I have always been fascinated by the entirety of the news and media mechanism. Their implications on society are enormous – people need to be well-informed in order to make decisions, both personal and societal. Especially with politics, the agenda of the media is a key part of this informative process, and yet is nearly indivinable to the outsider, such as we are.
Of course, each outlet of the media has a different perspective, a different spin, a different agenda. Some are blatant, perhaps even revoltingly so, such as that of FOX “news,” while other outlets are less obvious, such as the conundrum that is the government-controlled yet somehow exceptional BBC. It’s hard to say with certainty about the specific agenda of most media forms and corporations. However, print, television, and radio news sources have all existed for long enough that a fair bit of analysis may be done on their archives and evolution.
One form of media that’s rapidly becoming a major news outlet, and which does not have a long history, however, is the Internet. Outside of websites maintained by the major news outlets, the Internet is an extremely odd news source – I have commented before on anonymity and the Internet, and the faceless, baseless form of web media are somewhat mysterious. In addition, nothing on the web is constant – corrections, modifications, and even wholesale deletions can occur in the blink of an eye without so much as a notice. This is, of course, irresponsible journalism, but such is the power that the Internet affords. The shortcomings of the Internet also rear their heads – entire sites can vanish over time due to neglect or budget cutbacks. Thus to study the news from the web properly, we need a comprehensive archive of work built in real-time – but this is not my arena, nor my current interest: please refer instead to the work of Kirsten Foot.
Instead, since studying the news media of the web directly is so difficult, I am instead interested in the habits of people in our society. In an age where a majority of peoples’ knowledge of the news comes either through the television set or through word of mouth, the transfer itself of news has become even more contextual. So, what happens when we remove that context? What happens when we take habitual people and transplant them into a foreign land, where they lack the means and mechanisms of getting news to which they are native?
Perhaps they fall back upon print media. Do they pick up a local newspaper? Do they pick up the New York Times? Or perhaps they resort to using the web. Do they read CNN.com, or something more esoteric such as The Huffington Post? How do these new habits compare to their old ones?
People like to gravitate toward the familiar, the native. The mediums and outlets to which people resort when they find themselves in a distant land says much about those mediums and outlets. If people do resort to using the web to obtain their news, then a comparison between their choices online and their choices offline at home is an effective and indirect way to study something as difficult to study as the Internet.