Raising the Ante

Raising the Ante
The Internet's Impact on Journalism Education and
Existing Theories of Mass Communication

A Symposium in Honor of Philip Meyer, Knight Chair in Journalism,
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

March 27-28, 2008

Freedom Forum Conference Center
School of Journalism and Mass Communication
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

| Philip Meyer's Raising the Ante: Then and Now |
| J. Walker Smith's Wrap Up: Projects and Approaches |


Theodore Morrison, who taught at Harvard and mentored many developing writers (e.g. George Weller, A.B. Guthrie) said that one of the basic themes of narrative writing is the “parallel with a difference.” It could be a useful frame for a systematic look at the new media system now unfolding before our eyes. While we are naturally inclined to examine the new with the terms and concepts that we used to study the old system, we do so at some risk. In focusing on the parallels, we could miss the differences. Further research is needed to determine how the Internet will affect not only news media but the underlying theories that have shaped mass-communication research for decades.

This conference brought together a variety of media scholars to look at the emerging new system in the light of existing theories of mass communication. It also considered how research and theory can be of service to the practice of journalism in the information age.

Theories examined (click theory title to view papers submitted by symposium participants):

  1. Internet use and community ties. Keith Stamm (1985) established some connections between newspaper use and community ties. It is time to explore a possible parallel connection with the Internet, including the possible establishment of communities that are not geography based.
  2. Two-step flow. Lazarsfeld's 1940 discovery has been replicated many times, but little has been done to explore the role of the Internet in information that flows from media to opinion leaders and then to wider audiences. Should we now talk about a multi-step flow? Or a two-way flow?
  3. Agenda setting. Replication of the 1968 work of Shaw and McCombs is planned for 2008. Who sets the agenda today? The mainstream media, the bloggers, PR practitioners?
  4. Cultivation. George Gerbner has shown that the scary, violent world of television drama is more real to the public than the actual world. As the Internet cuts into TV watching time, what will happen to his scary-world hypothesis and the cultivation effects of entertainment media.
  5. Minimal effects. Since the 1950s we have rejected the idea that the media have immediate, direct, and powerful influence on their audiences. Should that be revisited in the light of recent cases involving YouTube, Facebook, and blogging?
  6. Goodbye, Mr. Gates. The speed with which awareness of a problem or issue diffused used to depend on a few decision makers. (Abe Rosenthal's suppression of the AIDS story is the textbook example.) Are the gatekeepers irrelevant now that the fences are down?
  7. Diffusion theory. Rogers and Shoemaker found that diffusion of innovation starts slowly, accelerates, then levels off - like the left half of the normal curve. With individuals exposed to so many more stimuli through the Internet, does a different pattern emerge or does it just develop faster?
  8. Uses and gratifications. Which of the uses and gratifications of the traditional media can be transferred to Internet media? What does the Internet provide that the old media can't?
  9. Methodology. Survey research by telephone has run afoul of technology, but the Internet creates some new opportunities. Where are we headed?

This symposium honored Philip Meyer, who retired as Knight Chair in Journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008. Meyer has been at the forefront of applying social-science research methods to the practice of journalism. His 1973 book, "Precision Journalism,"was listed byJournalism Quarterly as one of 35 significant books of the 20th century on journalism and mass communication. His most recent book is "The Vanishing Newspaper: Saving Journalism in the Information Age," published in 2004.

Meyer is a fellow of the Society of Professional Journalists and has received career awards from AAPOR, the National Press Foundation, the Freedom Forum Media Studies Center and the Research Federation of the Newspaper Association of America. In 2005, the Philip Meyer Journalism Award was established to recognize annually the best journalism using techniques that are part of precision journalism, computer-assisted reporting and social-science research.