Final Paper #1–Marisa Pooley and Michael Vail
Most consumers of media rely on mainstream media outlets to access their daily news. Millions of viewers tune in to news broadcasted on mainstream sources, such as CNN and Fox News. In fact, 1,178,000 million viewers watched Fox News on February 17th, 2011. Averaging 1.1 million viewers per day, Fox News is obviously a trusted news source, (Ratings). Still, It is important to acknowledge agenda setting in media. Fox News carefully selects exactly which news stories to cover and just how to portray them. That is when alternative news sources become especially important. Often, alternative news sources cover media in different lights than mainstream outlets.
AlterNet.org is an example of an alternative news source that often frames news differently than mainstream news. Recently, Texas legislature prepared to vote on a bill which would make carrying concealed handguns legal for professors and students on college campuses. (AlterNet) Despite some bias to the story, AlterNet.org provides reliable coverage on this current event, in the article, “Scary: Texas About to Make it Legal to Carry Guns on College Campuses.” Meanwhile, Fox News took a very different approach to coverage of this news. The most recent article about Texas gun legislature on college campuses is from January 16th, 2008. The article, “University of Texas Students Want Guns on Campus,” talks about the battle between proponents and opponents of guns on Texas college campuses, (Fox News). There is no coverage, however, of the latest bill. Comparing AlterNet.org and Fox News, it becomes clear that alternative and mainstream news sources can cover the same story, but with two different versions.
AlterNet is a program owned by the Independent Media Institution. The IMI is a non-profit organization that “empowers people with independent journalism, information, and media tools,” (The IMI). The IMI’s mission is to broaden awareness by making “more points of view” available. The IMI is a relatively small organization, therefore funding for AlterNet comes from private foundations, individual donors, and site advertising. (The IMI).
The ownership of Fox News looks very different than that of AlterNet. Fox News is owned and operated by News Corporation. News Corp is the third largest media conglomerate in the world, (Wiki News Corp). Fox News was created in 1996 to directly compete with CNN. Fox News is a traditionally conservative news venue, generally with a right wing slant to its information. Reinforcing this popular notion, News Corp has donated to the Republican Party on various occasions.
Chapter four in the textbook, Converging Media, by John V. Pavlick discusses print media. At the end of the chapter, though, it talks about the online media trend. People would prefer to read “short pieces as opposed to long, in-depth features,” (Pavlick, p. 130). AlterNet writes its news with this in mind. The articles are between one and seven easy-to-read paragraphs. They are easily accessible to a variety of readers via length and word choice. Fox News’ online articles are usually a little longer, but they are crammed into fewer paragraphs. It is acceptable to guess that the anticipated education level of Fox News readers is higher than AlterNet’s, due to the word choice. Where AlterNet uses words like “Scary” and contractions like “isn’t,” Fox News uses “advocates” and “opponents.”
Converging Media also suggests the fact that audiences like to be active in their receipt of media. In chapter four, Pavlick says that “readers expect to be able to interact with authors and with each other through discussion forums, blogs, and chat rooms…” (Pavlick, p.130). AlterNet takes advantage of this. At the bottom of every news article, there is a “Join the discussion/leave comments on this article” button. AlterNet is inviting its audience to be active in reading the stories. “Scary: Texas About to Make it Legal to Carry Guns on College Campuses” has received thirty-five comments in just twelve hours. AlterNet also encourages its viewers to be active in the transmission of news. Provided at the bottom of the page are buttons to share the article on Facebook, Twitter, or email.
Fox News seems to perpetuate its conservative reputation by adhering to old models of media transmission. There is nowhere to leave comments on news stories on the Fox News website. There are no options to share the story on Facebook or Twitter, but if the viewer searches hard enough, they can find an “email this story,” option. It appears as though Fox News is encouraging its audience to passively accept its media messages.
There are at least three examples of evidence that is presented in the AlterNet version, but not in the Fox News version of the news. AlterNet’s article, “Scary: Texas About to Make it Legal to Carry Guns on College Campuses,” seems to have more current, relevant statistical information. It provides much information that the Fox News article, “University of Texas Students Want Guns on Campus,” does not. The first example of evidence solely on AlterNet helps emphasize the vast support for the bill. AlterNet says, “More than half the members of the Texas House have signed on as co-authors of a measure directing universities to allow concealed handguns,” (AlterNet on Guns). Another example of evidence only on AlterNet reveals that there are “more than 38 public universities and more than 500,000 students,” that would be affected by the passing of the bill. (AlterNet on Guns). As third example and oppositional support, AlterNet brings up college campus shootings of the past. The devastating shooting at Virginia Tech is one of the cases mentioned, where “more than 30 people [were] killed in the April 2007 carnage,” (AlterNet on Guns).
Fox News barely makes mention of shootings on college campuses. The only statistical evidence provided is that of a school shooting at the University of Texas at Austin, which happened in 1966. “Fourteen people died in 1966 when a gunman barricaded himself in the school’s tower and picked off victims until he was killed by Austin police,” (Fox News Guns). The fact that this incident ensued in Texas makes it relevant, however the fact that it happened almost fifty years ago slightly discredits it. Fox News does bring up the shooting at Virginia Tech, but oddly as support for the passing of the bill. Virginia Tech is used as backing by suggesting that students carrying guns could have stopped the killings in 2007. “And what difference would armed students have made in a situation like Virginia Tech, or, as a deterrent to the any number of individual assaults that may happen on college campuses across the country?” It is clear that the evidence in each source was carefully selected according to the media outlet’s agenda.
Even though AlterNet is an alternative media source, it is able to legitimize its position by citing the Associated Press and interviewing “experts.” Much of the facts in “Scary: Texas About to Make it Legal to Carry Guns on College Campuses” come from the Associated Press. This gives AlterNet credibility because the Associated Press delivers “unbiased news from every corner of the world,” (AP on Guns). The AlterNet article also quotes what could be called experts. After calling the Virginia Tech victims “A group that knows a thing or two about the consequences of carrying guns on campus,” they quoted Colin Goddard. Colin Goddard was shot four times during the tragedy at Virginia Tech. Goddard said in opposition for the proposed bill, “I was there that day. It was the craziest day of my life with one person walking around with two guns. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like with multiple students and multiple guns.” By quoting someone whose life was seriously impacted by guns on college campuses, AlterNet strengthens its article. It does give it a bias—framing the article to oppose the legalization of guns on college campuses in Texas—but the direct quotes legitimize AlterNet’s position.
The detail of the qualitative and quantitative research is what separates the two news sources. Despite Fox’s highly regarded reputation, their lack of information makes it a bland read for most people. Alternet’s more in depth but concise approach provides every aspect of the story, immersing the reader into deeper details. Even though one source stands out from the other, both articles are skeptical of the bill. It challenges the everyday ethics of humans as well as the danger involved. The LA times also takes a stand against the bill, conveying that it will raise questions pertaining to safety. Not only to the students, but to law enforcement. “Police don’t like liberal gun-carry laws because they endanger officers and create confusion: When a lot of people are waving guns around at a crime scene, it’s impossible to tell the good guys from the bad guys.”(Tri City). They bring an alternative view to the table, but they provide only a dearth of information like Fox News. These stories distress passion as well as thoroughness. Alternet’s quotes, as well as quantitative research, has shown that the little things can make the biggest difference.
Even though mainstream news sources have more iconic brands, alternative sources can be equally credible. Both Fox News and AlterNet.org present important, current news stories. They both discuss the issue of gun rights on college campuses, both with support and quotes to legitimize their position. However, it is very important to notice the slight differences in each, which can draw attention to agenda setting. Word choice, quotes, and references all play a role in the framing of the story. AlterNet uses its bias—obvious through word choice—to sway the viewer. The AlterNet author frames the story as “why legalizing guns is a bad idea,” while Fox News frames it as, “guns on college campuses may become legal.” Meanwhile, Fox News is better at presenting both sides of the story, but again, word choice seems to emphasize the negative effects of guns. Both AlterNet and Fox News have reliable information, but their differing agendas force the reader to be especially mindful of the source that delivers the news.