Common Knowledge: News and the Construction of Political Meaning

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University of Chicago Press, Oct 15, 1992 - Political Science - 172 pages
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Photo opportunities, ten-second sound bites, talking heads and celebrity anchors: so the world is explained daily to millions of Americans. The result, according to the experts, is an ignorant public, helpless targets of a one-way flow of carefully filtered and orchestrated communication. Common Knowledge shatters this pervasive myth. Reporting on a ground-breaking study, the authors reveal that our shared knowledge and evolving political beliefs are determined largely by how we actively reinterpret the images, fragments, and signals we find in the mass media.

For their study, the authors analyzed coverage of 150 television and newspaper stories on five prominent issues—drugs, AIDS, South African apartheid, the Strategic Defense Initiative, and the stock market crash of October 1987. They tested audience responses of more than 1,600 people, and conducted in-depth interviews with a select sample. What emerges is a surprisingly complex picture of people actively and critically interpreting the news, making sense of even the most abstract issues in terms of their own lives, and finding political meaning in a sophisticated interplay of message, medium, and firsthand experience.

At every turn, Common Knowledge refutes conventional wisdom. It shows that television is far more effective at raising the saliency of issues and promoting learning than is generally assumed; it also undermines the assumed causal connection between newspaper reading and higher levels of political knowledge. Finally, this book gives a deeply responsible and thoroughly fascinating account of how the news is conveyed to us, and how we in turn convey it to others, making meaning of at once so much and so little. For anyone who makes the news—or tries to make anything of it—Common Knowledge promises uncommon wisdom.
  

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Contents

List of Figures
ix
List of Tables
xi
Preface
xiii
Knowledge in Common
1
The Study Design
23
Five Issues Three News Media
39
Making Sense of the News
60
Media Matter
78
Learning from the News
96
Constructing Meaning
110
An Appendix on Method
123
Notes
141
References
145
Index
165
Copyright

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About the author (1992)

Professor of Communications at the Annenberg School, University of Pennsylvania, where he directs the Program on Information and Society at the Annenberg Public Policy Center.

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