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Influence of Media Reports on Public Policy and Opinion

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Whether a consumer, producer, or policymaker, everyone is impacted by information distributed through mass media. In this lesson, we are going to talk about media and economic decisions, and see how these interact.

Media, Policy, and the People

Why do you shop where you do? How do companies know to advertise to your demographic? And how in the world do policymakers have any idea if the economy is actually functioning? In modern society, all of these questions can come back to a single answer: mass media. Mass media describes information that is distributed on a large scale, and this information can have some major implications for both our daily lives and national policies.

Types of Media

Before we can get into interpreting mass media and economic decisions, we need to first understand how exactly information is being shared. Mass media is traditionally distributed in one of three ways. First is print media. Print media includes physical publications, from fliers to posters to pamphlets. Print media have been used very successfully across history to disseminate both information and propaganda.

Print media has long been used to distribute many kinds of messages, including ads like this one
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Next is broadcast media, which basically refers to radio and television. While print media may present information in visually appealing or digestible ways, broadcast media adds sound and sometimes movement as important components.

Broadcast media can add sound to the ways they distribute information
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Finally, we've got digital and social media. The internet (and internet-based outlets) have let people share information and access information on an unprecedented level. These technologies have also removed a degree of power from traditional sources that control the distribution of information, a process which many scholars call the democratization of knowledge and information. At the same time, these platforms tend to have less regulation and control, allowing incorrect information to gain a wider audience.

Media and the Consumer

When looking at mass media and economic reports, which is our focus today, there are three main groups of people we need to think about. First are the consumers, or people who purchase items. Consumers drive the economy through their individual decisions, and have found various media to be very helpful in making those decisions.

In American history, for example, the first newspaper ever printed was focused on the activities of the major ports of the 13 colonies. It discussed prices of goods, timetables for the arrival of products, and other factors to help colonial consumers make the most educated purchasing decisions possible. While the technology has changed some, we still use mass media to influence our place in the economy. Social media lets consumers share reviews, opinions, and tips and makes advanced economic knowledge more accessible to the average consumer.

While media can give consumers more options and information, it can be used to spread incorrect information, which is something consumers need to be aware of. Biases and partisan opinions are common features of an information landscape without regulation, and there have been times when many consumers made important purchasing decisions based on bad advice.

Media and the Producer

For as much as mass media impacts the consumer, it is also very important to the producer. People who are selling items into the market may be influenced by media in a variety of ways. For one, the type of media producers can access may influence their knowledge of government policies, trends in the global economy, stock rates, and major consumer habits. Better access to media may mean more access to information that could help producers survive in a competitive market.

Media can also be used by producers to control information about their product. From printing ads to broadcasting commercials to creating a social media account for the business, producers can attempt to bring information about their product directly to the consumer. Some producers rely so heavily on media to attract customers that they purchase space within major media outlets. The result is something called native advertising, in which the ad (paid for by the company) resembles the normal type of media being distributed.

For example, imagine going to an online news site. You've got several news articles that each promise to report the facts with journalistic integrity and neutrality. A producer may purchase advertising space on this site, then craft an ad that looks like a news article. It appears to be part of the media outlet, written by an unbiased journalist, but is actually an advertisement paid for by the producer to sell a product.

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