In recent history American has changed greatly. Cities have become increasingly populated, a variety of languages are prevalent, and a number of religions are becoming more popular as opposed to a select few. These changes can be found anywhere, and have faded cultural boundaries that used to separate Americans in the continental United States, thus creating a more homogenized American culture. This newly formed culture has brought about a new media as well. In order to maintain quality news for this new America the media has had to homogenize as well. The focus of this paper specifically looks into what has possibly caused the homogenization of American media. While there are many factors that have caused this, a few particular influences have paved the way. American media homogenization has occurred largely because of social media have paved the way for social media to make these changes.
Before examining the causes of these changes, some proof of media homogenization should be presented. According to James Redmond and Robert Trager, authors of Balancing on the Wire: The Art of managing Media Organizations, even if a station presents a story with unique facts and people, the method for presenting that story will most likely be the same as it is anywhere else (8). The content of the news story doesn’t seem to be enough for Redmond and Trager. These authors have found a number of causes for American media homogenization, and their section on homogenization in the American media has inspired the discussion found in this paper.
Before social media is showcased, it’s crucial to notice the changing structure of American business and how it affects the media. In the 20th century, TV stations were able to stand-alone and sustain itself as a business without corporate ownership. Now, most local stations are owned by a parent company that also owns multiple other stations. This has led stations to follow the decision making of their parent company as opposed to completely focusing on the market needs. Michael J. Copps wrote a periodical about Susan Crawford, a past member of the FCC, who was involved in the decision to let Comcast and NBCU merge in January 2011. Crawford was the only one who dissented from allowing the two media giants to merge, because she saw this industry and others becoming more monopolistic (Copps, 21). While this is a matter of Network merges and not local ownership, the results of this situation are similar.
It’s because of media ownership that one can find a number of physical similarities among television stations. In the media industry, as with any business, spending money is hard to justify. A television set is a necessity for a station that wants to hold a regular newscast and so it must buy one that is appeal and long lasting. It’s more affordable for a parent company to purchase a group of sets and send them to its stations instead of each individual station buying their own (Redmond & Trager, 8). Not only will this save the stations money, but it will also make the parent company more recognizable in more places across the country when Americans watch the news.
Nothing has had a greater impact on society today than social media. Social media is the mixer of the American cultural melting pot. Before social media, different regions of the U.S. remained relatively separated culturally; hence the reason why events like the civil war took place. Before the Internet and social media, it was difficult to know much of what was going on outside of the surrounding region. One of the best qualities social media provides is its instantaneous nature and connective qualities.
Social media has created universal communication for everyone in the country and around the world. An article written by Marialuisa Stazio highlights this flow of information through social media. Stazio goes into detail about a cult in Italy that used social media applications to spread their message to a group of people who had never heard of them before. Stazio pens:
“…The use of the social media by the devotees seems suggestive of how the slowly evolving structures and the short-term time-scale events intertwine, in a space and time in which we find the coexistence of forms, practices, and power relations, both established and innovative,” (370).
What is interesting about Stazio’s words is the point she makes about coexistence. This presents the idea that these new world connections through social media exist alongside some of the old world technologies like radio, television, and newspaper start an interesting discussion. Throughout history new technology usually replaces older technology, which, for example, is why telegraphs are no longer commonly used.
Because of widespread communication and ideas, access of cultural information and it’s exchange can occur. Before social media, any curiosity about information had to be fulfilled through a library or by an expert. With applications such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram the ability to understand another culture within the U.S. and share the customs is simple. For example, it’s easy to learn about events in New York every day because of access to the New York Times smart phone app.
It’s become evident that the basic boundaries of culture have been completely changed. Large Global Intercultural Interplay occurs constantly around the world as new ideas and customs are shared from one hemisphere to the next (Schachtner, 230). The world is simply no longer restrained by borders and geography like it used to be. For instance, the fact that a student is able to communicate instantly with friends he or she made while studying abroad was never possible before apps like Facebook and Twitter. From consistent interactions, they can learn cultural trends from them even after they return home. This continuous learning creates a yearning for instantaneous information, which broadcast stations can’t provide.
For a local station manager, regardless if they can’t provide the same instantaneous quality of information that social media can, this is an ideal society to be a part of. The ability for the market’s viewers to have access to this communication means that they will most likely be more informed on a variety of world issues. Because of this, the opportunity for an assortment of stories that cover more intellectual topics is allowed. Before this access to information, the majority of people, especially in a local area like rural Iowa, would have only had a high school diploma or less with less opportunity for self learning afterwards.
The fact that people have better access to these things has the U.S. government struggling with traditional forms of media. An article written in The Washington Quarterly highlights the government’s efforts to create a more favorable view of the U.S. around the world. Authors Carol Bellamy and Adam Weinberg write about traditional media’s struggles:
“Traditional, media-driven forms of public diplomacy will be less successful in an age marked by the tremendous growth and decentralization of communication and information technologies. The shift from broadcast to interactive communications has made it more difficult to capture people’s attention and easier for them to more critically evaluate the disjuncture between U.S. values claims and actions. It has also given rise to a general distrust of sanctioned or official news, as people, especially the youth, place greater trust in informal Web logs, Web sites, and other “authentic” media.”
Bellamy and Weinberg have a good point that spotlight a struggle for TV and radio. The rise in social media use has led to less dependence and trust on traditional media. This has caused stations to try and compete with social media in any way possible. Social media is known for containing many shocking, click-bate style stories that attract readers. To compete, TV stations alike all use similar, large-scale stories that will attract big populations instead of localizing issues.
This situation shows the ability for social media to desensitize Americans to traditional media. When Americans are now continually introduced to bold headlines and shocking stories, they begin to subconsciously require more. Dr. Pamela Mickelson, a professor of Business Administration at Morningside College, discussed evidence of this in an interview covering the 2016 presidential election. Mickelson stated that it takes seven to ten repeated slogans for the viewer to have the message stick with them. Around 20 years ago, it was only three times (Mickelson). While Dr. Mickelson never stated that social media was the cause, it’s evident that social media’s instantaneous and flashy qualities have made Americans ask for more out of media.
For these reasons, the media are all pushing towards a similar quality of news that appeals to a culturally homogenized America. It’s important to note that as a station manager, one must understand that this and embrace it. Since all Americans will be familiar with this style and recognize the three major broadcast networks, it’s important for a station to stay consistent with it. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as they are still providing local news, but their broadcast will highly resemble other affiliate stations in other markets. Running a program differently could be successful, but it also comes with a high risk of failure if viewers don’t like the change. The best thing for station managers is the ability to adapt to new cultural trends and changes.
Since it’s evident that these influences have had an impact on American culture and media homogenization, it’s important to bring it back into focus with Redmond and Trager. According to the authors, “The pervasive television news consulting business promotes formulaic approaches involving market research studies to determine what viewers of a particular station want, and then providing the packaging to satisfy those wants,” (7). Redmond and Trager have a good point that connects the cultural changes to the media. Since the media still make choices based off the viewers, they allow the cultural homogenization to control them. Since American’s intake of media has changed, the media is changing as well, but all towards the same changes since the culture has homogenized.
To conclude, within the American culture, media homogenization has occurred because of the American cultural changes from social media. The changes that have occurred come from a variety of influences from social media. One factor gives people access to universal communication to anyone anywhere in the country and world. Broadcast provides national stories and borrows from networks to attempt to compete. Another influence allows Americans instant access to information at any time. Traditional broadcast television isn’t able to continuously give news on TV, but new social media apps have helped them. Finally social media has desensitized Americans from broadcast because of their quality of stories. Broadcast has begun to make grander stories and bold headlines to draw viewers in. Through this all station managers must adapt. If managers refuse to adapt, broadcast will never last through social media’s growing hold on Americans.