The term news media refers to the groups that communicate information and news to people. Most Americans get their information about government from the news media because it would be impossible to gather all the news themselves. Media outlets have responded to the increasing reliance of Americans on television and the Internet by making the news even more readily available to people. There are three main types of news media: print media, broadcast media, and the Internet.
The oldest media forms are newspapers, magazines, journals, newsletters, and other printed material. These publications are collectively known as the print media. Although print media readership has declined in the last few decades, many Americans still read a newspaper every day or a newsmagazine on a regular basis. The influence of print media is therefore significant. Regular readers of print media tend to be more likely to be politically active.
The print media is responsible for more reporting than other news sources. Many news reports on television, for example, are merely follow-up stories about news that first appeared in newspapers. The top American newspapers, such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, often set the agenda for many other media sources.
Broadcast media are news reports broadcast via radio and television. Television news is hugely important in the United States because more Americans get their news from television broadcasts than from any other source.
The main broadcast networks—ABC, CBS, and NBC—each have a news division that broadcasts a nightly news show. For the past fifty years, most Americans watched one or more of these broadcasts. Since the 1980s, however, cable news channels have chipped away at the broadcast networks. CNN and MSNBC both broadcast news around the clock. Because the cable news channels are always broadcasting news programs, many people who want to follow a story closely tune in to these stations first. The relatively new Fox network news program has also drawn numerous viewers away from the big three networks.
The other type of broadcast media is radio. Before the advent of television in the 1950s, most Americans relied on radio broadcasts for their news. Although fewer Americans rely on radio as their primary news source, many people still listen to radio news every day, especially during morning and evening commutes. Local news stations have a particularly large audience because they can report on local weather, traffic, and events.
The Internet is slowly transforming the news media because more Americans are relying on online sources of news instead of traditional print and broadcast media. Americans surf the sites of more traditional media outlets, such as NBC and CNN, but also turn to unique online news sources such as weblogs. Websites can provide text, audio, and video information, all of the ways traditional media are transmitted. The web also allows for a more interactive approach by allowing people to personally tailor the news they receive via personalized web portals, newsgroups, podcasts, and RSS feeds.
Weblogs—known colloquially as blogs—have become very influential since the start of the twenty-first century. Leading bloggers write their opinions on a variety of issues, and thousands of people respond on message boards. Although many blogs are highly partisan and inaccurate, a few have been instrumental in breaking big stories.
Media scholar Marshall McLuhan once said that “the medium is the message.” He meant that the medium, or manner, through which the message is transmitted shapes the meaning of the message. Different types of media have different strengths and weaknesses, and how people perceive a story depends on how they receive it. For example, television is primarily a visual media. Strong pictures and video affect television viewers more than words, and pictures convey emotion better than arguments or discussion. Television viewers, therefore, are more likely to remember how a story made them feel than the actual details of the story. Print media, in contrast, are better than visual media at communicating details and information. An average newspaper story, for example, contains substantially more facts than a comparable television story. This is not to say that television news is inferior to print media; the two media simply communicate information differently.
Example: A debate in 1960 between presidential candidates Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy demonstrated that the medium truly is the message. Many people listened to the debate on the radio, whereas others watched it on television. Although a majority of radio listeners felt that Nixon had won the debate, a majority of television viewers thought that Kennedy had won.