Research Paper: Media the Two Media News Outlets

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Media

The two media news outlets that I am going to evaluate are the Onion News Network, which a cable television program based on the Onion website, and WikiLeaks. The Onion is a satire-based program, so the stories covered are fictional, but serve the purpose of shedding light on issues in American city. WikiLeaks is a website that serves as an outlet for leaked documents. The site's content consists of information that was not intended for the general public audience, and in releasing this information the website is providing information for the public about what occurs among power brokers in politics and business behind closed doors.

Postman and Powers (2008) argue that news media must be viewed critically. The point out that the mainstream media exists to cultivate an audience with its new programming that can be sold to advertisers. The news content, therefore, exists only to build the audience. It is not the product being sold; the viewer is the product being sold. Given that in the United States, there is no obligation for "news" programming to be accurate, the television news must be watched critically. It is important to consider not only the business model of TV news, but how this impacts the decisions as to what stories are covered, and how they are covered. Television news outlets will cover those stories that the news directors think is important, and will put the spin on those stories that the news director believes fits with the audience the station is trying to cultivate, argue Postman and Powers.

With that in mind, the Onion and WikiLeaks provide two alternate views of television news. Both fall outside the mainstream, but both have a message to send. There are differences between the two, however. The Onion is a satire site that operates of a for-profit model. WikiLeaks deals in non-fiction information that is minimally processed, on a not-for-profit basis. These differences result is significant differences in the character of the news that is reported at the two sites.

The Onion News Network

Feldman (2007) makes the point that young Americans have all but abandoned traditional news media. This demographic is evidently not targeted by traditional news media and therefore must absorb its news information in other ways. The younger, media literate generation is heavily influenced by satire programming, of which the Onion News Network plays an important role. Satire news programming often blurs the line between news and entertainment (Ibid). The Onion's stories are entirely fictional, for example, but are frequently imbued with a nugget of truth as per comedic tradition. The stories often shed a critical glare on current issues by making light on situations that are covered in the mainstream news media.

Reilly (2011) argues that the satire news blurs the line between fact and fiction, requiring a higher degree of critical thinking in the audience. The distinction between fake news and real news become porous, and the audience is forced to confront this by parsing the fake news for information that has practical relevance. Fake news intervenes in the everyday discussions about current issues. Comedy, as the Onion produces, is a double-edge sword with respect to its treatment of current issues in the news. For audience members with high media literacy, the Onion can provide unique perspectives wherein fake news draws on real news and humorous interpretations thereof. For any audience member with low media literacy, satire news outlets like the Onion are more likely to obfuscate the truth by providing false news in a manner consistent with actual news. The audience, therefore, needs to be in on the joke in order for the underlying messages -- often critical of either mainstream media or mainstream culture -- to be properly understood.

The methodology of the Onion News Network is effective to its core audience because that audience implicitly understands the devices used by the Onion. The audience understands and expects the use of irony, parody and other devices, and this allows the audience to move directly to the core message, which often reflects an expose on prevailing social or political norms (McCue, 2009).

One of the most significant impacts of the Onion and other satirists as news media is that they have become opinion leaders. As noted, young people have all but tuned out of the traditional news media outlets, turning instead to other outlets such as satirical news programs. Crittenden, Hopkins and Simmons (2011) argue that the extensive reliance on satire as a dominant source of news has "changed the nature of critical inquiry and discourse," when compared with other generations and traditional news media. In particular, the others argue, is the concept of message deconstruction. The Onion News Network features full-scale message deconstruction, where the story being told is rendered with fictional characters and settings, yet designed to mirror real life in such as way that the audience perceives the story as being a reflection of its existence and references. The satire therefore makes a point about the real news without actually talking about the real news.

WikiLeaks

The WikiLeaks website takes the opposite approach to satire. The content on this website is raw information, left intact rather than wholly deconstructed. The information is instead given almost no processing at all. This approach to the news is romantically linked to old-school investigative journalism, but in fact is quite different. The approach of WikiLeaks stands in direct contrast to modern TV news outlets.

It is the product of what has come to be known as "hackivist" culture where by individual citizens seek to uncover the truth and present it to the world outside of the filter of mainstream media (Ludlow, 2010).

This website, amazingly, is not given any coverage in academic journals, which I suppose given the nature of the website is not surprising. Yet WikiLeaks remains a fascinating news outlet. The contrasts with mainstream news are stark. The information is unprocessed, consisting of leaked documents. It is only given a loose filter for public interest, in contrast to mainstream news where coverage is largely determined by a story's ability to draw an audience. The website exists as a not-for-profit entity, so there is no interest in cultivating an audience; the audience of WikiLeaks is self-selected.

What this website does is it allows the news to create itself. The documents published on the website are of varying importance, and ultimately the audience will either determine the importance or relevance of individual pieces of information or will rely on an intermediary in other news media to determine which stories are the most worthy of attention.

WikiLeaks is also unique in that the material it covers is typically (at least initially) exclusive to the site. This adds to the power of WikiLeaks as a media outlet, in contrast to conventional outlets which parrot each other. There are similarities, however, with the Onion News Network that are not apparent on the surface. At both news outlets, the stories are unique and require a significant amount of interpretation on the part of the audience. While at the Onion there is a specific (often critical message) associated with the stories, at WikiLeaks the stories are the message and any criticism must be applied at the audience level.

Conclusion

Both WikiLeaks and the Onion News Network are unique news outlets, but they each play a very different role in the dissemination and processing of the news. The Onion functions with the same business model as traditional media, except that its stories are fictional. As a result, the message is subtle, but the consistency of delivery allows the audience to acquire the analytical tools necessary to understand the desired message. In contrast to these heavily-processed messages, WikiLeaks spurs critical thought precisely by providing unprocessed messages. These range from mundane to highly controversial, but the audience… [END OF PREVIEW]

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