Media Research Needs an Impetus

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Media education and literacy have become important in the world today which has become ever more mediatized and information-centric. Information is power but in the world of fake news, paid news and corporatization of democracy it becomes more difficult to sift ‘good’ information from information that is sleazy, commercialized, written only to titillate the senses, sometimes even anti-national, undemocratic and framed to serve the interests of a few only. In short, manufacturing consent for various organizations and groups through news content which maybe manipulated has become the norm.
News and research
It has thus become imperative that one studies news from a research perspective where everything about the production of news maybe dissected in detail. News may thus be studied from three main perspectives- production, representation and interpretation. News content maybe studied from the perspective of ‘producing’ news where news is rather manufactured as a ‘product’ within pressures of limited time and space. The main subjects of study under news production are journalists and studying the ‘sociology within the newsroom’- the social atmosphere within which journalists function, studying the subjective environment from which journalists come which in turn determines the agenda-setting within a news channel or a media organization. Let us take an example- if somebody wants to find out why only cricket as a sport is covered extensively under sports as compared to other sporting activities like wrestling, tennis, badminton, hockey or athletics among others, then the researcher may want to interview a number of sports journalists from different media organizations. A good option would be to interview several sports reporters and find out the loopholes within such reporting. They would in this case study the pressures on a journalist during the reporting of sports news for mainstream television. Findings accordingly may be analysed.
Secondly media research is done around themes of ‘framing’ and ‘portrayal’ and ‘representation’. It is important to understand the way women and other subjects- politicians, kids, issues are represented in newspapers and news channels. Let us take an example- representation of women in advertisements. Media research around such a theme may involve studying the dominant way in which women are represented and the way their bodies are commoditized. There is a ‘commodification of women’s bodies’ in the process and in a lot more instances women’s bodies are used to sell and market a product where women are not even needed to market it. The study around such themes will include semiotic analysis or even discourse analysis of images and texts around such advertisements. Similarly researches may be done around representation of women of politicians in newspapers or magazines, or portrayal of election news in newspapers and how could it be done better. The researcher has to indicate in the findings how could that portrayal have been better.
At the third level, media research is done on the ‘interpretation’ of media meanings and messages that are understood by audiences. In this field of media research, research is focussed on how and what meanings are generated by news content. Journalists report on so many news and items in a day, meanings of which are imbibed and circulated around the community and the society we live in. For example, does violent content on a kids’ channel even in the form of animation make them violent in any way or aggressive or does it just make them more playful towards life. Another example of media interpretations may be whether representations of females in Indian soaps perpetuate Indian woman stereotypes or does it challenge them and make women’s situations in real life more ‘transformational’. In other words, understanding the influence of news and television or media content on a target audience is a good subject of study.
So media coverage maybe understood from many angles, yet mainstream media remains the same in most cases. That’s when alternative media or public journalism comes into the picture.
Public journalism
Influenced by the ideals of deliberative democracy, it advocates changes in techniques of newsgathering and reporting to foster more public deliberation. Theorists and practitioners of public journalism think the promotion of reasonable and informed dialogue among citizens should be part of the role journalists play in a democracy. Public journalism presents something of a puzzle since its advocates see journalists as central catalysts of deliberative democracy. Public journalism departs from traditional reporting practices by advocating public listening in newsgathering, by producing purposeful news, and by encouraging public debate. A key step in promoting public deliberation, according to public journalists, is to reconceive what counts as news. Instead of being driven by the agendas of office bearers, party leaders, and other elite sources, news is to reflect the interests of citizens. This public listening involves finding out what is of concern in a community and then reporting on how these concerns are or are not being met. News is more than the information that the public wants, however. Public journalism make content and narrative choices based on what they think a citizen desiring to be engaged in public affairs would need. They see their readers through a normative model of the active citizen who, under the burdens of daily life, has become passive.
Thus public journalism seeks to promote the interests of a citizen and an informed citizen at that who wants to remain not just a consumer of ‘news items’ but an active member as a community. There is thus a dire need to have more courses in journalism for social change or journalism where each citizen can be a good ‘generator of news content’ so he can have sufficient tools to study the issues around him and not just report but actively be the ‘change-agent’ of a society by even acting on those issues being reported. Media education and media literacy together can accomplish the task well.

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