Modern Mediascape (Lit Review)

1 Dec

New School University, Media Studies, Fall 2008
Shannon Mattern, Understanding Media Studies 6767
Modern Mediascape

The United States today is inundated with media from all but a handful of firms controlling mainstream output and thereby the majority of media available to the public is produced with corporate intent. This intensely corporate and “rich media” produces a homogenous mediascape bereft of quality and programming that would foster civic participation and appreciation. While the American public is seemingly overwhelmed by an ever increasing variety of media channels the content accessed through these channels can be traced back to but a few key players. These firms are not driven by public interest, but by self-interest and profit. [1]

How does the consolidation of media firms affect the American public at large? An obvious answer is that the variety of content is neutered; only a handful of firms are responsible for the hundreds of media choices at the public’s disposal. This can be viewed as both a positive and negative effect. On the upside, content will be conformed, standardized, familiar. Each key player will have an agenda carried out through a particular method- a template, an image, a brand- which will be internalized and eventually expected by the public. On the other hand, this content, while mainstream and readily available, will be lacking in its civic meaning as its value is tied up in the profit margins and interests of its producers. Rather than addressing issues that are important to Americans as citizens in a democratic country, the media serves as a smoke screen, full of light news and fluff that appeals to its advertisers and monetary supporters more so than its public audience.[2]

But still that’s only the surface. While a corporate mediascape doesn’t foster public civic engagement by its consumers, media firms are deeply entrenched in government policies that affect the American public for better or worse. Issues of media control and deregulated business practices in the past, such as the Telecommunications Act of 1996, have radically altered the US mediascape with little to no coverage in the media prior to its enactment. A law that so intimately affects the American public should have been frontline news, but because of media control, the public was left in the dark.[3]

Is it for the best that the American public is left largely uninformed? As Chomsky so eloquently quotes, the average American is just part of the “bewildered herd” in need of guidance – it is in democracy’s best interest that the majority is led by an elite handful. Would the American government really be able to function as a true democracy – a government of the people, for the people, and by the people when a corporate and capitalist mindset has become the nation’s natural state of being? People are barraged with messages and images, brands and slogans providing slant views and voices devoid of any meaning when the only media they have access to is corporate and commercial. [4]

So is the American mediascape a cultural wasteland where shouting heads slur bombastic statements across to a deaf and dumb audience? I think not. For one, there is the internet. While media firms have carved out their own virtual playgrounds, the internet still remains one of the most democratic media channels in many ways. It is a medium for the masses, individuals are able to connect to anyone anywhere and upload their own personal content. However, the internet is no longer new media. It has been around long enough that it is one of the main media channels able to provide information and entertainment at lightning fast speeds. It provides virtual space for one and all. Bloggers from across the country post their own news stories or diary-like entries. Social networking sites provide a gathering ground for like-minded people where ideas and creativity can flourish. The internet provides the variety of voices and opinions that traditional media firms lack simply by the number of people who have access to it, yet at the same time, media firms are scampering for control and with the hopes of making a profit.

Bloggers have been reporting on news and events in a manner that can be likened to investigative journalism and indeed some bloggers have become professional journalists and vice versa. In an ironic twist of fate, bloggers will self censor content to appeal to particular media channels. But why? Is it better to be heard shouting slogans than to be hushed questioning the agenda behind the words and images? This is an interesting issue that arises from media control in the hands of the few. Writers and editors know that their company has a point of view and an image to uphold – a brand name. If writers want to keep their jobs they will write stories that adhere to this point of view rather than push the limits and pursue stories that may be much more valuable to the readership. The same holds true for the editors. Now if writers and editors knew there were other media channels with a variety of view points, it would be beneficial to branch out and diversify their own content as well in order to compete. Unfortunately, with our deregulated media, only a handful of companies control the US media and so, as aforementioned, our media content has been (self) neutered.[8]

The main problem seems to lie in control – control of content and access. It is in the best interest of the American public to take a stand and demand a change. We are more than walking billboards, America is more than entertainment and stars and celebrities. It’s going to take more than bloggers to change media policy, but at least voices are being heard and opinions are being stated. Ignorance may be bliss, but knowledge is power – and I vie for power to the people through media. The vast number of bloggers in America alone speaks volumes to the need for internet based alternative media that mainstream firms cannot address. However, even if content is diversified – as it is on the internet – control of access is still in the hands of the media giants who by their sheer size can claim the top spot on search engines and data mining robots that calculate numbers rather than content.

Perhaps McChesney’s call for media policy reform is the best method to tackle our modern media issues. But even a mandate from on high will not alter imbedded habits of consumption. People must focus, must become aware – must not be blinded by the blinking lights and flair. Accountable media, meaningful media will only be realized when people are aware that such a thing exists. That is why I am here at the New School.


1. McChesney, Robert. “Rich Media, Poor Democracy”. The New Press. Copyright 1997 by Robert McChesney.
2. Chester, Jeff. “Digital Destiny”. The New Press. Copyright 2007 by Jeff Chester.
3. McChesney, Robert. “Corporate Media and the Threat to Democracy”. Open Media Pamphlet Series. First Edition. Seven Stories Press. Copyright 1997 by Robert McChesney.
4. Chomsky, Noam. “Media Control, The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda”. Open Media Pamphlet Series. 2nd Edition. Seven Stories Press. Copyright 2002 by Noam Chomsky.
5. Glaser, Mark. “AP Warms Up to Blogs, Citizen Media at NowPublic”. Media Shift. 14 Feb 2007. . (last visited 24 Nov 2008).
6. Media Bloggers Association.
7. Glaser, Mark. “Mainstream Media Wants to Take Back Control”. Media Shift. 8 Feb 2007. . (last visited 24 Nov 2008).
8. Owens, Simon. “Journalists Consider Risks, Conflicts of Running Personal Blogs”. Media Shift. 7 Oct 2008. . (last visited 25 Nov 2008).
9. Neuburger, Jeffrey. “Judges Rule Anonymous Commenters Protected by State Shield Laws”. 30 Oct 2008. . (last visited 25 Nov 2008).
10. Crampton, Thomas. “Does Technology Alter Our Thinking”. 21 Nov 2008. Thomas Crampton. . (last visited 25 Nov 2008).
11. Glaser, Mark. “The New Rules of Media”. Media Shift. 31 March 2008. . (last visited on 23 Nov 2008).
12. Postman, Postman. “Amusing Ourselves To Death, Public Discourse In The Age Of Show Business”. 20th Anniversary Edition. Penguin Books. Copyright 1985 by Neil Postman, Copyright 2005 by Andrew Postman.
13. Eveland, William P. Jr. and Shah, Dhavan V. “The Impact of Individual and Interpersonal Factors on Perceived News Media Bias”, Political Psychology, Vol. 24, No. 1 (Mar., 2003), pp. 101-117, International Society of Political Psychology
14. Silverstein, Brett. “Toward a Science of Propaganda”. Political Psychology, Vol. 8, No. 1 (Mar., 1987), pp. 49-59, International Society of Political Psychology
15. PBS The Merchants of Cool.
16. Jenkins, Henry. “What Is Civic Media”. Idea Lab. 15 Oct 2007. . (last visited on 23 Nov 2008)
17. Zogby International. 27 Feb 2008. . (last visited on 23 Nov 2008)
18. Lamb, Paul. “Is Old Media Really Dead”. 2 Mar 2008. Idea Lab. . (last visited on 23 Nov 2008)
19. Schultz, Dan. “Journalists, Citizens, and the Media Conversation”. Idea Lab. 12 Apr 2008. . (last visited on 23 Nov 2008)
20. Sasaki , David. “An Introductory Guide to Global Citizen Media”. 16 Jan 2008. . (last visited on 24 Nov 2008)


One Response to “Modern Mediascape (Lit Review)”


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