Wednesday, September 19, 2012

News Media and the Climate of Fear

In addition to the development of uses and gratifications research and its' psychology, I felt the investigation that Berelson summarizes in What "Missing the Newspaper" Means also posed an underlying question regarding newspaper content and stories. The sections of the paper that people routinely read and missed during the two-week strike varied from gossip columns to death announcements but of the few respondents who admitted to being relieved to not have a newspaper, three out of the four talked of violent stories: "murders, rape, divorce, and the war" (p. 127). Berelson calls these stories (with the exception of war) "non-serious" news stories (p. 115).

This made me think of Michael Moore's documentary Bowling for Columbine and the "climate of fear" that the media has constructed in American society. Moore criticizes news media for populating daily life with stories of violence, tragedy, and fear that leads to an illusion of danger and need for self-defensive methods that ultimately allow more weapon access and more crime. At first glance, Berelson seems to say that these news stories are "non-serious" as in, they're not important or worth reporting on. Taking Moore's perspective, it could also be that they're not AS serious as they're made out to be and are flooding the reader attention for news that may be bigger than a single murder: genocide, tyranny, torture, etc. There are issues that need people to take part in and rise to action to change circumstances that would other worsen - action and attention is useless to small-time murder cases.

From what I gathered in this investigation, it's almost as if the newspaper is not the "source of information on political affairs" that people has permanently defined it in their heads. Rather, it's more of an entertainment source with comics and gossip columns and violent, action-filled, and emotion-driving stories with useful tools like movie guides and weather forecasts. Are journalists really reporting on what's important?

To lighten the mood a bit, here's a really beautiful song by one of my favorite bands - Boyce Avenue - that's a direct response to this "climate of fear". The beginning of the music video is even a montage of these types of news clips.


  1. Totally agree with what youre saying here Anne. Also like your video post. Thought it was really interesting how people ended up describing what they missed in the newspaper. I think its been sort of hammered in to the information debate that people used to buy newspapers and stay informed and take things more seriously. This reading and subsequent studies seemed to me an exposure of societies lack of change. I mean we have way better technology, but with most people missing the comics, or the show times and stock quotes they sounded like people describing how hard life had become after some one took their iPhone. Not that i would pretend to be above that, Id be screwed without my phone... Id have to go buy a newspaper.
    As for the climate of fear, I couldn't agree more. It seems that fear is the most exploited emotion we have now. It makes me wonder with all the money we spend on national defense and with all the guns we buy, why as a population, are we so afraid? Not really looking for an answer...

  2. Anne (and Sam), great point about the few outliers in Berelson's study who were actually relieved at the disappearance of their daily newspaper (despite also feeling attachment, born out of habit). We'll look at part of Bowling for Columbine on Tuesday, and it's worth mentioning that there are other potential ramifications to the "climate of fear." Author Richard Louv has argued that parents who are afraid to allow their kids to play by themselves, particularly outdoors, have partially contributed to a distinct lack of natural experience in modern life. The outdoors is increasingly seen less as a refuge or place of solace than a potentially sinister place!