Synthesis Essay Related article provided in instructions along with daily show

Major Essay 3: Joining the Conversation

Assignment: Your goal for this 5-7 page essay is to contribute to the larger conversation going on about TV news by synthesizing your ideas about one of the news shows we’ve studied this quarter with the ideas in two academic articles. To do this, you’ll need to craft a position for yourself in relation to the ideas in the articles you choose, and make sure your position is supportable based on your chosen news show.


Undoubtedly, you will need to look into many sources to get a feel for what people are saying about the issue and to make sure the sources you do use in your paper are representative, especially significant, or for some other reason worthy of inclusion in your paper. When you write, consider who your audience is, the context for your essay, and what your purpose is in writing. For example: what does my audience want to know? Why? What can they gain? Remember to ask yourself all sorts of questions while conducting your research and in the beginning stages of this essay. It’s best to approach this sort of essay not with “this is what I want to say” but with “I wonder what other people have been saying about…(the Daily Show, news and democracy, news in society, etc.).” Once you have a sense of what other people say, then you can craft a response, using your own analysis of a news show as evidence.


In other words…


Do This:

Pick two of the academic articles we’ve found during the research phase of this assignment. Read them carefully, considering their author’s main ideas, assumptions, and purpose for writing. What do the articles have in common? Where do they differ?
Then, with that in mind, consider what you think. Do you agree with one but not the other? Do you disagree with both? Partly agree and partly disagree? Start to make some notes about how you might respond to the articles you picked.
Finally, pick an episode or two of one of the shows we’ve watched that will help support your response to the sources you picked.
Then, start to draft your paper, using what you’ve read in They Say, I Say to help create a paper that synthesizes the ideas in the articles with your ideas.
When you’ve written your paper, please be sure to include an MLA style Works Cited page with ALL of the texts (this includes news shows) you used in this essay.

Article i will be reference in thi essay is :

Young People, Politics and News Media: Beyond Political Socialisation

ABSTRACT This article considers the place of news media-parti news-in young people’s political socialisation. Following a brief sket young people’s apparent indifference to politics and to news media, review of previous research in this field. It argues that researchers have
a functionalist notion of socialisation and an unduly narrow con understanding. The second part of the article provides a summary o raised by the author’s own research into young people’s interpretation It focuses particularly on the question of young people’s apparent cyn and on the characteristics of ‘critical viewing’. The article concludes w education as a crucial dimension of political education and contem
Debates about young people’s relationship with politics have often r conclusions. Evidence about declining levels of political knowledge and participation
typically lead to a view of young people as merely ignorant, apathetic and cynical. Such assertions are frequently part of a broader lament for the apparent decline of democ-
racy, ‘civic virtue’ and ‘social capital’, which has become increasingly prominent in Western societies in recent years (e.g. Hart, 1994; Putnam, 1995).
The place of the mass media in these debates is somewhat double-edged. On the one hand, the media-and ‘commercialised’ youth culture more broadly-are often seen to
be primarily to blame for this perceived decline in political awareness. These arguments are perhaps most familiar on the political Right, although they also form a significant theme in the ‘communitarian’ rhetoric which currently appears to inspire left-liberal policy-makers both in Britain and in the USA (e.g. Etzioni, 1993). Traditional notions
of citizenship are, it is argued, no longer relevant, as viewers zap distractedly between commercial messages and superficial entertainment, substituting vicarious experience for authentic social interaction and community life (e.g. Wexler, 1990).
On the other hand, there is growing concern about young people’s declining interest in news media. Particularly in the USA, readership of broadsheet newspapers and ratings for ‘flagship’ television news broadcasts are in steep decline among this age group; and this is compounded by what some critics see as their growing interest in ‘tabloid’ news, a genre frequently condemned for its ‘sensationalism’ and its lack of serious political information (Times Mirror Center, 1990). Likewise, research in the UK suggests that young people’s use of, and interest in, news media are minimal. Only 6% of young people’s viewing of television comes into this category, while their reading of newspapers focuses largely on entertainment, features and sports pages (Harcourt & Hartland, 1992). Research repeatedly finds that young people express a low level of interest in media coverage of political affairs (Cullingford, 1992; Buckingham, 1996;
0305-4985/99/010171-14 $7.00 ? 1999 Taylor & Francis Ltd
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172 Oxford Review of Education
Walker, 1996). Given the lack of comparative historical data, it is impossible to know whether this is simply an effect of age, or whether it is a ‘cohort effect’ as in the USA, although the latter would seem increasingly likely.
Meanwhile, some critics have attempted to turn this argument around, suggesting that young people are actively excluded from the domain of politics, and from dominant forms of political discourse. From this perspective, young people’s apparent lack of interest in politics is merely a rational response to their own powerlessness. Why should they bother to learn about something when they have no power to influence it, and when it makes no effort to address itself to them? Young people are seen here, not as apathetic or irresponsible, but as positively disenfranchised (Bhavnani, 1991).
Likewise, it has been argued that mainstream news journalism has failed to keep pace with the changing cultural competencies of young people. Katz (1993), for example, suggests that young people have a very different orientation to information from that of older generations, and that they prefer the more ‘informal’ and ‘ironic’ style of new media to the ‘monotonously reassuring voice’ of conventional news journalism. Accord- ing to this account, it is the failure of the established news media to connect with the forms of ‘everyday politics’ which are most important for this generation that accounts for their declining audience. Journalists, it would seem, have only themselves to blame.
Despite these claims, the news media clearly represent a significant means of ‘informal’ political education, both for young people and for adults. However indifferent they may appear to be, young people often have little option but to watch the news; and they may absorb a great deal of political information from the media accidentally, or in the course of other activities-albeit often in a fragmented form. In so far as young people are being informed about politics and about current events, it seems reasonable to conclude that the news media are likely to constitute one of their most significant sources.
In fact, the findings of previous research on these issues are somewha On the one hand, there have been several studies in the tradition of ‘p tion’, considered by other contributors to this issue (Emler & Frazer, t the ‘classic’ early studies in this field barely mention television (e.g. G
Hess & Torney, 1967), research conducted in the 1970s tends to make very strong claims about its significance (e.g. Chaffee et al., 1970; Hollander, 1971; Dominick, 1972; Rubin, 1976; Atkin & Gantz, 1978; Drew & Reeves, 1980; Conway et al., 1981). Atkin & Gantz (1978), for example, claim that more than half of all children watch television news on a regular basis, and that it makes a major contribution to their interest in and knowledge about political affairs; while Conway et al. (1981) argue that exposure to news and levels of political knowledge are mutually reinforcing variables, which determine political attitudes and political participation to a much greater extent than other influences such as parents, gender or education (see also Comstock & Paik, 1991).
Subsequent research has qualified some of these claims. Firstly, a distinction has increasingly been drawn between television and other news sources. Television news is frequently seen to represent children’s first contact with the world of politics, and serves as a ‘bridge’ to the world of political affairs right through to adolescence: at this stage, high exposure to television news is correlated with high levels of political knowledge (Atkin, 1981). Once we move into early adulthood, however, a reliance on television is increasingly associated with lower levels of political knowledge, and a less enthusiastic orientation towards politics; and a growing ‘information gap’ emerges between those
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Young People, Politics and News Media 173
who use television and print media and those who use television alone (Chaffee & Yang, 1990).
Secondly, attention has increasingly been drawn to the significance of other variables, and to the relationships between them, in the political communication process. Thus, studies have considered factors such as family communication patterns (Dennis, 1986; Liebes, 1992) and their relationship with ethnicity (Chaffee & Yang, 1990; Austin & Nelson, 1993) in mediating political communications. In general, high levels of news media use are correlated with high levels of political participation, although the influence of parents, older siblings, peers or community factors is recognised as more significant (Andreyenkov et al., 1989; Robinson et al., 1989; Chaffee & Yang, 1990).
Despite the growing sophistication of this research, these studies can be criticised on several grounds. Methodologically, they tend to rely on very reductive measures of ‘political understanding’, assessed through the recall of factual information in multiple- choice tests. Theoretically, they adopt a notion of political socialisation that is highly functionalist: young people are seen as passive recipients of adults’ attempts to mould them into their allotted social roles James & Prout, 1990). The approach here is thus essentially psychologistic. Young people’s disaffection from politics, for example, is seen as a kind of psychological dysfunction caused by lack of information, rather than a result of the shortcomings of the political system itself: all we have to do is provide the information and disaffection will disappear.
Meanwhile, more detailed studies of viewers’ ‘information processing’ of television news tell a slightly different story. Broadly speaking, this research suggests that viewers understand and learn comparatively little from what they watch. The reasons for this are typically seen to involve a combination of textual factors (such as the brevity of news items, or the frequent lack of connection between visual and verbal material) and audience factors (such as viewers’ lack of attention or knowledge of background information). Robinson & Levy (1986), for example, argue that television news ‘has a rather dismal record as a medium of information’: a very small proportion of the stories that journalists themselves rank as most important are actually getting through to the audience. Likewise, Barrie Gunter (1987) finds that viewers quickly forget most of what they see, and that they often fail to comprehend it in the first place. In general, television news appears to be more effective in imparting information about key personalities than in communicating details about the main stories; and even when viewers can recall what happened or who was involved, they are much less able to retain information about the causes and consequences of events.
This research suggests that viewers typically invest little cognitive effort in viewing: they frequently fail to concentrate or pay attention, and are easily distracted. Doris Graber (1988) argues that people are generally ‘cognitive misers’-that is, they opt for
an approach to new information which they believe will involve the least mental effort on their part (cf. Just et al., 1992). In their attempts to make sense of the vast amount of news material they encounter, viewers typically decide to pay attention to only a small amount of the available information. They gradually develop a backlog of information about political campaigns, for example, against which new information tends to act as a filler or refresher for their existing perceptions. At the same time, Graber argues that viewers’ failure to recall particular items of information does not necessarily mean that they have not learnt anything. They may forget the detail, but they may nevertheless have grasped the meaning.
Fairly obviously, all these studies conceive of learning from news as an essentially psychological process. Their focus is on individual cognition, and on the internal
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174 Oxford Review of Education
‘processing’ of information. In so far as the social dimensions of learning are addressed, this is principally in terms of measurable demographic variables such as social class, gender and education, which are seen to ‘influence’ cognition from outside, as it were. One further consequence of this cognitivist emphasis is the general neglect of the emotional dimensions of news-whether this relates to its ability to entertain, to reassure, to outrage or to disturb.
Despite these limitations, this research paints a fairly consistent picture of the extent of viewers’ learning from news. It is a picture which is outwardly quite at odds with the view of news media as a major means of political socialisation-and indeed with the self-image of news journalism. At least on this evidence, news (and television news in particular) appears to be a very long way from fulfilling its historic mission of producing an informed citizenry-not only among young people, but also among the population at large.
Research in this field thus points to a fundamental conundrum. Vie appear to look to television news as a significant source of information and frequently claim that they trust it above any other source. Yet rese suggests that it is comparatively ineffective in actually communicatin might ask, do people continue to watch it?
A related problem is raised when we compare the two kinds of resear been considered here. Broadly speaking, the political socialisation r that television has an important-and for some researchers, pre-em development of young people’s political understanding. Yet on the research on learning from television suggests that even adults have diff bering and making sense of what they watch. So how can viewers influenced by something they do not even appear to understand?
One answer to both questions might be that news creates a kind of il informed. Graber (1988), for example, implies that viewers tune in to it enables them to feel that they have discharged their responsibilities a in a fairly disengaged and painless manner. In terms of influence, this w news induces a generalised feeling of belonging and stability, and thereb status quo-and that it can do so without us having to consciously particular position, or to make the effort to ingest complex factual in reassures us that the world is pretty much as it was yesterday, and that it remains the same. From this perspective, news might be seen as palliative-not a guarantee of active citizenship, but a substitute for it.
However warranted this conclusion may be, it does raise the poss ‘effects’ of news are not simply a matter of its status as information. As (1986) point out, much of the research in this field adopts a ‘transport communication, which defines news as simply a means of ‘information contrast, they argue for a wider view of news as a generic cultural for reception as a kind of ritual. Likewise, Dahlgren (1986) offers an impor ‘rationalistic’ arguments about the reception of news, suggesting that ‘central elements of the TV news process lingering in the shadows’. Th here, Dahlgren suggests, are to do with how news establishes its own c coherence, and thereby creates ‘forms of consciousness’ and ‘struct rather than how accurately it communicates particular items of inform
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Young People, Politics and News Media 175
than regarding the rhetorical elements of news as a distraction from its main purpose, we should be analysing the ways in which it uses ‘fictional’ tropes such as narrative and characterisation, and the often stylised and symbolic features of its discourse (see also Fiske, 1989; Hartley, 1996).
This more ‘culturalist’ approach to television news does help to explain some of the motivations of viewing, and the pleasures it involves. It also suggests a rather different approach to questions about the nature of citizenship. Rather than attempting to measure the effectiveness of news in communicating political information, we should be asking how it enables viewers to construct and define their relationship with the public sphere. How do news programmes ‘position’ viewers in relation to the social order-for example, in relation to the sources of power in society, or in relation to particular social groupings? How do they enable viewers to conceive of the relations between the
‘personal’ and the ‘political’? How do they invite viewers to make sense of the wider national and international arena, and to make connections with their own direct experience? How, ultimately, do they establish what it means to be a ‘citizen’?
In my own research, I have explored these issues both through analys programmes aimed specifically at young people and through det young people make sense of particular news items. I analysed a s hours’ worth of five different news programmes, focusing on their their mode of address and their representation of young people’s re domain of ‘politics’ (broadly defined). I also conducted fieldwork int of 72 students in three socially diverse schools in Britain and the U focus group interviews were held with both mixed and single-sex g 13-14 and 16-17 (two interviews per student, three students per were ethnically mixed, and systematic comparisons were drawn bet and working-class students. The students were asked about their or news and politics in general; and they were then invited to discuss four specific news items, selected to cover both a range of polit trasting presentational formats. A much fuller account of the stud Buckingham (April, 1999).
My approach here is drawn not from social psychology but from my interest is in how young people construct and define a ‘politica with others about what they have seen. This approach is broadly ‘in with other recent studies of young people’s understanding of politi 1991), and of television news (e.g. Gillespie, 1995; Buckingham, 1996). Instead of
judging young people in terms of their perceived inadequacies in relation to ‘adult’ norms, these studies attempt to engage with young people’s interpretations on their own terms. Rather than relying on traditional measures of political understanding, I have used methods derived from discourse analysis (e.g. Potter & Wetherell, 1987) in order to investigate how meanings are socially constructed and negotiated. From this perspective, talk is seen not as evidence of what people really know or believe, but as a form of social action which serves particular social purposes (Buckingham, 1993).
The following outline of the findings of this research focuses on three key themes. I consider, firstly, how we interpret young people’s apparent cynicism about politics; secondly, their responses to the format and mode of address of television news; and thirdly, the extent to which they can be seen as ‘critical viewers’ of news media.
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176 Oxford Review of Education RETHINKING ‘CYNICISM’
The young people whom I interviewed were, on one level, extreme politics as conventionally defined-that is, about the actions of politicia were sometimes irreverent or dismissive, they could also be distinc forceful. Politicians were often condemned, not merely as boring, but uncaring, insincere and self-interested; and politics was widely dismiss dishonest game, which had little relevance to the students’ everyday li The students explained the reasons for these views in terms of their o intervene or participate: since they could not make any difference to why should they make the effort to find out about it? When pushed, th that political changes (for example, at the election) might well have im themselves or their families; and yet the fact that they could not vote could only observe this process with passive detachment. Somehow, a l in politics appeared to be perceived as part of the condition of being a
In this study, this cynical stance became more prevalent with age, a be explained in various ways. To some extent, of course, it can be seen of cognitive development: as they become more able to ‘decentre’, c hypothesise about (and to analyse critically) the motivations of others. this change is also a matter of access to information: in general, the old simply knew and understood much more about politics-and hence as corruption and media manipulation-and were therefore able to p concrete evidence in support of their views. However, this increasing be seen as a result of young people’s growing awareness of their own p Older teenagers are frequently caught between adult injunctions to be and adult prohibitions and controls: they are ceaselessly urged to b constantly reminded that they are not. It is not surprising that they to challenge what they perceive as inconsistency, complacency or hypo of adults-and not only politicians.
The notion of ‘cynical chic’, which emerges from similar researc (Eliasoph, 1990; Gamson, 1992), captures something of what is tak
According to this argument, such expressions of cynicism serve as a valuable-and
indeed pleasurable-way of rationalising one’s own sense of powerlessness, and even of claiming a degree of superiority and control. Certainly, there is a sense in which the students’ expressions of disinterest should be seen as superficial. Many students expressed the view that politics as a whole was simply ‘boring’, and that it was of no interest to them; and yet they were able to engage in some extremely complex and sophisticated debates about key political issues. In this respect, it would seem important to distinguish between cynicism and apathy: as Bhavnani (1991) argues, cynicism may
in fact be a necessary prerequisite for certain forms of political activity, and is not necessarily incompatible with the development of political expertise or efficacy.
Indeed, at several points here, the students were clearly struggling to connect the ‘political’ dimensions of their own everyday experiences with the official discourse of politics encountered through the media. Their discussions of youth crime, for example, or of environmental issues, demonstrated both a cynicism about those in authority and a genuine attempt to think through the advantages and disadvantages of particular policies, both in the light of the evidence presented and in the light of personal experience. Several students possessed very clear commitments on these issues, and few were prepared to support the introduction of curfews or the despoliation of the natural
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Young People, Politics and News Media 177
environment; and yet their discussions were characterised by a careful concern for the validity of the evidence, a willingness to consider the consequences of particular policies, and an attempt to imagine alternative solutions.
In many instances, however, the preoccupations of national politics were dismissed
in favour of the more immediate concerns of the local (for example, the local environ-
ment, crime in the neighbourhood, family histories, schooling or consumer behaviour).
In the process, the potential connections between the two were often lost. This was most apparent in discussions of welfare spending, and to some extent of racial politics. The students were effectively discussing the same issues as the politicians, although they positively refused to recognise this. This was partly symptomatic of the principled
rejection identified above; although the extent to which news might be capable of making politics relevant to lived experience also depended on the formal strategies of the programmes themselves (see later).
In order to appreciate what might be taking place here, it is obviously necessary to adopt a broader definition of politics, which is not confined to the actions of politicians or political institutions. As Cullingford (1992) points out, children develop ‘political’ concepts at a very early stage, through their everyday experiences of institutions such as the school and the family: notions of authority, fairness and justice, rules and laws, power and control, are all formed long before they are required to express their views in the form of voting. The choice available at school lunches, the attempt to introduce compulsory uniforms, or even the organisation of the school playground are, in this respect, just as ‘political’ as what goes on in parliament. One might well make a similar case about sports or entertainment: the success of Tiger Woods or the Spice Girls can clearly be interpreted as ‘political’ phenomena, as they implicitly were by some of the students here. However, one should avoid any premature collapse of the distinction between the ‘personal’ and the ‘political’. The personal can become political, but this requires a fundamental shift in how issues are framed or defined. At the most general level, ‘political thinking’ implies a view of the individual self in collective or social terms. This is not an automatic or guaranteed process, but one which may positively require certain kinds of information to be made available.
The growth of this kind of ‘political thinking’ can partly be explained in developmen- tal terms, of course. Particularly among some of the middle age group in this study (age
13-14), it was possible to detect the emergence of a broadly consistent and even ‘logical’ political world-view, which relates partly to other developmental shifts-for instance, the ability to relate parts to wholes (for example, in seeing individuals as representative of broader social categories), or the ability to view the world from perspectives other than one’s own (for example, in hypothesising about why the experiences of members of other generations or cultures might have led them to adopt particular beliefs).
Nevertheless, there were also some clear social differences in terms of the students’ orientations both towards politics and towards news. Broadly speaking, the middle- class or upwardly mobile children were more likely to express a positive interest in and/or knowledge about political issues (as conventionally defined); and there was some evidence that this reflected their own perceptions of their potential futures, as powerful figures or at least as ‘stakeholders’ in society. By contrast, the working-class students, particularly in the US school, appeared to be less well-informed and more comprehen- sively alienated. Likewise, the domain of politics (as conventionally defined) frequently seemed to be perceived by students of both genders, both implicitly and explicitly, as masculine. Girls were more likely to dwell on the ‘human interest’ aspects of political
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178 Oxford Review of Education
issues, and to express generalised alienation from or apathy towards institutionalised political activity. There was some variation here according to issues, however: ecology was implicitly seen-and explicitly claimed-as more of a ‘girls’ issue’, while the machinations of elections and party politics were more enthusiastically addressed by boys.
This definition of a ‘political self is, however, a highly self-conscious process, in which social identities are claimed and negotiated in the course of discussion. In the case of gender, there were several instances here in which girls actively resisted
‘masculine’ values, and chose to assert the authority of what they perceived as ‘feminine’ values, most overtly in the case of environmentalism. By contrast, ‘race’
was a much more problematic dimension of identity, particularly in the context of ethnically mixed groups; and the explicit ‘race politics’ of some of the items discussed placed further obstacles in the way of claiming a positive ‘Black’ identity. As these examples suggest, claiming membership of a collective is not always a straightforward achievement.
In summary, this study confirms the view that young people’s alienation from, and cynicism about, politics should be interpreted as a result of exclusion and disenfran- chisement, rather than ignorance or immaturity. In attempting to understand the development of political understanding, we need to adopt a broader definition of
politics, which recognises the potentially political dimensions of ‘personal’ life and of everyday experience. In the process, it is important to recognise that ‘political thinking’ is not merely an intellectual or developmental achievement, but an interpersonal process which is part of the construction of a collective, social identity.
Four contrasting programmes were used in this study: Nick New News from the USA, and First Edition and Wise Up from Britain. B Channel One News and First Edition are significantly more conventio and Wise Up: in several respects, they are much closer to the style format of mainstream news. Their aim is essentially to make news ac audience. This does entail some departures from the conventions of for example in terms of the balance between ‘foreground’ and ‘back of language used and the style of presentation. To some extent (part of Channel One News), this could be seen as a kind of superficial ‘wi although First Edition also uses young people as interviewers (albeit way), and has begun to experiment with a viewers’ access slot. N programme significantly challenges what is seen to count as ‘news’; invite a fundamentally deferential stance on the part of the viewer
By contrast, Nick News and Wise Up depart more radically from t the genre. On one level, neither programme should strictly be se
sense that neither is immediately topical; Nick News is essentially a news magazine programme, while Wise Up is a young people’s access show. Nevertheless, this is implicitly to accept a conventional definition of what counts as news in the first place; and indeed to imply that news should be weighted towards ‘foreground’ rather than ‘background’. In fact, both programmes do cover issues which feature in mainstream news, and which are matters of debate within the political domain (that is, which are of concern for politicians). In terms of their pedagogy and their address to the viewer, however, they offer a distinctly different conception of what might count as ‘news’, and
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Young People, Politics and News Media 179
what form it might take. While this has a particular relevance to the younger audience, the more widespread turn away from news media in recent years suggests that it might also have implications for the audience at large.
Among the students interviewed here, there was very little doubt about the approach they preferred. For the US students, Nick News was almost universally perceived to be more interesting and effective than Channel One News. In this respect, the issue of the programmes’ address to the younger audience was a particular focus of concern. The older students here perceived both programmes to be aimed at a younger audience, although Channel One News was particularly singled out for criticism on the grounds that it was patronising. The programme was repeatedly accused of trying (and failing) to be ‘cool’ or ‘hip’. By contrast, Nick News was congratulated for not ‘talking down’
to its audience; and some explicitly praised it for taking a ‘mature’ approach. There was also praise for the fact that it presented new information ‘about things that you probably don’t already know about’, rather than just presenting a simplified version of the mainstream news, as was seen to be the case with Channel One News. Nick News was also judged to be more ‘kid centred’, in that it included more young people, rather than simply ‘the person sitting at the desk’. It was praised for its inclusion of ‘ordinary’ people, rather than the ‘stuck-up’ people who are normally ‘all over the news’. According to one 13 year-old girl, ‘Channel One News tells you about the President and his home and his wife and the election and stuff, but this [Nick News] tells you about real life, the one you have to worry about’.
Responses to the British programmes were even more unanimous. Wise Up was universally preferred to First Edition, both on the grounds of its style and its address to young people. There was considerable praise for its graphics, camerawork and editing, which were variously described as ‘rough’, ‘cool’, ‘catchy’, ‘effective’ and ‘attention- grabbing’. By contrast, First Edition was described as ‘just like boring news’, and condemned for its ‘stupid newsreaders … sitting at a desk’. Its approach was seen as much more ‘formal’; and the young people included on the programme were perceived to be ‘stiff and ‘uncomfortable’. Here again, the issue of the programmes’ address to
the younger audience was a particular focus of concern. There was some scepticism
about Wise Up’s implicit claim to be providing unmediated access for children’s voices:
several students suspected that the programme had been ‘made to look’ as though it
had been produced by children, when in fact it had not. Nevertheless, as with Nick
News, there was considerable praise for its attempt to present ‘kids’ point of view’, and
(more broadly) for its focus on ‘ordinary people’. By contrast, First Edition was seen by
many to be ‘too adult’ and ‘not really anything to do with children’. It was pointed out
that the dominant voices in the items were those of adults, and that the young interviewers were not allowed to put across their own points of view. Like Channel One News, First Edition was condemned for its emphasis on ‘politics’, rather than on ‘things that matter to kids’.
On one level, these conclusions appear to confirm common-sense wisdom among television producers who work for this age group. Being patronising and being boring are obviously to be avoided; although this is easier said than done. Young people are very sensitive to age differences, and are particularly scathing about programmes that appear to underestimate or ‘talk down’ to them. They also want programmes that are relevant to their own everyday concerns, which are largely marginalised in main- stream news. Yet while they condemned the more conventional approach of Channe One News and First Edition, these students did not simply want to be entertained.
On the contrary, they also wanted to be informed and made to think; and the more
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180 Oxford Review of Education
adventurous approaches of Nick News and Wise Up were praised in so far as they achieved this.
This study clearly confirms the need for innovation if news is to reawaken the intere of younger audiences-and indeed of the large majority of viewers. This is partly matter of developing new formal strategies, but it also implies a much more fundamen tal rethinking of what is seen to count as news in the first place. The deferential stanc which is invited and encouraged by mainstream news formats needs to be abandoned in favour of an approach which invites scepticism and active engagement. Much grea efforts need to be made, not merely to explain the causes and the context of news
events, but also to enable viewers to perceive their relevance to their own everyday lives.
News can no longer afford to confine itself to the words and actions of the powerful,
or to the narrow and exclusive discourses which currently dominate the public sphere
of social and political debate.
The avoidance of ‘entertainment’ in favour of a narrow insistence on seriousness and
formality which characterises dominant forms of news production systematically ali ates and excludes substantial sectors of the audience. And yet, as I have implied, the answer is not simply to add sugar to the pill. News clearly does have a great deal to learn from the genres which are most successful in engaging the younger audience Obviously, such approaches can be a recipe for superficiality, but they can also offe new ways for news to fulfil its traditional mission to educate and to inform-a miss which it is performing far from adequately at the present time.
Generally speaking, these students knew a great deal about how news p put together; they were alert to the potential for misleading informati evidence and ‘bias’; and they were often very prepared to argue with w seen, both in terms of its own consistency and logic, and by drawing on contrary
evidence of their own. Their debates about these issues focused not only on the
selection of information, but also on its presentation: they repeatedly drew attention to aspects of editing, camerawork and visual design which they felt were designed to persuade them to accept a particular reading of the issues. Of course, this is not to say that these young people are therefore immune to media influence: there are systematic omissions and dominant frames in media discourse which inevitably exert constraints on how particular issues can be interpreted. Nevertheless, as Gamson (1992) argues, readers and viewers negotiate meaning in complicated ways that vary from issue to issue; and they draw on other resources, including their general knowledge of television as a medium, in doing so.
As in the students’ discussions of politics, there was a clear developmental dimension here, which is partly about access to information, and partly a function of broader cognitive achievements. Unsurprisingly, the older students here knew much more about television as a medium, both in terms of the ‘language’ and characteristic techniques of television texts and in terms of the operations of the industry. They were also more inclined to ‘decentre’ (for example, to perceive that a particular message might have persuasive intentions) and to apply criteria to do with logical consistency (for example, to point out the contradictions between verbal commentary and visual evidence).
Nevertheless, there are significant methodological difficulties in identifying and evaluating evidence of ‘critical viewing’. As I have found, both here and in previous work (e.g. Buckingham, 1993), critical discourses about the media may emerge as a
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Young People, Politics and News Media 181
function of the interview context-as a response to what subjects believe the interviewer wants to hear. From this perspective, critical discourse may be little more than a socially desirable response-a way of distancing oneself from the ‘uncritical viewer’ who is implicitly invoked, and condemned, in so much academic and public debate about the media.
Furthermore, the fact that viewers are capable of being ‘critical’-or, more accurately, of mobilising critical discourses-does not necessarily mean that they are not influenced In fact, there were some clear indications in several cases here of at least short-term
influence. In some instances, visual evidence appeared to carry a particular persuasive
force, whether or not this might have been the intention of the producers. In others, the provision of new information appeared to change some students’ attitudes to the topic.
Even here, however, the students were often self-reflexively aware of this process: they
drew attention to the influence of visual ‘evidence’ even as they accepted its validity; and
while they did not challenge the accuracy of new information, they often suspected that
other information, which might undermine the argument, was not being provided.
The perception of ‘bias’, which is obviously a key dimension of critical viewing, is thus
a highly complex phenomenon. It might be logical to expect that viewers who already know more about a particular issue (for example, those who have direct personal experience of it) will be more likely to detect bias than those who know less. Likewise, one would expect viewers who feel strongly about a given topic to be more likely to perceive bias in an item which presents an opposing view to their own. In fact, the situation in these interviews was rather more ambiguous: while there were certainly instances which conformed to this pattern, a significant number did not. The students’ level of emotional ‘investment’ in the issues often proved more significant in this respect than their capacities as rational critics.
At the same time, analysing perceptions of media bias raises significant epistemolog- ical issues. Is bias something inherent in the text, or is it a function of the relationship between text and reader? And how are such judgements to be evaluated? On the one hand, there were instances in these discussions where students had clearly misinterpreted what they had seen, or just failed to understand it-and in some cases, they themselves directly acknowledged this, or accepted it when it was pointed out to them. Some of these misinterpretations can be traced more or less directly to particular properties of the text: its confusing use of metaphor, its failure to provide sufficient background information or explanation, or the contradictions between verbal and visual evidence. Yet others were clearly a result of inattention, or the fact that students had mistakenly emphasised (or been distracted by) comparatively marginal elements of the text, or reached false conclusions from them.
On the other hand, there were significant mismatches between the way in which I particular items (in my privileged capacity as the academic analyst) and the way in w the students did so, which cannot be put down simply to misinterpretation. These
divergent responses can partly be explained in terms of the different knowledge and competencies which readers bring to the text; and in this respect, at least some of the differences result from the fact that as a white, male adult-and, in the case of the US
study, as British rather than American-I was bound to apply or invoke different frames in making sense of the material from those of the students.
These differences point to the limitations of objectivism; although equally, they cannot simply be sidestepped by an appeal to relativism. Empirically, texts do not mean anything that readers want them to mean; and all readings are not equally valid. However unfashionable it may be, ‘bias’ is a key conceptual category in viewers’ everyday
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182 Oxford Review of Education
responses to television news, and to other texts that purport to be factual. Yet we cannot begin to evaluate such judgements without some notion of accuracy-that is, without some way of appealing to a set of facts about the text against which particular responses can be compared and assessed.
To sum up, this research suggests that young people develop a set of critical competencies-a form of ‘media literacy’-which they are able to apply to their readings even of relatively unfamiliar texts or genres. In the case of news and factual program- ming, judgements about ‘bias’ are a central concern; although they are not simply a matter of ‘detecting’ something which is or is not immanent in the text. In practice, the emotional, personal or social identifications which viewers have invested in a particular political issue may be more important in determining how they interpret texts than any purely cognitive or rationalistic process of critical judgement. To this extent, there may be limitations in any model of critical viewing which is based merely on a cynical rejection of the medium-or indeed on the dispassionate pursuit of information.
The media are central to the political process in modern societies; cation-teaching about the media-could become a highly significan future possibilities for citizenship. If, as Rob Gilbert (1992) implies, citizenship is partly a struggle over the ‘means and substance of cult and particularly over those which are made available by the elec
essential that the school curriculum should enable young people to become actively involved in the media culture that surrounds them. From this perspective, media education is not confined to analysing the media-much less to some mechanistic notion of ‘critical viewing skills’. On the contrary, it aims to encourage young people’s critical participation as cultural producers in their own right.
Such developments may be emerging in any case as a result of the growing impact
of digital media. Yet the new forms of cultural expression envisaged by some advocates of the new digital age will not simply arise of their own accord, or as a guaranteed consequence of technological change: there is a need to devise imaginative forms of cultural policy which will foster and support them. Against the surfeit of postmodern enthusiasm, there is a need to insist on relatively traditional questions about who has the right to speak, whose voices are heard and who has control over the means of production. As Gilbert argues, the political and the cultural are not synonymous; and
if rights of access to cultural expression are to be realised, more traditional forms of civil and political rights must also inevitably be at stake-not least for young people themselves.
The research described in this article was supported by the Spencer Foundations, and was partly conducted while the author was a Visiting Annenberg School for Communications at the University of Pennsylvan
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