Dissemination of Information in Media

This is an academic research that tackles the notion of selective dissemination of information in media outlets and how policy and agenda shapes the information transmitted and conceived by the public sphere. The research contains several studies on methods of communication, concept of information, and the power of the media outlets, especially journalistic ones.



The Power of Information

Information is a vital necessity for human kind during daily life, not for the mere absorbance of data, but it serves a lust of curiosity and questioning. With that, the holder of information has great power, thus journalism, the key holder and transmitter of information is called the “4th authority”. After the Information Technology (IT) revolution in the early 90s, the flow of data has moved from big to enormous, in addition to gaining great speed due to emergence of the World Wide Web.

The tools of transmitting information have been evolving rapidly and widely which identifies its critical role in each society and sub-society and is vital for the process of communication. Nevertheless, with this great amount of data consumed, it only serves a small part of what information there is in the world. This triggers the argument of selective dissemination of the data being transmitted.

Information is communicated knowledge received by a concerned party, and by concept, it is a message, regardless by the means, channels, and nature of the content. According to an Oxford University study by Luciano Floridi, the notion of information has been always related to the terms of constraint, communication, control, data, form, knowledge, mental stimuli, pattern, and perception.

These terms would grants an overall idea of the power of information in shaping ideas and controlling/freeing societies. Not only have the media moguls took over one of the most powerful global authorities, they have also used it to move crowds and transmit information that they want the public to see. Manipulation of reports is another issue as well, yet the directed flow and selective choice of information transmitted contains a bigger and wider scope to be tackled by citizens in search for the true story.




The IT revolution has created a waterfall of data emerging, especially, from the news websites. Thus these sites select specific types of information to be transmitted or communicated with its audience. The process of “Selective Dissemination of Information” (SDI) did not start during the internet age; the latter only gave a bigger role for its presence due to the huge number of websites. SDI has existed in media outlets ever since the creation of the first newsletter, then other forms of print media, radio, to reach cable TV and satellite channels.

The term does not denote selecting a specific type of information to the general audience; it indicates that the news tool would present specific topics for a specific target audience. It is based on the concept of an “interest profile”, where the selection of the presented news is related to particular keywords in the audience’s profile.

This is also related to the VALS II (Values, Attitudes, and Life Style) psychoanalysis for target audiences in advertising (as in figure1), since costumers’ potentiality is reflected by their psychological traits that drive their consumer behavior. This does not differ from media selection of specific information to be presented to its specific end user or viewer.



VALSII eight types and two critical concepts of understanding consumers. Motivation and resources help one express in a marketplace

VALSII eight types and two critical concepts of understanding consumers. Motivation and resources help one express in a marketplace




Information Elite and their Counterparts

In terms of media news outlets, information selection does not pause at mere financial revenues for an institute; the concept of SDI follows also standards of societal hierarchy. The classical information system resembles societal resources distribution in most countries, if not all. The pyramid shaped structure is divided into four parts (as in figure 2), the hierarchy depends on the level and amount of information each individual of each rank has.

Executives, or the elite, owners of the media channel and the ones who have all of the information outlet and news resources related to it, they perform perfect expert analysis on news items, know the whereabouts of lower levels, and most importantly, place the policy that the new outlet should work on.

Senior managers, they are the liaison and supports of the upper management’s decisions, their job is to make sure that the management policy is being practiced by Middle Managers and Workers. In media outlets, they are the editors-in-chief; most of their job is final approval on news content and presentation style.

Middle Managers are known in media channels as managing editors and the heads of their department; they are more practical in news production process than their senior managers, in a sense that news organization and operational management is their duty.

While Workers, or the journalists, editors, freelancers, and correspondents, are order takers and news collectors. They are the logistics part of the pyramid and they only absorb huge data through time to be able to form their own reservoir of information as the previous levels have.

One additional part, which is not directly attached to the pyramid, is the end user or the news consumer. At this level, the information gradually decreases in intensity and amount until it becomes more and more direct as it moves down the pyramid and reaches the consumer.


Classical pyramid form of hierarchy in media outlets and downward process of direct dissemination of information

Classical pyramid form of hierarchy in media outlets and downward process of direct dissemination of information



Communication Model and Theories

The models of communication are various, yet disseminating information holds the model of a one way message with no interaction with the actual public such as it is evident in the web 2.0 sites. This model cancels all forms of receiving information directly from the public and their feedback. Disseminating usually includes posters, radio, TV, and publications; it only involves informing the public. Nevertheless, it creates awareness and reaches those who did not participate in the message communicated.

Communication theories are of three parts:

1-      Linear Model of Communication:

It’s a one-way mode of communication; this model consists of sending a particular message from sender to receiver without the ability of feedback from the latter in any way possible. This is applicable in mass media tools such as TV, Radio, and Newspapers.

2-      Interactive Communication:

It’s a double linear model stacked above each other. Communication is of two ways with feedback from the receiver. This is used in text messaging, journalistic interviews of Q/A, and discussions.

3-      Transactional Communication:

It’s close to the interactive model of communication, yet there would be only nonverbal feedbacks from the receiver. It involves all parts of the audience and creates a reaction of the manner the message is being interpreted; such as lectures where the audience would only share a facial-nonverbal feedback by either nodding or other expressions of reciprocals.



Media Policy Directs Thoughts

Other forms of communication theories which directs the public opinion by communicating the messages endorsed by the owners of that message, also known as the channel’s owners; the Agenda Setting theory is the creation of what the public thinks is important.

This is implemented by placing the “important” issues on the main headlines and covering them as main stories as well, while giving other “unimportant” issues lesser space and time on the channel’s ability to send or broadcast its newsfeed.

In that sense, media channels filter and shape the reality into something more appropriate to its views, and focusing on certain issues to grant a level of importance that’s automatically adopted by the receiving audience, which has given the media tools success in shaping and molding people’s perception of what to think of.

The notion does not only consist of what type of news is brought, but also the angle taken to report the subject. The angle is first reported by journalists and filtered by the gatekeepers of journalistic firms which indirectly molds the way the audience might perceive and interpret the message.

With such forms of basics of communication, the media policy forms cultural and social perception of the reality outside the TV set or the paragraphs on the newspaper.

The difference that lies between the audiences of the channels is they are either heavy users or light users. The first is constant consumers for many hours which absorb the perception propagated while the latter would resort to several sources in order to get the view of the subject.

The Hypodermic Needle theory, or Magic Bullet, is an evolutionary model of mass communication due to strengthening factors:

1-      Popularity of Radio and TV

2-      Emergence of persuasive communication industries such as PR and advertising

3-      Impact of motion pictures on children

4-      Usage of propaganda, especially during WWII by Hitler

This model is concerned by “injecting” a certain message in the viewer in order to create the proper response; it is based on the direct flow of information from sender to receiver.

This is applicable mostly to passive uneducated viewers, since the higher and educated class which has created a knowledge gap due to certain factors, according to Tichenor, Donohue and Olien (1970):

1-      People of higher income and education have better communication skills and knowledge of those who are poor and uneducated.

2-      People of higher income can store information easily and relate it to background information

3-      People of higher socioeconomic status might have a more relevant social context

4-      People of higher socioeconomic status are better in selective exposure, acceptance and retention

5-      The nature of the mass media itself is that it is geared toward persons of higher socioeconomic status

And finally, the Two Step Flow theory by Paul Lazarsfield, Bernard Berelson, and Hazel Gaudet; the theory provides that opinion leaders transfer the message via a channel to their target audience, whom are heave users, which in turn propagate the same message to their social environment.

Opinion leaders are very influential and can change behaviors and attitudes of their main target audiences easily, whom then influences their social background with the same original message sent.

The usage of such methods has created a mass perception of what the media policy aims for. This acts as a proof of the power of journalism and its great authority in informing the crowd, molding perceptions and shaping their realities.






Books and Articles:

–          Luciano Floridi (2010).Information – A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-160954-4. “The goal of this volume is to provide an outline of what information is…”

–          Laudon, K.C. and Laudon, J.P. Management Information Systems, (2nd edition), Macmillan, 1988.

–           Craig, Robert T. (May 1999). “Communication Theory as a Field” (PDF). Communication Theory (Blackwell Publishing Ltd.;International Communication Association9 (2): 119–161. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2885.1999.tb00355. Retrieved Jan. 8, 2011.

–          Barnlund, D. C. (2008). A transactional model of communication. In. C. D. Mortensen (Eds.), Communication theory (2nd ed., pp47-57). New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction.

–          Littlejohn, S.W. and Foss, K.A. (2008). Theories of human communication, 9th edition. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.

–          McCombs, M.E., and D.L. Shaw. (1993). The Evolution of Agenda-Setting Research: Twenty-Five Years in the Marketplace of IdeasJournal of Communication. Vol. 43, No. 2, p. 58 – 67

–          Cohen, B. (1963). The Press and Foreign Policy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-87772-346-2

–          McCombs, Maxwell E.; Donald L. Shaw (1972). “The Agenda-Setting Function of Mass Media”. Public Opinion Quarterly 36 (2): 176. doi:10.1086/267990ISSN 0033-362X.

–          Gerbner, G., Gross, L., Morgan, M., & Signorielli, N. (2002). “Growing up with television: The cultivation perspective” in M. Morgan (Ed.), Against the mainstream: The selected works of George Gerbner (pp.193-213). New York: Peter Lang.

–          Cohen, J. & Weimann, G. (2000). “Cultivation Revisited: Some Genres Have Some Effects on Some Viewers”. Communication Reports, 13(2), 99.

–          “The People’s Choice,” (Lazarsfeld, Berelson and Gaudet, 1944/1968)


–          http://liustudentsforum.blogspot.com/2011/03/theories-of-mass-media.html

–          http://www.strategicbusinessinsights.com/vals/ustypes.shtml


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