Traditional media in transition

Mediterranean e-journal of Communication & Media, 2013 Vol.2 No.1

Traditional media in transition? The reliability of political news in the New Media Age

Theodora A. Maniou

 Lecturer, Department of Journalism – Frederick University of Cyprus

e-mail:    t.maniou@frederick.ac.cy

 

 

Abstract

The rise and domination of the New Media brought ahead a very crucial question: Is it the time to end traditional media’s and especially Television’s domination upon public opinion? Many scholars argue that in the New Media Age, everyday that goes by traditional media lose their power, whilst, at the same time, New Media gain reliability and appreciation. However, is that the case in Cyprus today or are TV news still predominating the public sphere, preserving their power upon the public opinion?

This paper is focussing on the public’s opinion concerning the reliability of political news. The analysis is based on a comparative study of quantitative and qualitative data, deriving from researches conducted in Cyprus from 2010 until 2012. Accordingly, these research findings are discussed on the theoretical base concerning the consumption of TV news and news presented in the New Media, as well as the factors that influence the public at the beginning of the 21st century.

Key words

Traditional media, television viewing, audience, political news, New Media Age, media reliability

Introduction

Mass media in general concurrently shape social norms, attitudes and the public opinion concerning issues they publish and discuss. The power of the media not only is not questioned but also it is taken for granted. In this perspective, politicians, entrepreneurs and professionals in the show business industry do their best in order to control media content, in any way possible. However, the rise of the New Media Age brought ahead a crucial question: Is it the time for traditional media to see their power over the public fade away or is there a place for traditional media in this era?

This paper explores the reliability of political news, as presented through television, since it is considered to be the most powerful of the traditional media in contrast to the news presented through Internet and New Media. The analysis is based on a comparative study of quantitative and qualitative findings, deriving from researches conducted in Cyprus between 2010 and 2012.

Political news in the New Media Age

Barack Obama made his way into the West Wing in 2008 mainly by exploiting the advantages of Internet and especially social media (Harfoush, 2009). The Communist Party lost power in Moldova in 2009, when massive protests coordinated partly by Facebook and Twitter, broke out after elections (Sirky, 2011). In 2011, Facebook and Twitter allowed people in Egypt to bypass government censorship and spread the words of political reform, mobilizing millions of citizens to participate in political action and – at the same time – emerging as authoring agents and organizational power structures (see analysis in Bjuiyan, 2011). The list of examples concerning the political power of the New Media goes on and on and there are hundreds of examples around the world that show the rapidly growing numbers of Internet use for political communication purposes (Himelboim et al, 2012). At the same time, however, several questions arise concerning the effectiveness of New Media, when it comes to reliability issues. In this perspective, nobody questions their popularity, however it remains to be seen if they are as influential and reliable for the public, as they are popular.

Dahlgren claims, and many scholars agree, that a newer and perhaps a better version of Habermas’s (1962/1989) notion of the public sphere is being realized on line (Dahlgren, 2005).  In this new version of public sphere two streams of conclusion can be identified. First, it is claimed that Internet use can mobilize political participation. In short, mobilization theories highlight how the Internet  can facilitate activities with a political purpose, or how it forms a ‘political playground’ where people can exercise civic skills and obtain knowledge deemed important for political participation (Kann et al, 2007). On the other hand, there are conclusions that political Internet applications are mainly used by engaged and active citizens, uses that tend to normalize political participation (Chadwick, 2006). Hirzalla, van Zoonen and de Ridder argue that normalization conclusions are built on assessments of general Internet use patterns, whereas mobilization claims are often build on Internet use in specific cases at specific moments (Hirzalla et al, 2010). Actually, in their survey, conducted in the Netherlands during the 2006 elections, they found out that younger people (18 – 25 years old) tend to use online political information tools more often than older people. In fact, it is clear that on line media tend to be more influential for younger people, since their use is more often in these categories of citizens, whereas traditional media are more often used by older people (Maniou, 2012) and, in this mode, they tend to be more influential upon them.

Traditional media fight back

Following the above analysis, several scholars argue that the rise and dominance of Internet indicated the end for the traditional media. The most influential between them, television, tends to lose its power over the public every day that goes by. Others argue that television no longer constitutes a significant means of study. However, they fail to take under consideration the fact that television is still evolving and it is adjusting its functions in the current social needs of the audience, based on digital technology. As Kompare argues, television’s perpetual cultural and industrial instability has extended in recent years into more radical reconfigurations, as the medium has migrated from domestic set to networked node (Kompare, 2011). Furthermore, it seems to have gained even more power the last years, since it integrated forms of social media, evolving into social TV. For example, in September 2012, during the final night telecast of the Democratic National Convention in the USA, the 90 minutes of the convention aired in prime time TV, inspired more than 2.5 million tweets,  proving in fact that “tv is what people want to talk about, especially prime time tv” (Dumenco, 2012).

The effects of television on the public offer a wide field for study since the 1940s. By all means, the changes in television’s economical structures as well as the alterations in its social and cultural role, in the current global society, have made extremely difficult the study of one-dimensional effects of its program, even within the national boarders of a state (Levine, 2011). However, in every study concerning the television’s effects, various factors are taken under consideration and most importantly the public of television.

In the case of newspapers or internet media it may be easy to calculate their consumers. However, in the case of television we never really know, neither the size nor the width of its public (Sorongas, 2004), since all methods used for this purpose are based on representative measurements. Undoubtedly, Internet has changed the way television is viewed by individuals, marking the so called “third era of television” (Moyer, 2009). Moving from the rise of television networks to cable and satellite television and moreover – today – to connected TV, the medium deployed mechanisms to preserve its consumers against all odds in the previous years. However, that happened with a price: it had to prove to its public that it could offer them all the advantages of the Internet: video on demand, time shifting TV products, individual choice of programs and low cost services.

The way television programs are consumed differs among various societies and nations. Respectively, the influence of political news, aired by television, upon the public differs among these societies. This essay attempts to examine the current situation, focusing on Cyprus as a case study.

Research methodology

The first part of the findings presented in this paper are referring to the public’s opinions concerning the reliability of political news, presented in the TV channels of the Republic of Cyprus[1] in 2010. The figures presented in this paper are published for the first time, although they were part of a broader research, published in 2012 (see analysis in Maniou, 2012). The sample of the research, selected via the method of stratified random sampling, included 400 citizens above 18, stratified by gender, age and area of living[2]. Data were selected through personal interviews, based on a structured questionnaire. The average duration for the interviews was 18 minutes, while the answering percentage was 95,2%, which leads to a confidence interval of 95%, depicting a sampling error of 5%.

Accordingly, in the discussion that follows, the findings are examined in comparison to the findings of the World Internet Project Research, conducted in Cyprus, both in 2010 and in 2012,  by TEPAKUniversity, concerning the use of Internet in Cyprus (see Demertzis et al, 2010; Demertzis et al, 2012). The aim of this study is to provide substantial evidence concerning the reliability of  political news, presented both via television and via the New Media.

Research Findings – Discussion

In 2010, television was still considered to be the most reliable medium in the Republic of Cyprus, as Table 1 depicts.

Table 1.Which of the following media do you consider more reliable for your political information?

 

       Frequency         Percent
Newspapers 110           27%
Radio              26            7%
Television           148           37%
Internet             28            7%
None             58           14%
All of them             27             7%
No answer              3             1%
Total           400          100%

 

The chi square test concerning the gender of the individuals interviewed shows that gender plays a crucial role in people’s opinions regarding the reliability of different media (χ²=13.100, df=6, p<0.05), since television summons up more positive attitudes on behalf of women than men, who tend to be slightly more positive towards newspapers, as depicted in Chart 1.

Chart 1: Men and women’s opinion regarding the reliability of tv news

chart1

Accordingly, age plays an important role on the differentiation of people’ s opinions concerning the reliability of political information deriving from different media, as chi square test shows (χ²=42.465, df=24, p<0.05). Although, the vast majority in every age group considers television to be more reliable between the various media, the so called ‘dynamic public’ (the ages between 18 and 44, which mainly interest advertisers) and especially individuals over 25 tend to be more positive over newspapers, as depicted in Chart 2.

Chart 2: Different age groups’ opinion regarding the reliability of various media

chart2

Concerning the degree up to which individuals think they are influenced by the political news presented through television, the majority of the people asked (49%) believe they are a little influenced, while only 9% admits they are influenced at a greater extend.

Table 2: At what extend, do you personally believe you are influenced by the political news presented through television?

 

Frequency              Percent
Too much                  35                   9%
A little                 197                  49%
Not at all                 167                  42%
No answer                    1                  0,1%
Total                 400                 100%

As the chi square test has shown, gender plays no significant role in this process (χ²=1.851, df=3, p> 0.05), neither does the age of the individual (χ²=9.674, df=12, p>0.05).

At the same time, findings of the World Internet project conducted in Cyprus in 2010, tend to agree with the above mentioned figures amongst Greek-Cypriots, since television in 2010 remains the most influential medium concerning its informational role (Demertzis et al, 2010). During the same time, Internet is considered to be important for the Greek Cypriot users, although only 22% states that they search information through it on a daily basis (Demertzis et al, 2010). Concerning the use of social media, only 20% of the Greek-Cypriots in 2010 stated that they were making use of them on a daily basis (Demertzis et al, 2010).  Finally, when they were asked about the ability of the Internet to help them understand political procedures, 51% of the Greek-Cypriots were totally negative towards this option.

In the World Internet Project research conducted in 2012, all figures seem to be altered in favor of the Internet, at least when it comes to frequency of use concerning its informational role. In fact, the majority of its users (87%) consider it to be a very important source of information, overcoming all the traditional media (television, newspapers, radio). However, Greek-Cypriot users seem to be even more concerned regarding its reliability, since 55% of the people asked stated that only half of the information retrieved through the Internet is considered to be reliable, although 53% of them stated that the medium helps them to understand better the political procedures (Demertzis et al, 2012).

Conclusion: Has a reliable digital public sphere arisen?

As the above analysis has shown, the frequency of Internet use has dramatically changed the last two years, in favour of it. Accordingly, the so called New Media become more popular every day that goes by.  However, this does not indicate a parallel rise in terms of reliability and confidence, especially regarding the political news.

The ability for feedback and inter-discourse New Media offer to the public – the alternative dimension to one-way communicational character of traditional media – empowers a wide range of individuals and groups, such as minorities, political, social, religious and other groups (Pleios, 2011). At the same time, current studies in the political communication procedures through the New Media show that  they can lead to new forms of political participation within the public sphere (Jenkins, 2008). Taking into consideration that these new forms are shaping and formatted in the last years, it is logical that there can be differences between different societies, based on the current socio-political contradictions within each and everyone of them. In any case, one may argue that Web 2.0 has set the stage for a major shift in the way individuals perceive their role in the contemporary media environment, since, rather than simply being targeted by mediated messages, they can see themselves as protagonists of mediated narratives (Stefanone et al, 2010).

In the Republic of Cyprus, a society highly politicised  with a lot of political stalemates and issues still open, traditional media remain widely influential and far more reliable than the New Media, especially for older citizens. Thus, the digital gap has not yet subsided and it mainly depends on the factors of age, income and educational level, which means that the most frequent users of the Internet are the younger, richer and well educated individuals (Demertzis et al, 2012).

The rise and dominance of Social Media as well as the rapidly growing existence of blogs and informational web pages, indicate that political information appears to engage in a new era. The so called Citizen Journalism leads to a new composite, interactive and hypertextual reality, that promotes globalization and allows the production and dissemination of content by individuals, which can either bridge cultural differences or promote fragmentation of audiences. (Leandros, 2012). In any case, citizen journalism empowers individuals with abilities, which, until recently, only journalists used to have: in example, the power to publish information, through the New Media, for specific events and in this way to actively participate in the process of transmitting information and shaping media content (Goode, 2009).  In this perspective, there are several doubts concerning the reliability of the content of New Media, mainly focussing on the criteria upon which this information is selected or the credibility and the news value of this kind of information, since individuals do not correspond with journalistic norms and values. Additionally, several studies haven shown that political information via the New Media tends to influence individuals who are already highly involved in political issues and they are already informed about these issues via other communication channels (Himelboim et al, 2012).

Following the above analysis, it seems logical that political information transmitted through the New Media is widely questioned in terms of reliability. In fact, the finding of this study in Cyprus tends to agree with the findings of studies in other countries which show that television and other traditional media still preserve their power upon the audience concerning issues of reliability, despite factors of age or gender of the individual (see analysis in Stefanone et al, 2010).

However, in order to reach safe conclusions in the near by future, one should examine the content of New Media in comparison to the content of traditional media, within the spaces of the same country and duration. This does not mean that the power of the New Media Age is diminished or underestimated. However, it clearly shows that the local society is not yet completely determined to abandon traditional norms and attitudes concerning its political information.

References

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Demertzis et al. (2012). Internet in Cyprus – Final Report. Limasol: Technological University of Cyprus, retrieved in   http://www.cut.ac.cy/news/article/?contentId=116187  (in Greek)

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[1] The research was conducted in the free areas of the Republic of Cyprus and the sample does not include interviews in the areas occupied by the Turkish troops.

[2] In the chi square test that follows, area of living in not examined, since it is not referring to the discrimination between free and occupied areas of the Republic but to the discrimination between rural and urban in the free areas. In any case, this factor was only used in order to stratify the sample.