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Cognitive Dissonance, Media Illiteracy and Public Opinion Essay

Topic –

The article ‘Cognitive Dissonance, Media Illiteracy and Public Opinion on News Media’ is examining and discussing public opinion, media illiteracy and cognitive dissonance. The author takes you through a break down on public opinion of newspapers and television news and shows why a lot of the quantitative research taken over the past several decades is in fact invalid. The main purpose of this article is to compare and contrast newspaper and television news, and investigate the reasons why one source is more credible and reliable than the other. He also discusses the decline in the audiences of both.

Context –

Many other scholars have cited Claussen as to why he believes people choose TV news over newspaper is because ‘it is human nature to want a name and a face and a voice with communication’ (Claussen, 2006). It touches on the questions raised by other papers regarding the creditability of TV news and why people choose to watch the news as entertainment instead of reading newspapers for the facts, which also shows the differences in public opinion over the several decades in which the information is gathered. It follows in with fields of study such as journalism, media studies and mass communication as it breaks down how these types of communication are influential to the public. It intertwines with psychology, public sociology and cultural studies as the article examines the thought pattern and reasoning as to how people choose their preferred style of news consumption.

Structure –

This research article is developed from the findings of quantitative research conducted by the U.S. newspaper industry, American Society of Newspaper Editors and most recently The Ford Foundation. The article itself has two formal headings to break down what is being discussed and where the information was extracted: 1) Studies and Surveys About Newspapers Versus Television, and 2) Reasons Why The U.S. Public Gave Television News A Free Pass. The sections of this article are quite clear. It starts with the introduction, which gives an extensive summary of what is being discussed, whom this topic is affecting and the reasons why this information was gathered. It then moves Claussen’s main argument under the heading; Studies and Surveys About Newspapers Versus Televisions. In this section you find the evidence to support the author’s claims about the difference between newspapers and television news and the public’s opinion on this matter.

The article then moves on to the second heading, Reasons Why the U.S. Public Gave Television News a Free Pass, which itself is a bold statement of the author’s viewpoint. Continually referencing Newhagen and Nass’ article ‘Differential Criteria for Evaluating Credibility of Newspapers and TV News’ (Newhagen and Nass, 1989), which shares Claussen’s view, this section also serves as a conclusion. This section concludes with the opinion that the reason why people choose TV news over newspapers is due to the public’s illiteracy of the media. The author is able to communicate his thoughts and ideas clearly without the use of diagrams, tables or visual aids. He uses ample facts and figures to support his argument, in a clear and well-structured article. Overall, the structure of this piece has been easy to follow, simple to read and very informative.

Style –

This is an informative yet persuasive piece; Claussen uses research to persuade the audience of his opinion on news consumption by the public. He is writing to a general audience, anyone who is interested in reading about this topic will find it to be an interesting piece to read. The language is simple and neutral, and is clear and easy to understand with minimal use of jargon and difficult words. The article is formal, and he does not use descriptive language or attempt to visualise the topic at hand, keeping his authority on the subject.

Argument –

The public opinion regarding news media, the differences between newspapers and TV news, the reasoning behind why the quantitative research on this topic is invalid and the changes made in this industry over the past several decades are all parts of the argument at hand. The author is trying to convince his audience that people will give an answer on this topic that is deemed more socially acceptable rather than the real truth as to the way they receive their news. He is also convincing the audience that newspapers have a lot more content and points of view than the simple ones broadcasted on television.

The author believes lack of education on media literacy is the most important factor and that ‘the content of the television news has become so poor that many consumers can no longer deny that newspapers are higher quality news media than television news broadcasts’ (Claussen, 2006). The author makes few assumptions throughout the article; one being that ‘the newspaper industry and those who believe in an important, even unique, role for newspapers are concerned about the long term future of the industry’ (Claussen p212) as there is no evidence to support the scope of these claims.

Evidence –

The author has gathered examples of opinions by scholars and professionals in the mass communication industry, as well as gathered statistics from quantitative research performed by organisations and corporations to back up majority of his claims. The majority of the sources cited in this article are secondary sources, however I have found one case study from readership.org cited by Claussen. This case study looks at the type of news people want to read, and rankings of importance among types of newspaper readers, however all of the other original research cited in this article is no longer available via the web to legitimise the sources.

Evaluation –

Claussen included information from similar articles to draw on conclusions and back up his claims on this topic, in particular, the article ‘Differential Criteria for Evaluating Credibility of Newspapers and TV News’ (Newhagen and Nass, 1989) this is a peer viewed journal article which has been cited over 50 times. In relation to this article drawing on the conclusion that ‘newspapers will always be at a disadvantage relative to television in surveys of public attitudes because of the separation in time and space between readers and the people who produce newspapers’ some would say since the article was written in 1989 this paper would benefit from more recent findings on this topic as now this may have changed due to the instant feedback they can now receive via online surveys.

This has been included to support the claims that it is harder to produce newspaper news than television news, however looking at this article this would be the main conclusion you would draw from this evidence. Another example would be ‘The Public’s Use and Perception of Newspapers’ (Bogart, 1984). This is another journal article, which compares newspaper content and the content of television news. The way the statistics are portrayed in this article compared to the original source strengthens the argument by changing the wording to make the argument more persuasive for example ‘only 53% said television alone was not sufficient’ (Claussen, 2006) compared to the original article that Claussen used to gain his evidence which stated ‘53 percent, say they do not get enough news from TV and want the added details from the newspapers on the big stories’ (Bogart, 1984).

One major reason which has not been discussed in this article, is that majority of people in the US have a television in their home, which has free access to the local channels, therefore watching TV news is more accessible. This article has been somewhat useful in comparing the differences between newspaper and television news throughout history however not having any recent evidence or opinions has weakened the claims as there is no evidence given from the decade prior to writing this piece regarding the growth of media, including websites, smart phones, social media, and other communication sources.

Conclusion –

Going through the evidence and opinions that Claussen has cited to support his claims and after analyising the article more deeply, it would be found that his argument that newspaper content is a lot stronger than television news, is not necessarily correct, considering that television news is much easier to obtain. People prefer a more personal way of viewing their news and in this day and age people want as much information as they can get in the quickest way possible making TV news most popular. With the new technologies available in these recent times would these claims made regarding where people gain their news from still be relevant to the discussion on the newspapers long term future?

References –

Bogart, Leo 1984, ‘The Public’s Use and Perception of Newspapers’ The Public Opinion Quarterly, vol. 48, no. 4, pp. 709 – 719. Retrieved January 11, 2012 from JSTOR Database via Griffith University.

Juric, Pavica 2006 ‘Mass Media Usage during a Natural Disaster: LSU College Students and Hurricane Katrina’, Masters thesis, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge.

Newhagen, John & Nass, Clifford 1989, ‘Differential Criteria for Evaluating Credibility of Newspapers and TV News’, Journalism Quarterly, vol. 66, no. 2, pp. 277-281,284. Retrieved January 9, 2013 from ProQuest Database via Griffith University.


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