Media in the United States, Part 1

Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I’m Bob Doughty.

And I’m Faith Lapidus. This week, we begin a two-part look at the media in the United States.

Americans get some of their news and entertainment from public television and radio. These public media receive money to operate from private citizens, organizations and government. Many of their programs are educational.

But most of the American media are run by businesses for profit. These privately owned media have changed greatly in recent years. Newspapers, magazines and traditional broadcast television organizations have lost some of their popularity. At the same time, online, cable and satellite media have increased in numbers and strength. So have media that serve ethnic groups and those communicating in foreign languages.

In general, more media than ever now provide Americans with news and entertainment. At the same time, fewer owners control them. Huge companies have many holdings. In some areas, one company controls much of the media.

One dramatic change in American media is the increased success of cable television. It comes into most homes over wires. It does not use the public airwaves, as broadcast television does. Like broadcast television, most cable television programs include sales messages. This is true although people must pay to see cable television in their homes.

Thirty years ago, few people had cable. Today, about sixty-eight percent of American homes have cable television. Television by satellite also is gaining popularity.

Over the years, traditional broadcast organizations have tried to appeal to as many watchers as possible. Many cable companies, however, present programs for one special group of viewers. For example, there are stations for people who like books, cooking, travel, golf or comedy.

Some cable channels also launched programs with sexual material or language that could not be used on broadcast television. American law considers that the broadcast airwaves belong to the public. So broadcast networks traditionally guarded against offensive content. But the networks have reacted to the popularity of cable by also showing more suggestive material.

In the past few years, “reality” television programs have become extremely popular. They show situations as they happen, without a written story. They cost less to produce than other kinds of programs.

In the United States, CBS Television started reality programs in two-thousand with “Survivor.” Sixteen people who did not know each other lived together on an unpopulated island for thirty-nine days. They had few supplies. They formed alliances. They also plotted against one another.

The cameras recorded the action as they competed to stay on the island. Each week the group voted one of the people off the island. The last one to remain took home one million dollars.

The computer has also changed American media. By two thousand, the government said more than half of American homes had computers. At least one person used the Internet in more than eighty percent of these homes. Other people use the Internet in schools, at work and at libraries.

The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press released a study of Internet use. The center’s Internet and American Life Project found that forty-four percent of Internet users share their thoughts on the Internet. Some write commentaries about politics and other issues on Web logs, or blogs.

The Pew Center says some young people today learn about politics in another non-traditional way. Earlier this year, the center questioned more than one thousand five hundred people. One in five who were younger than thirty said they usually get political information from television comedy programs. That is two times as many as four years ago. They watch programs like “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart and “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”

The studies also show that thirty-three percent of both young and older people said they sometimes learn about politics on the Internet. Their answers showed a nine percent increase in Internet use for this purpose since the last presidential election.

The Internet is also playing a financial part in political campaigns. For example, the candidates for president have received millions of dollars in gifts over the Internet.

The Project for Excellence in Journalism says almost forty-one million Americans watched nightly network news in nineteen ninety-four. By last November, that had dropped below thirty million.

Tom Brokaw of NBC, Peter Jennings of ABC and Dan Rather of CBS are the main reporters, or anchors, on these shows. Mr. Brokaw, however, plans to leave the position after the presidential election.

And just last week, CBS launched an independent investigation into a report on another news program on which Dan Rather appears. The recent report added to questions about President Bush’s military service during the time of the Vietnam War.

Mr. Rather presented some documents given to CBS News. Last week, however, he apologized. He said he could no longer trust that the documents were real.

The Project for Excellence in Journalism reports that eleven percent fewer people buy daily newspapers than in nineteen ninety. It also says many people no longer believe what they read in the newspapers. The project says that in nineteen eighty-five, eighty percent of readers trusted newspapers. In two thousand two, only fifty-nine percent said they believed what they read.

In May of last year, a reporter was forced to leave The New York Times. Jayson Blair invented facts in some stories or copied from other newspapers. And in January of this year, a top reporter at USA Today, Jack Kelly, resigned for similar reasons.

More recently The New York Times apologized for some of its reporting before the Iraqi war. It said it depended too much on information from unidentified officials and Iraqi exiles. Also, the Washington Post found weaknesses in its own reporting.

Another media story recently has involved some newspapers that lied about their circulation. The Chicago Sun-Times admitted misrepresenting its number of readers during the past two years. In addition, The Tribune Company reported that two of its publications had overstated the number of copies they sell.

It is natural for owners and investors to expect to make a profit, though some media owners say they would be happy just not to lose money. They say they are operating a newspaper or radio station mainly as a public service. But media organizations usually depend on money from businesses that advertise their products and services.

Reporters often express concern about pressure from media owners. Reporters sometimes say they cannot write some stories for fear of loss of advertising. But there are also many examples of aggressive reporting that serves the public interest.

Many people, though, say they do not believe they are always getting fair reporting. They often accuse journalists of supporting only one set of political beliefs.

The Pew Center reports that about twelve percent of local reporters, editors and media officials questioned say they are conservatives. This compares with thirty-four percent who identify themselves as liberals. The difference found between conservatives and liberals is even wider on the national level. But most journalists say they do not let personal opinion interfere with their reporting.

In the United States, newspapers serving ethnic groups and speakers of foreign languages are doing better than many others. Their popularity demonstrates America’s big gains of people of foreign ancestry, especially Hispanics and Asians. These groups are also watching and listening to an increasing number of television and radio stations in their own languages.

Next week, we tell about government and court decisions affecting media operators. And we present issues about freedom of expression in the media.

Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson and produced by Caty Weaver. I’m Faith Lapidus.

And I’m Bob Doughty. Join us again next week for the second part of our report about the media in the United States, on THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.