Sunday, February 22, 2009

Social Responsibility Theory

McQuail's Reader in Mass Communication Theory states, "Social responsibility theory is one response to the perceived impasse of classical liberalism in the twentieth responsibility theory takes seriously many of the accusations of critics of a laissez-faire media system. These critics contend that there are tendencies toward monopolization in the media, that the people or the public are inattentive and are not concerned with the rights or interests of those unlike themselves, and that commercialization produces a debased culture and a dangerously selfish politics" (184). The idea of Social Responsibility Theory within the American and International Media today is something of great importance, there is a great deal of concern, even now with our failing economy that there is going to be more monopolization within the media. By looking at areas such as radio, Sirius has recently merged with XM, creating a monopoly on satelite radio, one of the largest radio organizations in the country, Clear Channel, has been letting people go, however they are not losing any of their stations because they have such a stronghold on the market.
This short article from an NBC affiliate in Rochester, NY explains why the cutbacks are happening and how the "nation's largest owner of radio stations" is dealing with the problem. (
If there was not an economic problem within the United States today, there would be no meantion that Clear Channel is making cutbacks in the news because the general public is not interested. There is only a small portion of people not in the media or music industry that would care of clear channel is going under, there is actually a comment from a site which I found that states, "Who cares what Queer Channel does. If they fail, the nation will be a better perhaps I should say, who cares what Queer Channel long as it dies a well deserved death!(longstaff,
However, while Social Responsibilty Theory has a large stake in the media of America at this time, the media is also slowly moving away from social responsibilty theory, as stated in an article entitled Fifty Years of Community News ( This article "suggests that modern America journalism has evolved away from the Social Responsibility Theory, toward an Entertainment Theory of the Press. A case study of news coverage of a mid-sized community over time illustrates this premise, using a secondary analysis of content-analysis projects describing the community’s media since 1956." The relevince is that it backs up what we have been saying in class, the media industry is becoming more focused on entertainment, and more interested in what the "general public" wants to know about than what is acutally going on in the world.

Do you think that the media is moving away from Social Responsibilty Theory towards a more entertainment driven news media? Is media really more interested in showing the entertainment value than the straight news?

How does social responsibilty theory relate to what we have been talking about in class?


  1. I feel that the media is not completely abandoning Social Responsibility Theory in order to move towards a more entertainment driven news media, but I do absolutely believe that entertainment news is being incorporated into hard news, driving it to be conveyed and viewed more as entertainment. This can be detrimental to the way society views news, and I personally fear that future generations may end up being caught in a completely grey area when it comes to understanding the difference between which news is serious, and which is “fluff.” There is nothing wrong with reading both, but I think there should be a clear line made between the two. If we’ve learned anything through our discussions about agenda-setting and gate-keeping, it is that all forms of media know, pursue, and produce what sells. Today, more and more, what sells is the entertainment value of news. Although, as we’ve discussed in class, the “general public” may be more drawn in and entertained by an entertainment aspect of news, it is still important that the public understands the difference between stories and their importance. I realize this more than ever after my first “Theory To Practice” exercise, where I compared The New York Times and the Daily News. I think it would be terrible, and society would be robbed of much knowledge, if the stories and styles of these two papers were combined into one big slew of entertainment news. I enjoy having options, and I feel lucky to know the difference.
    McQuail’s Reader in Mass Communication Theory explains that “social responsibility theory proposes that the media take it upon themselves to elevate their standards” (184). Is this truly the case in the issue of news taking a turn towards entertainment? To take a serious issue which should be seriously viewed, considered, and understood, and make it into some sort of entertainment, gossipy, “fluff” story is not, in my opinion, the way to elevate standards in the media or throughout society. An approach like this will be detrimental to society. I think that the media should keep this in mind, or McQuail’s Reader is correct in predicting that “it is urgent that the media do this, social responsibility theorists warn, or an enraged public will allow, if not force, the government to take steps to regulate the media” (184).

  2. It seems like the media faces an irresolvable conflict in deciding between what is most important to the public and what is going to get them the highest ratings. While hard news is certainly still completely necessary, in my opinion news stations have to have some more entertainment-driven programming if they want to compete with other networks. I would argue that while different news programming can be at opposite ends of the entertainment spectrum, there is room for every type in our news media.

    So many “news” shows today stray away from the typical hard news method and organization. Examples discussed in class like “To Catch a Predator” and “What Would You Do?” are clear opposites of typical news. There are some programs that are not as easily classifiable and therefore represent perhaps a less debatable form of news. Shows like “Nancy Grace” cover real current topics but do so not only in greater detail but with a relatively entertaining slant, given the host’s colorful personality. Even a program like “NBC Nightly News” covers important stories but delves more deeply into a select few, in the more “investigative-journalism” feel that a show like 20/20 has.

    As John Nerone’s chapter on social responsibility theory states, the theory can be seen in one was as, “a radical reconstruction of the relationship between individuals and communities, with a new emphasis on the latter. Social responsibility theory thus represents the triumph of community over the lone individual” (McQuail 184). If social responsibility, in this case, is meant to emphasize the community, I would argue that a show like “What Would You Do?” does just that. I see it as a lens to view society (community). Watching people choose whether or not to intervene in an seemingly unjust situation not only forces the viewer to think about how they would handle the situation, but also restores our hope that people are inherently good (when they make the right choice on the show, which they often do). I have to admit that I have shed a couple tears on more than one occasion when watching the show.

    All in all, I think that while what is covered in the more entertaining news programs is not necessarily breaking news, it reflects the state of our society as a whole. For that reason, it should be (and apparently is) of great interest to viewers.

  3. John Devlin
    This blog is looking at theories of censorship in the media. “Exactly what constitutes being a journalist? What moral and ethical standards should guide media professionals?” (97 Baran & Davis). Janelle Driscoll argued in her blog that “There are those that believe that there should be no laws or restrictions governing the media; these are the “First Amendment Absolutists”. Then there are those who “believe in direct regulation of media, often by a government agency or commission” (99 Baran & Davis). First off I want to state that there is no way the public will ever be satisfied by the media. There are too many people with so many different views and beliefs; it is impossible to satisfy all of them. When serious issues such as violence or domestic disturbances appear in the news, people are going to get upset, some are going to believe the issue needs more coverage, some believe no more coverage is necessary, and already they have seen too much. With violence, of course journalists are going to cross lines that some people believe in; journalists jobs are to get the news and write about it, that is it. They must exercise morals and ethics of care and privacy, but that is easy. A journalist can just say that they thought it was okay. Looking at the Chris Brown and Rihanna story, Chris Brown allegedly beat her pretty bad. The LAPD was upset and started internal investigations to see who produced the picture of Rihanna’s battered face and publicized it? The LAPD made a statement saying pretty much that they had a “duty to keep victims of domestic disturbance confidential.” Now of course they have an obligation to protect victims, they are police. But, I do not believe celebrities have much confidentiality at all. I believe their whole lives center around the limelight, and attention is all they receive. So when a story like this one, where a celebrity is beaten, it is going to be widely criticized because so many people are interested. Take this Chris Brown and Rihanna case and compare it to a regular non-celebrity domestic disturbance case; nobody cares. Nobody cares about people they do not know, the story would get little if no coverage at all. Rihanna and Chris Brown basically surrendered 99% of their private lives to become public when they became famous celebrities. Now the biggest question is, is this news? To me personally it is not because I hate both Chris Brown and Rihanna and could really care less, but to millions of people it is. This story made front page headlines for weeks, so obviously it is news to some people. It is an interesting, controversial debate to many people. So did TMZ cross the line when they released that picture? I say hell no. They probably made so much money over that picture; good for them, to me, they are just doing their job. Now the police are upset because her personal privacy was violated? Give me a break. This story was making headlines 4 hours after it happened; when it wasn’t even a concrete story; rather just allegations. So was this the proof people were looking for? Absolutely. Did TMZ go too far, no. It is news to millions of people, in my eyes all that TMZ did was provide the news for millions of people. I think that celebrities are a whole different story though. Look at the Virginia Tech shooting. Should ABC have released this video? This is a delicate argument. I believe it was okay to release what they did release. They did not release names of victims or anything like that; really, they just released a profile of a sick bastard with a gun who did the unspeakable. Now these journalists do have an obligation to protect the public, which they did by not releasing names. But not to report on the issue by showing parts of exclusive videos; information into the massacre, that is crap. This event was primetime news, horrific news, but, either way it is important news. Journalists did not hurt anybody, they just gave information. I cannot believe that journalists and ABC got more crap about this video than did the police of that town. They knew of a shooting, the first shooting 3 hours before the other 30 were shot. They knew a suspect was loose, possibly on campus, did not know anything about him, knew he was not in their custody and that the earlier shooting was an ‘isolated incident’, so they allowed classes to continue, then 30 more were shot. The police got little crap about that, but because ABC showed a video, they are at the center of a debate that they are damaging the public good? I believe they are not. Journalists have an obligation to present the news. The laws set in place are enough. Journalists know what to put on the news; the line is not really crossed often to me. Now, if that video of the Virginia Tech shooting had showed the actual shootings and victims themselves, that would have crossed the line, but that was not the case, and really, the video was harmless.

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