Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sociology and... an interesting quantitative piece!

I’ll begin with the Benson piece. On page 270 the three major factors that “shape news coverage of politics” are discussed: “journalists themselves, organizational structures of news outlets and institutions or social conditions outside the news organization… technological factors, national culture, economics, the audience, the most powerful news sources, and/or the ideologies of the dominant social powers.” I found this list very thorough and to the point, yet when you read it all together, you get the sense that the coverage of politics is more a process of creation that takes into account a large number of factors. How can we shoot for a certain level of standardized objectivity when everything around us is changing so fast (i.e. technology, economics, culture)?
Further down, the impact of culture is called a “paralyzing truism” and culture itself is defined as “sediment” of past struggles. Can we really begin to understand media and political communication without considering culture? Wouldn’t this result in chaos and a false understanding? I guess we do take into consideration… and yet voters seem to find a way to mess the whole thing up almost every time…
Benson then proposes a recategorization that seems more or less the same, with “the interorganizational filed of journalism being the biggest difference” (p. 280). I truly believe we would arrive at the same place after separating political economy into politics and economics and the interorganizational field of journalism, with its “broader” view, would end up being culture.
The list of hypotheses that starts on page 282 was a very interesting exercise. I will not copy all of them here; instead I will refer to them by their number. 1a beats the living crap out of 1b and 2a, at least in my opinion. 2b sounds alright, but isn’t sensationalism just a tool used to increase sales? 4 is right on. 5 is an ideological dream. Anyone who has ever taken a law course (I spent a year in law school before deciding I wanted to keep my soul) knows that defamation and libel cases are almost always long uphill struggles that end up nowhere. The percentage of them that end up somewhere is minimal. 10 (on page 284) is especially important today with “insecurity” becoming a greater issue every hour. Now, granted they’re all very well-discussed, what do we do with these hypotheses now that newspapers are dead and the media landscape changes every minute?
The Herscovitz piece on Brazilian journalists was very interesting. I believe that saying that Latin American countries are still “in search of their own model of democracy” (p71) could be a little dangerous; what if they’re simply struggling? Should we then forget about non-democratic nations? The other little issue was the fact that the study took place in Sao Paulo. Sao Paulo is not Brazil, just like Austin is not Texas.
The discussion of a value system and the comparisons done with the United States and France were attention-grabbing, funny and enlightening at the same time. This type of research should definitely be done more often.
On page 75 it says that the American liberal-pluralist tradition perceives media organizations as “autonomous enterprises in which journalists enjoy great autonomy free from the state, political parties and institutional pressures.” Juts one question: really?
The discussion of the research showed that, with a little imagination, quantitative research can be a little less mind-numbing and sleep-inducing. The fact that Sao Paolo is not Brazil comes back in page 76 when the typical journalist there is described as “young white middle-class Catholic married male, politically left-leaning, underpaid but generally satisfied with the job” and lives in a house with a white picket fence, has a cute puppy and 2.5 children with his second-place trophy wife. At least she had the guts to state it. The three foreign publications most read by paolistas were no surprise.
About the research itself, I think most of the respondents answered what they felt they were supposed to answer and not what they really believe; how else could be explain the fact that providing entertainment always ranked last in the tables? Are we supposed to believe that 66% of them investigate government claims regularly? Have you people read O Globo? I know they want to be watchdogs, but the watchdog has to do some entertaining tricks to sell papers, programs or anything else.
The discussion on ethical behavior was truly interesting, but I’m sure it will all be talked about in class.
On page 84 it establishes that the “American influence is more noticeable in management decisions, such as how to increase circulation…” This study was publishes in 2004, which means it was done earlier than that. What about now? If we imitate the economic model of the NYT, what do we do when it all starts crumbling?
The Zelizer piece was very informative, although making sense of the copies I made was the hardest part of my weekend. The gatekeeping explanation and the application of ideology to journalism read like a very comprehensive literature reviews. What we’ve been discussing since the begging of the semester, “where to locate evidence of ideology, how to agree on its presence…” (p. 76) is here again. Could we come up with a model, even if it’s a bad one, to help with this?
The Schudson piece was, as always, clear and instructive. The fact that we construct the news was something I dedicated two week to when I taught News Production. Here at UT, I also make I point of working with my students to make them understand this. Gatekeeping and Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent are also validated in this piece.
The highlight of the piece, for me, was “Molotch and Lester reject what they call the “objectivity assumption” in journalism, - not that the media are objective but that there is a real world to be objective about” (p. 13). This comes back to my concepts of illusory objectivity and self-centered objectivity. Why do we keep trying to teach objectivity? Now that blogs are such a huge source for news, does objectivity still matter?
The shorter Benson piece has two little gems. “Concepts matter to the extent that they direct (or fail to direct) our attention toward potentially relevant social phenomena” (p. 312). Hegemony, public sphere, etc., it’s all good! Second, “…does studying “big institutions” mean that one assumes the public is passive? Not at all.” (p. 313). Those of you who are tired of Marx can now start looking at the actions of the oppressed. I promise you, it gets more interesting.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.