Effects of Media Diversity

Currently, people understand America as a nation with many viewpoints.  But they may not understand the true diversity of viewpoints because of the way our media have developed. 

Online, it is accepted.  Social media and internet applications encourage the “everyone’s a journalist” attitude.  It is easy to see how we can live in our own bubbles online by surrounding ourselves with social media friends that agree with us.  If someone offends me, I simply defriend them or reduce their messages to me.  

It is not so easy to realize that we are seeing the same thing on television. As streaming services and pay channels fight for subscribers, the use exclusive content like Game of Thrones (and many others) to garner dedicated viewers.   In the last 10 years, the number (and quality) of original scripted dramas have gone up dramatically.  I wrote about this in a book chapter four years ago so I don’t have the current numbers but I would estimate that we may be seeing close to 600 scripted television shows a year right now compared to 150 ten years ago.  

This morning I read that Netflix is trying to break into the talk show market and that Breitbart (ultra-conservative) is hurting (in addition to attacks from liberals) because of competition in the space.  It seems that in every element of communication there is growing diversity.   

Many years ago, an age of three of four major networks, we talked about a “cultivation” effect.  Programs had to appeal across demographic so the values presented in the programs pushed all toward the center (as if covering the seeds).  Not only is that not necessary, it may no longer be the best business model. Rather than large investment in a show tested to bring people together, it may be easier to appeal to a more narrow demographic on a smaller budget.  

However, the current diversity is not leading toward more inclusion, it is leading toward more division.  The age is quickly coming that I predicted nearly 30 years ago at my Ph.D. at Michigan State.  A person can live happily in a group of programs that reinforce their own world view. Diversity in our communication system is increasing, it is not bringing people together, it is splitting them apart.  I no longer have to hear your viewpoint because our communication experience no longer has to be the same.  

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