Thursday, May 1, 2008

We're watching you. But why?

The selection of media news outlets is directly related to the uses and gratifications approach to mass communication research, audience motivations and the various criteria which may be used in selecting media messages for attention (Garramone, 1985). It has been widely discussed that viewers tend to seek out information that is similar to their own beliefs (Xiang, 2007).

The uses and gratifications approach to mass communication research focuses on the audience because people select and use media to satisfy their needs and desires. A central concern of uses and gratifications research, then, is people’s motivation for using mass communication. Researchers are interested in what influences the reasons people use mass media and how different motives lead people to select different content (Perse, 1990).

The reason’s why viewers choose Fox News (FNC) or CNN are somewhat clarified in the following studies; Gina M. Garramone: Motivation and Selective Attention to Political Information Formats; Douglas A. Ferguson and Elizabeth M. Perse: Media and audience influences on channel repertoire; Elizabeth M Perse: Predicting Attention to Local Television News: Need for Cognition and Motives for Viewing; Michael Pfau, Patricia Moy, and Erin Alison Szabo: Influence of Primetime Television Programming on Perceptions of the Federal Government; Lawrence A. Wenner: Political News on Television: A closer look at audience use and avoidance orientations; and Yi Xiang: News consumption and media bias.

The study of attention to local television news presented information on the hypothesized relations between local news viewing motives and attention to sports reports and government reports (Perse, 1990). This questionnaire study had the intentions of examining how different reasons for watching local news leads to attention toward different parts of the newscast; and testing how need for cognition, a personality trait that directs people to enjoy thinking, influences motives for watching local news (1990). Three reasons were given why local news was the specific focus of the study. First, local news is broadcast several times a day, attracting a variety of different viewers who compromise a large audience. Second, local news is reported to be more widely watched that network news (Comstock, 1989; Perse, 1990). Finally, local news focuses on a wide range of topics; such as government, news, crime, human interests, sports, weather, and investigative reports (Perse, 1990).This study aims to show that motivation, a central concept in uses and gratifications, leads to media selection. It is successful in relating motivation for watching local news to selective attention toward different parts of the newscast. Specifically, utilitarian viewing motives (viewing to gain information for personal or social use) lead to attention toward local news government reports while Pass-Time viewing motives (viewing because there is nothing better to do or watch) lead to avoidance of local government news (Palmgreen et al., 1980; Rubin, Perse, and Powell, 1985; Perse, 1990). This is important in the study of why Democrats and Republicans choose FCN/CNN because it explains that the viewer’s motivation for choosing to watch the news is related to what they will watch.

More information on this topic is revealed when selectivity of strictly political formats are studied. Several examples for selectivity include the perceived objectivity of the message, the extent to which the message agrees with their opinions, its timeliness, its topics, and the media source or format by which it is conveyed (Garramone, 1985). Motivations for paying attention to political content in the media are placed in two categories; surveillance/ vote guidance and diversion (Blumler, 1979; Garramone, 1985). An audience member with a surveillance/vote guidance orientation uses the mass media for general review of the political environment and for information needed to make voting decisions. The most obvious diversion provided by campaign information is the “horse-race” excitement of media coverage. However, the use of political information for casual conversation may also be conceptualized as largely diversionary (Garramone). Research indicates that most political discussions are not aimed at persuasion, but rather focus on the “game” aspect of the election (Patterson, 1980; Garramone, 1985). This study claims that surveillance/ vote guidance-motivated individuals should select information based on its usefulness for making vote decisions. Diversion-motivated individuals, on the other hand, should choose information based on its excitement or conversational value (Garramone, 1985). Results of the factor analysis indicate that people selectively attend to presidential campaign information based on editorial (live coverage, news reports, journalists’ opinion, etc…) format, rather than it’s originating (speech, debate, interview, etc…) format (1985). This research relates to the FCN/CNN question in two ways. First, viewers may choose a specific station because of the formats used by that station, not their own beliefs (political affiliation). Secondly, Garramone agrees with Perse and Xiang in the idea that viewers tend to watch programs that share their beliefs and moral standing.

Further clarification on this topic is gained from a telephone survey that was conducted to examine the television viewing patterns and motivations of 615 respondents through channel repertoire (Ferguson and Perse, 1993). Channel repertoire was divided into two categories: Total Channel Repertoire (TCR) and Mindful Channel Repertoire (MCR). TCR was defined as the number of channels viewers watched, using aided recall (a list of available channels was presented to the subjects and they designated which channels they watched). MCR was further defined as those channels identified by viewers through unaided recall (unprompted). The findings indicate that TCR is related to media and audience factors, while intentionality was a significant positive predictor of MCR (Ferguson and Perse, 1993). TCR is related to the number of channels offered (Webster and Lichty, 1991), while MCR is generally smaller than TCR (Greenberg, Heeter, and Lin, 1988). Television viewing motives are a primary signal of audience activity (Rubin, 1984). Ritualistic television use, which is marked by watching to pass time or out of habit, is a nonselective and less active use of television that focuses on using television as a medium, not specific content. Instrumental use, on the other hand, reflects selective and purposive exposure to specific content (Rubin and Perse, 1987). These results correspond with the FNC/CNN study by showing that channel availability and viewing motives play roles in the viewer’s choice of media outlet.

These studies have shown that a viewer’s decision for choosing a specific media outlet is directly related to many different social and personal parameters that are different for most subjects. Simply taking into consideration one’s political affiliation is clearly not enough to determine why they choose the news outlet that they do. Selective exposure, through seeking like opinions, is the most obvious choice for why the viewers would choose the specific broadcast that they watch, but it is only a portion of the reasoning behind the actual choice.

Bibliography/Works Cited

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