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Impact of media evolution on politics

Media's impact on politics has evolved over time, from newspapers to radio, TV, and now social media. This shift has increased diversity in viewpoints but also raised concerns about echo chambers and polarization. Skepticism towards media and government has also grown. The future of political discourse continues to change with new mediums.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] In this video, we're gonna talk about the impact of media on politics, and in particular, we're gonna think about how media has changed over time and how that might change political discourse over time or how it might change people's views over time. So if we rewind many hundreds of years, you have the printing press that was invented in the mid 15th century and then the early 17th century you have your first printed newspapers. And so, much of early American history, the main form of media was the newspaper. And this is actually a picture of the New York Tribune from 1864, and you see it doesn't look all that different from some of the newspapers today. And so you can imagine in the 18th and 19th century, newspapers were the most powerful way of getting views out. In fact, many of these historical documents that we study in American history like the Federalists Papers, these were published in newspapers in order to affect public opinion. But then as we start to enter into the 20th century, technology starts to give us more forms of mass communication and mass media that might affect political discourse. So this is a picture of folks listening to a radio broadcast in the early 20th century. And there would have been entertainment over these broadcasts, but there would also have been news. And so you can imagine that this affected people's views of politics. Politicians, leaders started to give speeches over radio. And as you get into the mid 20th century, TV becomes more and more pronounced of an influence on politics. This is a picture of Walter Cronkite, famous for being one of the most respected journalists in all of television and the first to broadcast a nightly news in the mid 20th century. Now, as you get to the late 20th century, not only did you have the major networks broadcasting news, but you start having the advent of cable news networks, so you start having a larger diversity of people who are giving news. And then as you get into the internet age, it explodes. You have blogs and news websites that start more and more to cater to specific views. And then with the advent of social media, you have a way for leaders or people who influence other people's thought to directly influence or directly communicate with those that follow them, whether we're talking about Twitter, or Facebook, or Instagram. And so an interesting question is how has this affected political discourse. How has this affected politics? So, many people would view this as a positive thing, that back in the day it took a lot of capital, it took a lot of resources to print and publish a newspaper, it took a lot of resources to nationally broadcast news, and so it was a limited number of groups that could get the views out, while as you have the internet and social media, anyone can communicate with anyone else. And so this would have increased the number of media choices and increased the number of points of views that are out there. Now, others would argue that, well, that might be good, but maybe there are negative consequences to it as well. In the days of Walter Cronkite, everyone was kind of operating with the same information. But with social media, more and more people fear that we're living in our own echo chambers, that we tend to follow people who already believe what we believe, that we tend to go to the media sites that reinforce our existing beliefs, and so it is polarizing. And it could also be polarizing because we have to think about the economics of media. Many of these media outlets are for-profit businesses, and so they have to think how do we get the maximum viewership, and that might be catering to what people already believe in or increasing the polarization, maybe demonizing the other side. Now, many people would also argue along with that increased polarization and with this increased diversity that more and more people are just doubtful of any news source, of any media source, and so they just become more skeptical and cynical of not just media, but the government as well. So it's an interesting phenomenon that we are living in as we speak. As much change as the newspaper or the radio or television broadcasts happened, we are now in this time of accelerating change where every few years it feels like there's a new medium coming out and it's interesting to see how that will continue to evolve and affect our political discourse.