Monday, January 22, 2007

What theory is operational?

There's no question that the rapid technological changes of the past decade have created armies of citizen-publishers throughout the world, and certainly divisions of those armies consider themselves citizen-journalists, whether working for or at mainstream media outlets or not.

Traditionally, there have been four theories of the press (Authoritarian, Libertarian, Communist and Social Responsibility), but the new press landscape, which defies geographic, ideological, professional and economic barriers, and in all four theories of the press overlap, seems to cry out for the invention of a "unified field" theory of the press -- or for surrender to the Libertarian theory as the only real possibility in a worldwide sea of information anarchy.

If the former, has anyone developed it, and what are its main points?
If the latter, how should we educate the public and our students so they may function in a society that relies on the free press to ensure its freedom and democratic form of government?


Jen Mullen said...

As I read this post, I notice the post following it, with recent results showing media as least trusted among major societal institutions.
The social responsibility model put the emphasis on press responsibility with its awesome lst Amendment guaranteed power. The continual decline of trust in media since Watergate would suggest the Social Responsibility Model is in decline.
So, now we're living in a consumer-generated media environment in which many "citizen journalists" have the power of "media" at their desktop fingertips. I suggest that this could be quite disconcerting as the Libertarian Press Model may become more prominent than the Social Responsibility Model. Surveys of younger audiences report that today's young media consumers don't necessarily judge news that comes from institutionalized media outlets such as newspapers and broadcast television, as any more or less credible than website bloggers. Does this suggest that credibility and integrity do not matter to younger news consumers? Does this suggest that the individual's right to publish takes precedent over the criteria for what is considered credible newsworthy information? Should credibility continue to be a determinant factor in a model of press freedom?

Samuel Ebersole said...

Press models have never been very good at describing the real world...and even less so now that access to vast quantities of raw, unfiltered information is the norm. Never in the history of communication has there been such unrestricted access to information...and access to the means of production. However, as we all know, information alone does not make for an informed public.

However, there are signs that the investigative reporting role of traditional media is in for a dramatic upheaval. Memogate was just one example of how the collective intelligence of the masses trumped big media. The Consumer-Generated Media model that makes Wikipedia a qualified success is being applied to a particular role played by journalists commonly known as whistle-blowing. is a website designed to give a voice to dissidents and critics of oppressive regimes...but may also be equally helpful at exposing corruption within democracies and Fortune 500 companies. One of the most important roles of the press in the Social Responsibility Model is that of watchdog...and now they have the potential to add hundreds and even thousands of eyes and ears of citizen reporters who already have access to closed systems. Sure there are a host of potential landmines...but if you believe that "information wants to be free" you have to believe that this is going to shake things up. This could get interesting.

Katrina Martinet said...

No one has developed this theory because a bombination of the four theories would be contradicitng because they ideals of each clash. That’s why they are split up into four different theories. And as far as educating the public, it shuold consist of a focus on each of the four different types and how they interelate because part of what keeps the press free is the involvement of society and the people. So once they start becoming less involved and less understanding the Government will have the power to step in a take control of media and then go from telling us “what to think” to telling us “how to think”. So keeping the public educated on media and the functions of it is how we can allow our press to still be “free” and democratic.