Mass media are the means through which information is transmitted to a large audience. This includes newspapers, television, radio, and more recently the Internet. Those who provide news and information, and the outlets for which they work, are known as the news media.
Public sector news media
The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) is the primary non-profit television service, with 349 member public broadcasters. News and public affairs programs include PBS NewsHour, Frontline, and Washington Week. In September 2012, PBS rated 88% above CNN in public affairs programming, placing it competitively with cable news outlets but far behind private broadcasters ABC, CBS, and NBC. PBS does not produce 24-hour news, but some member stations carry MHz WorldView, NHK World, or World as a digital subchannel.
National Public Radio (NPR) is the primary non-profit radio service, offered by over 900 stations. Its news programming includes All Things Considered and Morning Edition.
PBS and NPR are funded primarily by member contributions and corporate underwriters, with a relatively small amount of government contributions.
Other national public television program distributors include American Public Television and NETA. Distributors of radio programs include American Public Media, Pacifica Radio, Public Radio International, and Public Radio Exchange.
Public broadcasting in the United States also includes Community radio and College radio stations, which may offer local news programming.
Private-sector news media
There are thousands of newspapers in the United States. Some are available throughout the country, such as the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune (owned by the New York Times), the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times (owned by Tribune Publishing), as well as news magazines such as Time and Newsweek. They often keep editorial opinions in separate columns from news.
The largest private-sector media companies in the U.S. are The Walt Disney Company, 21st Century Fox, News Corp, Time Warner, Time Inc., Viacom and CBS Corporation. Comcast Corporation, one of the largest telecommunications companies in the U.S., also has considerable media holdings.
Holdings include: the CBS Television Network, CBS Television Distribution Group, the CW (a joint venture with Time Warner), Showtime, book publisher Simon & Schuster, 27 television stations, and CBS Radio, Inc, which has 140 stations. CBS also supplies video to Google's Video Marketplace.
Media-related holdings are primarily through Comcast-owned NBCUniversal, and include: cable television networks NBC and Telemundo, Universal Pictures, Focus Features, 26 local television stations throughout the United States, and cable networks MSNBC, Bravo and Syfy.
21st Century Fox
Holdings include: the Fox Broadcasting Company, television and cable networks such as Fox, Fox News Channel, Fox Business Channel, Fox Sports, National Geographic Channel, FX, 27 local television stations, film production companies 20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight Pictures and Blue Sky Studios and a 39.14% stake on Sky plc.
Holdings include: the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, the magazines Barron's and SmartMoney, book publisher HarperCollins and numerous Web sites including MarketWatch.com.
Holdings include: CNN, the CW (a joint venture with CBS), HBO, Cinemax, Cartoon Network, TBS, TNT, America Online, MapQuest, Moviefone, Netscape, Warner Bros. Pictures, Castle Rock and New Line Cinema.
Holdings include: over 150 magazines such as Time, Cooking Light, Marie Claire and People
Holdings include: Music Television, Nickelodeon, VH1, BET, Comedy Central, Paramount Pictures, Paramount Home Entertainment, Atom Entertainment, publishing company Famous Music and music game developer Harmonix. Viacom 18 is a joint venture with the Indian media company Global Broadcast news.
The Walt Disney Company
Holdings include: ABC Television Network, cable networks including ESPN, the Disney Channel, SOAPnet, A&E and Lifetime, 227 radio stations, music and book publishing companies, production companies Touchstone, Miramax and Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios, and the cellular service Disney Mobile.
Major news sources
Major providers of television news:
Major newspapers include:
Major news magazines:
Public attitudes regarding news media
The "Pew Research Center for the People & the Press" has been tracking views of press performance since 1985, and the overall ratings remain quite negative. Fully 66% say news stories often are inaccurate, 77% think that news organizations tend to favor one side, and 80% say news organizations are often influenced by powerful people and organizations. The widely shared belief that news stories are inaccurate cuts to the press’s core mission: Just 25% say that in general news organizations get the facts straight while 66% say stories are often inaccurate. As recently as four years ago, 39% said news organizations mostly get the facts straight and 53% said stories are often inaccurate." (Views of the News Media: 1985-2011 Press Widely Criticized, But Trusted More than Other Information Sources, Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, www.people-press.org)
An important role which is often ascribed to the media is that of agenda-setter. Wasserman describes this as "putting together an agenda of national priorities — what should be taken seriously, what lightly, what not at all". Gary Wasserman calls this "the most important political function the media perform." Agenda-setting theory was proposed by McCombs and Shaw in the 1970s and suggests that the public agenda is dictated by the media agenda.
Agenda-setting in domestic politics
In a commercialized media context, the media can often not afford to ignore an important issue which another television station, newspaper, or radio station is willing to pick up. The media may be able to create new issues by reporting and should that should be considered seriously. Also, they can obscure issues by reporting through negligence and distraction. If persons are affected by high crime rates, or unemployment, for instance, the media can reduce the time they report on potential solutions, the nature of class-based society or other related issues. They can reduce the direct awareness of these problems on the lives of the public. The media can make the problem in essence "go away" by obfuscating it. The public can go away to another media source, so it is in the media's commercial interest to try to find an agenda which corresponds as closely as possible to peoples’ desires. They may not be entirely successful, but the agenda-setting potential of the media is considerably limited by the competition for viewers' interest, readers and listeners. It is difficult to see, for instance, how an issue which is a major story to one television station could be ignored by other television stations.
Different US media sources tend to identify the same major stories in domestic politics, which strongly implies that the media are prioritizing issues according to an exogenous set of criteria.
Agenda-setting in foreign policy
One way in which the media could set the agenda is if it is in an area in which very few Americans have direct experience of the issues. This applies to foreign policy. When American military personnel are involved, the media needs to report because the personnel are related to the American public. The media is also likely to have an interest in reporting issues with major direct effects on American workers, such as major trade agreements with Mexico. In other cases, it is difficult to see how the media can be prevented from setting the foreign policy agenda.
McKay lists as one of the three main distortions of information by the media "Placing high priority on American news to the detriment of foreign news. And when the US is engaged in military action abroad, this 'foreign news' crowds out other foreign news".
Horse race approach to political campaign coverage
American news media are more obsessed than ever with the horse-race aspects of the presidential campaign, according to a new study. Coverage of the political campaigns have been less reflective on the issues that matter to voters, and instead have primarily focused on campaign tactics and strategy, according to a report conducted jointly by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, part of the Pew Research Center, and the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Harvard University, which examined 1,742 stories that appeared from January through May 2007 in 48 news outlets. Almost two-thirds of all stories in US news media, including print, television, radio and online, focused on the political aspects of the campaign, while only one percent focused on the candidates’ public records. Only 12 percent of stories seemed relevant to voters’ decision-making; the rest were more about tactics and strategy.
The proportion of horse-race stories has gotten worse over time. Horse-race coverage has accounted for 63 percent of reports this year compared with what the study said was about 55 percent in 2000 and 2004. “If American politics is changing,” the study concluded, “the style and approach of the American press does not appear to be changing with it.”
The study found that the US news media deprive the American public of what Americans say they want: voters are eager to know more about the candidates’ positions on issues and their personal backgrounds, more about lesser-known candidates and more about debates. Commentators have pointed out that when covering election campaigns news media often emphasize trivial facts about the candidates but more rarely provide the candidates' specific public stances on issues that matter to voters.