas. Then they help you get bigger. They have an originals division that connects its stars with big-time movie and TV producers."
"OK. So what are you going to do for your show? I imagine those folks who made it had some talent, right?"
"I haven't figured that out yet. But I have a camera and lights. Action's sure to follow!"
Whether or not our aspiring star will ever benefit from it, there is indeed quite a bit of action surrounding contemporary television and video. In the last few years, Netflix outbid established video giants HBO and AMC for House of Cards, originally ordering two seasons for over $100 million. YouTube committed $100 million to commission original programming designed exclusively for some two dozen new channels. Online retailer Amazon commissions program pilots, offers them free to viewers who vote on which should be turned into full series, and then produces the winners for its Amazon Prime subscribers. Its show Transparent won a Golden Globe for Best TV series in 2015, and its star, Jeffrey Tambor, won Best Actor, both firsts for streaming television. Hulu Plus streams original shows like Casual and The Handmaid's Tale. Viewers have enthusiastically taken to this new form of television—half of all U.S. households now subscribe to at least one of these services (Richter, 2016), and the top four television series among 18- to 24-year-olds in 2016 were all from Netflix (Ault, 2016). The "new" television also offers a great deal of creative freedom to those who produce its content. "It's much harder to bring innovation to network television because network television works as a strong corporate entity where change is maybe not as easily applied," explains House of Cards cinematographer Igor Martinovic. Streaming companies are "willing to experiment; they're willing to take chances" (in Khatchatourian, 2014, p. 79).
Yes, television is changing, and this chapter details that change, from early experiments with mechanical scanning to the electronic marvel that sits in our homes to the mobile screens we carry in our pockets. We trace the rapid transformation of television into a mature medium after World War II and examine how the medium, the entire television industry in fact, was altered by the emergence and success of cable television. And significant change is once again remaking what we currently know as television ... and what we once knew as the audience. All of us are now TV executives, choosing our programs and our schedules, no longer limited by what some distant network television executives think is the schedule that best serves their advertisers' needs.
Page 181The remarkable reach of television—in all its forms—accounts for its attractiveness as an advertising medium. We discuss this reach, and we explore the structure, programming, and economics of the television and cable industries. We consider new technologies, their convergence with television, and how they promise to change the interaction between the medium and its audiences. Finally, we discuss media literacy in terms of the role of satirical television news in the cultural forum.Netflix's House of Cards. Free from network television's commercial restrictions, producers of streamed content can take creative chances.
In 1884 Paul Nipkow, a Russian scientist living in Berlin, developed the first workable device for generating electrical signals suitable for the transmission of a scene that people could see. His Nipkow disc consisted of a rotating scanning disc spinning in front of a photoelectric cell. It produced 4,000 pixels (picture dots) per second, producing a picture composed of 18 parallel lines. Although his mechanical system proved too limiting, Nipkow demonstrated the possibility of using a scanning system to divide a scene into an orderly pattern of transmittable picture elements that could be recomposed as a visual image. British inventor John Logie Baird was able to transmit moving images using a mechanical Page 182disc as early as 1925, and in 1928 he successfully sent a television picture from London to Hartsdale, New York.
Electronic scanning came either from another Russian or from a U.S. farm boy; historians disagree. Vladimir Zworykin, a Russian immigrant living near Pittsburgh and working for Westinghouse, demonstrated his iconoscope tube, the first practical television camera tube, in 1923. In 1929 David Sarnoff lured him to RCA to head its electronics research lab, and it was there that Zworykin developed the kinescope, an improved picture tube. At the same time, young Philo Farnsworth had moved from Idaho to San Francisco to perfect an electronic television system, the design for which he had shown his high school science teacher when he was 15 years old. In 1927, at the age of 20, he made his first public demonstration—film clips of a prize fight, movie scenes, and other graphic images. The "Boy Wonder" and Zworykin's RCA spent the next decade fighting fierce patent battles in court. In 1939 RCA capitulated, agreeing to pay Farnsworth royalties for the use of his patents.
In April of that year, at the World's Fair in New York, RCA made the first true public demonstration of television in the form of regularly scheduled two-hour NBC broadcasts. These black-and-white telecasts consisted of cooking demonstrations, singers, jugglers, comedians, puppets—just about anything that could fit in a hot, brightly lit studio and demonstrate motion. People could buy television sets at the RCA Pavilion at prices ranging from $200 for the 5-inch screen to $600 for the deluxe 12-inch-screen model. The FCC granted construction permits to the first two commercial stations in 1941, and then World War II intervened. But as was the case with radio during World War I, technical development and improvement of the new medium continued. Philo Farnsworth and Vladimir Zworykin, pioneers in the development of television.
In 1952, 108 stations were broadcasting to 17 million television homes. By the end of the decade, there were 559 stations, and nearly 90% of U.S. households had televisions. In the 1950s more television sets were sold in the United States (70 million) than there were children born (40.5 million) (Kuralt, 1977). The technical standards were fixed, stations proliferated and flourished, the public tuned in, and advertisers were enthusiastic. The content and character of the medium were set in this decade as well:
Carried over from the radio networks, television genres included variety shows, situation comedies, dramas (including Westerns and cop shows), soap operas, and quiz shows.
Two new formats appeared: feature films and talk shows. Talk shows were instrumental in introducing radio personalities to the television audience, which could see its favorites for the first time.
Television news and documentary remade broadcast journalism as a powerful force in its own right, led by CBS's Edward R. Murrow (See It Now, 1951) and NBC's David Page 183Brinkley and Chet Huntley. Huntley and Brinkley's 1956 coverage of the major political conventions gave audiences an early glimpse of the power of television to cover news and history in the making.
AT&T completed its national coaxial cable and microwave relay network for the distribution of television programming in the summer of 1951. The entire United States was now within the reach of the major television networks, and they came to dominate the medium.
Four other events from the 1950s would permanently shape how television operated: the quiz show scandal, the appearance of I Love Lucy, McCarthyism, and the establishment of the ratings system. Another, in 1948, would permanently reshape the television industry. That development, as you'll soon see, was cable television.
Throughout the 1950s the networks served primarily as time brokers, offering airtime and distribution (their affiliates) and accepting payment for access to both. Except for their own news and sports coverage, the networks relied on outside agencies to provide programs. An advertising agency, for example, would hire a production company to produce a program for its client. That client would then be the show's sponsor—The Kraft Television Theatre and Westinghouse Studio One are two examples. The agency would then pay a network to air the program over its national collection of stations. This system had enriched the networks during the heyday of radio, and they saw no reason to change.
But in 1959 a quiz show scandal (enveloping independently produced, single-advertiser-sponsored programs) changed the way the networks did business. When it was discovered that popular shows like The $64,000 Question had been fixed by advertisers and producers to ensure desired outcomes, the networks, mindful of their reputations, were determined to take control of their schedules. They, themselves, began commissioning or buying the entertainment fare that filled their broadcast days and nights. Now, rather than selling blocks of time to ad agencies and sponsors, the networks paid for the content they aired through spot commercial sales (selling individual 60-second spots on a given program to a wide variety of advertisers).
As a result, the content of television was altered. Some critics argue that this change to spot sales put an end to the golden age of television. When sponsors agreed to attach their names to programs, Alcoa Presents or the Texaco Star Theater, for example, they had an incentive to demand high-quality programming. Spot sales, with network salespeople offering small bits of time to a number of different sponsors, reduced the demand for quality. Because individual sponsors were not identified with a given show, they had no stake in how well it was made—only in how many viewers it attracted. Spot sales also reduced the willingness of the networks to try innovative or different types of content. Familiarity and predictability attracted more viewers and, therefore, more advertisers.
There is a counterargument, however. Once the financial well-being of the networks became dependent on the programming they aired, the networks themselves became more concerned with program quality, lifting television from its dull infancy (remembered now as the golden age only by those small, early audiences committed to serious character-driven televised drama). Different historians and critics offer arguments for both views. Running from 1947 until 1958, NBC's Kraft Television Theatre aired some of the golden age's most respected live anthology dramas. Top, Richard Kiley and Everett Sloane; left, Ossie Davis; right, Walter Matthau and Nancy Walker.
In 1951 CBS asked Lucille Ball to move her hit radio program, My Favorite Husband, to television. Lucy was willing but wanted her real-life husband, Desi Arnaz, to play the part of her on-air spouse. The network refused (some historians say the network objected to the prime-time presentation of an interracial marriage—Desi Arnaz was Cuban—but CBS denies this). But Lucy made additional demands. Television programming at the time was broadcast live: Images were typically captured by three large television cameras, with a director in a booth choosing among the three available images. Lucy wanted her program produced in the same manner—in front of a live audience with three simultaneously running cameras—but these cameras would be film cameras. Editors could then review the three sets of film and edit them together to give the best combination of action and reaction shots. Lucy also wanted the production to take place in Hollywood, the nation's film capital, instead of New York, the television center at the time. Page 184CBS was uncertain about this departure from how television was typically produced and refused these requests as well.
Lucy and Desi borrowed the necessary money and produced I Love Lucy on their own, selling the broadcast rights to CBS. In doing so, the woman now best remembered as "that zany redhead" transformed the business and look of television:
Filmed reruns were now possible, something that had been impossible with live television, and this, in turn, created the off-network syndication industry.
The television industry moved from New York, with its stage drama orientation, to Hollywood, with its entertainment film mind-set. More action and more flash came to the screen.
Page 185Weekly series could now be produced relatively quickly and inexpensively. A 39-week series could be completed in 20 or 24 weeks, saving money on actors, crew, equipment, and facilities. In addition, the same stock shots—for example, certain exterior views—could be used in different episodes. I Love Lucy was significant for far more than its comedy. Thanks to Lucille Ball's shrewd business sense, it became the foundation for the huge off-network syndicated television industry.
The Red Scare that cowed the movie business also touched television, aided by the publication in 1950 of Red Channels: The Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television, the work of three former FBI agents operating a company called American Business Consultants. Its 200 pages detailed the alleged pro-Communist sympathies of 151 broadcast personalities, including Orson Welles and journalist Howard K. Smith. Advertisers were encouraged to avoid buying time from broadcasters who employed these "Red sympathizers." Like the movie studios, the television industry caved in. The networks employed security checkers to look into people's backgrounds, refused to hire suspect talent, and demanded loyalty oaths from performers. In its infancy, television had taken the safe path. Many gifted artists were denied not only a paycheck but also the opportunity to shape the medium's content.
Ironically, it was this same Red Scare that allowed television to demonstrate its enormous power as a vehicle of democracy and freedom. Joseph McCarthy, the Republican junior senator Page 186from Wisconsin whose tactics gave this era its name, was seen by millions of viewers as his investigation of Reds in the U.S. Army was broadcast by all the networks for 36 days in 1954. Daytime ratings increased 50% (Sterling & Kittross, 1990). At the same time, Edward R. Murrow used his See It Now, a documentary series broadcast by CBS, to expose the senator's lies and hypocrisy. As a consequence of the two broadcasts, McCarthy was ruined; he was censured by his Senate colleagues and later died a lonely alcoholic's death. Television had given the people eyes and ears—and power—where before they had little. The Army-McCarthy Hearings and Murrow's challenge to McCarthyism are still regarded as two of television's finest moments. The Army-McCarthy Hearings. Wisconsin's Republican junior senator, Joseph McCarthy, was called in 1954 to give testimony before his fellow senators regarding his claims that the army was rife with Communists, Reds, and "fellow travelers." Network coverage of the senator's erratic behavior helped bring the despot into disrepute.
The concept of measuring audience was carried over from radio to television, but the ratings as we know them today are far more sophisticated (see the chapter on radio, recording, and popular music for more on ratings). The A. C. Nielsen Company began in 1923 as a product-testing company but soon branched into market research. In 1936 Nielsen started reporting radio ratings and was doing the same for television by 1950.
To produce the ratings today, Nielsen selects 41,000 households, about 100,000 people, thought to be representative of the entire U.S. viewing audience. To record data on what people in those TV households are watching, Nielsen employs the Global Television Audience Metering (GTAM) meter, which actively (requiring viewer input) and passively (automatically reading digital codes embedded in video content) measures viewing as people, with increasing mobility, consume video on a growing array of technologies. The data are then sent to Nielsen via the Internet, and the company determines the programs watched, who watched them, and the amount of time each viewer spent with them. But the same convergence that required the development of the GTAM meter is upsetting the business of audience measurement in many ways. In fact, many television and advertising people see the ratings as worthless, "a relic of television's rabbit-ears past" on which more than $70 billion in ad money a year is traded (Steel, 2016).
To present a fuller picture of a show's total audience by accounting for multiplatform and nonlinear TV viewing (people watching on their own schedules), many broadcasters are calling for a new rating that measures a program's seven-day performance, called L+7, Page 187for live plus seven days of viewing. With this ratings system, a single episode of Fox's Empire, for example, sees its ratings among coveted 18- to 49-year-old viewers boosted by 2.3%; CBS's Big Bang Theory gets a 2.2% bump (Littleton & Kissell, 2016). The four major broadcast networks believe that a truer measure of their viewership will show the much-discussed falloff in its prime-time audience to be something of a fiction. Nielsen has responded with several fixes, including its C3 rating, counting audiences across three screens—TV (original airing plus DVR), Internet, and mobile video. The "3" (and for the occasional C7, the "7") represents the viewing of the commercials that appear in a specific program within three days (or seven) of its premiere telecast. Facing pressure from competitor ComScore, who can measure viewing across all screens, stationary and mobile, from more than 10 million homes, even to the extent that it can count viewing of individual Web videos, Nielsen rolled out its Total Content Ratings in 2017. The new measure captures all viewing across all possible devices, including traditional TV, video-on-demand, DVR playback, Internet-connected devices like Roku, Xbox, and Apple TV, smartphones, desktop computers, laptops, and tablets. Nonetheless, there remains great dissatisfaction with Nielsen's ratings, leading many networks to augment them with their own measures, for example levels of Twitter activity and other social network metrics. Some networks have gone as far as to drop Nielsen altogether, most notably cable channel CNBC. Still, as it has been from the earliest days of television, the Nielsens remain the coin of the realm, that is, they are, despite their limitations, the agreed-upon currency on which the vast majority of television advertising sales are based.
Another important measure of television's audience is its share, which is a direct reflection of a particular show's competitive performance. Share doesn't measure viewers as a percentage of all television households (as do the ratings). Instead, the share measures a program audience as a percentage of the television sets in use at the time it airs. It tells us what proportion of the actual audience a program attracts, indicating how well a particular program is doing on its given night, in its time slot, and against its competition (Figure 1). For example, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon normally gets a rating of around .8—terrible by prime-time standards—but because it airs when fewer homes are tuned in, its share of 5 (5% of the homes with sets in use) is quite respectable.
In 1948 in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, appliance sales representative John Walson was having trouble selling televisions. The Pocono Mountains sat between his town and Philadelphia's three new stations. But Walson was also a powerline worker, so he convinced his bosses to let him run a wire to his store from a tower he erected on New Boston Mountain. As more and more people became aware of his system, he began wiring the homes of customers who bought his sets. In June of that year, Walson had 727 subscribers for his community antenna television (CATV) system (Chin, 1978). Although no one calls it CATV anymore, cable television was born.
The cable Walson used was a twin-lead wire, much like the cord that connects a lamp to an outlet. To attract even more subscribers, he had to offer improved picture quality. He accomplished this by using coaxial cable and self-manufactured boosters (or amplifiers). Coaxial cable—copper-clad aluminum wire encased in plastic foam insulation, covered by an aluminum outer conductor, and then sheathed in plastic—had more bandwidth than did twin-lead wire. As a result, it allowed more of the original signal to pass and even permitted Walson to carry a greater number of channels.
With expanded bandwidth and new, powerful signal boosters developed by Milton Jerrold Shapp, who would later become Pennsylvania's governor, these systems began experimenting Page 188with the importation of distant signals, using wires not only to provide improved reception but also to offer a wider variety of programming. They began delivering independent stations from as far away as New York to fill their then-amazing 7 to 10 channels. By 1962, 800 systems were providing cable television to more than 850,000 homes.
The industry today is composed of 5,208 individual cable systems delivering video to 53 million households, high-speed Internet to 61 million, and digital telephone to 31 million. The industry generates revenues of over $108 billion, with about 10% of that amount earned through advertising (Internet & Television Association, 2017).
The 1960s saw some refinement in the technical structure of television, which influenced its organization and audience. In 1962 Congress passed all-channel legislation, which required that all sets imported into or manufactured in the United States be equipped with both VHF and UHF receivers. This had little immediate impact; U.S. viewers were now hooked on the three national networks and their VHF affiliates. Still, UHF independents and educational stations were able to at least attract some semblance of an audience. The UHF independents would have to wait for the coming of cable to give them clout. Now that the educational stations were attracting more viewers, they began to look less educational in the strictest sense of the word and began programming more entertaining cultural fare (see the essay "The Creation of Sesame Street"). The Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 united the educational stations into an important network, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), which today has 350 member stations.
The 1960s also witnessed the immense social and political power of the new medium to force profound alterations in the country's consciousness and behavior. Particularly influential were the Nixon-Kennedy campaign debates of 1960, broadcasts of the aftermath of Kennedy's assassination and funeral in 1963, the 1969 transmission of Neil Armstrong's walk on the moon, and the use of television at the end of the decade by civil rights and anti-Vietnam War leaders.
The 1960s also gave rise to a descriptive expression sometimes used today when television is discussed. Speaking to the 1961 convention of the National Association of Broadcasters, John F. Kennedy's new FCC chair, Newton Minow, invited broadcasters to
sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there without a book, magazine, newspaper, profit and loss sheet, or ratings book to distract you, and keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that you will observe a vast wasteland.
Whether or not one agrees with Minow's assessment of television, then or now, there is no doubt that audiences continue to watch:
There are more than 123 million television households in the United States, 96% of all U.S. homes.
The average American watches television 32 hours and 1 minute a week.
Television reaches more adults each day than any other medium, and those people spend more time with television than with any other medium (all from Television Advertising Bureau, 2016).
Traditional television watching accounts for 78% of all time spent with video (Bednarski, 2016).
Seventy percent of TV viewers admit to binge viewing, watching five or more episodes of a series in one sitting (Sharma, 2016).
There can be no doubt, either, that television is successful as an advertising medium:
Total annual billings for television are around $80 billion, with approximately two-thirds generated by broadcast and one-third by cable television. Together they collect 40% of all U.S. ad spending.
Page 189The average 30-second prime-time network television spot costs more than $300,000 (Sunday Night Football gets $673,664; spots on Empire run $437,100; 30 seconds on Star run $300,000).
Prime ad time on the February 2017 Patriots-Falcons Super Bowl broadcast cost a minimum of $5 million for 30 seconds, or more than $166,666 per second. Advertisers consider the annual Super Bowl broadcast "the single most important communication channel a marketer can exploit" (Schultz, 2017).
Television has the greatest reach of all ad-supported media, and consumers cite it as the medium most likely to influence their purchasing decisions (Television Advertising Bureau, 2016).
In 1968 a public affairs program producer for Channel 13 in New York City identified a number of related problems that she believed could be addressed by a well-conceived, well-produced television show.
Joan Ganz Cooney saw that 80% of 3- and 4-year-olds and 25% of 5-year-olds in the United States did not attend any form of preschool. Children from financially disadvantaged homes were far less likely to attend preschool at these ages than their better-off peers. Children in these age groups who did go to preschool received little academic instruction; preschool was the equivalent of organized recess. Large numbers of U.S. children, then, entered first grade with no formal schooling, even though education experts had long argued that preschool years were crucial in children's intellectual and academic development. In addition, the disparity in academic preparedness between poor and other children was a national disgrace.
What did these children do instead of going to preschool? Cooney knew that they watched television. But she also knew that "existing shows for 3- through 5-year-old children . . . did not have education as a primary goal" (Ball & Bogatz, 1970, p. 2). Her idea was to use an interesting, exciting, visually and aurally stimulating television show as an explicitly educational tool "to promote the intellectual and cultural growth of preschoolers, particularly disadvantaged preschoolers," and to "teach children how to think as well as what to think" (Cook et al., 1975, p. 7).
Cooney established a nonprofit organization, the Children's Television Workshop (CTW), and sought funding for her program. Several federal agencies, primarily the Office of Education, a number of private foundations including Carnegie and Ford, and public broadcasters, contributed $13.7 million for CTW's first four years.
After much research into producing a quality children's television show and studying the best instructional methods for teaching preschool audiences, CTW unveiled Sesame Street during the 1969 television season. It was an instant hit with children and parents. The New Republic said, "Judged by the standards of most other programs for preschoolers, it is imaginative, tasteful, and witty" (cited in Sedulus, 1970). Originally scheduled for one hour a day during the school week, within months of its debut Sesame Street was being programmed twice a day on many public television stations, and many ran the entire week's schedule on Saturdays and Sundays. Today, nearly 45 years after its debut, Sesame Street airs 35 new episodes a year, and in 2016 it made HBO (including its streaming service) its new home network. Episodes were trimmed to 30 minutes and run on HBO for 9 months before being aired on free public television.
Did Cooney and her show make a difference? Several national studies demonstrated that academic performance in early grades was directly and strongly correlated with regular viewing of Sesame Street. The commercial networks began to introduce educational fare into their Saturday morning schedules. ABC's Grammar Rock, America Rock (on U.S. history), and Multiplication Rock were critical and educational successes at the time, and much of the programming on today's kids channels like Nickelodeon trace their pacing and production techniques to the show. The program has been nominated for more than 250 Emmy Awards, winning nearly 110 times. It recently expanded its preschool curriculum to include subjects such as nature, math, science and engineering concepts, and problem solving. The curriculum for its first season on HBO revolved around kindness.
Today, as it has been from the beginning, the business of broadcast television is dominated by a few centralized production, distribution, and decision-making organizations. These networks link affiliates for the purpose of delivering and selling viewers to advertisers. The large majority of the 1,387 commercial stations in the United States are affiliated with a national broadcasting network: ABC, NBC, and CBS each have over 200 affiliates, and Fox has close to that number. Many more stations are affiliated with the CW Network, jointly owned by CBS and Warner Bros. Entertainment. Although cable has introduced us to dozens of popular cable networks—ESPN, MTV, Comedy Central, and A&E, to name a few—for decades most programs that came to mind when we thought of television were either conceived, approved, funded, produced, or distributed by the broadcast networks. Although, as you read at this chapter's outset, that's quickly changing. More on that soon.
Local affiliates carry network programs (they clear time). Until quite recently, affiliates received direct payment for carrying a show, called compensation, and the right to keep all income from the sale of local commercials on that program. But loss of network audience and the rise of cable have altered this arrangement. Now networks receive reverse compensation, a fee paid by the local station for the right to be that network's affiliate. It is typically based on the amount of money the local cable operation pays to the station to carry its signal, called retransmission fees.
The national broadcast and cable networks look at about 4,000 proposals a year for new television series. Many, if not most, are submitted at the networks' invitation or instigation. Of the 4,000, about 90 will be filmed as pilots, or trial programs, at a cost of $3 million for a 30-minute pilot to $7 million for an hour drama. Perhaps 20 to 30 will become one of the 400 scripted series on air at any time. The networks spend over $500 million a season to suffer this process. For this reason, they prefer to see ideas from producers with established track records and financial and organizational stability—for example, Jerry Bruckheimer is the source of CSI, CSI: Miami, CSI: NY, The Amazing Race, Cold Case, and Without a Trace in addition to nearly 20 other prime-time series aired in recent years.
The way a program typically makes it onto the air differs somewhat for those who have been asked to submit an idea and for producers who bring their concepts to the networks. First, a producer has an idea, or a network has an idea and asks a proven producer to propose a show based on it (possibly offering a put, a deal that guarantees the producer that the network will order at least a pilot or have to pay a hefty penalty). The producer must then shop the idea to one of the networks; naturally, an invited producer submits the proposal only to Page 191the network that asked for it. In either case, if the network is persuaded, it buys the option and asks for a written outline in which the original idea is refined. If still interested, the network will order a full script.
If the network approves that script, it will order the production of a pilot. Pilots are then subjected to rigorous testing by the networks' own and independent audience research organizations. Based on this research, networks will often demand changes, such as writing out characters who tested poorly or beefing up story lines that test audiences particularly liked.
If the network is still interested, that is, if it believes that the show will be a hit, it orders a set number of episodes and schedules the show. In television's early days, an order might be for 26 or 39 episodes. Today, however, because of escalating production costs, the convention is at first to order six episodes. If these are successful, a second order of nine more is placed. Then, if the show is still doing well, a final nine episodes (referred to as the back nine) will be commissioned.
The reason television program producers participate in this expensive enterprise is that they can make large amounts of money in syndication, the sale of their programs to stations on a market-by-market basis. Even though the networks control the process from idea to scheduling and decide how long a show stays in their lineups, producers continue to own the rights to their programs. Once enough episodes are made (generally about 88, which is the product of four years on a network), producers can sell the syndicated package to the highest bidder in each of the 210 U.S. television markets, keeping all the revenues for themselves. This is the legacy of Lucille Ball's business genius (CBS still earns about $15 million a year from I Love Lucy syndication). The price of a syndicated program depends on the market size, the level of competition between the stations in the market, and the age and popularity of the program itself. The station buys the right to a specified number of plays, or airings. After that, the rights return to the producer to be sold again and again. A program that has survived at least four years on one of the networks has proven its popularity, has attracted a following, and has accumulated enough individual episodes so that local stations can offer weeks of daily scheduling without too many repeats. In a word, it is a moneymaker. Paramount has already earned more than $2 billion from its syndication of Frasier; Warner Brothers collected more than $5.8 million an episode from its original syndication of Friends and today gets $4 million an episode for The Big Bang Theory, although it is still in its network run.
So attractive is syndication's income potential, especially when coupled with the promise of profits from digital downloads, the sale of DVD collections, and pick up by streaming services like Hulu and Netflix, that the networks themselves have become their own producers (and therefore syndicators). In fact, the major broadcast networks now produce the vast majority of all the prime-time programming on their own and the top 20 cable networks.
Page 192It is important to note that there is another form of syndicated programming. First-run syndication is programming produced specifically for sale into syndication on a market-by-market basis. It is attractive to producers because they don't have to run the gauntlet of the network programming process, and they keep 100% of the income. Game and talk shows, long staples of the business, have been joined by programs such as Judge Judy, court shows distributed daily to hundreds of stations. They are inexpensive to make, inexpensive to distribute, and easily stripped (broadcast at the same time five evenings a week). They allow an inexhaustible number of episodes with no repeats and are easy to promote (for example, "Watch the case of the peeping landlord. Tune in at 5:30.").
And despite the fact that the most-watched programs in history were all aired by the traditional television networks (Figure 2), the process by which programs now come to our screens is changing because the central position of networks in that process has been altered. Because they must compete with the streaming services, the networks are no longer the only game in town for top talent, so they themselves are increasingly offering producers more straight-to-series production deals. NBC's The Good Place, Fox's Son of Zorn, and ABC's Designated Survivor and Somewhere Between were beneficiaries of these arrangements. In addition, much quality programming gets to us not because a network elected to air it, but as you saw in this chapter's opening, because a streaming service asked its subscribers which shows they wanted to watch or simply paid quality artists to come work with them. For example, after rejection by the traditional network and cable channels, the producers of House of Cards approached Netflix. Kevin Spacey, the star of the show, said Netflix was the only network that told them, "We believe in you. . . . We don't need you to do a pilot. How many [episodes] do you wanna do?" (Auletta, 2014, p. 58). Netflix alone spends more than $5 billion a year on original programming, triple HBO's outlay, and requires no pilots (Nocera, 2016). Of course, all this change is the product of the introduction of new technologies—cable, VCR, DVD, digital video recorders, satellite, the Internet and digitization, and smartphones—that have upset the long-standing relationship between medium and audience. Convergence is also reshaping that relationship.
In recognition of the growing dependence of the public on cable delivery of broadcast service as the spread of cable increased, Congress passed the Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act of 1992. This law requires operators to offer a truly basic service composed of the broadcast stations in their area and their public access channels. Cable operators also offer another form of basic service, expanded basic cable, composed primarily of local broadcast stations and services with broad appeal such as TBS, TNT, the USA Network, and Comedy Central. These networks offer a wide array of programming not unlike that found on the traditional, over-the-air broadcast networks. Ad-supported cable networks such as these want to be on cable's basic tiers because sponsors covet those large potential audiences. This is the dispute, for example, at the heart of the NFL Network's frequent battles with many of the nation's cable operators. Most operators want to put the network on a premium tier to attract more subscribers. NFL Network wants placement on basic cable where more viewers means more ad dollars.
Because of concentration, operators are increasingly choosing to carry a specific basic channel because their owners (who have a financial stake in that channel) insist that they do. Multiple system operators (MSOs) are companies that own several cable franchises. Time Warner owns truTV. Comcast has an interest in numerous prime channels. Viacom owns BET. Naturally, these networks are more likely to be carried by systems controlled by the MSOs that own them and are less likely to be carried by other systems.
The long-standard concept of different pricing for different packages or tiers of channels is frequently under attack by the FCC and some members of Congress. Concerns over viewers' accidental access to unwanted, offensive content and rising cable prices are leading to calls for à la carte pricing—that is, paying for cable on a channel-by-channel basis. The industry itself is split on the issue, system operators versus programmers. You can read more about the dispute in the box entitled "Bundle or À la Carte . . . or Skinny Bundle?"
The debate over how to price a cable subscription has entered the cultural forum because of a perfect storm of concern. Many consumers are upset over rising subscription rates, which are growing at more than four times the rate of inflation (Adamczyk, 2016). Some politicians worry about people accidentally seeing material they find offensive, and more than a few MSOs are chafing under big hikes in what they have to pay for the channels they carry. For them, programming costs have escalated between 6% and 10% a year for the last decade, and for popular channels like ESPN, for example, MSOs must pay $7.86 for each of their cable households ("Net Worth," 2017). One solution to meeting these different concerns is to let the market (meaning viewers) decide with à la carte pricing. That way, consumers wouldn't have to pay for unwatched channels (an average household will watch only 20 of its available 206 channels; Mandese, 2016), there would be reduced risk of exposure to unwanted content, and MSOs wouldn't have to pay programming costs for all their subscribing households, only for those deciding to watch specific channels.
But, argue cable network programmers like Disney and Viacom, our costs have escalated dramatically as well. ESPN, for example, spends more than $5 billion a year on programming, and viewers have decided that this expensive content is what they want. In addition, they argue, à la carte would actually raise consumers' costs because those expensive popular channels make possible the smaller, niche channels. There might be a lot of people willing to pay $12 for ESPN (its projected à la carte price; Kline, 2016), but how many viewers would pay for C-SPAN, or a foreign-language channel, or a religious channel, and how much would they be willing to pay? À la carte means the menu gets much, much smaller. And besides, continues the programmers' position, people are already comfortable with video bundles. Subscription channels like HBO and Cinemax are bundles—we pay for all their programs, not just the ones we watch (and of course, HBO and Cinemax are themselves already available à la carte from MSOs).
Enter your voice, à la carte or bundle? Would you be happier paying for only the channels you watch, or do you find value in having a lot of options, even if you don't take advantage of them all the time? And what about serendipitous viewing, running across something you might not have thought to watch, but it catches your eye? Isn't this one of the great gifts of cable?
And what if there were a third option, a skinny bundle, a pared-down collection of the most popular channels for a lower price? Using the Internet or an app, you can get Brit Box with scores of English shows from ITV and the BBC; for $40 a month Hulu will deliver Disney, Turner, ESPN, and Fox channels; Google's Unplugged runs between $25 and $50; DirecTV NOW will give you 100 channels for $35; PlayStation Vue will sell you 60 channels for $30 or 110 for $75. Sling TV goes skinnier, 28 networks for $20. Even MSO Verizon offers a skinny bundle, Custom TV, and traditional television network CBS provides all its programming for $6 a month (Spangler, 2016). Is a skinny bundle a better choice for you than paying for hundreds of channels you don't watch or spending much more for individual channels you do?
As the FCC lifted restrictions on cable's freedom to import distant signals and to show current movies, HBO grew and was joined by a host of other satellite-delivered pay networks. Today, among the most familiar and popular premium cable networks are HBO, Showtime, Sundance Channel, and Cinemax.
In addition to freedom from regulatory constraint, two important programming discoveries ensured the success of the new premium channels. After television's early experiments with over-the-air subscription TV failed, many experts believed people simply would not pay for television. So the first crucial discovery was that viewers would indeed pay for packages of contemporary, popular movies. These movie packages could be sold less expensively than could films bought one at a time, and viewers were willing to be billed on a monthly basis for the whole package rather than pay for each viewing.
The second realization boosting the fortunes of the premium networks was the discovery that viewers not only did not mind repeats (as many did with over-the-air television) but welcomed them as a benefit of paying for the provider's slate of films. Premium channel owners were delighted. Replaying content reduced their programming costs and solved the problem of how to fill all those hours of operation.
Page 195Premium services come in two forms: movie channels (HBO, Starz!, and Encore, for example) that offer packages of new and old movies along with big sports and other special events—all available for one monthly fee—and pay-per-view channels, through which viewers choose from a menu of offerings (almost always of very new movies and very big sporting events) and pay a fee for the chosen viewing.
People enjoy premium channels in the home for their ability to present unedited and uninterrupted movies and other content not usually found on broadcast channels—for example, adult fare, championship boxing, ultimate fighting, and wrestling. Increasingly, however, that "content not usually found on broadcast channels" often consists not of movies and sports but of high-quality serial programming—content unencumbered by the need to attract the largest possible audience possessing a specific set of demographics. Premium cable series such as Game of Thrones, Westworld, Veep, Homeland, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Power attract large and loyal followings.
The other dominant multichannel service is direct broadcast satellite (DBS). First available to the public in 1994, it has brought cable's subscriber growth to a standstill because, from the viewer's perspective, what is on a DBS-supplied screen differs little from what is on a cable-supplied screen.
DBS in the United States is dominated by two companies, DirecTV (owned by AT&T) and Dish Network. DirecTV has 25.3 million subscribers; Dish Network has 13.9 million. These two companies, along with Verizon's fiber optic FiOS-TV and its 4.7 million subscribers, have recently been peeling away subscribers from cable. Look at the list of the 10 largest pay-TV services in Figure 3. Note that Dish and DirecTV are among that group. But DBS providers, like other MSOs, face the troubling problem of cord-cutting, viewers leaving cable and DBS altogether and relying on Internet-only television viewing. From 2011 to 2016, cable lost 6.7 million subscribers, and more than a quarter of Millennials report never having subscribed to cable, that is, they are cord-nevers (Nocera, 2016). Much of this decline is attributed to what the industry calls over-the-top (OTT) television, delivery of video without the involvement of an MSO, as in "over (avoiding) the set-top box." Because of OTT, which also makes skinny bundles possible, the number of zero-TV homes, those with sets Page 196that receive neither over-the-air nor cable/satellite television, now account for 6% of all TV homes, including 13% of homes with 18- to 34-year-olds (Friedman, 2016a). Look again at Figure 3. You'll notice that there were two non-MSO services, Netflix and Hulu, among the country's top 10 providers of pay television in 2017. One OTT, Netflix, was number one by a very wide margin. Viewers and critics agree that much of television's most sophisticated (and enjoyable) programming is available on premium cable. Unafraid of offending advertisers, cable networks can present challenging, often controversial content. Here are Westworld, Homeland, Veep, and Power.
In March 1996 the digital video disc (DVD) went on sale in U.S. stores. Using a DVD, viewers can stop images with no loss of fidelity; can subtitle a movie in a number of languages; can search for specific scenes from an on-screen menu; and can access bonus features that give background on the movie, its production, and its personnel. Scenes and music not used in the theatrical release of a movie are often included on the disc.
Innovations such as these made DVD at the time of its introduction the fastest-growing consumer electronic product of all time. DVD players now sit in about 50% of U.S. homes, down from 80% just a few years ago. Because of the many viewing options now available, DVD sales and rentals have fallen dramatically for the last several years. In 2012, the number of online movie transactions (sales and rentals) exceeded the number of physical, that is disc, transactions for the first time, 3.4 billion to 2.4 billion (Smith, 2012); and in 2016, video streaming subscription revenues surpassed those from physical disc sales and rentals for the first time (Richter, 2017). Despite its looming obsolescence, DVD served to further alter the relationship between television and its audiences. Viewers became accustomed to having greater control over what they watched, when they watched, and how they watched on a platform much more satisfying than the earlier VCR. In addition, people watching DVDs were viewers that broadcasters could not sell to advertisers, helping to erode television's dominance as an advertising medium.
In March 1999 Philips Electronics unveiled the digital video recorder (DVR). It contains digital software that puts a significant amount of control over content in viewers' hands. They can "rewind" and play back portions of a program while they are watching and recording it without losing any of that show. By designating their favorite shows, viewers can instruct DVR to automatically record and deliver not only those programs but all similar content over a specified period of time. This application can even be used with the name of a favorite actor. Type in Shemar Moore, and DVR will automatically record all programming in which he appears.
DVR does not deliver programming the way broadcasters, cablecasters, and DBS systems do. Rather, it is employed in addition to these content providers. Both DBS providers and almost every MSO now offer low-cost DVR as part of their technology platform, significantly hastening its diffusion into American homes. Today, about half of all TV households have DVR. Naturally, traditional broadcast and ad-supported cable networks found the rapid diffusion of DVR troubling, and while it is true that DVR dramatically changed television viewing as we knew it, it has not had as negative an effect on those traditional programming sources as originally anticipated. While DVR does allow viewers to fast-forward through commercials, we saw earlier in this chapter that traditional broadcasters rely on DVR playback to boost their ratings and therefore profits.
Television on the Internet was slow to take off because of copyright and piracy concerns, and because few viewers had sufficient bandwidth, space on the wires bringing content into their homes. So for several years the most typical video fare on the Internet was a variety of short specialty transmissions such as movie trailers, music videos, and news clips. But the development of increasingly sophisticated video compression software and the parallel rise of homes with broadband Internet connections (73% of all U.S. Internet homes have broadband; Smith, 2017) have changed that. Because broadband offers greater information-carrying Page 198capacity (that is, it increased bandwidth), watching true television on the Internet is now common. Much of that viewing is of content that originated on network and cable television, but much is also Web-only video (most if streaming service video is considered; half of all U.S. TV homes subscribe to a streaming video service; Friedman, 2016b).
And as we saw in this chapter's opening, the distinction between Web-only and broadcast/cable programming is disappearing. Internet video sites Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and YouTube commission original content. We stream 5 billion videos every day on YouTube, and we also stream 8 billion a day on Facebook (Savage, 2016). And there are many other successful, more narrowly targeted video streaming sites. Crackle, for example, offers new and classic television comedy, and Fandor and Mubi serve die-hard independent movie fans. This wealth of Internet video is altering viewing habits, especially among young people. You can see the steady and precipitous decline in weekly traditional TV viewing among 18- to 24-year-olds in Figure 4. Ultimately, the convergence of the Internet and television will be even more seamless as there are other technologies further discouraging the distinction between the two. Slingbox and Roku, for example, allow users to "sling" television content to their computers and mobile devices. Viewers can also sling video in the other direction with devices such as Apple TV—digital content from apps like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and other streaming services; video from the streaming operations of the NBA, NHL, and MLB; and streamed video from a number of broadcast and cable channels—and send it to home television sets. In addition, using video-game consoles and Internet-enabled HDTVs (commonly called Smart TVs), 74% of all U.S. TV homes have direct Web-to-TV connections (Martin, 2017).
The Internet is not the only technology that permits interactivity. Cable and satellite also allow viewers to "talk back" to content providers. But it is digital cable television, the delivery of digital images and other information to subscribers, that offers the truest form of interactive television. There are 61 million digital cable subscribers in the United States (Internet & Television Association, 2017).
Cable's digital channels permit multiplexing, carrying two or more different signals over the same channel. This, in turn, is made possible by digital compression, which "squeezes" signals to permit multiple signals to be carried over one channel. Digital compression works by removing redundant information from the transmission of the signal. For example, the set behind two actors in a movie scene might not change for several minutes. So why transmit the information that the set is there? Simply transmit the digital data that indicate what has changed in the scene, not what has not.
This expanded capacity makes possible interactive cable, that is, the ability of subscribers to talk back to the system operator (extra space on the channel is used for this back talk). And this permits the following services, many of which you already use: one-click shopping (you see it, you click on it, you buy it), local information on demand (news, traffic, and weather), program interactivity (choose a camera angle, learn more about an actor's career, play along with game show contestants), interactive program guides, and video games. But it is video-on-demand (VOD)—the ability to access pay-per-view movies and other content that can be watched at any time—that best shows the economic advantage of putting more control into viewers' hands. American television homes annually log 4.4 billion hours of on-demand movies and TV shows via cable (Friedman, 2014).
Smartphones and tablets (and all contemporary handheld video game consoles) have made television watching an anywhere, anytime activity. We've already seen that watching streamed video on mobile devices is now quite routine, but it is likely to become even more common as social networking sites increase their commitment to video. Twitter live streams NBA basketball games. The league has also developed original programming for the site, which also live streams, among other content, NFL football games, Wimbledon tennis matches, CBS News, the NHL, major league baseball, and the Pac-12 Network. In 2016 Twitter live Page 200streamed the Republican and Democratic national conventions. Facebook Live streams professional soccer and the U.S. men's and women's national basketball teams. In addition, all the major professional sports leagues offer free apps that let mobile users access their content while on the go.
There are several apps that encourage not only mobile viewing but mobile broadcasting as well. Periscope and Facebook Live permit their users to connect to their social networking accounts and stream live video directly to their followers. These apps vaulted into public consciousness in 2016 when Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives used Periscope and Facebook Live to broadcast their House-floor protest over gun violence after the Republican leadership declared a recess, shutting off C-SPAN's coverage (Kantrowitz, 2016). When Republican leaders ordered the cameras turned off, Democratic representatives turned to Periscope and Facebook Live to broadcast their anti-gun-violence demonstration from the House floor to C-SPAN and social networking sites.
No matter whom you might have favored in the 2016 presidential election, you were likely among the 60% of Americans dissatisfied with the performance of the traditional press ("Low Marks," 2016). But what about television's satirical news shows? Have you considered their performance? HBO's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, TBS's Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, CBS's The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and NBC's Saturday Night Live and Late Night with Seth Meyers all played significant roles in helping people make sense of what was a confusing and dramatic political season (Robinson, 2016). But should they? Of course, when it's your candidate being lampooned, you might argue "no."
You, however, are a media-literate television viewer, so you understand and respect the power of media messages, you have knowledge of television's genre conventions and recognize when they are being mixed, and above all, you enjoy television content. And this is what makes televised satirical news such an interesting genre for consideration. Satirical television news, by definition, mixes genre conventions, is specifically wielded to have an impact (to reach people's consciences by poking fun at the powerful), and is designed to be enjoyed.
The popularity of these programs raises a number of questions for media-literate TV viewers. First, did they have an impact on the outcome of the election? At a time when so few Americans saw merit in the traditional media's coverage of political campaigns, was the satirists' influence magnified? Another question often raised about TV's satirical news is why it so often seems to have a liberal orientation. "Could it be that American political satire is biased toward liberals in the same way that American political talk radio is biased toward conservatives?" asks cultural critic Oliver Morrison (2015). He points to research "that found liberals and conservatives seemed to have different aesthetic tastes. Conservatives seemed to prefer stories with clear-cut endings. Liberals, on the other hand, had more tolerance for... uncertainty and ambiguity," the makings of good comedy in general and satire in specific. Or is it that satire—by definition—challenges the status quo, something traditionally valued by conservatives? Morrison quotes humor researcher Alison Dagnes: "Conservatism supports institutions, and satire aims to knock these institutions down a peg."
How do you answer these questions? There is little doubt that satirical television news is an important voice in the cultural forum. But is it a voice that adds to the conversation, or does it diminish how we talk about our world and how we talk to one another? Does the fact that satirical news comedians like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are consistently ranked among the country's "most trusted" journalists change your answers (Meyers, 2015; Linkins, 2009)? What is the role and value of satirical television news like that delivered by John Oliver?
There is no better way to become aware of the impact of the media on you and society than to do without them. As a media-literate individual, you can test for yourself just how free you are of the power of one specific medium, video. See if you control your viewing or if your viewing controls you. To start, pick a five-day period and simply stop watching. No television. No videos on the Internet or your smartphone. No video games. Simply put, don't watch or even look at any video screen anywhere for five entire days. If you are adventurous, enlist one or more friends, family members, or roommates.
Simply changing your routine viewing behavior will not do very much for you unless you reflect on its meaning. Ask yourself (and any others you may have enlisted) these questions. How easy or difficult was it for you to break away from all video? Why was it easy or difficult? What did you learn about your video consumption habits? How did you use the freed-up time? Were you able to find productive activity, or did you spend your time longing for a screen? Be sure to describe how not watching affected your other life habits (eating, socializing with family and friends, news gathering, and the like). Describe your interactions with other people during this week. Did your conversations change? That is, were there alterations in duration, depth, or subject matter? If you were unable to complete the week of nonviewing, describe why. How easy or difficult was it to come to the decision to give up? Do you consider it a failure to have resumed watching before the five days were up? Why or why not? Once you resume your normal video habits, place yourself on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being "I Control Video" and 10 being "Video Controls Me." Explain your self-rating.
Gibson is called the godfather of cyberspace, originator of the term, and is the author of Neuromancer and Johnny Mnemonic. McLuhan is the author of Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man and originator of some of your favorite expressions such as "hot and cool media" and "the medium is the message." But now, as you see it, Gibson and McLuhan are in conflict.
For example, another of McLuhan's famous expressions is "the global village." You understood this to mean that as media "shrink" the world, people will become increasingly involved in one another's lives. As people come to know more about others who were once separated from them by distance, they will form a new, beneficial relationship, a global village.
Then you saw an interview with Gibson on television. His vision of technology's impact on the globe was anything but optimistic. He said, "We're moving toward a world where all the consumers under a certain age will ... identify more with their consumer status or with the products they consume than they would with an antiquated notion of nationality. We're increasingly interchangeable" (as cited in Trench, 1990).
Maybe you were wrong about McLuhan's ideas. He did his influential writing a long time ago. Where was it you read about the global village? In a magazine interview? You Google it to confirm that you understood him correctly. There it is, just as you thought: "The human tribe can become truly one family and man's consciousness can be freed from the shackles of mechanical culture and enabled to roam the cosmos" (in Norden, 1969, p. 158). McLuhan's global village is an exciting place, a good place for people enjoying increased contact and increased involvement with one another aided by electronic technology. Gibson's nationless world isn't about involving ourselves in one another's lives and experiences. It's about electronic technology turning us into indistinguishable nonindividuals, rallying around products. We are united by buyable things, identifying not with others who share our common culture but with those who share common brands. McLuhan sees the new communication technologies as expanding our experiences. Gibson sees them more negatively. You respect and enjoy the ideas of both thinkers. How can you reconcile the disagreement you have uncovered?
We begin this chapter with an examination of the Internet, the "new technology" that helped bring Gibson to prominence and gave renewed life to Marshall McLuhan's ideas. We study the history of the Internet, beginning with the development of the computer, and then we look at the Internet as it exists today. We examine its formats and its capabilities, especially the World Wide Web and social media.
Many of the issues discussed here will be familiar to you. Given the fundamental role that the Internet plays in encouraging and permitting convergence, concentration, audience fragmentation, globalization, and hypercommercialism, you should not be surprised that we've "met" the Internet, the Web, and social media before now in discussing the more traditional media.
These technologies are significantly reshaping the operation of those media; and as the media with which we interact change, the role they play in our lives and the impact they have on us and our culture will likewise be altered. We will look at the new technologies' double edge (their ability to have both good and bad effects), their ability to foster greater freedom of expression, efforts to control that expression, changes in the meaning of and threats to personal privacy, and the promise and perils of practicing democracy online.
Finally, our discussion of improving our media literacy takes the form of an examination of the Declaration of Internet Freedom. But first, the Internet.
There are conflicting versions about the origins of the Internet. In the words of media historian Daniel J. Czitrom, they involve "the military and the counterculture, the need for command and control and the impulse against hierarchy and toward decentralization" (2007, p. 484). The more common story—the command-and-control version—is that the Internet is a product of the Cold War. In this version, the air force in 1962, wanting to maintain the military's ability to transfer information around the country even if a given area was destroyed in an enemy attack, commissioned leading computer scientists to develop the means to do so. But many researchers and scientists dispute this "myth that [has] gone unchallenged long enough to become widely accepted as fact," that the Internet was initially "built to protect national security in the face of nuclear attack" (Hafner & Lyon, 1996, p. 10).
In the decentralization version, as early as 1956 psychologist Joseph C. R. Licklider, a devotee of Marshall McLuhan's thinking on the power of communication technology, foresaw linked computers creating a country of citizens "informed about, and interested in, and involved in, the process of government" (as quoted in Hafner & Lyon, 1996, p. 34). He foresaw "home computer consoles" and television sets connected in a nationwide network. "The political process would essentially be a giant teleconference," he wrote, "and a campaign would be a months-long series of communications among candidates, propagandists, commentators, political action groups, and voters. The key," he added, "is the self-motivating exhilaration that accompanies truly effective interaction with information through a good console and a good network to a good computer" (p. 34).
In what many technologists now consider to be the seminal essay on the potential and promise of computer networks, Man-Computer Symbiosis, Licklider, who had by now given up psychology and devoted himself completely to computer science, wrote in 1960, "The hope is that in not too many years, human brains and computing machines will be coupled ... tightly, and the resulting partnership will think as no human brain has ever thought and process data in a way not approached by the information handling machines we know today" (as quoted in Hafner & Lyon, 1996, p. 35). Scores of computer experts, enthused by Licklider's vision (and many more who saw networked computers as a way to gain access to the powerful but otherwise expensive and unavailable computers just beginning to become available), joined the rush toward the development of what we know today as the Internet, a global network of interconnected computers that communicate freely and share and exchange information. Joseph C. R. Licklider envisioned a national system of interconnected home computers as early as 1956.
The title "originator of the computer" resides with Englishman Charles Babbage. Lack of money and unavailability of the necessary technology stymied his plan to build an "analytical engine," a steam-driven computer. But in the mid-1880s, aided by the insights of mathematician Lady Ada Byron Lovelace, Babbage did produce designs for a "computer" that could conduct algebraic computations using stored memory and punch cards for input and output. His work provided inspiration for those who would follow.
Over the next 100 years a number of mechanical and electromechanical computers were attempted, some with success. But Colossus, developed by the British to break the Germans' secret codes during World War II, was the first electronic digital computer. It reduced information to a binary code—that is, a code made up of the digits 1 and 0. In this form information could be stored and manipulated. The first "full-service" electronic computer, ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator), based on the work of Iowa State's John V. Atanasoff, was introduced by scientists John Mauchly and John Presper Eckert of the Moore School of Electrical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania in 1946. ENIAC hardly resembled the computers we know today: 18 feet tall, 80 feet long, and weighing 60,000 pounds, it was composed of 17,500 vacuum tubes and 500 miles of electrical wire. It could fill an auditorium and ate up 150,000 watts of electricity. Mauchly and Eckert eventually left the university to form their own computer company, later selling it to the Remington Rand Corporation in 1950. At Remington they developed UNIVAC (Universal Automatic Computer), which, when bought for and used by the Census Bureau in 1951, became the first successful commercial computer.
Page 230The commercial computer explosion was ignited by IBM. Using its already well-entrenched organizational system of trained sales and service professionals, IBM helped businesses find their way in the early days of the computer revolution. One of its innovations was to sell rather than rent computers to customers, boosting diffusion of the new technology.
In 1957 the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, Earth's first human-constructed satellite. The once-undisputed supremacy of the United States in science and technology had been usurped, and U.S. scientists and military officials were in shock. The Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) was immediately established to sponsor and coordinate sophisticated defense-related research. In 1962, as part of a larger drive to promote the use of computers in national defense (and giving rise to one of the stories of the Internet's origins), ARPA commissioned Paul Baran of the Rand Corporation to produce a plan that would enable the U.S. military to maintain command over its missiles and planes if a nuclear attack knocked out conventional means of communication. The military thought a decentralized communication network was necessary. In that way, no matter where the bombing occurred, other locations would be available to launch a counterattack. Among Baran's plans was one for a "packet switched network." He wrote,
Packet switching is the breaking down of data into datagrams or packets that are labeled to indicate the origin and the destination of the information and the forwarding of these packets from one computer to another computer until the information arrives at its final destination computer. This (is) crucial to the realization of a computer network. If packets are lost at any given point, the message can be resent by the originator. (As cited in Kristula, 1997, p. 1)
The genius of the system Baran envisioned is twofold: (1) common communication rules (called protocols) and common computerPage 231 languages would enable any type of computer, running with any operating system, to communicate with another; and (2) destination or delivery instructions embedded in all information sent on the system would enable instantaneous "detours" or "rerouting" if a given computer on the network became unavailable.
Using Honeywell computers at Stanford University, UCLA, the University of California−Santa Barbara, and the University of Utah, the switching network, called ARPAnet, went online in 1969 and became fully operational and reliable within one year. Other developments soon followed. In 1972 an engineer named Ray Tomlinson created the first e-mail program (and gave us the ubiquitous @ symbol). In 1974 Stanford University's Vinton Cerf and the military's Robert Kahn coined the term "the Internet." In 1979 a graduate student at the University of North Carolina, Steve Bellovin, created Usenet and, independent of Bellovin, IBM created BITNET. These two networking software systems enabled virtually anybody with access to a Unix or IBM computer to connect to others on the growing network. By the time the Internet Society was chartered and the World Wide Web was released in 1992, there were more than 1.1 million hosts—computers linking individual personal computer users to the Internet. Today there is an ever-expanding number of hosts, 100 million and growing, serving more than 3.7 billion users across the globe, or 50.1% of the world's population ("Internet Usage," 2017). The Soviet Union's 23-inches-in-diameter, 184-pound Sputnik was not only the first human-made satellite to orbit Earth; it also sent shudders throughout the American scientific and military communities.
A crucial part of the story of the Internet is the development and diffusion of personal computers. IBM was fantastically successful at exciting businesses, schools and universities, and other organizations about computers. But IBM's and other companies' mainframe and minicomputers employed terminals, and these stations at which users worked were connected to larger, centralized machines. As a result, the Internet at first was the province of the people who worked in those settings.
When the semiconductor (or integrated circuit, or chip) replaced the vacuum tube as the essential information processor in computers, its tiny size, absence of heat, and low cost made possible the design and production of small, affordable microcomputers, or personal computers (PCs). This, of course, opened the Internet to anyone, anytime. Laptop computers, which outsold desktop models for the first time in 2007, extended that reach to anywhere. The tablet computer was first introduced in 2006 by Microsoft. It remained a niche computerPage 232Page 233 favored by medical professionals for years. But the 2010 introduction of the iPad (operated not by mouse but by touch screen) not only continued the expansion of computing to anyone, anywhere, but it also made it even more convenient. In 2013 tablets outsold laptops for the first time and outsold both laptops and PCs in 2015 (Anthony, 2014).
The leaders of the personal computer revolution were Bill Gates and the duo of Steve Jobs and Stephen Wozniak. As a first-year college student in 1975, Gates saw a magazine story about a small, low-powered computer, the MITS Altair 8800 (developed by Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems, an American electronics company), that could be built from a kit and used to play a simple game. Sensing that the future of computing was in these personal computers and that the power of computers would reside not in their size but in the software that ran them, Gates dropped out of Harvard University and, with his friend Paul Allen, founded Microsoft Corporation. They licensed their operating system—the software that tells the computer how to work—to MITS. With this advance, people no longer had to know sophisticated operating languages to use computers. At nearly the same time, in 1977, Jobs and Wozniak, also college dropouts, perfected Apple II, a low-cost, easy-to-use microcomputer designed specifically for personal rather than business use. It was immediately and hugely successful, especially in its development of multimedia capabilities—advanced sound and image applications. IBM, stung by its failure to enter the personal computer business, contracted with Microsoft to use its operating system in its IBM PC, first introduced in 1981. All of the pieces were now in place for the home computer revolution. A 1960s-vintage IBM mainframe computer. The personal computer in your home probably carries more computing power than this giant machine. The originators of the personal computing revolution—Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Stephen Wozniak. The desktop computer opened the Internet to anyone, anytime. The laptop extended that reach to anywhere. The tablet made anytime, anywhere more convenient.
The Internet is most appropriately thought of as a "network of networks" that is growing at an incredibly fast rate. These networks consist of LANs (local area networks), connecting two or more computers, usually within the same building, and WANs (wide area networks), connecting several LANs in different locations. When people access the Internet from a computer in a university library, they are most likely on a LAN. But when several universities (or businesses or other organizations) link their computer systems, their users are part of a WAN.
As the popularity of the Internet has grown, so has the number of ISPs (Internet service providers), companies that offer Internet connections at monthly rates depending on the kind and amount of access needed. There are hundreds of ISPs operating in the United States, including some of the better known such as SuddenLink and CenturyLink. Americans increasingly find that their ISP and video (cable or FiOS) provider are one and the same—for example, Comcast and Verizon. Half of all U.S. Internet users are served by the five largest ISPs. Through providers, users can avail themselves of numerous services, among them e-mail, instant messaging, and VoIP.
With an Internet e-mail account, users can communicate with anyone else online, any place in the world. Each person online has a unique e-mail address that works just like a telephone number. There are even online "Yellow Pages" and "White Pages" to help users find other people by e-mail. You may be surprised that 295 billion e-mails are sent each day. But if you are a regular e-mail user, you aren't surprised to learn that 89% of all e-mails, about 260 billion a day, are spam, unsolicited commercial e-mails ("Spam Statistics," 2017). Instant messaging, or IM, is the real-time version of e-mail, allowing two or more people to communicate instantaneously and in immediate response to one another. IM can also be used for downloading text, audio, and video files and for gaming.
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), pronounced "voyp," is telephone whereby calls are transferred in digital packets over the Internet rather than on circuit-switched telephone wires. Think of it as "voice e-mail." Vonage (primarily residential) and Ring Central (primarily business) are two of the better-known VoIP providers. More than 224 million people have residential VoIP, a number boosted by Facebook's introduction of free VoIP in its messaging app in 2014 ("VoIP Market," 2016).
Of course, much mobile use is devoted to social media. Where e-mail was long the Internet's most common and fastest-growing use, it was surpassed in 2009 by social networking sites, websites that function as online communities of users. Today they account for 1 out of every 5 minutes Americans spend on mobile Internet and 1 out of every 6 minutes of all Internet time (Bolton, 2016). And it was Facebook's specific desire to make itself even more attractive to mobile users that drove the company in 2012 to buy the two-year-old, purely mobile photo start-up Instagram for $1 billion. Instagram now has more than 89 million U.S. users, 600 million worldwide (C. Smith, 2017a).'s 1995 launch began the social networking movement, and it was soon followed by similar sites, most notably Friendster in 2002 and LinkedIn in 2003. MySpace also launched in 2003 and, hipper and morePage 236 feature-filled than the earlier efforts, became a favorite of young people around the world until it was unseated by Facebook, which was Harvard University-specific at birth in 2004 and became global in 2006. Of all adult Americans on social media, 90.4% are Facebook users, and Facebook occasionally alternates with YouTube as the world's second most-visited website after Google; it collects 67.9% of the world's social networking ad revenues, $33 billion a year in 2016 ("Ad Age Social," 2016).
These "old line" sites were joined in 2006 by Twitter, a social media site designed for "micro-blogging," posts of up to 140 characters (called tweets) displayed on senders' profile pages and delivered to their subscribers (followers). In 2017, Twitter began testing a doubling of its character limit to 280. Delivery can be restricted to a specific circle of followers, or, by default, it can be public. There are 67 million active monthly users in the United States ("Number of," 2017) and they send 500 million tweets a day ("Twitter Usage," 2017). While much of the activity is innocuous, like following a celebrity (singer Katy Perry has 95 million followers), much of it is serious. It was Twitter activity that alerted the national media to the shooting of Michael Brown and the protests that followed in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes said that Twitter "is a heat map and a window, a place where sometimes the things that are 'trending' offer very real insight into the current informational needs of a huge swath of news consumers, some of whom traditional outlets often miss" (in Carr, 2014, p. B1). It is also the medium of choice for many world leaders and other news makers. For example, President Trump regularly uses it to bypass what he calls the "dishonest press" to communicate directly with the public, though the traditional media will often report on his tweets. Trump explained, "I can go bing bing bing and I just keep going and they put it on and as soon as I tweet it out—this morning on television, Fox: Donald Trump, we have breaking news" (in Uberti & Vernon, 2017).
There are scores of other social networking sites. Some are general interest and growing in popularity, especially with younger users, for example Snapchat (users post images and video that are viewable for only a short time) and Pinterest (users upload or search, save, sort, and manage images and videos into collections called boards that serve as personalized media platforms). Others are narrower communities built around specific interests, for example CafeMom (for mothers), BlackPlanet (for the African American community), and Foursquare (for those who want their followers to know where they are and make recommendations of nearby services and activities).
There must be a reason that 70% of all U.S. adults belong to at least one social networking site (A. Smith, 2017), just as there must be a reason that 70% of smartphone users check their phones to read personal e-mails and check social media within an hour of getting out of bed, 61% regularly sleep with their phones turned on under their pillow or next to their bed, and 51% check their devices continuously during their vacations (Durden, 2016).
One answer to the why of our engagement with social networking sites resides in the dual-factor model of social media use, which claims that this engagement is motivated by two basic social needs. The first is the need to belong, our natural desire to associate with other people and gain their acceptance. The second, the need for self-presentation, is our ongoing effort to shape what others think of us. The two operate simultaneously because social media activity not only tells us we belong (that's where our friends are), but it increases our sense of acceptance and, therefore, our self-esteem (Nadkarni & Hofmann, 2012). In fact, the simple act of updating and reading our own profiles boosts our self-esteem (Gonzales & Hancock, 2011).
Page 237But once we've made the decision to use social media, we must decide how we present ourselves. As you'll soon read, many people worry about their privacy when online, but in our everyday use of social media we willingly offer even the minutest details about our lives, taking pains to update those offerings, and even supporting those entries with visual evidence. When we do this we make judgments about the self we choose to reveal. We select our screen names and profile pictures to identify ourselves as we wish to be identified. But do we openly try to deceive? If you think most social media users do, you subscribe to the idealized virtual identity hypothesis, which argues that social media users tend to show idealized characteristics that do not reflect who they really are. But this may not happen as much as you might think. For most users, their time on social media constitutes "an extended social context in which to express [their] actual personality characteristics, thus fostering accurate interpersonal perceptions. [Social media] integrate various sources of personal information that mirror those found in personal environments, private thoughts, facial images, and social behavior, all of which are known to contain valid information about personality" (Back et al., 2010, p. 372). As a result, social media use makes it very difficult to hide who we actually are, and as such it's more likely that the extended real-life hypothesis, the idea that we use social media to communicate our actual identities, holds true. The openness of social media makes it impossible for us to control information about ourselves and our reputations—others can post information about us—and our friends constantly provide accountability and feedback on our profiles and other material we post. That is, those who know us keep us honest.
Can all this effort to present our best, truthful selves carry too much of a toll? For many young people the answer seems to be "yes." The American Academy of Pediatrics recognizes Facebook depression, "depression that develops when preteens and teens spend a great deal of time on social media sites, such as Facebook, and then begin to exhibit classic symptoms of depression. Acceptance by and contact with peers is an important element of adolescent life. The intensity of the online world is thought to be a factor that may trigger depression in some adolescents" (O'Keeffe & Clarke-Pearson, 2011, p. 802).
Indeed, Christina Sagioglou and Tobias Greitmeyer, whose research led them to express surprise "that Facebook enjoys such great popularity," demonstrated that affective forecasting error—the discrepancy between the expected and actual emotions generated by Facebook activity—produces a decline in users' mood after using the social networking site (2014, p. 361). Other research has shown that Facebook users, after one week away from the site, had higher levels of life satisfaction, felt happier and less sad and lonely, were more satisfied with their social lives, had less trouble concentrating, and were more likely to feel present in the moment (Tromholt et al., 2015).
There is also evidence of another emotional downside to social networking: Facebook envy. As many as one in three Facebook users say they are sometimes resentful of the happiness others show on social media. Commentary on "travel and leisure," "social interactions," and "happiness" are the three most frequent generators of envy (Krasnova et al., 2013, p. 7). And if you use social media, you know that these are the topics your friends usually emphasize in their posts; who wants friends who report where they didn't go, who they didn't spend time with, and how unhappy they are?
We typically think of people who access a medium as audience members, but social media and the Internet have users, not audience members. At any time—or even at the same time—a person may be both reading online content and creating content. E-mail, social media, and chat rooms are obvious examples of online users being both audience and creators, but others exist as well. For example, massively multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMOs) enable entire alternative realities to be simultaneously constructed and engaged (see the chapter on video games for more on MMOs), and computer screens that have multiple open windows enable users to read one site while writing on another and uploading audio and video to even another. With ease we can access the Web, link from site to site and page to page, and even build our own sites. The Internet makes us all journalists, broadcasters, commentators, critics, filmmakers, and advice columnists.
It is almost impossible to tell exactly how many users there are on the Internet. People who own computers are not necessarily linked to the Internet, and people need not own computers to use the Internet, as many users access the Internet through devices at school, a library, or work. Current best estimates indicate that there are at least 3.7 billion users worldwide—51% of Earth's population and a 918% increase since 2000. Eighty-seven percent of Americans use the Internet, a 196% increase since 2000, a rapid rate of growth due in large part to the spread of smartphones ("Internet Usage," 2017). The Internet's demographics have undergone a dramatic shift in the last several years as well. In 1996, for example, 62% of U.S. Internet users were men. In 2000, women became the Internet's majority gender for the first time (Hamilton, 2000). Today, women in every age group use the Internet more than men do, and not surprisingly, the younger a person, the greater the likelihood is that he or she has access to the Internet.
Concentration of ownership, globalization, audience fragmentation, hypercommercialism, and convergence are all influencing the nature of the mass communication process (see the chapter on convergence and the reshaping of mass communication). Each redefines the relationship between audiences and media industries. For example, elsewhere in this text we have discussed the impacts of concentration on newspaper readership, of globalization on the type and quality of films available to moviegoers, of audience fragmentation on the variety of channel choices for television viewers, of convergence on the music industry's reinvention, and of hypercommercialism on all media.
The Internet is different from these more traditional media. Rather than changing the relationship between audiences and industries, the Internet changes the definition of the different components of the process and, as a result, changes their relationship. We are the people formerly known as the audience, and many of us are digital natives, people who have never known a world without the Internet. On the Internet a single individual can communicate with as large an audience as can the giant, multinational corporation that produces a network television program. That corporation fits our earlier definition of a mass communication source—a large, hierarchically structured organization—but the Internet user does not. Feedback in mass communication is traditionally described as inferential and delayed, but online feedback can be, and very often is, immediate and direct. It is more similar to feedback in interpersonal communication than to feedback in mass communication.
This Internet-induced redefinition of the elements of the mass communication process is refocusing attention on issues such as freedom of expression, privacy, responsibility, and democracy.
Veteran New Yorker columnist A. J. Liebling, author of that magazine's "Wayward Press" feature and often called the "conscience of journalism," frequently argued that freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one. Theoretically, anyone can own a broadcast outlet or cable television operation. But the number of outlets in any community is limited, and they are unavailable to all but the richest people and corporations. Theoretically, anyone can own a newspaper or magazine, but again the expense involved makes this an impossibility for most people. Newsletters, like soap-box speakers on a street corner, are limited in reach, typically of interest to those who already agree with the message, and relatively unsophisticated when compared with the larger commercial media.
The Internet, however, turns every user into a potential mass communicator. Equally important, on the Internet every "publisher" is equal. The websites of the biggest government agency, the most powerful broadcast network, the newspaper with the highest circulation, the richest ad agencies and public relations firms, the most far-flung religion, and the lone user with an idea or cause figuratively sit side by side. Each is only as powerful as its ideas.
In other words, the Internet can give voice to those typically denied expression. The Internet is fast, far-reaching, easy to use, and perfect for activism at all levels from local to global. This digitally inspired civic engagement is dramatically demonstrated by flash mobs (sometimes called smart mobs), geographically dispersed groups connected only by communications technology, quickly drawn together to perform collective action. The 8-million-member is the best-known site for the coordination of flash mobs and, as it has matured, online political action. s Using e-mail and social media, has a history of generating large-scale protests and civic action on issues of social justice and the environment. For example, it successfully mobilized Californians to move their state assembly to pass a bill requiring public disclosure of political donations and Hawaiians to raise the state's minimum wage. And since 2010, GoFundMe has used crowdfunding, the practice of using digital technology to solicit donations from a large number of people for a cause or project, to attract financial and other support for those in need because of calamities big and small. Its 2016 funding pages for victims of flooding in Louisiana attracted $11.2 million, and the pages for the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando collected $9 million. When the Islamic Center in Victoria, Texas, was destroyed in a fire under suspicious circumstances in January 2017, a GoFundMe campaign to rebuild it drew more than a million dollars from over 22 thousand donors in its first five days, easily exceeding the $850,000 goal (Link, 2017).
But it doesn't take an activist website to connect people and move them to action. There is much individually inspired online activism, derogatorily called slacktivism because it seems to require little real effort. Social movement scholar Jennifer Earl argues that "slacktivists" have no need to apologize for their work, because slacktivism can affect significant social good given that the Web provides slacktivists with two important benefits: It greatly reduces the costs for creating, organizing, and participating in protests, and it erases the need for activists to be physically together in order to act collectively (2016). Slacktivists moved thousands of people to descend on several major U.S. airports in January 2017 to protest what they saw as an unconstitutional and inhumane temporary ban on citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries, including refugees from war-torn countries, announced only hours before by President Trump (Kuns, 2017). They stopped Bank of America from instituting a $5 debit card fee, motivated the National Federation of State High School Associations to develop materials to educate coaches about sexual assault and how to reduce assaults by those in their charge, and moved Seventeen to commit to a "Body Peace Treaty" in which it promised to stop changing models' body and face shapes (as you read in the chapter on magazines).
The Internet also offers expanded expression through Weblogs, or blogs. Before September 11, 2001, blogs were typically personal online diaries. But after that tragic day, possibly because millions of people felt that the traditional press had left them unprepared and clueless about what was really going on in the world, blogs changed. Blogs now refers to regularly updated online journals of commentary, often containing links to the material onPage 241 which they are commenting. There are more than 100 million active blogs worldwide. Technology writer and conservative activist Andrew Sullivan saw blogging's potential in those early days: "Blogging is changing the media world and could foment a revolution in how journalism functions in our culture," not only because individual bloggers have earned their readers' respect, but also because their "personal touch is much more in tune with our current sensibilities" than are those of traditional media outlets (Sullivan, 2002, p. 43).
Blogs have become such an important part of the cultural and political conversation that Internet-security company CloudFlare now provides Project Galileo, a full array of protections against cyberattack, to politically or artistically important small, independent blogs as identified by a committee of 15 freedom-of-expression and journalism nonprofits. Blogs can also be more agile than the traditional media. More so than these older, more cumbersome media, they encourage citizen action in a newly see-through society. For example, millions of bloggers constantly and in real time fact-check political candidates. Some track the flow of money to politicians, connecting it to how they vote on important public issues. They remind the powerful that "little brother" is watching. Images caught by chance on a smartphone, arcane public data that goes otherwise unexamined, and citizen video taken at official events all make their way to the Internet and social media and to the people. As Web activist Micah Sifry explained, "Even without central direction, the crowd is sourcing the world for interesting news and sharing tidbits constantly" (in Melber, 2008). This is no small matter, as the Internet has surpassed newspapers as Americans' primary news source (Mindlin, 2009) and, in 2015, search engines, primarily Google, overtook the traditional media as Americans' most-trusted way to find news (Sterling, 2015). When a suspicious fire destroyed the Islamic Center in Victoria, Texas, a GoFundMe campaign to rebuild drew more than a million dollars from over 22 thousand donors in its first five days. Slacktivists used Twitter, Facebook, and other social media to mobilize thousands of protestors across the country to jam major airports in protest of a Muslim travel ban.
Of course, the very same technologies that can empower users who wish to challenge those more powerful than themselves can also be used to lie and cheat. The Internet and social media do not distinguish between true and false, biased and objective, trivial and important. Once misinformation has been loosed online, it is almost impossible to catch and correct it.
The smear forward has plagued countless people and organizations. Procter & Gamble was victimized by stories that its cleaners killed pets. Starbucks was falsely accused of refusing to provide coffee to marines serving in Iraq. Other Internet-sustained falsehoods can have far more damaging real-world effects, such as the scientifically discredited belief that vaccines cause autism, leading many parents to deny their children potentially life-saving vaccinations. Actress Jenny McCarthy, the most visible face of the anti-vaccine movement, boasts that her education on the issue comes from "the University of Google." She routinelyPage 242 passes on her knowledge to her 1.3 million Twitter followers. Reduced vaccination rates have led to a recurrence of measles outbreaks, once completely eradicated in the United States, and locale-specific outbreaks of mumps, whooping cough, and chicken pox traced to unvaccinated individuals.
Lies and rumors have always been part of human interaction; the Internet only gives them greater reach. But there is little the government can do to control this abuse. Legal remedies already exist in the form of libel laws and prosecution for fraud. Users can help by teaching themselves to be more attentive to unfamiliar Web addresses and by ignoring messages that are sent anonymously or that have suspicious origins. There are e-based solutions as well. maintains an exhaustive, alphabetically organized list of debunkings of the Internet's biggest lies. Also of value is, the self-proclaimed "definitive Internet reference source for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors, and misinformation." Individual sites, too, have taken up the cause of precision and fact. Wikipedia's tens of thousands of editors, for example, review new and altered entries in search of erroneous or public-relations-written material. You can read about the controversy swirling around fake news—inaccurate Internet news stories designed to deceive and be spread—and what many observers claim was its very real impact on the 2016 presidential election in the essay entitled "Did Fake News Help Elect a President?" The Internet's freedom may give lies great reach, but the Internet also has ways of dealing with them. Snopes, one of the first debunking sites, is one of the best.Reprinted by permission of
Did you hear that presidential candidate Hillary Clinton ran an underground child sex-slave network out of the basement of a pizzeria near the White House? Did you read that President Barack Obama laundered money for Muslim terrorists and that Pope Francis endorsed Donald Trump for president in the 2016 election? These stories, all obviously false, were shared millions of times on the Internet, especially on social networking sites. But did these stories, many designed primarily to help one candidate win the presidency, have their intended effect?
In a political race marked by acrimony and distrust, not only between the candidates but between large portions of the American electorate, it is nearly impossible to single out any one reason Republican Trump defeated Democrat Clinton. But given her nearly 3-million-vote plurality in the popular vote and his narrow wins in the three traditionally Democratic states that gave him the Electoral College victory, many observers saw fake news, largely anti-Clinton, as a deciding factor in what was, until the final days, a very close race (deBuys, 2017).
Fake news had many authors. Some were pranksters who saw their jokes taken seriously. Some were "entrepreneurs" at home and abroad attempting to draw clicks, and therefore ad dollars, with outrageousPage 243 stories. Some were satirists mocking the gullibility of those in government and the media who were too quick to accept any "news" that fit their preconceptions (Sydell, 2016). Some were "planted" by opposition political operatives (Moylan, 2017), and some were agents of the Russian government determined to assist their favored candidate, as acknowledged by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (Bruno, 2017; Oremus, 2017). Regardless of their motives for creating fake news, these writers quickly discovered that favorable Trump stories and those damaging to Clinton would be shared far more widely on Facebook and other social networking sites than would stories sympathetic to Clinton (Silverman, 2016). "It's all Trump. People go nuts for it," marveled Canadian satirical fake news writer John Eagan (in Higgins, McIntyre, & Dance, 2016, p. A1).
After the election, the American public learned that Facebook users were two-and-a-half times more likely to read fake news than news from reputable journalism sites (Mandese, 2016) and that 23% of their fellow citizens shared fake political news, about half of whom knew at the time they passed it on that it was false (Mullin, 2016). They saw that during the last three months of the campaign the 20 top fake news stories on Facebook generated more shares, likes, and comments than the top 20 stories from actual news sites ("The Digital," 2016), and that the 23 best-performing fake news stories on Facebook in 2016 combined for 10.6 million engagements—shares, reactions, and comments—or about 460,000 each (Uberti, 2017).
There was fake news; it was read and it was shared. But did it make a difference? It certainly did to the owners and customers of the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria when a man armed with a semi-automatic rifle "self-investigated" the site of Clinton's supposed sex ring, firing three shots while inside (Zapruder, 2016). Facebook, Twitter, and Google believed it made a difference, as all three companies implemented a number of technological and human-based solutions to identify, fact-check, and limit the spread of fake news. CNN and the BBC thought it did, establishing reporting units to chase down and debunk false news stories. The American public believed it did, as 64% said it had "the power to sow confusion" (Loesche, 2017). Ultimately, while it may be impossible to definitely determine if fake news helped elect a president, there is little doubt that fake news did make a difference in an alternative and more insidious way. Philosophy professor Michael Lynch explains, "There are an alarming number of people who tend to be credulous and form beliefs based on the latest thing they've read, but that's not the wider problem. The wider problem is fake news has the effect of getting people not to believe real things." People, he said, think, "There's no way for me to know what is objectively true, so we'll stick to our guns and our own evidence. We'll ignore the facts because nobody knows what's really true anyway" (in Tavernise, 2016, p. A1).
That is how fake news really made a difference; it damaged our democracy by weakening our ability to govern ourselves because we, as citizens, are left with little common, objective reality from which to engage in civic—and civil—discourse.
Most efforts at controlling the Internet are aimed at indecent or pornographic Web content. You can read more about how indecent and pornographic expression is protected in the chapter on media freedom, regulation, and ethics. The particular concern with the Internet, therefore, is shielding children.
The Child Pornography Prevention Act of 1996 forbade online transmission of any image that "appears to be of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct." Proponents argued that the impact of child porn on the children involved, as well as on society, warranted this legislation. Opponents argued that child pornography per se was already illegal, regardless of the medium. Therefore they saw this law as an unnecessary and overly broad intrusion into freedom of expression on the Internet. In April 2002 the Supreme Court sided with the act's opponents. Its effect would be too damaging to freedom of expression. "Few legitimate movie producers or book publishers, or few other speakers in any capacity, would risk distributing images in or near the uncertain reach of this law," wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy. "The Constitution gives significant protection from over-broad laws that chill speech within the First Amendment's vast and privileged sphere" (in "Justices Scrap," 2002, p. A3). Kennedy cited the antidrug film Traffic, Academy Award-winning American Beauty, and Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, all works containing scenes of minors engaged in sexual activity, as examples of expression that would disappear from the Internet.
Page 244The primary battleground, then, became protecting children from otherwise legal content. The Internet, by virtue of its openness and accessibility, raises particular concerns. Children's viewing of sexually explicit material on cable or streaming television can theoretically be controlled by parents. Moreover, viewers must specifically order this content and typically pay an additional fee for it. The purchase of sexually explicit videos, books, and magazines is controlled by laws regulating vendors. But computers sit in homes, schools, and libraries. Children are encouraged to explore their possibilities. A search for a seemingly innocent term may have multiple meanings and might turn up any number of pornographic sites.
Proponents of stricter control of the Internet liken the availability of smut online to a bookstore or library that allows porn to sit side by side with books that children should be reading. In actual, real-world bookstores and libraries, professionals, whether book retailers or librarians, apply their judgment in selecting and locating material, ideally striving for appropriateness and balance. Children are the beneficiaries of this professional judgment. No such selection or evaluation is applied to the Internet. Opponents of control accept the bookstore/library analogy but argue that, as troubling as the online proximity of all types of content may be, it is a true example of the freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment.
The solution seems to be in technology. Filtering software, such as Net Nanny, can be set to block access to websites by title and by the presence of specific words and images. Few free speech advocates are troubled by filters on home computers, but they do see them as problematic when used on more public machines—for example, in schools and libraries. They argue that software that can filter sexual content can also be set to screen out birth control information, religious sites, and discussions of racism. Virtually any content can be blocked. This, they claim, denies other users—adults and mature teenagers, for example—their freedoms.
Congress weighed in on the filtering debate, passing the Children's Internet Protection Act in 2000, requiring schools and libraries to install filtering software. But First Amendment concerns invalidated this act as well. A federal appeals court ruled in June 2002 that requiring these institutions to install filters changes their nature from places that provide information to places that unconstitutionally restrict it. Nonetheless, in June 2003 a sharply divided Supreme Court upheld the Children's Internet Protection Act, declaring that Congress did indeed have the power to require libraries to install filters.
Another freedom-of-expression issue that takes on a special nature on the Internet is copyright. Copyright protection is designed to ensure that those who create content are financially compensated for their work. The assumption is that more "authors" will create more content if assured of monetary compensation from those who use it. When the content is tangible (books, movies, magazines, CDs), authorship and use are relatively easy to identify. But in the cyberworld, things become a bit more complex. John Perry Barlow (1996), a cofounder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, explained the situation relatively early in the life of the Internet:
The riddle is this: If our property can be infinitely reproduced and instantaneously distributed all over the planet without cost, without our knowledge, without its even leaving our possession, how can we protect it? How are we going to get paid for the work we do with our minds? And, if we can't get paid, what will assure the continued creation and distribution of such work? (p. 148)
Technically, copyright rules apply to the Internet as they do to other media. Material on the Internet belongs to the author, so its use, other than fair use, requires permission and possibly payment. But because material on the Internet is not tangible, it is easily, freely, and privately copied. This renders it difficult, if not impossible, to police those who do copy.
Another confounding issue is that new and existing material is often combined with other existing material to create even "newer" content. This makes it difficult to assign authorship. If a user borrows some text from one source, combines it with images from a second,Page 245 surrounds both with a background graphic from a third, and adds music sampled from many others, where does authorship reside?
To deal with these thorny issues, in 1998 the U.S. Congress passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Its primary goal was to bring U.S. copyright law into compliance with that of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. The act does the following:
Makes it a crime to circumvent antipiracy measures built into commercial software
Outlaws the manufacture, sale, or distribution of code-breaking devices used to illegally copy software
Permits breaking of copyright protection devices to conduct encryption research and to test computer security systems
Provides copyright exemptions for nonprofit libraries, archives, and educational institutions under certain circumstances
Limits the copyright infringement liability of Internet service providers for simply transmitting information over the Internet, but ISPs are required to remove material from users' websites that appears to constitute copyright infringement
Requires webcasters (those who broadcast music over the Internet) to pay licensing fees to record companies
States explicitly that fair use—instances in which copyrighted material may be used without permission or payment, such as taking brief quotes from a book—applies to the Internet
What the debate over Internet copyright represents—like concern about controlling content that children can access and efforts to limit troublesome or challenging expression—is a clash of fundamental values that has taken on added nuance with the coming of computer networks. Copyright on the Internet is discussed more fully in the chapter on media freedom, regulation, and ethics.
The 1986 Electronic Communication Privacy Act guarantees the privacy of our e-mail. It is a criminal offense to either "intentionally [access] without authorization a facility through which an electronic communication service is provided; or intentionally [exceed] an authorization to access that facility." In addition, the law "prohibits an electronic communications service provider from knowingly divulging the contents of any stored electronic communication." The goal of this legislation is to protect private citizens from official abuse; it gives e-mail "conversations" the same protection that phone conversations enjoy. If a government agency wants to listen in, it must secure permission, just as it must get a court order for a telephone wiretap.
And while the 1986 act is still the law, whistle-blower Edward Snowden's 2013 revelation that the National Security Agency, in its efforts to thwart terrorism, was collecting virtually every piece of data that traveled the Internet made it clear that privacy of communication on the Internet is, at best, a hoped-for ideal. Debate has raged over whether Snowden is a hero orPage 246 traitor, but no one disputes the fact that U.S. government agencies constantly and ubiquitously track our online activity. You can argue that this benign surveillance—computers recording what other computers are doing to look for suspicious patterns—is more beneficial than harmful; it's keeping us safe. Or you might argue, as does reporter Chris Hedges, that "the relationship between those who are constantly watched and tracked and those who watch and track them is the relationship between masters and slaves" (2014). In either case, as a media-literate Internet user, you should be aware of what national security reporter Robert Sheer calls "the great contradiction of our time: the unprecedented liberating power of the supercomputer combined with the worldwide Internet... also contain[s] the seeds of freedom's destruction because of the awesome power of this new technology to support a surveillance state that exceeds the wildest dream of the most ingenious dictator" (2015). This tension between ensuring our national security and protecting our personal privacy is, in the words of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the "issue of our age" (in Tsukayama, 2016).
Every online act leaves a "digital trail," making possible easy dataveillance—the massive collection and distillation of consumer data. Ironically, we willingly participate in this intrusion into our privacy. Online marketer Shelly Palmer explains, "Most of us are willing to give up our data—location, viewing, purchasing, or search history—for our online enjoyment. We can call this the 'willing suspension of our privacy' because if you spent a moment to consider what your data was actually being used for, you would refuse to let it happen" (2017, p. 18). She wants us to understand that because of computer storage, networking, and cross-referencing power, the information we willingly give to one entity is easily and cheaply given to countless unknown others.
One form of dataveillance is distributing and sharing personal, private information among organizations other than the one for whom it was originally intended. Information from every credit card transaction (online or at a store), credit application, phone call, supermarket or other purchase made without cash (for example, with a check, debit card, or "club" card), newspaper and magazine subscription, and cable television subscribership is digitally recorded, stored, and most likely sold to others. The increased computerization of medical files, banking information, job applications, and school records produces even more salable data. Eventually, anyone who wants to know something about a person can simply buy the necessary information—without that person's permission or even knowledge. These data can then be used to further invade people's privacy. For example, employers can withhold jobs for reasons unknown to applicants.
Recognizing the scope of data collection and the potential problems that it raises, Congress passed the 1974 Federal Privacy Act, restricting governments' ability to collect and distribute information about citizens. The act, however, expressly exempted businesses and other nongovernmental organizations from control. As a result, 45% of Internet users say privacy and security concerns have stopped them from engaging in routine Internet activities such as posting on social networks, expressing opinions, and buying online (Peterson, 2014), and 86% have taken steps online to remove or mask their digital footprints (Raine, 2016).
The Internet industry and the federal government responded in 2012 with a "Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights," voluntary guidelines suggesting sites place a "do not track" button on their Web pages. Critics contend that these guidelines are insufficient protection, as not all sites comply, and even those with the button may still collect and hold users' personal data for their own market research. They object to the idea that websites should provide us that security only if we specifically ask for it, called opt-out. "When did privacy become a choice rather than the default?" they ask. Instead, sites should have to get our permission before they collect and disseminate our personal data, that is, we should be able to opt-in, as is the case in Europe. While American ISPs and marketers find opt-in "onerous" (Mandese, 2017), European Union privacy law not only requires Internet companies to get explicit user consent before using their data, it also grants all citizens the "right to be forgotten," that is, the right to ask to have all their collected personal data deleted forever. Privacy advocates ask the question, "If we have legislation to bring our copyright laws into compliance with those of other nations, why shouldn't we do the same with our privacy laws?" You can read about other data-privacy discrepancies between the United States and Europe in the box entitled, "Why Not Here?"
Page 247Four relatively new technological advances pose additional privacy problems: the radio frequency identification (RFID) chip; augmented reality (AR); cloud computing; and the Internet of Things (IoT) in which everyday objects have built-in network connectivity, allowing them to send and receive data. The first, RFID, already used by many retailers, is a grain-of-sand-sized microchip and antenna embedded in consumer products that transmits a radio signal. The advantage to retailers is greater inventory control and lower labor costs. The retailer has an absolute, up-to-the-minute accounting of how many boxes of widgets are on the shelf, and consumers simply walk out the door with their boxes while the RFID sends a signal charging the correct amount to the proper credit card; no checkout personnel is needed. Privacy advocates' concern should be clear. That signal keeps on sending. Now marketers, the government, and others will know where you and your box of widgets are at all times, how quickly you go through your box of widgets, and where you are when you run out of widgets. How soon until your e-mail's inbox fills up with offers of widgets on sale? What if a burglar could use an RFID reader from outside your house to preview its contents? What happens when these data are networked with all your other personal information? What if you buy a case of beer rather than a box of widgets? Will your employer know?
The second advance, introduced in 2009 and available in smartphones containing the program Layar, augmented reality (AR) permits users to point their smartphones at a real-world location, person, or scene and be instantly linked to hundreds of websites containing information about those things, superimposed over the screen image. Very cool, say proponents—instant restaurant reviews, nearby flu-shot locations, related Instagram photos, and the names of relatives you might know in the area. Very scary, say privacy advocates: "Fold in facial-recognition [already extant] and you could point your phone at Bob from accounting, whose visage is now 'augmented' with the information that he has a gay son and drinks Hoegaarden" (Walker, 2009, p. 32). In other words, everything that exists on the Internet is linkable. When anyone and everyone can access these data by simply pointing a phone at someone, privacy, already on life support, dies.
A third advance worrying privacy advocates is the growing use of cloud computing and its storage of data, including personal information, on third-party environments. Google, Microsoft, and numerous independent providers offer cloud computing, and advocates tout the increased power and memory of the cloud, arguing that even if your laptop is lost or destroyed, you lose nothing. But privacy advocates counter that data stored online has less privacy protection both in practice and under the law. Cloud services claim data is protected by encryption, the electronic coding or masking of information that can be deciphered only by a recipient with the proper decrypting key. Yet there are no guarantees, argue online privacy advocates, given repeated revelations that not only does the federal government tap into the files of Internet search engines and e-mail and cloud service providers, but many of these companies willingly provide people's data to the authorities. For example, it was recently discovered that Yahoo has a secret custom software program that searches all of its customers' incoming e-mails for specific information requested by U.S. intelligence officials (Menn, 2016). Privacy experts say there's simply no way to ever be completely sure your data will remain secure once you've moved it to the cloud.
Finally, almost any everyday device we use today—consumer electronics, cars, utility meters, refrigerators, automatic coffee makers, vending machines, thermostats, lights, clothes and wearable devices, baby monitors—can be connected to the Internet. In 2017 the number of IoT devices surpassed the number of people living on Earth, an expansion encouraged in part by its low cost, about $1 per device. It is only people's concern about their privacy that keeps the growth rate of IoT from being even faster than it is (Martin, 2017). If everything that exists on the Internet is linkable, IoT means that others will have access to an ever greater array of the most personal and intimate aspects of our lives. There is, for example, an IoT bag from corn-chip maker Tostitos that contains a sensor that detects even small traces of alcohol on the breath of nearby snackers. If it does so, it turns red, changes into the image of a steering wheel, and delivers the message, "Don't drink and drive." A simple tap of the bag with a smartphone hails a car from Uber (Nudd, 2017). As convenient as that may be, if it can connect to a ride-sharing service, it can connect to the police, your employer, your insurance company, or anyone interested in how you spend your free time. Privacy advocates' IoT fears seemed to be confirmed with the revelation that Vizio's Internet-connected TV sets were secretly collecting their owners' viewing information and selling it to advertisers (C. Smith, 2017b).
Page 248Another form of dataveillance is the electronic tracking of the choices we make when we are online, called our click stream. Despite the anonymity online users think they enjoy, every click of a key can be, and often is, recorded and stored. This happens whether or not the user actually enters information—for example, a credit card number to make a purchase or a Social Security number to verify identity. This tracking is made possible by cookies, an identifying code added to a computer's hard drive by a visited website. Normally, only the site that has sent the cookie can read it—the next time you visit that site it "remembers" you. But some sites bring "third-party" cookies to your computer. Maintained by big Internet advertising networks like DoubleClick and Engage, these cookies can be read by any of the thousands of websites also belonging to that network, whether you've visited them or not, and without your knowledge. As a result, this software is more commonly referred to as spyware, identifying code placed on a computer by a website without permission or notification. Spyware not only facilitates tracking by unknown sites and/or people (those "third parties") but opens a computer to unwanted pop-up ads and other commercial messages.
At any given time, a regular Web user will have dozens of cookies on his or her hard drive, but most commercial browsers come equipped with the capacity to block or erase them. The Anti-Spyware Coalition offers information and assistance on how to deal with cookies and spyware. In addition, users can purchase cookie-scrubbing software. Commercial firms such as Anonymizer sell programs that not only block and erase spyware but also allow users to surf the Web anonymously. Cool and safety conscious use of IoT or another giveaway of our privacy?
The security and use of our online information, a topic that has roiled the public forum since the Internet was in its infancy, was once again a topic of debate in late 2016 when Google, Amazon, and other American online businesses agreed to a "safe harbor" arrangement with the European Union that would allow the transfer of people's digital data, previously strictly limited, back and forth across the Atlantic only if those companies promised not to make that data available to U.S. intelligence agencies, a protection not available to American Internet users. European Internet users sued to stop the agreement because for many, "an individual's right to privacy [is] almost on par with freedom of expression" and they believed that there was too great a risk that those promises would not be kept (Scott, 2016).
Other online privacy differences exist, even though American companies are bound by Europe's rules when doing business there. For example, not only do Americans not have the right to have their personal data erased and not only must they opt out of data tracking rather than opt in, but Google offers on-screen information to European users giving them details on the cookies a site is using and what information is being collected. In addition, all European Union Internet and social media users have the right to demand that a site provide a detailed account of every bit of information it has collected on them, and that material must be supplied. Europe's "right to be forgotten" rule also gives people the power to have search engines delete listings they consider outdated or irrelevant. Whether you think that is a good idea or not (should a drunk driver who killed an innocent pedestrian have the right to demand the erasure of links to online news sources that reported that event?), these discrepancies raise an important question for Web privacy advocates: Why do American-based Internet and social media companies offer their overseas users greater privacy protection than they do their U.S. customers?
"Europe's data protection rules have become the default privacy settings for the world," said Billy Hawkes, one-time Irish data protection regulator (in Scott, 2014, p. SR5). Hong Kong, for example, now requires opt-in. The Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and even China have adopted data-privacy rules much like those in Europe, some backed by serious financial penalties for violators. But the situation in the United States remains as it has been since the Internet's inception; thePage 249 government generally prefers to let the industry regulate itself on privacy matters.
Enter your voice. Why should this be the case? As you've read, a large number of Americans do not feel secure in much of their online activity. Why can't we have the privacy controls that American Internet companies grant to others? Is it our basic distrust of government intervention in mass communication issues? If so, why do 64% of Internet users want greater regulatory protection for their online data (Raine, 2016)? Is it that we trust our social media companies to do the right thing? Then how do you explain the fact that half of American social media users do not trust the sites they use to protect their personal data (Olmstead & Smith, 2017)? Is it our own ambivalence? Are we the authors of our own online fate? How else can you explain the fact that one-third of Americans say they are willing to exchange basic personal information with a website in exchange for "compelling content" (Faw, 2016)?
The Internet and social media are characterized by freedom and self-governance, which are also the hallmarks of true democracy. It is no surprise, then, that these technologies are often trumpeted as the newest and best tools for increased democratic involvement and participation. This enthusiasm for a technological solution to what many see as increased disenchantment with politics and the political process mirrors that which followed the introduction of radio and television. A September 3, 1924, New Republic article, for example, argued that the high level of public interest in the radio broadcast of the 1924 political party conventions brought "dismay" to "the most hardened political cynic" (in Davis, 1976, p. 351). In 1940 NBC founder and chairman David Sarnoff predicted that television would enrich democracy because it was "destined to provide greater knowledge to larger numbers of people, truer perception of the meaning of current events, more accurate appraisals of men in public life, and a broader understanding of the needs and aspirations of our fellow human beings" (in Shenk, 1997, p. 60).
Some critics argue that the Internet will be no more of an asset to democracy than have been radio and television because the same economic and commercial forces that have shaped the content and operation of those more traditional media will constrain the Internet just as rigidly. They point to the endless battles to keep the Internet open and free. There are frequent fights over network neutrality(often just net neutrality), the requirement that all ISPs, including cable MSOs (multiple system operators), allow free and equal flow of all Web traffic. For example, if all sites were not equal, one that was willing (and able) to pay would have its content transmitted to people's computers more quickly. Another, a political activist site for example, that was unwilling (or unable) to pay would have its content slowed down. Their pessimism also resides in part in concentration and conglomeration of the Internet—Google's acquisition of popular (and democratic) YouTube; Microsoft's purchase of Internet video phone company Skype and social networking sites LinkedIn and Yammer; Facebook's purchase of Instagram and WhatsApp; Yahoo's purchase of blogging service Tumblr and its later acquisition by Verizon; AT&T's merger with DirecTV and its efforts to acquire Time Warner, to list a few.
Others argue that, by its very nature, the Internet is ill suited for the task of serving democracy. Wael Ghonim, one of the "fathers" of the Arab Spring, the short-lived technology-fueled rebellion against Middle East repression, saw the medium's potential and its failure: "The same medium that so effectively transmits a howling message of change also appears to undermine the ability to make it. Social media amplifies the human tendency to bind with one's own kind. It tends to reduce complex social challenges to mobilizing slogans that reverberate in echo chambers of the like-minded rather than engage in persuasion, dialogue, and the reach for consensus. Hate speech and untruths appear alongside good intentions and truths" (in Amanpour, 2016).
Another important principle of democracy is that self-governing people govern best with full access to information. This is the reason our culture is so suspicious of censorship. The technology gap feeds a second impediment to virtual democracy, the information gap. Those without the requisite technology will have diminished access to the information it makes available. In other words, they will suffer from a form of technologically imposed censorship.
Critics of the information gap point to troubling examples of other media failures to deliver important information to all citizens. Cable television subscribership is lowest among urban working-class and poor people. Many newspapers, uninterested in these same people because they do not possess the demographic profile coveted by advertisers, do not promote their papers in the neighborhoods in which they live and, in some large cities, do not even deliver there. For the same reason, there are precious few consumer magazines aimed at less well-off people. If the technology gap creates an even wider information gap than already exists between these audiences and other citizens, democracy will surely suffer from what social scientists call the knowledge gap, growing differences in knowledge, civic activity, and literacy between better-informed and less-informed Americans.
Page 251The best way to bridge the technology, information, and knowledge gaps is to close the digital divide, an effort that has taken up the interest of several private and public entities. For example, the FCC, through its E-Rate program, invests about $1 billion a year to provide, expand, and upgrade broadband Internet access to American schools and libraries with money raised from the universal service fee you see on your phone bill. Cable giant Comcast offers low-cost broadband service, as little as $10 a month, for families living in poverty. Despite significant resistance from local MSOs (the same people who continue to fight net neutrality), 300 cities and towns across America offer their citizens low-cost broadband. In 2015 the Obama administration signaled its intention to forbid state legislatures from outlawing this so-called municipal broadband. The attempt was defeated by a 2016 court decision, so these restrictions remain on the books in 23 states. Still, municipal broadband continues to expand; for example, New York City maintains LinkNYC, 10,000 kiosks occupying spots that once housed pay phones, to give its citizens and visitors free Wi-Fi and free domestic phone calling. Other than the fundamental fairness of granting all people equal access to information, these efforts are encouraged by evidence that there is a definite financial benefit to the municipalities and regions that provide expanded broadband access (Koebler, 2016).
Given its importance to virtually all aspects of human endeavor, many people believe that the Internet should be treated as a basic human right. This philosophy is contained in the Declaration of Internet Freedom, originally developed by a coalition of 1,500 of the world's leading technology and Internet freedom advocates. Among the 2,000 organizational and 75,000 individual signatories in 150 different countries are the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Amnesty International, Reporters without Borders, and the Mozilla Foundation. Translated into 72 languages, the Declaration is posted at It sets out five principles that all governments and corporations should follow to keep the Internet free:
There must be no censorship of the Internet. All expression is free and equal, and users must be free to access it as they wish. Today, scores of national governments continue to censor content because, they say, they wish to impose traditional social values, keep political stability, or maintain national security ("Top 10," 2016).
There must be universal access to fast and affordable networks. The Internet is the most democratizing of all media; to remain so, access—technological and economic—must be available to all, regardless of locale or financial situation. Despite its impressive reach, 3.7 billion of the Earth's people have no access to the Internet ("Internet Usage," 2017).
There must be freedom to connect, communicate, create, and innovate over the Internet. The Internet renders us all creators as well as consumers, generators of innovations as well as their recipients. There should be no barriers to entry or dissemination. You'll recognize this as a call for net neutrality; today 74% of all nations have no such guarantee (Ansip, 2015).
There must be protection for new technologies and innovators whose innovations are abused by other users. The Internet is a benign technology; it is its use that brings value, good or bad. Advances and those who make them must be free from censure if others misuse their work.
There must be privacy rights and the ability for users to control how information about them is used. We are all humans with dignity. The remarkable power of the Internet does not change the inherent value of being free—absent surveillance—to be who and what we want to be. In 84% of the world's countries, laws that prevent mass online surveillance are "weak or nonexistent" (Hui, 2014).
As the Internet, World Wide Web, and social media increasingly become necessities and even life-sustaining utilities, media-literate users have an obligation to do more than know and support this declaration. We must make our own declaration of intent to make the most of our online freedom.
Page 252It is important to remember that culture is neither innate nor inviolate. We construct culture—both dominant and bounded. Increasingly, we do so through mass communication, and the Internet has given us voice once unimaginable. So before we can enter the forum in which those cultures are constructed and maintained, we must understand where we stand and what we believe. We must be able to defend our positions. The hallmarks of a media-literate individual are analysis and self-reflection. Reread the five principles. After having read this chapter's discussion of privacy, freedom of expression, fake news, the digital divide, net neutrality, and municipal broadband, how well do you think they are being met? Are you aware, for example, that several ISPs, notably Comcast, Frontier Communications, and Time Warner Cable, have either tried or announced they would begin metering Internet use? That is, they would charge users "by the byte"—heavier users would pay more and more modest users would pay less. Is this consistent with the promise of full access?
The American Psychiatric Association lists "Internet Addiction Disorder" as a recognized mental illness in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. And while you no doubt have tried to unplug for a while, like 67% of U.S. Internet users every year, somehow you just can't seem to do it (Birth, 2016). But you're a media-literate Internet user, so you should be able to explain why it's so hard to ditch your technology. After all, you certainly are aware of the impact of the Internet on your life. Possibly you are addicted. No, you say? Then take the Internet Addiction Test, developed by Kimberly S. Young of the Center for Online Addiction (2004). Before answering its eight questions, keep in mind that this is a measure of Internet addiction, not computer addiction. So consider your Internet usage on all devices—computers, smartphones, tablets, and game consoles—when replying. Be sure to count only recreational usage over the last six months; Internet time for school or work doesn't count.
Do you feel preoccupied with the Internet (think about previous online activity or anticipate next online session)?
Do you feel the need to use the Internet for increasing amounts of time to achieve satisfaction?
Have you repeatedly made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop Internet use?
Do you feel restless, moody, depressed, or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop Internet use?
Do you stay online longer than originally intended?
Have you jeopardized or risked the loss of a significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of the Internet?
Have you lied to family members, therapists, or others to conceal the extent of your involvement with the Internet?
Do you use the Internet as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, or depression?
Interpreting your answers is simple: Addiction is present if you answered "yes" to at least five of the questions. If that was your situation, consider why that is the case. Why are you so dependent on the Internet? What can you do to shed your addiction? Do you even want to? If not, why not? As a media-literate Internet, Web, and social media user you understand that any medium is only as beneficial as you make it; therefore, these are questions, regardless of any level or absence of addiction, that you should ask and re-ask yourself. Doing so will improve your media literacy and increase the benefits you derive from these technologies.
"We bet you $10 that you can't go all of tomorrow without seeing an ad." You think, "I'll just stay away from radio and television—no problem, considering I listen to music in my car on my smartphone and I have tons of homework to do." That leaves newspapers and magazines, but you can avoid their ads simply by not reading either for 24 hours. Online ads? You'll simply stay unlinked. Facebook and Twitter? You can survive a day friendless and unfollowed. "What about billboards?" you counter.
"We won't count them," your roomies graciously concede, "but everything else is in."
You shake hands and go to bed planning your strategy. This means no cereal in the morning—the Cheerios box has a McDonald's ad on it. There'll be no bus to school. Not only are the insides packed with ads, but a lot of buses are now covered in vinyl wraps that turn them into gigantic rolling commercials. Can't walk either. There are at least two ad kiosks on the way. It'll cost you more than $10 to take a cab, but this is about winning the bet, not about money. Cab it will be! You sleep well, confident victory will be yours.
The next evening, over pizza, you hand over your $10.
"What was it?" asks one of your friends. "Sneak a peek at TV?"
"No," you say, and then you begin the list: The cab had an ad for a radio station on its trunk and a three-sided sign on its roof touting the pizza joint you're sitting in, a chiropractor, and Southwest Airlines. Inside, it had an electronic digital display pushing the lottery. The sidewalk near campus had the stenciled message "From here it looks like you could use some new underwear—Bamboo Lingerie" in water-soluble iridescent red paint. The restrooms on campus have Volkswagen ads pasted on their walls. Your ATM receipt carried an ad for a brokerage firm. You encountered a Domino's Pizza ad on the back of the receipt you got at the grocery store; the kiwi you bought there had a sticker on it reminding you to buy Snapple. The shopping basket had a realtor's pitch pasted to the side; even the little rubber bar you used to separate your kiwi and mineral water from the groceries of the shopper in front of you had an ad on each of its four sides.
"Easiest $10 we ever made," your roommates gloat.
In this chapter we examine the history of advertising, focusing on its maturation with the coming of industrialization and the Civil War. The development of the advertising agency and the rise of professionalism within its ranks are detailed, as is the impact of magazines, radio, World War II, and television.
We discuss the relationship between consumers and contemporary advertising in terms of how advertising agencies are structured, how various types of advertising are aimed at different audiences, and which trends—converging technologies, audience segmentation, globalization—promise to alter those relationships.
We study the controversies that surround the industry. Critics charge that advertising is intrusive, deceptive, inherently unethical when aimed at children, and corrupting of the culture. We look at industry defenses, too.
Finally, in the media literacy skills section, we discuss advertisers' use of intentional imprecision and how to identify and interpret it.
Your roommates had the advantage. They know that U.S. advertisers and marketers spend hundreds of billions of dollars a year trying to get your attention and influence your decisions. They also know that you typically encounter an estimated 4,000 to 10,000 commercial messages a day (Marshall, 2015). There are a lot of ads and a lot of advertisers. Almost everyone in the ad business complains about commercial clutter, yet, in the words of Advertising Age writer Matthew Creamer, "Like a fly repeatedly bouncing off a closed window, the ad industry is trying to fix the problem by doing more of the same. That is, by creating more ads" (2007, p. 1). Often those ads are ambient advertising, sometimes referred to as 360 marketing, and by whatever name, they are showing up in some fairly Page 285nontraditional settings. This is because advertisers know that "we, the public, are so good at avoiding or ignoring traditional advertising. We are fickle fish, cynical creatures who have already been hooked so many times that the simpler lures no longer work" (Wu, 2016b). So Sony hires graffiti artists in major cities to spray-paint ads for its PlayStation Portable on walls and buildings. Officials in Brooklawn, New Jersey, sell naming rights to school facilities—the gym at the Alice Costello Elementary School is now the ShopRite of Brooklawn Center. The National Park Service sells naming rights to our national parks, and moviemakers pay pastors to mention their films in their sermons (Wu, 2016a). The rPlate looks like a traditional automobile license plate when a vehicle is moving, but it becomes a digital billboard when it is parked, its message targeted to its location (Martin, 2017). Johnnie Walker premium whiskey Blue Label comes in an NFC (near-field communication) chip-equipped smart bottle that links to drinkers' smartphones to send them targeted, personalized advertising messages. Radio, concert promotion, and outdoor ad company Clear Channel Outdoor maintains a separate Branded Cities division in the business of turning locations—parks, city centers, specific streets—into destinations where people can go for all kinds of activities into which brands can be integrated, a practice called experiential marketing, the melding of brands and experiences. Other examples include the U.S. Open American Express Fan Experience and car company Lincoln's Tribeca Interactive & Interlude: A Music Film Challenge, where people at film festivals are invited to create music videos for established recording artists. And of course, folks at these "branded experiences," 98% of them, become "content factory workers," capturing the goings-on with their phones and sharing them across social media, making even more clutter (Whitman, 2016b). We see ads on door hangers, on urinal deodorant cakes, in the mail, behind the batter at a baseball game, and on basketball backboards in city parks. We use digital ad-screen hand driers in public restrooms. It wasn't always like this, but advertising itself has been with us for a long time. Advertising everywhere—Sony hired graffiti artists in several major American cities to spray-paint commercials for its PlayStation Portable on walls and buildings.
Babylonian merchants were hiring barkers to shout out goods and prices at passersby in 3000 b.c.e. The Romans wrote announcements on city walls. This ad was discovered in the ruins of Pompeii:
The Troop of Gladiators of the Aedil
Will fight on the 31st of May
Page 286There will be fights with wild animals
And an Awning to keep off the sun. (Berkman & Gilson, 1987, p. 32)
By the 15th century, ads as we know them now were abundant in Europe. Siquis—pinup want ads for all sorts of products and services—were common. Tradespeople promoted themselves with shopbills—attractive, artful business cards. Taverners and other merchants were hanging eye-catching signs above their businesses. In 1625 the first newsbook containing ads, The Weekly News, was printed in England. From the beginning, those who had products and services to offer used advertising.
Advertising came to the colonies via England. British advertising was already leaning toward exaggeration and hyperbole, but colonial advertising was more straightforward. Ben Franklin sold advertising space in his Pennsylvania Gazette, and this 1735 ad is a typical example for the time:
A Plantation containing 300 acres of good Land, 30 cleared, 10 or 12 Meadow and in good English Grass, a house and barn & c. [creek] lying in Nantmel Township, upon French-Creek, about 30 miles from Philadelphia. Inquire of Simon Meredith now living on the said place. (Sandage, Fryburger, & Rotzoll, 1989, p. 21)
Advertising, however, was a small business before the Civil War. The United States was primarily an agricultural country at that time, with 90% of the population living in self-sufficiency on farms. Advertising was used by local retailers primarily to encourage area residents to come to their businesses. The local newspaper was the major advertising medium. This narrow street in Salzburg, Austria, still exhibits evidence of early European advertising, which often took the form of artistically designed signs announcing the nature of the business below. This early-18th-century tobacco label shows that the British had already mastered the use of celebrities in their advertising.
The Industrial Revolution and the Civil War altered the social and cultural landscape and brought about the expansion of advertising. By the 1840s the telegraph made communication over long distances possible. Railroads linked cities and states. Huge numbers of immigrants were welcomed to the United States to provide labor for the expanding factories. Manufacturers wanted access to larger markets for their goods. Advertising copywriter Volney B. Palmer recognized in 1841 that merchants needed to reach consumers beyond their local newspaper readership. He contacted several Philadelphia newspapers and agreed to broker the sale of space between them and interested advertisers. Within four years Palmer had expanded his business to Boston, and in 1849, he opened a branch in New York. The advertising agency had been invented.
Page 287The Civil War sped industrialization. More factories were needed to produce war material, and roads and railroads were expanded to move that material as well as troops. As farmworkers went to war or to work in the new factories, more farm machinery was needed to compensate for their departure. That meant that more factories were needed to make more machinery, and the cycle repeated.
By the early 1880s the telephone and the electric light had been invented. That decade saw numerous innovations in manufacturing as well as an explosion in the type and availability of products. In the year 1880 alone, there were applications for more than 13,000 U.S. copyrights and patents. Over 70,000 miles of new railroad track were laid in the 1880s, linking cities and towns of all sizes. With more producers chasing the growing purchasing power of more consumers, manufacturers were forced to differentiate their products—to literally and figuratively take the pickle out of the barrel and put it in its own recognizable package. And so brands were born: Quaker Oats, Ivory Soap, Royal Baking Powder, and many more. What advertisers now needed was a medium in which to tell people about these brands.
In the years between the Civil War and World War I, advertising had rapidly become more complex, more creative, and more expensive, and it was conducted on a larger scale. Advertising agencies had to expand their operations to keep up with demand. Where Palmer offered merely to broker the sale of newspaper space, F. Wayland Ayer began his "full service" advertising agency in 1869, N. W. Ayer and Sons. He provided clients with ad campaign planning, created and produced ads with his staff of artists and writers, and placed them in the most appropriate media. Several big agencies still operating today started at this time, including J. Walter Thompson, William Esty, and Lord & Thomas.
During this period, three factors combined to motivate the advertising industry to establish professional standards and to regulate itself. First was the reaction of the public and the medical profession to the abuses of patent medicine advertisers. These charlatans used fake claims and medical data in their ads to sell tonics that at best were useless and, at worst, deadly. The second was the critical examination of most of the country's important institutions, led by the muckrakers (see the chapter on magazines). The third factor was the establishment in 1914 of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which had among its duties monitoring and regulating advertising. As a result, a number of leading advertising agencies and publishers mounted a crusade against gross exaggeration, false testimonials, and other Page 288misleading forms of advertising. The Audit Bureau of Circulations was established to verify circulation claims. The Advertising Federation of America (now the American Advertising Federation), the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the Association of National Advertisers, and the Outdoor Advertising Association all began operation at this time. Reaction to the deception and outright lies of patent medicine advertising—such as this 1880 piece for Pratts Healing Ointment—led to important efforts to professionalize the industry.
The first radio ad was broadcast on WEAF in 1922 (the cost was $50 for a 10-minute spot). Radio was important to advertising in three major ways. First, although many people both inside and outside government were opposed to commercial support for the new medium, the general public had no great opposition to radio ads. In fact, in the prosperous Roaring Twenties, many welcomed them; advertising seemed a natural way to keep radio "free." Second, advertising agencies virtually took over broadcasting, producing the shows in which their commercials appeared. The ad business became show business. The 1923 variety show The Eveready Hour, sponsored by a battery maker, was the first regularly broadcast sponsored series. Ad agency Blackett-Sample-Hummert even developed a new genre for its client Procter & Gamble—the soap opera. Third, money now poured into the industry. That income was used to expand research and marketing on a national scale, allowing advertisers access to sophisticated nationwide consumer and market information for the first time. The wealth that the advertising industry accrued from radio permitted it to survive during the Depression.
The Depression did have its effect on advertising, however. The stock market crashed in 1929, and by 1933 advertising had lost nearly two-thirds of its revenues. Among the responses were the hard sell—making direct claims about why a consumer needed a product—and a tendency away from honesty. At the same time, widespread unemployment and poverty bred a powerful consumer movement. The Consumers Union, which still publishes Consumer Reports, was founded in 1936 to protect people from unscrupulous manufacturers and advertisers. And in 1938 Congress passed the Wheeler−Lea Act, granting the FTC extended powers to regulate advertising. A 1930s hard-sell ad from Quaker Oats oatmeal. The hard sell made its debut during the Depression as advertisers worked to attract the little consumer money that was available.
The Second World War, so important in the development of all the mass media, had its impact on advertising as well. Production of consumer products came to a near halt during the war (1941-1945), and traditional advertising was limited. The advertising industry turned its collective skills toward the war effort, and what product advertising that there was typically adopted a patriotic theme.
In 1941 several national advertising and media associations joined to develop the War Advertising Council. The council used its expertise to promote numerous government programs. Its best-known campaign, however, was on behalf of the sale of war bonds. The largest campaign to date for a single item, the war bond program helped sell 800 million bonds, totaling $45 billion. When the war ended, the group, now called the Advertising Council, directed its efforts toward a host of public service campaigns on behalf of countless nonprofit organizations (see the essay "Effecting Positive Social Change"). Most of us have read or heard, "This message is brought to you by the Ad Council."
The impact of World War II on the size and structure of the advertising industry was significant. A high excess-profits tax was levied on manufacturers' wartime profits that exceeded prewar levels. The goal was to limit war profiteering and ensure that companies did not benefit too greatly from the death and destruction of war. Rather than pay the heavy tariff, manufacturers reduced their profit levels by putting income back into their businesses. Because the lack of raw materials made expansion or recapitalization difficult, many companies invested in corporate image advertising. They may not have had products to sell to the public, but they knew that the war would end someday and that stored-up goodwill would be important. One result, therefore, was an expansion in the number and size of manufacturers' advertising departments and of advertising agencies. A second result was a public primed by that advertising for the return of consumer goods. Consumer products go to war. Advertisers and manufacturers joined the war effort. This magazine-ad GI is enjoying the comforts of a holiday home-wife, child, and a cold Coke or two.
Advertising can often lead people to do good, and there is no better example of this than the work of the Ad Council, whose mission is to use advertising to bring about beneficial social change. Has it succeeded in making a difference? Who are Smokey Bear, Rosie the Riveter, McGruff the Crime Dog, the Crash Test Dummies, and the Crying Indian (Chief Iron Eyes Cody)? All are creations of the Ad Council. And of course you are aware that friends don't let friends drive drunk and that love has no labels. You certainly understand when to just say no and that a mind is a terrible thing to waste. You know these things because of Ad Council campaigns.
Can the ability of the Ad Council to make a difference be quantified? Consider the following:
Applications for mentors rose from 90,000 a year to 620,000 in the first nine months after the start of its campaign for Big Brothers/Big Sisters.
Page 290Sixty-eight percent of Americans say that they have personally stopped someone who had been drinking from driving. The old saying, "One More for the Road" has been replaced with "Friends Don't Let Friends Drive Drunk."
Twenty thousand American kids eight years old and over have been adopted since the 2004 start of the "AdoptUSKids" campaign (all from Ad Council, 2017).
The Ad Council typically has 35 to 40 active public service campaigns running at one time, and it is able to secure about $2 billion a year in donated time and space from 28,000 different media outlets. Its primary focus today is kids' issues, devoting 80% of its resources to its "10-Year Commitment to Children: Helping Parents Help Kids" campaign. But the Ad Council does not shy away from controversial issues. In the 1970s it took on sexually transmitted disease with its "VD Is for Everyone" campaign, an effort attacked by many religious groups, and many broadcasters refused to air its "Help Stop AIDS. Use a Condom" spots in 1987. Its 2015 "Love Has No Labels" campaign challenged racism, homophobia, and intolerance (Tugend, 2015).
The Ad Council is able to make a difference because dozens of ad agencies, big and small, donate their time, energy, and creativity. One ad executive reportedly claimed that he never sees a pitch reel that doesn't contain an Ad Council campaign (Crain, 2016, p. 38).
There was no shortage of consumer products when the war ended. The nation's manufacturing capacity had been greatly expanded to meet the needs of war, but afterwards, that manufacturing capability was turned toward the production of consumer products for people who found themselves with more leisure and more money. People were also having more children and, thanks to the GI Bill, were able to think realistically about owning homes. They wanted products to enhance their leisure, please their children, and fill their houses.
Advertising was well positioned to put products and people together, not only because agencies had expanded during the war but also because of television. Radio's formats, stars, and network structure had moved wholesale to the new medium. Television soon became the primary national advertising medium. Advertisers bought $12 million in television time in 1949; two years later they spent $128 million.
Television commercials, by virtue of the fact that consumers could see and hear the product in action, were different from the advertising of all other media. The ability to demonstrate the product—to do the torture test for Timex watches, to smoothly shave sandpaper with Rapid Shave—led to the unique selling proposition (USP). Once an advertiser discovered a product's USP, it could drive it home in repeated demonstration commercials. Inasmuch as most brands in a given product category are essentially the same—that is, they are parity products—advertisers were often forced to create a product's USP. Candy is candy, for example, but M&Ms are unique: They melt in your mouth, not in your hand.
Some observers were troubled by this development. Increasingly, products were being sold not by touting their value or quality but by emphasizing their unique selling propositions. Ads were offering little information about the product, yet people were increasing their spending. This led to growing criticism of advertising and its contribution to the consumer culture (more on this controversy later in the chapter). The immediate impact was the creation of an important vehicle of industry self-regulation. In response to mounting criticism in books such as The Hidden Persuaders (Packard, 1957) and concern over increasing scrutiny from the FTC, the industry in 1971 established the National Advertising Review Board (NARB) to monitor potentially deceptive advertising. The NARB, the industry's most important self-regulatory body, investigates consumer complaints as well as complaints made by an advertiser's competitors. Among the earliest demonstration ads, Timex took many a licking but kept on ticking.
Advertising does sometimes offend, and it is often the focus of criticism. But industry defenders argue the following:
Advertising supports our economic system; without it new products could not be introduced and developments in others could not be announced. Competitive advertising of new products and businesses powers the engine of our economy, fostering economic growth and creating jobs in many industries.
People use advertising to gather information before making buying decisions.
Ad revenues make possible the "free" mass media we use not only for entertainment but also for the maintenance of our democracy.
By showing us the bounty of our capitalistic, free enterprise society, advertising increases national productivity (as people work harder to acquire more of these products) and improves the standard of living (as people actually acquire more of these products).
The first defense is a given. Ours is a capitalistic society whose economy depends on the exchange of goods and services. Complaints, then, have less to do with the existence of advertising than with its conduct and content, and they are not new. At the 1941 founding meeting of the Advertising Council, J. Walter Thompson executive James Webb Young argued that such a public service commitment would go far toward improving the public's attitude toward his industry, one "rooted very deep. It is a sort of repugnance for the manifestations of advertising—or its banality, its bad taste, its moronic appeals, and its clamor" (quoted in "Story of the Ad Council," 2001). The second defense assumes that advertising provides information. But much—critics would say most—advertising is devoid of useful information about the product. Rarely does consumer advertising tout the benefits of a product because marketers know well that rather than products, people buy the lifestyles, experiences, and emotions associated with those products. The third defense assumes that the only way media can exist is through commercial support, but many nations around the world have built fine media systems without heavy advertiser support (see the chapter on global media). To critics of advertising, the fourth defense—that people work hard only to acquire more things and that our standard of living is measured by the material things we have—draws an unflattering picture of human nature.
Many critics fault advertising for its intrusiveness. Advertising is everywhere, and it interferes with and alters our experience. Giant wall advertisements change the look of cities. Ads beamed by laser light onto night skies destroy evening stargazing. School learning aids provided by candy makers asking students to "count the Tootsie Rolls" alter education. Constant commercials diminish the television-viewing experience, leading 83% of DVR users to skip most ads, with 60% of those viewers skipping every ad Page 292(Whitman, 2016a). Many Internet users once believed that "targeted advertising would be a blessing for consumers. Today that vision has soured and even seems like a bad joke given how plagued we are by the rise of stealth advertising, the invasions of privacy, the proliferation of click bait and stalking advertising, and the general degradation of much of the web" (in Wu, 2016b). That's why 70% of those online install ad blockers immediately after hearing about them (Faw, 2016), and why a collection of the Internet's biggest companies and biggest advertisers formed the Coalition for Better Ads in 2017 to promote industry-wide ad blocking "to kill off digital ads" considered the "absolute worst" by users, hoping to protect the Internet as an otherwise valuable advertising medium (Slefo, 2017). There is even a mobile game, Ad Hunter, that awards users golden coins if they and their friends hunt down and disable ads in their apps. You can see why people choose to install ad-blocking software in Figure 1.
The average American child, aged 2 to 11, is exposed to 25,600 television commercials, or 10,700 minutes of ads, a year, and more than 40% of this exposure is in programming not primarily intended for kids (Rideout, 2014). Countries like Norway and Sweden, on the other hand, completely ban television ads aimed at kids, as does the Canadian province of Quebec. Ads and commercialism are increasingly invading schools—90% of American high school students and 70% of American elementary school students attend schools that allow on-campus food advertising, 90% of which is for soda, sports drinks, and other beverages (Morrison, 2014). In 2016 the 35,000-member United Teachers of Los Angeles, representing the nation's second-largest school district, wrote a formal letter to the McDonald's Operators Association of Southern California demanding that it cease its McTeacher's Night, an in-school promotion at which teachers wear McDonald's uniforms and make and serve the fast food to students and their families at full price. The event is billed as a "fund-raiser," but only 15% to 20% of the proceeds are returned to participating schools (Anderson, 2016). Companies spend nearly $20 billion a year targeting children, with a quarter of that amount spent touting "mostly unhealthy products." And not only can a typical first grader recognize 200 logos, but kids Page 293ages 3 to 5 show recognition rates as high as 92% for 50 different brands in 16 product categories—McDonald's was most recognizable—demonstrating that children as young as 3 can readily recognize the brands they see advertised (Rettner, 2013; Andronikidis & Lambrianidou, 2010).
Critics contend that children are simply not intellectually capable of interpreting the intent of these ads, nor are they able before the age of 7 or 8 to rationally judge the worth of the advertising claims. This makes children's advertising inherently unethical. Television advertising to kids is especially questionable because children consume it in the home—with implicit parental approval, and most often without parental supervision. The question ad critics ask is, "If parents would never allow living salespeople to enter their homes to sell their children products, why do they allow the most sophisticated salespeople of all to do it for 20 minutes every hour every Saturday morning?" Social critic Henry Giroux argues that advertising directed at children is
devaluing them by treating them as yet another "market" to be commodified and exploited . . . [It] is conscripting an entire generation into a world of consumerism in which commodities and brand loyalty become the most important markers of identity and primary frameworks for mediating one's relationship to the world . . . Kids may think they are immune to the incessant call to "buy, buy, buy" and to think only about "me, me, me," but what is actually happening is a selective elimination and reordering of the possible modes of political, social, and ethical vocabularies made available to youth. (2011)
The particular issue of fast-food and snack advertising to children is the subject of the essay "Kids' Advertising: Is Self-Regulation Enough?" Advertising in schools and on educational material is now common—and quite controversial. It took a parent uprising to end this practice of placing McDonald's ads on report cards in Seminole County, Florida, schools.
There is no shortage of critics of advertising to children, especially advertising that promotes unhealthy diets. In 1983, companies spent $100 million on child-focused advertising; today they annually spend close to $20 billion, and much of that money is for fast food, cereal, and snacks. Opponents of advertising to kids point to social science evidence demonstrating a strong correlation between exposure to advertising and childhood obesity. One in six children and teens is obese, up threefold from a generation ago, leading the Federal Trade Commission to call childhood obesity the "most serious health crisis facing today's youth." The 65,000-member American Academy of Pediatrics has called for a ban on fast-food commercials on kids' television shows (which the Disney Company agreed in 2012 to do). The U.S. Government Accountability Office has demanded greater FCC oversight of kids' television advertising.
The advertising and fast-food industries have responded with a number of plans that they hope will help protect kids while maintaining their own freedom of expression. Television sponsors have promised to strictly adhere to commercial time limits set by the 1990 Children's Television Act, and the Better Business Bureau's Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative said it would enforce voluntary nutritional standards among its member companies. The National Restaurant Association launched an initiative among its members, including companies such as Burger King and Denny's, to offer and promote healthful kids' meals, a move mirrored by several companies such as Coca-Cola and a number of kid-oriented media outlets like Cartoon Network. The question in the cultural forum, however, is how to find the correct balance between freedom of commercial speech and the protection of children.
Advertisers and the fast-food industry argue that they are entitled to First Amendment protection, so self-regulation is more than enough. Critics say the First Amendment offers no protection to advertising aimed at kids because children do not possess the ability to tell good messages from bad—the bedrock assumption of the First Amendment. Enter your voice. Should children be considered a special class of people in need of extra protection? Or does the First Amendment outweigh all concerns about children's intellectual ability to understand ads?
In our culture we value beauty, kindness, prestige, family, love, and success. As human beings we need food, shelter, and the maintenance of the species, in other words, sex. Advertising succeeds by appealing to these values and needs. The basis for this persuasive strategy is the AIDA approach—to persuade consumers, advertising must attract attention, create interest, stimulate desire, and promote action. According to industry critics, however, problems arise when important aspects of human existence are reduced to the consumption of brand-name consumer products. Freedom is choosing between a Big Gulp and a canned soda at 7-Eleven. Being a good mother is as simple as buying a bottle of Downy Fabric Softener. Success is drinking Chivas Regal. Love is giving your husband a shirt without ring-around-the-collar or your fiancée a diamond worth two months' salary.
Critics argue that ours has become a consumer culture—a culture in which personal worth and identity reside not in ourselves but in the products with which we surround ourselves. The consumer culture is corrupting because it imposes new definitions that serve the advertiser and not the culture on traditionally important aspects of our lives. If love, for example, can be bought rather than being something that has to be nurtured, how important can it be? If success is not something an individual values for the personal sense of accomplishment but rather is something chased for the material things associated with it, how does the culture evaluate success? Name the five most successful people you know. How many teachers did you name? How many social workers? How many wealthy or famous people did you name?
Critics further contend that the consumer culture also demeans the individuals who live in it. A common advertising strategy for stimulating desire and suggesting action is to imply that we are inadequate and should not be satisfied with ourselves as we are. We are too fat or too thin, our hair is in need of improvement, our clothes are all wrong, and our spouses don't respect us. Personal improvement is only a purchase away.
The ad-created consumer culture, according to former Wieden + Kennedy and Martin Agency executive Jelly Helm (his clients included Nike, Coke, and Microsoft), has produced an America that is "sick. . . . We work too hard so that we can buy things we don't need, made by factory workers who are paid too little, and produced in ways that threaten the very survival of the earth." It has produced an America that "will be remembered as the greatest wealth-producer ever. It will be a culture remembered for its promise and might and its tremendous achievements in technology and health. It also will be remembered as a culture of hedonism to rival any culture that has ever existed" (Helm, 2002).
There are approximately 6,000 ad agencies operating in the United States, employing roughly 500,000 people, and ad agency employment is at its highest level since 2001 ("Staffing Up," Page 2952016). Fewer than 500 agencies annually earn more than $1 million, and while the giant agencies garner most of our attention, there is significant growth among boutique agencies, smaller, more personalized, and task-specific ad agencies (for example, dealing primarily with social-media marketing) or product-specific agencies (for example, handling only pet supply accounts). Many agencies produce the ads they develop, and virtually all buy time and space in various media for their clients. Production is billed at an agreed-upon price called a retainer; placement of advertising in media is compensated through commissions, typically 15% of the cost of the time or space. Commissions account for as much as 75% of the income of larger agencies. You can see the ad revenues of the top-earning U.S. agencies in Figure 2. Ad agencies are usually divided into departments, the number determined by the size and services of the operation. Smaller agencies might contract with outside companies for the services of these typical ad agency departments:
Administration is the agency's management and accounting operations.
Account management is typically handled by an account executive who serves as liaison between agency and client, keeping communication flowing between the two and heading the team of specialists assigned by the agency to the client.
The creative department is where the advertising is developed from idea to ad. It involves copywriting, graphic design, and often the actual production of the piece—for example, radio, television, and Web spots.
The media department makes the decisions about where and when to place ads and then buys the appropriate time or space. (See Figure 3 for a breakdown of ad spending by medium in the United States.) The effectiveness of a given placement is judged by its cost per thousand (CPM), the cost of reaching 1,000 audience members. For example, an ad that costs $20,000 to place in a major magazine and is read by 1 million people has a CPM of $20.
Page 296Market research tests product viability in the market, the best venues for commercial messages, the nature and characteristics of potential buyers, and sometimes the effectiveness of the ads.
Many larger agencies have public relations departments as well.
The FTC is the primary federal agency for the regulation of advertising. The FCC regulates the commercial practices of the broadcasting industry, and individual states can police deceptive advertising through their own regulatory and criminal bureaucracies. In the deregulation movement of 1980, oversight by the FTC changed from regulating unfair and deceptive advertising to regulating and enforcing complaints against deceptive advertising, typically from a brand's competitor.
The FTC has several options for enforcement when it determines that a false-claim complaint against an advertiser is justified. It can issue a cease-and-desist order demanding that the practice be stopped. It can impose fines. It can order the creation and distribution of corrective advertising—that is, a new set of ads must be produced by the offender that corrects the original misleading effort. For example, in 2012, U.S. tobacco companies were ordered to run corrective ads containing wording such as "Cigarettes cause cancer, lung disease, heart attacks, and premature death."
One of the greatest difficulties for the FTC is finding the line between false or deceptive advertising and puffery—that little lie that makes advertising more entertaining than it might otherwise be. "Whiter than white" and "stronger than dirt" are just two examples of puffery. On the assumption that the public does not read commercials literally—we know that the Jolly Green Giant does not exist—the courts and the FTC allow a certain amount of exaggeration. Puffery may be allowed, but many in the ad industry dislike its slippery slope; puffery, says Keller & Heckman's Richard Leighton, means "never having to say you're sorry for untruths or exaggerated claims" (in Greenberg, 2009).
The FTC and courts, however, do recognize that an advertisement can be false in a number of ways. An advertisement is false if it does any one of the following:
Lies outright. Reebok claimed its EasyTone shoes produced 11% greater strength and tone in hamstring muscles than did regular walking shoes. The FTC said, "Prove it." Reebok couldn't. Ads for POM Wonderful said its pomegranate juice is "backed by $25 million in medical research" and is "proven to fight for cardiovascular, prostate, and erectile health." "Not so," said the FTC.
Does not tell the whole truth. Miller Lite's "new taste protector cap" does indeed better preserve the taste of the beer. But ads touting this feature do not tell the whole truth because Miller Lite's bottle caps are exactly the same as all other bottled beers' and have no taste-protecting characteristics beyond those of ordinary cans and bottles.
Lies by implication, using words, design, production device, sound, or a combination of these. Television commercials for children's toys now end with the product shown in actual size against a neutral background (a shot called an island). This is required because production techniques such as low camera angles and close-ups can make these toys seem larger or better than they actually are.
It might seem reasonable to judge the effectiveness of an ad campaign by a subsequent increase in sales. But many factors other than advertising influence how well a product fares, including changes in the economy, product quality, breadth of distribution, and competitors' Page 299pricing and promotion strategies. Department store magnate John Wanamaker is said to have complained in the late 1880s, "I know that fifty percent of my advertising is wasted. I just don't know which fifty percent." Today's advertisers feel much the same way, and as you might imagine, they find this a less-than-comforting situation. Agencies, therefore, turn to research to provide greater certainty.
A number of techniques may be used before an ad or ad campaign is released. Copy testing—measuring the effectiveness of advertising messages by showing them to consumers—is used for all forms of advertising. It is sometimes conducted with focus groups, collections of people brought together to see the advertising and discuss it with agency and client personnel. Sometimes copy testing employs consumer juries. These people, considered to be representative of the target market, review a number of approaches or variations of a campaign or ad. Forced exposure, used primarily for television advertising, requires advertisers to bring consumers to a theater or other facility (typically with the promise of a gift or other payment), where they see a television program, complete with the new commercials. People are asked their brand preferences before the show and then after. In this way, the effectiveness of the commercials can be gauged.
Once the campaign or ad is before the public, a number of different tests can be employed to evaluate the effectiveness of the ad. In recognition tests people who have seen a given publication are asked, in person or by phone, whether they remember seeing specific ads. In recall testing consumers are asked, again in person or by phone, to identify which print or broadcast ads they most easily remember. This recall can be unaided, that is, the researcher offers no hints ("Have you seen any interesting commercials or ads lately?"), or aided, that is, the researcher identifies a specific class of products ("Have you seen any interesting pizza commercials lately?"). In recall testing, the advertisers assume that an easily recalled ad is an effective ad. Awareness tests make this same assumption, but they are not aimed at specific ads. Their goal is to measure the cumulative effect of a campaign in terms of "consumer consciousness" of a product. A likely question in an awareness test, usually made by telephone, is "What brands of laundry detergent can you name?"
What these research techniques lack is the ability to demonstrate the link that is of most interest to the client—did the ad move the consumer to buy the product? The industry hopes that all-important connection can be better discovered using neuromarketing research—biometric measures such as brainwaves, facial expressions, eye tracking, sweating, and heart rate monitoring (Bell, 2015). Because the unconscious accounts for the vast majority of the way peoples' brains process information, these methods tap consumers' unconscious reactions to marketing and advertising. This research is not without its critics, however, who argue that because neuromarketing appeals to the base level of human consciousness, it exploits consumers' nonreasoned, instinctual responses. Still, industry dissatisfaction with more traditional research methods continues to fuel work on neuromarketing research.
In the summer of 2005, the world's largest advertiser, Procter & Gamble, announced that it would cut $300 million from its television ad expenditures, a 15% drop from its typical annual spending on that medium. Said Jim Stengel, head of global marketing for the company, "I believe today's marketing model is broken. We're applying antiquated thinking and work systems to a new world of possibilities" (in Auletta, 2005, pp. 35-36). When the country's second-largest advertiser, General Motors, followed suit a year later, slashing its 2006 ad budget by $600 million to shift its marketing resources toward "channels such as direct marketing, websites, online video, event marketing, branded entertainment, and internet advertising," Advertising Age's Jean Halliday called it "a drop so stunning it should convince even the staunchest doubters that the age of mass-media marketing is going the way of the horse and buggy" (2007, p. 1). These public rebukes of the traditional advertising model demonstrated what most industry professionals already knew—their industry was in need of change in, and some even said reinvention of, its economics, creativity, and relationship with Page 300consumers. The advertising business is facing its "chaos scenario," or as media writer Bob Garfield called it, "a jarring media universe in which traditional forms of mass entertainment swiftly disappear and advertisers are left in the lurch" (in Klosterman, 2005, p. 63). This new, jarring media universe is forged by the interaction of converging technologies and the changes they drive in how, when, and why people consume them (and the ads they contain).
The production of advertising has inevitably been altered by computers. Computer graphics, morphing (digitally combining and transforming images), and other special effects are now common in national retail television advertising. And the same technology used to change the ads behind the batter in a televised baseball game is now employed to insert product placements into programs where no placement originally existed—a character who was once eating an unbranded cookie can now munch an Oreo.
Computer databases and computerized printing have fueled the rapid growth of direct market advertising, and computerized printing has made possible split runs and other specialized editions of national magazines (see the chapter on magazines). But it is digital advertising, the convergence of all traditional forms of advertising with new digital technologies, that is attracting the most industry interest. In 2007 U.S. online ad spending was $19.5 billion; in 2016 it was $72.1 billion (Figure 4). Internet advertising exceeds that of radio; in 2012 it surpassed that of magazines and newspapers combined (Ives, 2012); and in 2016 it surpassed television (Mandese, 2016b). Web advertising has matured since the first display advertising, or banners, static online billboards placed conspicuously somewhere on a Web page, appeared in May 1994 (D'Angelo, 2009). Other forms are search marketing, advertising sold next to or in search results produced by users' keyword searches; rich media, sophisticated, interactive Web advertising, usually employing sound and video; lead generation directing users who've expressed an interest to a brand's sales website; and online classified advertising.
Boosting all forms of digital advertising is their movement to mobile technologies like smartphones and tablets and the expansion of social networking sites. U.S mobile ad spending was $33 billion in 2016 and is expected to grow to more than $72 billion by 2021, driven primarily by search and social network marketing (O'Malley, 2017).
Industry data indicate that smartphone and tablet advertising encourages e-commerce, the buying of products and services online. In 2016, for the first time, people made more of their purchases online than they did in stores, and as online shopping accelerated, so did the use of mobile devices to make purchases. Forty-four percent of mobile device users made at least two purchases over a three-month span (Farber, 2016). That's the good news for advertisers. The bad news is that because the "mobile device experience is a much more intimate experience" and our tablets and smartphones know quite a bit about us, including where we are at the moment, who we communicate with, and what we like, "it's easy to get 'creepy' and alienate customers" (Gray, 2014). Highly targeted mobile marketing, therefore, walks an even finer personalization versus privacy line than do other forms of online commercial interaction.
Social networking sites are clearly a boon to advertisers, as they can direct very specific messages to very specific users based on their freely provided information, a fact that does not make everyone happy. Advertisers also take advantage of sites' interactivity, and virtually every company of any size has at the very least a Facebook and Twitter presence. Social media sites took in more than $10 billion in advertising in 2016 in the United States and $31 billion globally, with Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn commanding most of that revenue Page 301("Statistics and Facts," 2016; "Ad Age Social," 2016). Digital advertising in all its forms sits firmly at the center of the change buffeting today's ad industry because of its low cost (relative to traditional media), great reach, and, most important, interactivity, which gives it an accountability unparalleled in the traditional media.
Consumers are increasingly dissatisfied with hypercommercialism in other media and the lack of relevancy that much advertising has for them. They are becoming resistant to and resentful of much of the marketing they encounter, as you saw earlier in this chapter. As a result, many advertisers are now less interested in CPM, focusing instead on return on investment (ROI). After all, who cares how many thousands you are reaching if they reject your message? Industry professionals who look at Internet and Web advertising and see that it is ideally suited for increased ROI have begun asking why all media can't offer some of that benefit. "As technology increasingly enables fine targeting and interaction between marketer and consumer," Bob Garfield argued, "the old measurement and deployment standards are primitive almost to the point of absurdity" (2005, p. 58).
Rather than simple brand exposure, measured by CPM, advertisers have begun to demand accountability. As such, the Web's performance-based advertising, for example, provides the ideal. The website carrying the ad gets paid only when the consumer takes some specific action, making a purchase or linking to the sponsor's site. This Web-inspired demand for accountability led to calls for the development of a new measure of the effectiveness of all advertising—engagement. Beyond moving advertising dollars to platforms promising greater engagement, demands for accountability can be seen in a number of innovations that threaten the traditional agency-brand relationship described earlier in this chapter: Clients are increasingly demanding from agencies—and receiving—agreements on campaign-specific outcomes and consensus on accountability metrics—that is, how the effectiveness of a specific ad or campaign will be judged. Some agencies now offer money-back guarantees if they cannot improve a brand's ROI, and the introduction of value-compensation programs in which all or part of the payment of an agency's fees is based on meeting preestablished goals. A majority of all agency/client contracts now contain these pay-for-performance incentives.
One reason there is increased demand for accountability, especially for online advertising, is the growth of programmatic buying, automated, data-driven buying of online advertising. Programmatic buying now accounts for over a quarter of all digital ad spending. Because most online advertising is targeted to some degree to specific user demographics (if not specific users), the data used for programmatic buying can be manipulated by the creation of fake impressions or views. These false positives are created primarily by bots, in effect "robot" users. Sophisticated bots can take over any computer that's online. They can then simulate human Internet activity, for example commandeering the mouse and moving the cursor over ads to create exposures. They can even fake search histories and cookies to become demographically appealing to programmatic buying algorithms. This programmatic ad fraud annually costs advertisers more than $16 billion (O'Reilly, 2017). In response, in 2016 a consortium of advertising industry professional groups created the Trustworthy Accountability Group to identify and eliminate ad fraud, in part through the implementation of an antifraud certification program intended to serve as the industry standard.
Virtually all advertisers understand that the Internet-fueled fragmentation and democratization of media require a new type of appeal to consumers. If people are increasingly rejecting traditional mass media and the commercial messages they carry, the industry must become more creative in its messages and how it gets them to desired consumers. We've already seen many examples—product placement in all media, specially designed and targeted commercials delivered through cable or called up by DVR, online advergames, and the examples of ambient advertising that opened this chapter.
Much of advertising's creative community has learned to distinguish between typical, often unappreciated contextual advertising on the Web and imaginative video advertising delivered by the Web, mobile technologies, and portable game devices. For example, traditional big-time television advertisers like BMW, IKEA, Lincoln-Mercury, Hidden Valley Ranch, and Burger King have moved significant amounts of their advertising dollars to the Page 302creation and distribution of short online films, sometimes episodic and often featuring well-known actors, to tout their products. Among the best received has been Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, sponsored by Acura. The carmaker gave comedian Jerry Seinfeld free rein on the creation of the show's commercials and brand placements. The 20-minute ad-libbed conversations between Seinfeld and his funny guests as they drive to a coffee shop have drawn more than 100 million streams since the show's 2012 debut (Koblin & Barnes, 2016). Other examples abound. Qualcomm's Lifeline is a 30-minute thriller set in Shanghai directed and partly written by an Academy Award-winning writer and featuring actress Oliva Munn. Ballad of the Dreadnought is a 40-minute documentary from guitar maker C. F. Martin narrated by actor Jeff Daniels. "You can create content that is compelling, and you don't have to spend money to place it on TV. We think this is the direction advertising is headed," says commercial producer Steve Golin. "There is a lot of resistance to watching bread-and-butter advertising" (in Tugend, 2016, p. B3). Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. One hundred million streams of creative commercials and brand placements for sponsor Acura.
The Internet, as we've seen throughout this text, makes mass communication less of a monologue and more of a conversation. Today's consumers are no longer passive media receivers, taking whatever the television networks and movie studios insist they should. Instead, they are empowered media users, increasingly free to control and shape the content they receive. In the relative youth of Internet advertising, Ogilvy & Mather's vice chair, Steve Hayden, predicted that "as all media becomes addressable, all media becomes refusable." He argued that because the consumer now has the power to accept or reject content, an advertiser has to enter into a transaction with him or her, saying, "'I'll give you this content in exchange for your attention,' which has always been the model of mass advertising. But now, I've got to make that deal on a person-to-person basis" (in Kirsner, 2005). Indeed, 79% of adult American consumers say brands must actively demonstrate "they understand and care about me" before they consider doing business with them (Wunderman, 2017).
This new permission marketing, of necessity, has led to a rethinking of the relationship between advertiser and consumer, one in which they act as partners, sharing information for mutual benefit. The new model of advertising is, as Hayden predicted, a conversation between marketers and prosumers, proactive consumers who reject most traditional advertising and use multiple sources—traditional media, the Internet, product-rating magazines, recommendations from friends in the know—not only to research a product but also to negotiate price and other benefits. Economists call this expressing disapproval. Consumers now have two choices: exit (they simply do not buy the product) or voice (they explain exactly why they are dissatisfied and what they'd like instead). Active media users, who are at the same time skilled prosumers who have access to interactive technologies, ensure that voice will, indeed, replace exit as the measure of advertisers' success.
In addition to demographic segmentation, advertisers are making increased use of psychographic segmentation—that is, appealing to consumer groups with similar lifestyles, attitudes, values, and behavior patterns.
Psychographics entered advertising in the 1970s and has received considerable attention as advertisers work to reach increasingly disparate consumers in increasingly segmented media. VALS, a psychographic segmentation strategy that classifies consumers according to values and lifestyles, is indicative of this lifestyle segmentation. Developed by SRI Consulting (2015), a California consulting company, VALS II divides consumers into eight VALS segments. Each segment is characterized by specific values and lifestyles, demographics, and, of greatest importance to advertisers, buying patterns. The segments, including some of their key demographic identifiers, are listed here:
Innovators: Successful, sophisticated, high self-esteem; have abundant resources; are change leaders and receptive to new ideas and technologies.
Thinkers: Motivated by ideas; mature, satisfied, comfortable, reflective; value order, knowledge, and responsibility; well educated, actively seek out information.
Achievers: Have goal-oriented lifestyles and deep commitment to career and family; social lives structured around family, place of worship, and work.
Experiencers: Motivated by self-expression; young and impulsive consumers; quickly become enthusiastic about new possibilities but equally quick to cool; seek variety and excitement.
Believers: Motivated by ideals; conservative, conventional, with concrete beliefs based on traditional, established codes: family, religion, community, and nation.
Strivers: Trendy, fun loving; motivated by achievement; concerned about opinions and approval of others; money defines success, but don't have enough to meet their desires; favor stylish products.
Makers: Motivated by self-expression; express themselves through work/projects; practical; have constructive skills; and value self-sufficiency.
Survivors: Live narrowly focused lives; have few resources; comfortable with the familiar; primarily concerned with safety and security; focus on meeting needs rather than fulfilling desires.
Advertisers often use intentional imprecision in words and phrases to say something other than the precise truth, and they do so in all forms of advertising—profit and nonprofit, scrupulously honest and less so. There are three categories of intentional imprecision: unfinished statements, qualifiers, and connotatively loaded words and expressions.
We are all familiar with unfinished statements, such as the one for the battery that "lasts twice as long." Others include "You can be sure if it's Westinghouse," "Magnavox gives you more," and "Easy-Off makes oven cleaning easier." A literate advertising consumer should ask, "Twice as long as what?" "Of what can I be sure?" "Gives me more of what?" "Easier than what?" Better, more, stronger, whiter, faster—all are comparative adjectives whose true purpose is to create a comparison between two or more things. When the other half of the comparison is not identified, intentional imprecision is being used to create the illusion of comparison.
Qualifiers are words that limit a claim. A product "helps" relieve stress, for instance. It may not relieve stress as well as rest and better planning and organization. But once the Page 305qualifier "helps" appears, an advertiser is free to make just about any claim for the product because all the ad really says is that it helps, not that it does anything in and of itself. It's the consumer's fault for misreading. A product may "fight" grime, but there is no promise that it will win. In the statement "Texaco's coal gasification process could mean you won't have to worry about how it affects the environment," "could" relieves the advertiser of all responsibility. "Could" does not mean "will." Moreover, the fact that you could stop worrying about the environment does not mean the product does not harm the environment—only that you could stop worrying about it.
Some qualifiers are more apparent. "Taxes not included," "limited time only," "only at participating locations," "prices may vary," "some assembly required," "additional charges may apply," and "batteries not included" are qualifiers presented after the primary claims have been made. Often these words are spoken quickly at the end of radio and television commercials, or they appear in small print on the screen or at the bottom of a newspaper or magazine ad.
Other qualifiers are part of the product's advertising slogan. Boodles gin is "the ultra-refined British gin that only the world's costliest methods could produce. Boodles. The world's costliest British gin." After intimating that the costliest methods are somehow necessary to make the best gin, this advertiser qualifies its product as the costliest "British" gin. There may be costlier, and possibly better, Irish, U.S., Russian, and Canadian gins. Many sugared children's cereals employ the tactic of displaying the cereal on a table with fruit, milk, and toast. The announcer says or the copy reads, "Coco Yummies are a part of this complete breakfast"—so is the tablecloth. But the cereal, in and of itself, adds little to the nutritional completeness of the meal. It is "a part of" it.
Advertising is full of words that are connotatively loaded. "Best-selling" may say more about a product's advertising and distribution system than its quality. "More of the pain-relieving medicine doctors prescribe most" means aspirin. Cherry-flavored products have no cherries in them. On the ecolabeling front, "no additives" is meaningless; the manufacturer decides what is and is not an additive. "Cruelty free"—again, the company decides. Other connotatively loaded ecolabels are "hypoallergenic" (advertiser-created, scientific-sounding, and meaningless), "fragrance free" (you can't smell the scent because of the chemicals used to hide it), "nontoxic" (won't kill you, but could cause other health problems), and "earth smart," "green," and "nature's friend"—all meaningless. Advertisers want consumers to focus on the connotation, not the actual meaning of these words. And what is "healthy"? Even the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is no longer sure, calling in 2016 for a review of its actual meaning based on "significant scientific agreement" (Forbes, 2016).
Intentional imprecision is puffery. It is not illegal; neither is it sufficiently troubling to the advertising industry to warrant self-regulatory limits. But puffery is neither true nor accurate, and its purpose is to deceive. This means that the responsibility for correctly and accurately reading advertising that is intentionally imprecise rests with the media-literate consumer. We regularly encounter intentional imprecision in advertising, although maybe not as bad as that practiced by Dogbert.
"You never can have enough nice footwear."
"Agreed, but those are sneakers, and they aren't even high end; they're kinda casual."
"A, the world needs more casual, and B, they're better than high end. They're TOMS."
"Why's that make them better?"
"If I buy a pair, a kid with no shoes somewhere in the world gets a free pair. Buy one, give one."
"Then I'm in, too. I'd like to help."
Your friend, like you, was moved to help kids in more than 60 countries get the shoes they need through TOMS's efforts, mirrored by thousands of other companies, to team up with public service and humanitarian organizations to do good for others while burnishing its corporate image, not unimportant at a time when confidence in the corporate world is a bit shaky. Since 2006, TOMS's buy-one-give-one program has delivered more than 60 million pairs of shoes to kids in need, with footwear based on the terrain and weather where they live. The program has gone even further, creating local jobs by producing the shoes in the countries in which they are used. TOMS eventually launched TOMS Eyewear, again giving one free pair of eyeglasses to someone in need for every pair of sunglasses or optical frames it sells. It does the same with TOMS Roasting Company, joining with Water for People to deliver one week's worth of free water to the areas from which the beans are sourced for every pound of coffee people buy. These efforts have spread beyond TOMS. Diaper maker Pampers, for example, partners with UNICEF for "1 pack = 1 vaccine," a program to donate one tetanus vaccine for every package it sells. It has delivered more than 300 million vaccines to 36 countries and has seen the elimination of maternal and neonatal tetanus in 14 of those nations. Department store Macy's "Buy 1 & We'll Give 1" campaign annually donates about 50,000 coats nationwide to Clothes4Souls, donating one new, never-worn coat for every coat purchased in-store and online during the campaign's fall run.
In this chapter we investigate the public relations industry and its relationship with mass media and their audiences. We first define public relations. Then we study its history and development as the profession matured from its beginnings in hucksterism to a full-fledged, communication-based industry. We see how the needs and interests of the profession's various publics became part of the public relations process, and we also define exactly who those publics are. We then detail the scope and nature of the industry and describe the types of public relations activities and the organization of a typical public relations operation. We study trends such as globalization and specialization, as well as the impact of new, converging communication technologies on the industry. Finally, we discuss trust in public relations. As our media literacy skill, we learn how to recognize fake online reviews.
UNICEF and Water for People, like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Save Venice, Handgun Control Incorporated, the National Environmental Trust, and countless other nonprofit organizations, are interest groups that use a variety of public relations tools and strategies to serve a variety of publics. They want to use public relations to do good. The companies that sponsor their activities also want to do good—do good for their communities and for themselves. Even the most cynical person must applaud their efforts on behalf of helping people in need.
But for many people, efforts such as these serve to demonstrate one of the ironies of public relations, both as an activity and as an industry: Public relations has terrible public relations. We dismiss information as "just PR." Public relations professionals are frequently equated with snake oil salespeople, hucksters, and other willful deceivers. They are referred to both inside and outside the media industries as flacks. They are often accused of engaging in spin, outright lying or obfuscation. Yet virtually every organization and institution—big and small, public and private, for-profit and volunteer—uses public relations as a regular part of its operation. Many have their own public relations departments. The term "public relations" often carries such a negative connotation that most independent companies and company PR departments now go by the name "public affairs," "corporate affairs," or "public communications."
Page 261The problem rests, in part, on confusion over what public relations actually is. There is no universally accepted definition of public relations because it can be and is many things—publicity, research, public affairs, media relations, promotion, merchandising, and more. Much of the observable contact media consumers have with public relations occurs when the industry defends people and companies who have somehow run afoul of the public. China sought help from Ogilvy Public Relations when it was discovered that the toys it was exporting to the United States were coated with dangerous lead paint and the toothpaste it was also sending was tainted with diethylene glycol, a toxin. In the wake of outrage over its 2016 beheading of 27 political dissidents, the Saudi Arabian government enlisted public relations companies Qorvis and Targeted Victory to help it calm criticism of what is supposed to be America's strongest ally in the Middle East (Fang & Jilani, 2016). Washington PR giant Qorvis's positive representation of repressive Middle Eastern regimes Yemen and Bahrain recently led to a much-publicized walk-out by a third of its partners. Journalists recently revealed that the Global Energy Balance Network, a grassroots group of concerned scientists wanting to promote "science-based" solutions to obesity, was in fact quietly funded by $1.5 million from soda maker Coca-Cola. Coke handpicked the group's leaders, edited its mission statement, and suggested material for its website, which in fact was registered to Coke (Malkan, 2016). The Global Energy Balance Network is actually astroturf (a fake grassroots organization), its true mission to thwart state and national regulatory efforts to crack down on the sale of sugary drinks. And although a coalition of several of the world's top 25 PR firms mutually agreed in 2014 to no longer work for clients who would use their services to deny climate change (Goldenberg & Karim, 2014), the book and 2014 documentary Merchants of Doubt created a public stir with its revelations that PR companies were employing the same techniques that they had used for decades in the debates over the harmful effects of tobacco and asbestos to muddy public opinion on climate change—paying scientists to do supporting research, creating astroturf groups, and training media savvy "experts" to challenge scientists or to provide "balance" to news reports (Beale, 2015).
Yet when seven people died from cyanide poisoning after taking tainted Tylenol capsules in 1982, a skilled and honest public relations campaign by Johnson & Johnson (makers of Tylenol) and its public relations firm, Burson-Marsteller, saved the brand and restored trust in the product. In 2014, when General Motors was rocked by a 1.6-million-car recall and 13 deaths linked to a faulty ignition switch, the company took not only to traditional media—letters to customers, blogs, call centers, and news media—in its efforts to better serve its customers and save its reputation, but it also mounted a massive social-media public relations campaign—connecting with owners, getting them loaner cars, and even paying for public transit. In this way the auto giant "fundamentally redefine[d] themselves as an open, transparent, listening organization," saving the brand and thousands of jobs (Goel, 2014). The public relations campaign by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) led directly to passage of tougher standards in virtually every state to remove drunk drivers from the road and to provide stiffer sentences for those convicted of driving under the influence. Dramatic reductions Page 262in the number of alcohol-related traffic accidents resulted from this effort (see the essay "The MADD Campaign").
"P.R. has a P.R. problem," says Syracuse University public relations professor Brenda Wrigley. "We have to get our own house in order. . . . We are advocates and there's no shame in that as long as it's grounded in ethics and values." Public Relations Society of America president Judy Phair adds, "For public relations to be effective, it has to be built on public trust" (both in O'Brien, 2005, p. 31). Accepting, therefore, that public relations should be honest and ethical, our definition of public relations is drawn from the Public Relations Society of America's "widely accepted" definition:
Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics. (PRSA, 2017) Merchants of Doubt, the book and 2014 documentary, focused public attention on PR tactics sometimes used to obfuscate debate on important public health issues.
General Motors' powerful public relations campaign, conducted by traditional means and on social media, helped save the brand's reputation and thousands of its employees' jobs. Here, CEO Mary Barra testifies before the Energy and Commerce Committee to explain how GM would make things right.
After her child was killed in a drunk-driving accident in 1980, Candy Lightner sought out others like herself, mothers who had lost children to the volatile mix of cars and alcohol. She hoped they could provide one another with emotional support and campaign to ensure that other parents would never know their grief. Thus, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) was born.
Among MADD's publics are teenagers. With its parallel organization, Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), MADD targets this high-risk group through various educational campaigns and in the media that attract teen audiences. The organization also conducts public information campaigns aimed at adult drivers and repeat drunk drivers, often in conjunction with state and other authorities. It also assists legislators in their efforts to pass drunk-driving legislation. Two more of MADD's publics are public servants such as police and paramedics who must deal with the effects of drunk driving, and the families and friends who have lost loved ones in alcohol- or drug-related driving accidents.
Has MADD made a difference? Since 1988, numerous prime-time television programs have featured episodes about the dangers of drunk driving. MADD's professional staff has served as script advisors to these programs. MADD was instrumental in the passage of the federal Drunk Driving Prevention Act of 1988, offering states financial incentives to set up programs that would reduce alcohol- and drug-related automobile fatalities. This legislation also made 21 the national minimum legal drinking age. MADD successfully campaigned for the Victim's Crime Act of 1984, making compensation from drunk drivers to victims and their families federal law.
There are two even more dramatic examples of how successful Lightner's group has been. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, in the 30-plus years since MADD's founding, more than 300,000 lives have been saved, and in 2011, for the first time, the annual number of American drunk-driving fatalities fell below 10,000 ("Drunk Driving," 2012). But MADD's cultural impact shows most strongly in the way people treat drunk drivers. It is no longer cool to talk about how smashed we got at the party, or how we can't believe we made it home. Almost every evening out with a group of friends includes a designated driver. Drunk drivers are considered nearly as despicable as child molesters. Many in public relations, traffic safety, and law enforcement credit MADD's public relations efforts with this change.
Archaeologists in Iraq have uncovered a tablet dating from 1800 b.c.e. that today we would call a public information bulletin. It provided farmers with information on sowing, irrigating, and harvesting their crops. Julius Caesar fed the people of the Roman Empire constant reports Page 263of his achievements to maintain morale and to solidify his reputation and position of power. Genghis Khan would send "advance men" to tell stories of his might, hoping to frighten his enemies into surrendering.
Public relations campaigns abounded in pre-Revolutionary War America and helped create the colonies. Merchants, farmers, and others who saw advantage in a growing colonial population used overstatement, half-truths, and lies to entice settlers to the New World; A Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia by Thomas Hariot and John White was published in 1588 to lure European settlers. The Boston Tea Party was a well-planned media event organized to attract public attention for a vital cause. Today we'd call it a pseudo-event, an event staged specifically to attract public attention. Benjamin Franklin organized a sophisticated campaign to thwart the Stamp Act, the Crown's attempt to limit colonial press freedom, using his publications and the oratory skills of criers (see the chapter on books). The Federalist Papers of John Jay, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton were originally a series of 85 letters published between 1787 and 1789, which were designed to sway public opinion in the newly independent United States toward support and passage of the new Constitution, an early effort at issue management. In all these examples, people or organizations were using communication to inform, to build an image, and to influence public opinion. The December 16, 1773, Boston Tea Party was one of the first successful pseudo-events in the new land. Had cameras been around at the time, it would also have been a fine photo op.
Mass circulation newspapers and the first successful consumer magazines appeared in the 1830s, expanding the ability of people and organizations to communicate with the public. In 1833, for example, Andrew Jackson hired former newspaper journalist Amos Kendall as his publicist and the country's first presidential press secretary in an effort to combat the aristocrats who saw Jackson as too common to be president.
Abolitionists sought an end to slavery. Industrialists needed to attract workers, entice customers, and enthuse investors. P. T. Barnum, allegedly convinced that there's a sucker born every minute, worked to lure those suckers into his shows. All used the newspaper and the magazine to serve their causes.
Politicians recognized that the expanding press meant that a new way of campaigning was necessary. In 1896 presidential contenders William Jennings Bryan and William McKinley both established campaign headquarters in Chicago from which they issued news releases, position papers, and pamphlets. The modern national political campaign was born.
Page 264It was during this era that public relations began to acquire its deceitful, huckster image. PR was associated more with propaganda than with useful information. A disregard for the public and the willingness of public relations experts to serve the powerful fueled this view, and public relations began to establish itself as a profession during this time. The burgeoning press was its outlet, but westward expansion and rapid urbanization and industrialization in the United States were its driving forces. As the railroad expanded to unite the new nation, cities exploded with new people and new life. Markets, once small and local, became large and national.
As the political and financial stakes grew, business and government became increasingly corrupt and selfish—"The public be damned" was William Vanderbilt's official comment when asked in 1882 about the effects of changing the schedule of his New York Central Railroad (Gordon, 1989). The muckrakers' revelations badly tarnished the images of industry and politics. Massive and lengthy coal strikes led to violence and more antibusiness feeling. In the heyday of the journalistic exposé and the muckraking era, government and business both required some good public relations.
In 1889 Westinghouse Electric established the first corporate public relations department, hiring a former newspaper writer to engage the press and ensure that company positions were always clear and in the public eye. Advertising agencies, including N. W. Ayer & Sons and Lord and Thomas, began to offer public relations services to their clients. The first publicity company, The Publicity Bureau, opened in Boston in 1906 and later expanded to New York, Chicago, Washington, St. Louis, and Topeka to help the railroad industry challenge federal regulations that it opposed.
The railroads also had other problems, and they turned to New York World reporter Ivy Lee for help. Beset by accidents and strikes, the Pennsylvania Railroad usually responded by suppressing information. Lee recognized, however, that this was dangerous and counterproductive in a time when the public was already suspicious of big business, including the railroads. Lee escorted reporters to the scene of trouble, established press centers, distributed press releases, and assisted reporters in obtaining additional information and photographs.
When a Colorado coal mine strike erupted in violence in 1913, the press attacked the mine's principal stockholder, New York's John D. Rockefeller Jr., blaming him for the shooting deaths of several miners and their wives and children. Lee handled press relations and convinced Rockefeller to visit the scene to talk (and be photographed) with the strikers. The strike ended, and Rockefeller was soon being praised for his sensitive intervention. Eventually Lee issued his Declaration of Principles, arguing that public relations practitioners should be providers of information, not purveyors of publicity.
Not all public relations at this time was damage control. Henry Ford began using staged events such as auto races to build interest in his cars, started Ford Times (an in-house employee publication), and made heavy use of image advertising.
Public relations in this stage was typically one-way, from organization to public. Still, by the outbreak of World War I, most of the elements of today's large-scale, multifunction public relations agency were in place. 1906 Car of High Degree Cadillac. This campaign was an early but quite successful example of image advertising—using paid ads to build goodwill for a product.
Because the U.S. public was not particularly enthusiastic about the nation's entry into World War I, President Woodrow Wilson recognized the need for public relations in support of the war effort (Zinn, 1995, pp. 355-357). In 1917 he placed former newspaper journalist George Creel at the head of the newly formed Committee on Public Information (CPI). Creel assembled opinion leaders from around the country to advise the government on its public relations efforts and to help shape public opinion. The committee sold Liberty Bonds and helped increase membership in the Red Cross. It engaged in public relations on a scale never before seen, using movies, public speakers, articles in newspapers and magazines, and posters.
It was about this time that public relations pioneer Edward Bernays began emphasizing the value of assessing the public's feelings toward an organization. He would then use this knowledge as the basis for the development of the public relations effort. Together with Page 265Creel's committee, Bernays's work was the beginning of two-way communication in public relations—that is, public relations practitioners talking to people and, in return, listening to them when they talked back. Public relations professionals began representing their various publics to their clients, just as they represented their clients to those publics.
There were other advances in public relations during this stage. During the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, guided by adviser Louis McHenry Howe, embarked on a sophisticated public relations campaign to win support for his then-radical New Deal policies. Central to Roosevelt's effort was the new medium of radio. The Great Depression plaguing the country throughout this decade once again turned public opinion against business and industry. To counter people's distrust, many more corporations established in-house public relations departments; General Motors opened its PR operation in 1931. Public relations professionals turned increasingly to the newly emerging polling industry, founded by George Gallup and Elmo Roper, to better gauge public opinion as they constructed public relations campaigns and to gather feedback on the effectiveness of those campaigns. Gallup and Roper successfully applied newly refined social science research methods—advances in sampling, questionnaire design, and interviewing—to meet the business needs of clients and their publics.
The growth of the industry was significant enough and its reputation sufficiently fragile that the National Association of Accredited Publicity Directors was founded in 1936. The American Council on Public Relations was established three years later. They merged in 1947, creating the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), the principal professional group for today's public relations professionals.
World War II saw the government undertake another massive campaign to bolster support for the war effort, this time through the Office of War Information (OWI). Employing techniques that had proven successful during World War I, the OWI had the additional advantage of public opinion polling, fully established and powerful radio networks and their stars, and a Hollywood eager to help. Singer Kate Smith's war-bond radio fundraiser brought in millions, and director Frank Capra produced the Why We Fight film series for the OWI.
During this era both public relations and Ivy Lee suffered a serious blow to their reputations. Lee was the American public relations spokesman for Germany and its leader, Adolf Hitler. In 1934 Lee was required to testify before Congress to defend himself against charges that he was a Nazi sympathizer. He was successful, but the damage had been done. As a result of Lee's ties with Germany, Congress passed the Foreign Agents Registration Act in 1938, requiring anyone who engages in political activities in the United States on behalf of a foreign power to register as an agent of that power with the Justice Department. World War I brought government into large-scale public relations. Even today, the CPI's posters—like this one encouraging citizens to support the war effort through war bonds—are recognized. Better known for hits such as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and It's a Wonderful Life, director Frank Capra brought his moviemaking talents to the government's efforts to explain U.S. involvement in World War II and to overcome U.S. isolationism. His Why We Fight documentary series still stands as a classic of the form.
Post-World War II U.S. society was confronted by profound social change and expansion of the consumer culture. It became increasingly important for organizations to know what their clients were thinking, what they liked and disliked, and what concerned and satisfied them. As a result, public relations turned even more decidedly toward integrated two-way communication, employing research, advertising, and promotion.
As the public relations industry became more visible, it opened itself to closer scrutiny. Best-selling novels such as The Hucksters and The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (and the hit movies made from them) painted a disturbingly negative picture of the industry and those who worked in it. Vance Packard's best-selling book The Hidden Persuaders, dealing with both public relations and advertising, further eroded PR esteem. As a result of public distrust Page 266of the profession, Congress passed the Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act in 1946, requiring, among other things, that those who deal with federal employees on behalf of private clients disclose those relationships. And as the industry's conduct and ethics came under increasing attack, the PRSA responded with a code of ethics in 1954 and an accreditation program in 1962. Both, with modification and improvement, stand today.
Public relations's contemporary era is characterized by other events as well. More people buying more products meant that greater numbers of people were coming into contact with a growing number of businesses. As consumer markets grew in size, the basis of competition changed. Texaco, for example, used advertising to sell its gasoline. But because its gasoline was not all that different from that of other oil companies, it also sold its fuel using its good name and reputation. Increasingly, then, advertising agencies began to add public relations divisions. This change served to blur the distinction between advertising and PR.
Women, who had proved their capabilities in all professional settings during World War II, became prominent in the industry. Anne Williams Wheaton was associate press secretary to President Eisenhower; Leone Baxter was president of the powerful public relations firm Whitaker and Baxter. Companies and their executives and politicians increasingly turned to television to burnish their images and shape public opinion. Nonprofit, charitable, and social activist groups also mastered the art of public relations. The latter used public relations especially effectively to challenge the PR power of targeted businesses. Environmentalist, civil rights, and women's rights groups as well as safety and consumer advocate organizations were successful in moving the public toward their positions and, in many cases, toward action. Criticism of public relations found its way into popular culture through a number of popular films and books. This scene is from the movie The Hucksters.
Virtually all of us consume public relations messages on a daily basis. Increasingly, the video clips we see on the local evening news are provided by a public relations firm or the PR department of some company or organization. The content of many of the stories we read online or hear on local radio news comes directly from PR-provided press releases. As one media relations firm explained in a promotional piece sent to prospective clients, "The media are separated into two categories. One is content and the other is advertising. They're both for sale. Advertising can be purchased directly from the publication or through an ad agency, and the content space you purchase from PR firms" (quoted in Jackson & Hart, 2002, p. 24). In addition, the feed-the-hungry campaign we support, the poster encouraging us toward safer sex, and the corporation-sponsored art exhibit we attend are all someone's public relations effort. Public relations professionals interact with seven categories of publics, and a public is any group of people with a stake in an organization, issue, or idea. Who are those publics?
Employees. An organization's employees are its lifeblood, its family. Good public relations begins at home with company newsletters, social events, and internal and external recognition of superior performance.
Stockholders. Stockholders own the organization (if it is a public corporation). They are "family" as well, and their goodwill is necessary for the business to operate. Annual reports and stockholder meetings provide a sense of belonging as well as information.
Communities. An organization has neighbors where it operates. Courtesy, as well as good business sense, requires that an organization's neighbors are treated with consideration and support. Information meetings, company-sponsored safety and food drives, and open houses strengthen ties between organizations and their neighbors.
Media. Very little communication with an organization's various publics can occur without the trust and goodwill of professionals in the mass media. Press packets, briefings, and the facilitation of access to an organization's newsmakers build that trust and goodwill.
Government. Government is "the voice of the people" and, as such, deserves the attention of any organization that deals with the public. From a practical perspective, governments have the power to tax, regulate, and zone. Organizations must earn and maintain the goodwill and trust of the government. The providing of information and access through reports, position papers, and meetings with official personnel keeps Page 268government informed and builds trust in an organization. The government is also the target of many PR efforts, as organizations and their lobbyists seek favorable legislation and other action.
Investment community. Corporations are under the constant scrutiny of those who invest their own money or the money of others or make recommendations on investment. The value of a business and its ability to grow are functions of the investment community's respect for and trust in it. As a result, all PR efforts that build an organization's good image speak to that community.
Customers. Consumers pay the bills for companies through their purchase of products or services. Their goodwill is invaluable. That makes good PR, in all its forms, invaluable.
Today some 240,700 people in the U.S. identify themselves as working in public relations, and virtually every major American company or organization has a public relations department, some housing as many as 400 employees. There are over 8,300 public relations firms in the United States, the largest employing as many as 2,000 people. Most, however, have fewer employees, some employing as few as four people. Globally, PR firms had $14.2 billion in revenue in 2015 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015; Sudhaman, 2016). Figure 1 shows the 10 largest public relations firms in the world. There are full-service public relations firms and those that provide only special services. Media specialists for company CEOs, Web commentary monitoring services, and makers of video news releases (VNR), Page 269preproduced reports about a client or its product that are distributed free of charge to television stations, are special service providers. Public relations firms bill for their services in a number of ways. They may charge an hourly rate for services rendered, or they may be on call, charging clients a monthly fee to act as their public relations counsel. Hill+Knowlton, for example, charges a minimum fee of several thousand dollars a month. Another way to bill is through fixed-fee arrangements, wherein the firm performs a specific set of services for a client for a specific and prearranged fee. Finally, many firms bill for collateral materials, adding a surcharge as high as 17.65% for handling printing, research, and photographs. For example, if it costs $3,000 to have a poster printed, the firm charges the client $3,529.50 to cover the cost of the poster plus 17.65% of that cost.
Regardless of the way public relations firms bill their clients, they earn their fees by offering all or some of these 14 interrelated services.
Community relations. This type of public affairs work focuses on the communities in which the organization exists. If a city wants to build a new airport, for example, those whose property will be taken or devalued must be satisfied. If they are not, widespread community opposition to the project may develop.
Counseling. Public relations professionals routinely offer advice to an organization's management concerning policies, relationships, and communication with its various publics. Management must tell its publics "what we do." Public relations helps in the creation, refinement, and presentation of that message.
Development/fundraising. All organizations, commercial and nonprofit, survive through the voluntary contributions in time and money of their members, friends, employees, supporters, and others. Public relations helps demonstrate the need for those contributions. This corporate social responsibility, the integration of business operations and organizational values, sometimes take the form of cause marketing—work in support of social issues and causes—and their importance to clients is evidenced by data indicating that when deciding between two brands of equal quality and price, 90% of U.S. shoppers are likely to choose the cause-branded product (Cause Good, 2016). Figure 2 offers a Page 270deeper look at the value of informing the public about clients' efforts at cause marketing and other forms of corporate social responsibility. Employee/member relations. This form of public relations responds specifically to the concerns of an organization's employees or members and its retirees and their families. The goal is maintenance of high morale and motivation.
Financial relations. Practiced primarily by corporate organizations, financial PR is the enhancement of communication between investor-owned companies and their shareholders, the financial community (for example, banks, annuity groups, and investment firms), and the public. Much corporate strategy, such as expansion into new markets and acquisition of other companies, is dependent upon good financial public relations.
Government affairs. This type of public affairs work focuses on government agencies. Lobbying—directly interacting to influence elected officials or government regulators and agents—is often a central activity. The term lobbyist, however, has developed a bit of a negative connotation. As such, in 2013 the American League of Lobbyists changed its name to the Association of Government Relations Professionals, and its members, no longer lobbyists, became government relations professionals (Clines, 2013).
Industry relations. Companies must interact not only with their own customers and stockholders but also with other companies in their line of business, both competitors and suppliers. In addition, they must also stand as a single voice in dealing with various state and federal regulators. For example, groups as disparate as the Texas Restaurant Association, the American Petroleum Institute, and the National Association of Manufacturers all require public relations in dealing with their various publics. The goal is the maintenance and prosperity of the industry as a whole.
Issues management. Often an organization is as interested in influencing public opinion about some larger issue that will eventually influence its operation as it is in the improvement of its own image. Issues management typically uses a large-scale public relations campaign designed to move or shape opinion on a specific issue. Usually the issue is an important one that generates deep feelings. Anti-death-penalty activists, for example, employ a full range of communication techniques to sway people to their side. ExxonMobil frequently secures paid media placements that address environmentalism and public transportation—important issues in and of themselves, but also important to the future of a leading manufacturer of fossil fuels.
Media relations. As the number of media outlets grows and as advances in technology increase the complexity of dealing with them, clients require help in understanding the various media, in preparing and organizing materials for them, and in placing those materials. In addition, media relations requires that the public relations practitioner maintain good relationships with professionals in the media, understand their deadlines and other constraints, and earn their trust.
Marketing communication. This is a combination of activities designed to sell a product, service, or idea. It can include the creation of advertising; generation of publicity and promotion; design of packaging, point-of-sale displays, and trade show presentations; and design and execution of special events. It is important to note that PR professionals often use advertising but that the two are not the same. The difference is one of control. Advertising is controlled communication—advertisers pay for ads to appear in specific media exactly as they want. PR tends to be less controlled. The PR firm, for example, cannot control how or when its client's announcement of a new minority outreach effort is reported by the local paper. It cannot control how the media report Nike's ongoing insistence that it has rectified reported worker abuses in its overseas shops. Advertising becomes a public relations function when its goal is to build an image or to motivate action, as opposed to the usual function of selling products. The Ad Council's seat-belt safety campaign featuring the Crash Test Dummies is a well-known, successful public relations advertising campaign.
Advertising and public relations obviously overlap for manufacturers of consumer products. Chevrolet must sell cars, but it must communicate with its various publics as Page 271well. General Motors, too, must sell cars. But in the wake of the ignition switch recall, it needed serious public relations help. One result of the overlap of advertising and public relations is that advertising agencies increasingly own their own public relations departments or firms or associate closely with a PR company. Especially in an age of slacktivism and social media, public relations professionals, says Jackie Cooper, head of global creative strategy at Edelman, are "getting not just a seat at the table, we're getting half the table" (Stein, 2016). You may see his point after reading the essay, "Protecting a Company's Good Name in the Era of Social Media."
Another way that advertising and public relations differ is that advertising people typically do not set policy for an organization. Advertising people implement policy after organization leaders set it. In contrast, public relations professionals usually are part of the policy-making process because they are the liaison between the organization and its publics. Effective organizations have come to understand that even in routine decisions the impact on public opinion and subsequent consequences can be of tremendous importance. As a result, public relations has become a management function, and a public relations professional typically sits as a member of a company's highest level of management. You'll soon read more about this.
Minority relations/multicultural affairs. Public affairs activities are directed toward specific racial and ethnic minorities in this type of work. For example, Chili's Grill & Bar offers free meals on Veterans Day to those who have been in the military. It served more than 200,000 veterans' meals in 2016, but failure to provide one more caused the company significant embarrassment. A manager at a Texas location refused to give a meal to an African American veteran because another customer said that, as a black man, he could not have served in World War II and must be lying about his veteran status, despite the former soldier having showed his military ID and discharge papers. As soon as the story went viral, helped along by a video of the incident that rang up 400,000 views in four days, the company undertook a campaign to speak to those who felt insulted by the event. A secondary goal of its efforts was to send a message to its own employees and the larger public that everybody is welcome at their restaurants (Guarino, 2016).
Public affairs. The public affairs function includes interacting with officials and leaders of the various power centers with whom a client must deal. Community and government officials and leaders of pressure groups are likely targets of this form of public relations. Public affairs emphasizes social responsibility and building goodwill, such as when a company donates money for a computer lab at the local high school.
Special events and public participation. Public relations can be used to stimulate interest in an organization, person, or product through a well-planned, focused "happening," an activity designed to facilitate interaction between an organization and its publics.
Research. Organizations often must determine the attitudes and behaviors of their various publics in order to plan and implement the activities necessary to influence or change those attitudes and behaviors. You might recognize the Crash Test Dummies, seen here at their introduction into the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, from their long-running seat-belt safety public relations advertising campaign.
An unfortunate 2013 incident between an airline and a Twitter user thrust the issue of public relations in the social media age into the cultural forum.
When British Airways lost his luggage and was, in his view, unresponsive to his problem, Hasan Syed took to Twitter as thousands, if not millions, of unhappy consumers often do. He posted several tweets, including "@British_Airways is the worst airline ever. Lost my luggage & can't even track it down. Absolutely pathetic #britishairways." Syed then took his social media fight a step further; when there was no response he bought sponsored tweets (anyone can do this directly from Twitter's homepage) and began running them as part of British Airways' Twitter feed to be read by the company's 300,000 followers. "Don't fly @BritishAirways. Their customer service is horrendous," read his first purchased tweet; "Yes. I'm promoting my tweets to all BA followers since their Customer Service is horrendous. It's not about the money at this point. I'm going to run promoted ads until BA fixes this mess," read another (all in Bennett, 2013). The airline eventually responded, apologized, and explained that its customer service department was open only from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on business days (a terrible admission, as its Twitter followers quickly informed the multibillion-dollar company with customers in every time zone on Earth).
This drama played out against a new reality for public relations professionals working to protect their brands' reputations—instant, immediate, unfiltered consumer commentary. With the advent of social media, "public relations truly became public," in the words of Lorrie Ross of the International Association of Business Communicators (2016). Syed had no advertising budget and no PR team, and even if he had, it's unlikely either would have matched those available to British Airways. But he did have $1,000 and knowledge of social media. He used them to speak directly to British Airways' Twitter followers, garnering 77,000 impressions. His success is good news for consumers, but many PR professionals see this event as good news for their industry as well. A level playing field between clients and their publics puts PR practitioners in the role of facilitators of conversations, rather than mere protectors of clients' reputations. Their job becomes less one of spinning a bad situation and more one of encouraging meaningful communication. Given the industry's own definition of public relations that you encountered earlier in this chapter—a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics—this is how most would rather operate.
Enter your voice. Are we seeing the end of spin, as new, instant consumer media enforce candor? Do you think that companies will more openly engage their consumers in authentic communication about expectations, reputation, and service? If it took a public battering at the hands of a social media-savvy customer to move this airline to better service, will the embarrassment always have to come first, or will the mere existence of social media encourage companies to proactively improve their products and services? Before you answer, keep in mind the bad news for companies—78% of those who complain to a brand via Twitter expect a response within an hour—and the good news—71% of consumers who have had a good social media service experience with a brand are likely to recommend it to others (Hainla, 2016).
Public relations operations come in all sizes. Regardless of size, however, the typical PR firm or department will have these types of positions (but not necessarily these titles):
Executive. This is the chief executive officer who, sometimes with a staff, sometimes alone, sets policy and serves as the spokesperson for the operation.
Account executives. Each account has its own executive who provides advice to the client, defines problems and situations, assesses the needs and demands of the client's publics, recommends a communication plan or campaign, and gathers the PR firm's resources in support of the client.
Creative specialists. These are the writers, graphic designers, artists, video and audio producers, web designers, and photographers—anybody necessary to meet the communication needs of the client.
Media specialists. Media specialists are aware of the requirements, preferences, limitations, and strengths of the various media used to serve the client. They find the right media for clients' messages.
Larger public relations operations may also have these positions as need demands:
Research. The key to two-way public relations communication rests in research—assessing the needs of a client's various publics and the effectiveness of the efforts aimed at them. Polling, one-on-one interviews, and focus groups, in which small groups of a targeted public are interviewed, provide the PR operation and its client with feedback.
Government relations. Depending on the client's needs, lobbying or other direct communication with government officials may be necessary.
Financial services. Very specific and sophisticated knowledge of economics, finance, and business or corporate law is required to provide clients with dependable financial public relations. The fictitious Acme Fishhook Research Council in this Robotman & Monty cartoon is a good example of an organization that engages in industry relations activities.
As they have in the media industries themselves, globalization and concentration have come to public relations in the form of foreign ownership, reach of PR firms' operations into foreign countries, and the collection of several different companies into giant marketing organizations. Dentsu Aegis Network alone has 23,000 employees serving clients in more than 100 countries. New York-based independent Edelman PR has 5,000 employees in 51 offices around the world. Marketing giant Omnicom Group operates in 100 countries, has over 100,000 employees, and serves more than 5,000 clients. It accomplishes this with three of the world's top-seven-earning PR firms and several specialty PR shops (for example, Brodeur Worldwide, Clark & Weinstock, Gavin Anderson & Company, and Cone). But Omnicom is also parent to several national and international advertising agencies, including three of the top 10 global earners (BBDO Worldwide, DDB Worldwide, and TBWA Worldwide); several media planning and buying companies; event branding and planning companies; outdoor, direct marketing, and online advertising specialty shops; and the global marketing company Diversified Agency Services, which itself is home to more than 160 companies offering services through its 700 offices in 71 countries. Six of the world's 10 largest marketing organizations have ownership outside the United States, as you can see in Figure 3. Another trend in public relations is specialization. We've seen the 14 activities of public relations professionals, but specialization can expand that list. This specialization takes two forms. The first is defined by issue. Environmental public relations is attracting ever-larger Page 275numbers of people, both environmentalists and industrialists. E. Bruce Harrison Consulting attracts corporate clients in part because of its reputation as a firm with superior greenwashing skills. That is, Harrison is particularly adept at countering the public relations efforts aimed at its clients by environmentalists. Health care and pharmaceuticals has also recently emerged as a significant public relations specialty.
The second impetus driving specialization has to do with the increasing number of media outlets used in public relations campaigns that rely on new and converging technologies. Online information and advertising and a social media presence are growing parts of the total public relations media mix, as are video news releases. In addition, Web publishing has greatly expanded the number and type of available media outlets. All require professionals with specific skills.
The public relations industry is responding to the convergence of traditional media with the Internet in other ways as well. One is the development of integrated marketing communications (IMC). We saw earlier how advertising and PR often overlap, but in IMC, firms actively combine public relations, marketing, advertising, and promotion functions into a more or less seamless communication campaign that is as at home on the Web as it is on the television screen and magazine page. The goal of this integration is to provide the client and agency with greater control over communication (and its interpretation) in an increasingly fragmented but synergized media environment. For example, a common IMC tactic is to employ viral marketing, a strategy that relies on targeting specific Internet users with a given communication and relying on them to spread the word through the communication channels with which they are most comfortable. This is IMC, and it is inexpensive and effective.
The industry has had to respond to the Internet in another way. The Internet has provided various publics with a new, powerful way to counter even the best public relations effort, as we saw in British Airways' social media dust-up. Tony Juniper of the British environmental group Friends of the Earth calls the Internet "the most potent weapon in the toolbox of resistance." As Peter Verhille of PR giant Entente International explains, "One of the major strengths of pressure groups—in fact the leveling factor in their confrontation with powerful companies—is their ability to exploit the instruments of the telecommunication revolution. Their agile use of global tools such as the Internet reduces the advantages that corporate budgets once provided" (both quotes from Klein, 1999, pp. 395-396). For example, the Internet is central to United Students Against Sweatshops' ongoing efforts to monitor the child labor, safety, and working conditions of U.S. apparel and shoe manufacturers' overseas operations. USAS used the Internet to build a nationwide network of students that organized protests and boycotts, resulting in several victories—for example, forcing Nike and Reebok to allow workers at one of its Mexican factories to unionize. Public relations agencies and in-house PR departments have responded in a number of ways. One is IMC. Another is the hiring of in-house Web monitors; a third way is the growth of specialty firms such as eWatch, whose function is to alert clients to negative references on the Web and suggest effective countermeasures.
We've already seen in this chapter how the Internet and social media are changing the PR landscape; industry professionals have also taken note. "Welcome to a new wired world of empowered consumers," says Cone Communications' chief reputation officer Mike Lawrence (in Magee, 2011). Mobile technology and social networking combine to grant publics "free megaphones that carry a customer's complaint around the world," writes New York Times technology writer Randall Stross (2011, p. BU3). Yelp, for example, is a website and mobile app for smartphones and tablets that allows the instantaneous posting of complaint or praise to a business's Yelp review page, as well as to the poster's Facebook Page 276friends and Twitter followers. In addition, it provides data about local businesses, including health inspection scores, and to foster better relationships between customers and businesses, hosts social events for reviewers, serves as a reservations and food-delivery app, and trains businesses on how to respond to reviewers.
Smartphones and tablets give PR's publics instant, on-the-spot opportunities to pan or praise its clients; that's obvious. But just as important, they give people, especially young people, a greater sense of involvement with a company or organization. "Millennials demand fairness, transparency and clear, consistent rules in every aspect of life," writes Nick Shore, vice president of MTV's research group. He continues, "As consumers they feel comfortable leveraging their power (individually and collectively) to 'level the playing field'" (in Goetzl, 2011).
We began our discussion of public relations with the industry's self-admission that the profession sometimes bears a negative reputation. Edward Bernays's call for greater sensitivity to the wants and needs of the various publics and Ivy Lee's insistence that public relations be open and honest were the industry's first steps away from its huckster roots. The post-World War II code of ethics and accreditation programs were a second and more important step. Yet Bernays himself was dissatisfied with the profession's progress. The father of public relations died in 1995 at the age of 103. He spent the greater part of his last years demanding that the industry, especially the PRSA, police itself. In 1986 Bernays wrote,
Under present conditions, an unethical person can sign the code of the PRSA, become a member, practice unethically—untouched by any legal sanctions. In law and medicine, such an individual is subject to disbarment from the profession. . . . There are no standards. . . . This sad situation makes it possible for anyone, regardless of education or ethics, to use the term "public relations" to describe his or her function. (p. 11)
Many people in the profession share Bernays's concern, especially when the industry's own research shows that 69% of the public does not trust public relations, while only 12% said they do. As a result, Laurence Evans, chief executive of PR firm Reputation Leaders, is adamant about restoring trust in PR, declaring that "distrust is bad for business. High levels of public distrust affect PR businesses, from recruitment to the regulatory environment they inhabit. In addition, PR professionals depend on public credibility to get their clients' message across" (Griggs, 2015).
Today in the United States PR professionals outnumber journalists four to one, and because of the economic stress on the traditional press that you've read about throughout this text, they are better paid (by an average of about $20,000 a year), better financed, and better equipped. Estimates are that 60% of the news we receive comes directly from government press releases and spokespeople, 23% from PR firms, and only 14% from journalists' independent efforts (Pan, 2014). "The widening employment and income disparities have left journalists underpaid, overworked, and increasingly unable to undertake independent, in-depth reporting," write the Center for Public Integrity's Erin Quinn and Chris Young. As a result, many news organizations that once engaged in serious coverage of important topics like science and health, for example, no longer have the resources to do so adequately, "and special interests have filled the void" (2015). This puts a particularly heavy burden on public trust because, as many PR professionals argue, the only bad public relations effort is one that people recognize as PR, so the best PR, therefore, is invisible.
Page 277But a growing number of public relations professionals take little comfort in the invisibility of their work or in the public's inability to distinguish between news and PR. In 2007, after Wal-Mart's and Sony's PR operations were discovered paying authors of fake blogs (flogs) to promote their brands (and attack competitors'), there were calls from transparentists who, according to PR executive Eric Webber, demanded that the industry "adopt a position of full and total disclosure, driven by the innate openness and accessibility to information available on the Internet." If public relations is to hold consumer (and client) trust, Webber argued, its professionals must recognize that "it's too easy now for journalists, pro and amateur alike, to figure out when companies and their PR people lie, so we'd better tell the truth" (2007, p. 8).
Nonetheless, if people are lied to by public relations, the cultural implications could not be more profound. What becomes of the negotiation function of culture, wherein we debate and discuss our values and interests in the cultural forum, if public relations gives some voices advantages not available to others? The remedy for this potential problem is that consumers must make themselves aware of the sources of information and the process by which it is produced. As we've seen throughout this book, we would expect nothing less of a media-literate person. The father of public relations, Edward Bernays, used the last years of his long career and life to campaign for improved industry ethics.
In just the past few years the Federal Trade Commission fined a car-shipping service for paying for positive online reviews; travel website Trip Advisor was fined by the Italian government for misrepresenting the authenticity of its online reviews and failing to police false reviews; New York's attorney general fined 19 "reputation management" companies for paying people to write fake reviews on Yelp and other ratings sites; researchers discovered that as many as 16% of Yelp restaurant reviews are fake; and Amazon filed several lawsuits against fake reviewers (Giorgianni, 2015; Thomas, 2016). In other words, there is a lot of questionable information online, and although the Internet and social media have empowered customers and clients, that empowerment is only as good as the information on which it is based.
So how can media-literate consumers know when a review is authentic or not? There are a number of strategies:
Find more than one source. There are quite a few review sites, including user forums, product evaluation sites, paid membership sites like Angie's List, and Amazon's product reviews. If you find only positive reviews, look again somewhere else, and the more reviews the better.
Look for copycat reviews. Too much common phrasing and too many nearly identical adjectives and adverbs suggest complaint or praise mills.
Look for links. A reviewer has no need to link you to a product or service. A faker or a plant does.
Look for balanced comments. Too positive, too good to be true. Too negative, too bad to be true. Reviews that discuss both pros and cons tend to be authentic.
Look for experts. A review that demonstrates technical knowledge probably comes from someone with some expertise as opposed to a plant.
Look for verifiable information. Look for facts and details that can be verified.
Page 278Read professional reviews. The Internet abounds with interest-specific sites for everything from consumer electronics to kitchen appliances to photography. And there is always Consumer Reports if you're willing to pay for a subscription.
Ask questions. Many review sites, for example, permit conversations between reviewers and their readers. There are also user forums set up explicitly to foster question asking.
Seek consensus. Find agreement from professional and nonprofessional reviews alike.