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Common Knowledge: News and the Construction of Political Meaning

Overview

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, ...

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Overview

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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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
Argues that something is amiss in the nexus between the political process, the news media, and the citizenry of the US, based on the fact that only about half the eligible people voted in 1988, and on in-depth interviews in which people said they had no interest in issues they had no control over and which did not affect their lives. Rather than assign culpability, offers a new theory of political communication, called constructionism. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

Table of Contents

List of Figures
List of Tables
Preface
1 Knowledge in Common 1
2 The Study Design 23
3 Five Issues, Three News Media 39
4 Making Sense of the News 60
5 Media Matter 78
6 Learning from the News 96
7 Constructing Meaning 110
An Appendix on Method 123
Notes 141
References 145
Index 165
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