Who Controls the Message? By Courtney Barker

The communication of messages through media is, and always has been, critical to knowledge production (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2010).  From the written word through the Internet age, new mediums have created avenues for message dissemination (and control), self-expression and engagement.  Historically, oral histories played an important role in knowledge sharing and production (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2010).  But, information relayed may have proved inconsistent (depending on the storyteller’s memory) and was delivered to a relatively small audience (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2010).  As written media developed, consistent and precise information could be distributed to a widespread audience and used to shape opinions and beliefs (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2010).

The written word allowed individuals with power and authority to manipulate messages in order to form or change public opinion.  The English Tudor monarchs, for instance, were master public relations coordinators who re-wrote history to support their regal claim (De Lisle, 2014).  The depiction of Henry Tudor’s (Henry VII) nemesis, Richard III, as a deformed and evil monster originated with the Tudor propaganda machine (De Lisle, 2014).  The ability of the Tudor propaganda machine to shape “history” was so powerful that this depiction of Richard III was not seriously challenged until the 20th century (De Lisle, 2014).

While advances in media technology have enabled the spread of propaganda throughout history, they have also enabled the sharing of knowledge (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2010).  In Blur, Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel argue that each new advancement in media technology creates more consumer choice and access to information which, inevitably, leads to a more democratic society (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2010).  Kovach and Rosenstiel use the advent of journalism in the early 17th century (made possible by the invention of the printing press) as an example of a new medium which provided the means to disseminate new ideas about human rights and self-governance (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2010).  The spread of these ideas though a new and less costly medium were essential to the Enlightenment movement and the spread of democracy (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2010).

The advent of broadcast media allowed messages to be spread to a much wider audience regardless of their education (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2010).  The ability to hear, and then see, events unfold first hand led to the modern empirical society we live in today (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2010).  As Americans witnessed the carnage in Vietnam or the brutal backlash against the Civil Rights Movement unfold, people became increasingly skeptical of the messages put forth by the government (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2010).  New sources of knowledge led to increased awareness of our government’s policies and the world (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2010).

In the modern era, as new media delivers messages from multiple points (local/national/international; government, corporate, non-profit and the average citizen), we have more opportunity than ever to form our own opinions and set our own agendas.  While traditional media is dominated by a handful of messages chosen for our consumption, new media offers information on countless topics from around the world.  Traditional media may still set the tone, but there are numerous other options for the knowledge seeker.

New media represents a shift in the way we engage with media messages.  The interactive element of new media allows us to respond directly and publicly to messages.  This has the potential to create a more equal society as governments and corporations are forced to address public concerns brought to light through new media.  In Blur, Kovach and Rosenstiel use the example of the online challenges to the Affordable Care Act to illustrate the impact new media can have on public opinion, and, by extension, public policy (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2010).  The constant stream of differing viewpoints on the Internet allows us greater freedom to formulate our own point of view as well.  During Presidential elections, I have access to a plethora of news sources as well as posts from friends, bloggers, activists and countless other sources.  Media influences my perspective, but the messages I receive are not unilateral.  In addition, I can easily engage in “public” debate with citizens across the nation which also informs and shapes my knowledge base.

New media is so ingrained in our everyday lives that it is hard to imagine that the Internet has only been around a couple decades!  I use the Internet every day to engage with friends and family via social media, find recipes for dinner and check the news.  Through social media and chat rooms, the Internet has had a significant effect on the way we socialize and engage our peers and the outside world (including the government and corporate world).  In addition, it has fundamentally changed the way we conduct our lives.  Many of us look for employment, attend classes, shop, monitor our health, and plan our vacations and other important life events online.  I used the web to plan my wedding, research baby names and, now, I am attending graduate school online.

While all media serves as a vehicle for knowledge delivery, new media represents a shift in the way we receive information.  We are constantly connected.  The challenge in the modern world has changed from ‘where or how do we access information’ to ‘how do we efficiently sort through the information at our fingertips.’


De Lisle, L. (2014). Did Richard III Kill the Princes in the Tower? Retrieved February 10, 2015, from http://www.newsweek.com/did-richard-iii-kill-princes-tower-258395

Kovach, B., & Rosenstiel, T. (2010). We have been here before. In Blur: How to Know What’s True in the Age of Information Overload (1st ed.). New York: Bloomsbury USA.

Who Controls the Message? By Courtney Barker

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