Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Media opinion influential but not new, says Mount Holyoke prof in video interview

Looking at the growing influence and partisanship of opinion formats in political journalism, a Mount Holyoke expert on the role and influence of media opinions says such formats are not necessarily bad for democracy.

Professor Eleanor Townsley, who co-wrote "The Space of Opinion, Media, Intellectuals and the Public Sphere" with Ron Jacobs (Oxford, 2011) adds that opinions like those now expressed on television and radio shows and in print and online are not really new to U.S. media.

“Opinion formats date back to the origins of modern American journalism," she says. "They pull together different elements from a long history of opinion shows."

Although Fox and MSNBC are familiar today as opinion broadcasters, the format actually originated on public TV on shows such as "Agronsky and Company," "The McLaughlin Group" and William F. Buckley’s "Firing Line."

Do talk shows and editorials, commentary and columns, harm democracy? Not necessarily, Townsley says.

“Shows like Hannity’s and O’Reilly’s engage audiences that may not otherwise participate in politics," she says. "They offer highly authentic performances that speak to people’s values and touch their emotions. This encourages many to join in the public conversation who otherwise wouldn’t.”

Further, audiences who reads, hear or watch opinion journalism can become more media literate, she adds.

“These shows alert people to media bias," she says, "and if more people realize that information comes from a perspective, then that is probably good for democracy.”