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Sociology of the Media and Popular Culture Essay

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Introduction

The history of newspapers and the purpose they serve in the society dates back to around five hundred years. In the European region handwritten newsletters were periodically circulated among Merchants at private level. The newsletters were used to pass along information on everything necessary ranging from economic statuses, wars, social customs, and matters of human interest. The first form of printed newspapers appeared in Germany late 1400s. This is also discussed by Harrower (2000). The newspapers appeared in the form of news pamphlets or broadsides. In the English world, the earliest form of newspaper appeared 1622. On those newspapers only an event considered worth noticing was published. The first real newspaper in England was the London Gazette which appeared in 1666 (Harrower: 2000).

The industrial revolution had a dramatic effect on newspapers. The production of the newspapers increased tremendously, and different versions of the newspapers continued to come up. The growth of newspapers continued unstopped in the years of postwar. After the postwar period the features of the modern newspapers appeared.

The newspapers started having bold banner headlines; there was also the adoption of the use of extensive illustrations and coverage of sporting events. 1898 is the age in which media consolidation took effect; numerous independent newspapers were swallowed up in conglomerations. Around 1910, all the indispensable features of decipherable newspapers had emerged. However, the advent of radio and television gradually displaced newspapers as the primary sources of information hence making it almost impossible to appreciate the historical role newspapers have played in the society at large.

A public sphere can be defined as an aspect in social life where individuals are able to get together and liberally discuss and identify societal challenges, and through the discussion be able to exert influence on political actions of their nations. Public sphere is also known as a discursive arena in which people and groups meet to talk about issues of common interests; in case, the main objective of meeting to discuss matters of common interest is geared towards striking a mutual a judgment.

The enactment of political participation and the possibility of political opinions can be done in the context of public sphere. Democracy has been defined in several ways. For the purposes of this paper, democracy is defined to mean a type of political government that is performed either directly by the people or elected representatives. The position of this paper is that the demise of newspapers does not necessarily herald the demise of democracy and public sphere. This definition of public sphere is in consistence with the discussions of L’Etang and Pieczka (2000)

The access to public sphere is guaranteed to all individuals; when individuals conglomerate to form a public body they neither behave like professional or business individuals do not have private transactions nor like who belong to a constitutional order that is subject to the constraints of constitution and state bureaucracy. There are some fundamental factors or conditions that are necessary for public sphere. These are factors that demand the public sphere be free from the influences of the market, family and the state.

Does the current demise of newspapers herald the demise of the public sphere and democracy?

Newspapers are quickly declining as the main source of information in the public sphere. Many newspaper publishers are frequently registering low sales and reports low profitability. Newspapers have been a very important part of the public sphere. People all over the world have always regarded newspapers as sources of information for public debate and advertisements. Individuals have been accustomed to reading newspapers to extract required information then they meet to discuss the contents of the newspapers.

In most cases, newspapers have always been the source of topics or subjects of discussions in the public sphere. It is important to note that news first appeared on newspapers. For along time newspapers have been offering vital information to individuals, groups and institutions. They have been a fundamental component of print and political culture; as a result they have played a major role in informing as well as documenting social and political disorders especially in the 18th and 19th centuries. Perrucci’s (1994) arguments also support the fact that politics is closely linked to newspapers.

There have always been democratic demands that information should reach everybody without any form of discrimination. Citizens of a nation act as a public body when they discuss in a liberal manner. This implies that they are allowed to talk about issues with the promise of freedom to assemble and associate and also the freedom to express and have their opinion published; Englund (2002) has extensively discussed this under the freedom of rights and association.

In such a public body, the conversations or discussions require particular media for transmitting information and manipulating the recipients of the information. Newspapers have been the medium through which this is done. In this case we speak of political public sphere; this is when individuals get together to discuss matters that are linked to the activities of the state. According to Landes (1988) the state authority is the executor of the public sphere; however, it is not part of it. It directly derives its political tasks from the public sphere since individuals in the public sphere definitely have problems that the state is expected to offer solution to.

Over the years, newspapers evolved from being just the institutions of information into being the tools used by the opinion leaders of party politics as weapons to attack certain issues in the state. Newspapers have also played a role of mediator and also the intensifier of the discussions that take place in the public sphere, West (2001).

It is crucial to understand that even though public sphere brings individual together to discuss certain issues of mutual interests they are in many cases holding divergent opinions that also divide them into different groups due to conflicts in opinion, this argument is supported by Calhoun (1992). This implies that as much as people hold public opinions, these opinions are never consistent with one another. There may be different groups supporting different resolutions within the public sphere.

There is a sudden shift in the sources of information that inform the behavior of the public sphere. The demise of the newspapers can be attributed to the advent of technology system especially the invention of computer and the internet. With the development of technology, radios, televisions and other forms of media have taken up the roles that were formerly a preserve of the newspapers. The contents of the newspapers are now shared or produced in other forms of media.

Comparing newspapers to other forms of media through which information is passed to the public domain, the newspaper is limited in terms of geographical coverage. This implies that the public domain can no longer get timely information in order to discuss most current issues; the information takes time before it reaches the widely geographically dispersed members of the public domain. This widely covered in the work of Eriksen (2001).

It is worth noting that technology has virtually increased the size of the public sphere. In the past, the public sphere only entailed citizens of a state and there was no efficient way through which individual members of the public sphere could be linked to those outside the states. With the advent of satellite technology and the internet, the public sphere has gone global. The fact is that the emerging media is proving to be more efficient in improving the interactions in the public sphere.

State political matters are no longer the only subjects of discussions in the public sphere; other issues that happen on global scale and have direct links to the affairs of a particular segment of the public sphere will also form part of the discussions.

This is also according to McQuail (2010). For instance, sole reliance on newspapers as sources of information for the public sphere in Kenya would not have provided detailed information on the United States President Barack Obama during his heated 2008 presidential election campaigns. President Obama’s political activities were not only the subject of discussions in the American public sphere, but also in the Kenyan public sphere. Information on similar events has been spread all over the world through other media excluding newspapers, this description is also given by Prior (2007).

This is a clear indication that the demise of newspapers does not herald the demise of public sphere and democracy. The newspaper is simply become an obsolete means by which the public sphere get its subject of discussion. And with the global growth and enlargement of the public sphere, newspapers are becoming limited in terms of spreading vital information to the larger membership of the public sphere. In fact, the internet has taken the center stage in replacing the newspapers as the main sources and facilitators of public discussions. In fact, the newspaper producers now are forced to place some of their contents and products online.

This is supported by the discussions of Davis and Owen (1998). In the past, the newspapers could provide information to the public sphere but they never provided virtual rooms for members to meet and discuss issues therein. This means that the newspapers merely provided necessary information and the members of the public sphere had to meet physically in order to discuss the major issues of concern. However, the internet, radios and television have provided opportunities in which the member of the public sphere must not necessarily meet to discuss. Through the radios and televisions the members can make use of phone calls to contribute their opinions on certain issue of concern from the comfort of their homes.

It is therefore safe to argue that the demise of newspapers is as a result of emerging efficient means of providing the necessarily required information for discussions in the public sphere and also away of either actually or virtually converging members of the public sphere to discuss such issues as may arise from the information. To give just a few examples of ways in which the newspapers have been irrelevant: there are online news articles that can be accessed either through subscription fee or free of charge as posed by Taylor (2003).

The online news articles also have provisions for comments. These spaces for comments have been utilized by the members of the public sphere who are able to access the internet and the websites. This is with regards to the statements of Harrison (2006).

The blogs provide some of the most important arenas for discussions about the matters of the states or state actions. Social sites like MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and other divergent social sites have provided some of the most accessible virtual meeting space for most members of the public sphere; this notion is supported by Simon (2010). The members do not necessarily need to meet physically to have their discussions but can choose to use chat rooms to share ideas.

In many parts of the world, as argued by the ‘National Research Council (U.S.) (1991) freedom of expression and association is one of the most fundamental rights that are recognized by a democratic system. The right can be enhanced by ensuring they are expressed in an efficient manner and without restrictions. It is then important to note that the demise of newspapers does not necessarily mean that public sphere and democracy are being brought to an end. It can be argued that the shift from newspaper to other forms of getting information for the public domain is just due to technological advancement and not the limitations of the newspapers per se.

The concern here is whether the demise of newspapers harbingers the demise of the public sphere and democracy. This might have been true in the event that there would not be alternatives to the contents of the newspapers. It is worth noting that as much as the newspapers are declining as the main sources of information for the public sphere, they are not leaving any vacuum that will interfere with the activities of the public sphere and the state of democracy.

Anything that is contrary to this may be as a result of other interfering factors that may emanate from the state, family or the market. Newspapers have contributed largely in the development of the public sphere and democracy; however, the change of focus from them to other sources of information is simply a transitional process that only serves to enhance democracy and the public sphere.

With reference to the arguments advanced by Susskind, Moomaw and Gallangher (2002), the responsibility of the media should be that of informing democratic resolution by assisting the citizens with the learning of the world, letting them debate their reactions to it and enable them reach a well-versed decisions as regards the course of actions to adopt. An important point to note is that democratic societies require some kind of space in which the citizens can discuss the important issues so that the citizens can come up with informed decisions. This space is conveniently provided by the advent of radio, television and the internet. These media have taken up the role of political and democratic responsibilities.

As much as there seems to be enhanced democracy and public sphere by the advent of new communication technologies, the public sphere does not enjoy the monopoly of discursive space. The media seem to have given the public sphere a tight competition as they seek to influence the state activities. In fact it can be argued that the emergent of new media technologies has enhanced the discursive space; however, they have also managed to perpetuate differing opinions that may go against the resolves of the public sphere members.

In other words, the media seem to exist on its own and its opinions independent of those of the public sphere and at the same time seek the support of the individual members of public sphere. This scenario has left the public sphere merely as a speculator. This is what heralds the demise of the public sphere and democracy. Critically evaluating this scenario, the demise of public sphere and democracy is as a result of many factors not related to demise of newspapers. The fact is that even if the newspapers had to gain an increasing popularity alongside the currently developing media technology then they would do very little in either maintaining or enhancing the state of public sphere and democracy.

This implies that the demise of newspapers and that of both public sphere and democracy are mutually exclusive; the demise of one do not lead to the demise of the other but external factors can equally affect their statuses. For instance the interference by the state may affect the distribution of newspapers and can also affect the operations taking place in the public spheres.

It therefore means that it cannot be argued on the strict sense that there is no observable indication of the imminent demise of the public sphere and democracy. The demise can mainly be attributed to the consumer culture that emerged in the post-industrial period. Before, the public sphere was dominated by discussions on political issues and activities of the state; nonetheless, nowadays the public sphere is dominated by discussions on consumerism. The citizens of states have simply decided to engage more on consumption, working and investing. This has led to scanty debates on public matters of interests and limited public scrutiny.

Conclusion

A public sphere can be defined as an aspect in social life where individuals are able to get together and liberally discuss and identify societal challenges, and through the discussion be able to exert influence on political actions of their nations. In the past most of the issues that dominated public sphere came from the newspapers. Public sphere is also known as a discursive arena in which people and groups meet to talk about issues of common interests; in case, the main objective of meeting to discuss matters of common interest is geared towards striking a mutual judgment. The enactment of political participation and the possibility of political opinions can be done in the context of public sphere.

Democracy has been defined in several ways. For the purposes of this paper, democracy is defined to mean a type of political government that is performed either directly by the people or elected representatives. Over the years, newspapers evolved from being just the institutions of information into being the tools used by the opinion leaders of party politics as weapons to attack certain issues in the state. Newspapers have also played a role of mediator and also the intensifier of the discussions that take place in the public sphere.

It is crucial to understand that even though public sphere brings individuals together to discuss certain issues of mutual interests they are in many cases holding divergent opinions that also divide them into different groups. The demise of newspapers does not necessarily herald the demise of the public sphere and democracy. The demise of the public sphere and democracy may be attributed to other factors except on the demise of newspapers. This is to ague that the demise of newspapers on one hand and that of the public sphere and democracy on the other are mutually exclusive. This is because there are many other alternatives to newspapers can still play the role of newspapers in the public sphere.

However, it cannot be argued on the strict sense that there is no observable indication of the imminent demise of the public sphere and democracy. The demise can major be attributed to the consumer culture that emerged in the post-industrial period. Before, the public sphere was dominated by discussions on political issues and activities of the state; nonetheless, nowadays the public sphere is dominated by discussions on consumerism. The citizens of states have simply decided to engage more on consumption, working and investing. This has led to scanty debates on public matters of interests and limited public scrutiny.

Reference List

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Davis, R & Owen, D. 1998. New media and American politics. Oxford University Press US, United States.

Englund, H. 2002. A democracy of chameleons: politics and culture in the New Malawi, Nordic Africa Institute, Christian Literature Association, Malawi.

Harrison, J. 2006. News, Routledge introductions to media and communications. Routledge, New York.

Harrower, T. 2000. Inside reporting: a practical guide to the craft of journalism. McGraw-Hill. New York.

Eriksen, T. 2001. Tyranny of the moment: fast and slow time in the information age, Pluto Press, New York.

Landes, J. 1988. Women and the public sphere in the age of the French Revolution. Cornell University Press, New York.

L’Etang, J & Pieczka, M. 2006. Public relations: critical debates and contemporary practice. Routledge. New Jersey.

McQuail, D. 2010. McQuail’s Mass Communication Theory, SAGE Publications Ltd, London.

‘National Research Council (U.S.)’1991. The Transition to democracy: proceedings of a workshop, National Academies, Washington DC.

Perrucci, R. 1994. Japanese auto transplants in the heartland: corporatism and community, Transaction Publishers. New York.

Prior, M. 2007. Post-broadcast democracy: how media choice increases inequality in political involvement and polarizes elections. Cambridge University Press, United Kingdom.

Simon, P. 2010. The Next Wave of Technologies: Opportunities from Chaos. John Wiley and Sons, New Jersey.

Susskind, L, Moomaw, W & Gallagher, K. 2002. Transboundary environmental negotiation: new approaches to global cooperation. John Wiley and Sons, San Francisco.

Taylor, R. 2003. Family medicine: principles and practice. Springer, Portland.

West, D. 2001. The rise and fall of the media establishment. Palgrave Macmillan, Boston.

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