Sunday, September 30, 2012

W.R Hearst and Robinson's Information Diffusion

John Robinson’s “Mass Communication and Information Diffusion” reminds me of Nasaw’s portrayal of William Randolph Hearst in “The Chief”. A particular quote that stuck out to me was on page 358, in which Robinson states that “the mass media tend to reinforce and accentuate existing conditions rather than promote egalitarianism or abrupt change, at least with regard to information diffusion”. 

In relation to W.R Hearst, he was a newspaper publisher of the Examiner and other important papers. The way he capitalized on profits was by constructing news out of nothing, similar to Ryan Holiday. Hearst would stage spectacles and have his reporters write about it, such as flying an airplane and having it crash or creating a fake war. This is because his papers’ formula for success would include having the front page be filled with articles about crime against the public by the police. News was not a phenomenon that existed in the real world that waited to be discovered because an event becomes news when journalists and editors decide to record it. What determines whether an event is newsworthy was the ease in which it can be written and narrated so that readers will want to read about it. Determining what was newsworthy were news that were violent, involved corrupt government, and crime, which is exactly what we see in the news today, in both print and broadcast media. This makes the public believe that crime rates are high or increasing when in reality, they’re going down or stable. When it comes to the type of news, mass media reinforces existing conditions because it is easily narrated and written by reporters for the mass public to read, watch, or hear while they increase viewership and profits.

Furthermore, Robinson states that it is “one’s interpersonal social contacts”, rather than education, that are “more pervasive than mass media appeals” when it comes to learning anything (358). Hearst is a great example in that he went to Harvard University, but ended up being expelled. But through his experience in Harvard, he was elected as the business manager at the Harvard Lampoon, the school’s magazine, where he gained the experience in successfully running a newspaper in the business world and becoming an influential politician through the mass public's consumption of his papers and the information within it. Robinson states that it is due to “greater credibility and understandability” that social contacts are more pervasive than mass media because mass media are for profit companies and most of the times, the public do not believe they serve their interests whereas social contacts are on the same level as them and share similar general interests. Hearst’s Harvard colleagues and the way they communicate with each other exemplifies Robinson’s claims that “it is the best educated segment of society that keeps itself informed about what is happening in the world and that it is exposure to print media (the favored media mode of the better educated) which is associated with the greater likelihood of being informed…” (356). Although Hearst was never a college graduate, a study described in the book links college seniors no more informed about public affairs than college freshmen, which helps prove that education is not a strong factor in describing the consequences of media usage.


  1. Great post Anna -

    I actually wonder if print media being the "favored media mode" of the better educated is a trend that is changing today, and how that would affect information diffusion.

    For example, Kindles / e-readers are becoming more and more popular, and even among the "higher educated" college crowd, many people seem to prefer reading their news online instead of sitting down with physical newspapers. However, if information diffusion can be increased through electronic means and / or close the knowledge gap, the concern continues to exist that more and more people (highly educated or not) are also shutting themselves off into niches, without paying attention to larger issues (e.g. someone scanning the headlines only clicks through to what is interesting to them, such as the gossip column, instead of reading about the upcoming Presidential election).

  2. Very interesting post - loved how you tied in the reading to Hearst.

    With regards to the "demise" of print media that Sophia is referencing, I think that we have to change our notion of what is "print". Though books on e-readers and online news websites are clearly not print media in the traditional sense, such media are still, in essence, the kind of "print" media favored by educated elites. They have now been transferred to the internet as is fitting with the times, but they are not much different from the newspapers and magazines of yesteryear. I think we would have to differentiate between such traditional-media-gone-online, social networking sites, and other types of online media (celebrity gossip sites, food blogs, etc.) in order to get the full picture. With that being said, I believe that the knowledge gap still continues to hold true today despite the transition from print to web.

  3. Anna, Sophia, and Claire, this is a great discussion. I agree with Claire that in many respects aspects of traditional print media have been transferred almost wholesale to digital media--that's why we read web "pages" and "bookmark" them and write in Word "documents." The list goes on and on. That said, a lot of smart people have been worrying over the differences in attention span and behavior occasioned by the "new" affordances of the Internet and related technologies. Take Nicholas Carr, for instance, the author of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains, or Katherine Hayles's essay on hyper vs. deep attention. There seems to be something qualitatively different about curling up with a paperback and scanning something online.