Media in the USA

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The U.S. media today is frequently known as the Fourth Estate, an appellation that suggests the press shares equal stature with the other branches of government created by the Constitution. The press, or "Fourth Estate" plays a vital role as a guardian of U.S. democracy. That role is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, adopted in 1789, stipulating that Congress not enact any laws abridging freedom of the press. U.S. media have traveled a long road since the first newspaper was published in Boston, Massachusetts in 1690. Within 50 years, magazines also began appearing in several major American cities. The advent of commercial radio at the beginning of the 20th century ended print's monopoly of the media in America, giving nationwide and, later, global audiences unprecedented access to live audio programs. Television an even more powerful medium, entered the scene shortly after World War II. Defying predictions of their decline, the other media have diversified to confront television's dominant appeal. Satellite technology has allowed U.S. TV networks, especially cable networks, to reach overseas audiences anywhere on the globe. Interactive media, fueled by the advance of digital technology and the growing convergence of the computer, telephone and cable television, represent the principal trend of the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st centuries.The print and electronic media in the United States, offering wide news and entertainment options, are a pervasive element in American society. According to a recent survey by Mediamark Research, 98% of Americans have a television; 82% of those watch "prime time" and 71% cable programming in an average week. Eighty-four percent of Americans listen to radio regularly. Seventy-nine percent are newspaper readers. Forty-five percent of the whole American population has access to the Internet, while for certain demographic groups that percentage reaches a high of close to 70%.Economics plays a major role in shaping the information served up to the U.S. public in newspapers, on radio and television, and now on the Internet. While nonprofit and advocacy organizations have significant voices, most of the public's primary sources of information -- major urban newspapers, the weekly news magazines, and the broadcast and cable networks -- are in business to make money. Media and communications, with revenues of over $242 billion, are one of America's largest business groups. In 2000, adult consumers of media information and amusement products spent over $675 a person. Advertisers spent an additional $215 billion to bring their products to the attention of the American public. The media are a great engine in American society, providing jobs for hundreds of thousands of technicians, writers, artists, performers and intellectuals and shaping attitudes and beliefs.

The public's right to know is one of the central principles of American society. The framers of the Constitution of the United States resented the strict control that the American colonies' British rulers had imposed over ideas and information they did not like. They determined that the power of knowledge should be placed in the hands of the people. To insure a healthy and uninhibited flow of information, they included freedom of the press among the basic human rights protected in the new nation's Bill of Rights. These first 10 Amendments to the Constitution of the United States became law in 1791. The First Amendment says, in part, that "Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…" That protection from control by the federal government meant that anyone -- rich or poor, and regardless of political or religious beliefs -- could generally publish whatever he or she wished.
Ever since, the First Amendment has served as the conscience and shield of all Americans. In those early days, the media, created by printing presses, were few and simple -- newspapers, pamphlets and books. Today the media also include television, radio, films and the Internet; and the term "the press" refers to any news operation in any media, not just print.
Few press laws are in force in the U.S. because of this broad constitutional protection of press freedom and analogous provisions in the constitutions of the 50 states. Existing laws tend to provide additional protections in categories not covered by the Constitution. The Privacy Act of 1974, for example, regulates the collection and dissemination of personal information contained in the files of federal agencies; the Privacy Protection Act of 1980 establishes protection from police searches of newsrooms. Additional examples include federal and state Freedom of Information and "sunshine" laws (such as the 1966 federal Freedom of Information Act) which opens up executive-branch records to public and press scrutiny.
The scope of U.S. press freedom has been determined principally by court decisions interpreting the nuances of the First Amendment. In general, the U.S. courts have held that the press has a "watchdog" role over government and is not subject to prior restraint or registration. On the other hand, defamation, obscenity and publication of national-security secrets have been generally determined not eligible for protection under the First Amendment.
In 1934, Congress set up the current oversight agency of the broadcasting industry, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The law vested in the FCC not only "watchdog" functions, but licensing and rulemaking powers, subject to "public interest, convenience, and necessity." Acting on this mandate, the FCC has sought to promote diversity in content and ownership in the broadcasting industry.

The first U.S. newspaper, Publick Occurrences: Both Foreign and Domestick, first published on September 25, 1690 lasted only one day before it was suppressed by British colonial authorities. Other newspapers quickly sprang up, however, and by 1730, the colonial press had gained sufficient stature to seriously challenge British governors. Historians consider the birth of America's free-press tradition to have begun with the 1734 trial of John Peter Zenger for seditious libel. After the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), this concept found a home in the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The First Amendment states: "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech or of the press..." These 14 words made it possible for a free press to develop over the next two centuries as one of America's strongest watchdogs over government actions and protectors of individual rights. In fact, one of America's greatest political journalists was one of its first, Thomas Paine. Paine's stirring writings urging independence made him the most persuasive "media" figure of the American Revolution against Britain in 1776.
By the early 1800s, the United States had entered a period of swift technological progress that marked the real beginning of the "modern media." The inventions of the steamship, the railroad and telegraph brought communications out of the age of windpower and horses. The high-speed printing press was developed, driving down the cost of printing. Expansion of the educational system taught more Americans to read. Publishers realized that a profitable future belonged to cheap newspapers with large readerships and increased advertising. The press went from a small upper class readership to mass readership in just a few years. It was a time that shaped a breed of editors who set the standard for generations of American journalists. Many of these men were hard-headed reformers who openly sided with the common men, opposed slavery and backed expansion of the frontier. They combined idealism with national pride, and their papers became the means by which great masses of new immigrants were taught the American way of life.By the 1820s, about 25 dailies and more than 400 weeklies were being published in the United States. Horace Greeley founded the New York Tribune in 1841, and it quickly became the most influential newspaper in America. Other important dailies, such as the New York Times, Baltimore Sun, and Chicago Tribune were founded in the 1850s. Two media giants, Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, began building their newspaper empires after the Civil War (1861-1865). Their fierce competition produced "yellow journalism" -- sensational and often inaccurate reporting aimed at attracting readers. "Chain" newspapers under the same ownership became a dominant feature in the early 20th century. In addition to the front-running Hearst chain, the Scripps-Howard and Cowles chains grew following World War I. That trend accelerated after World War II, and in 1990, a total of 135 groups owned 1,228 daily newspapers, accounting for about 75 percent of all U.S. dailies. In 1971, there had been 66 cities with two or more dailies owned by separate companies, while in 1995 there were only 36.In spite of the serious competition from television after World War II, more than two-thirds of American adults read a daily newspaper on an average weekday. The top five daily newspapers by circulation are: the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post. The number of dailies dropped from 1,763 in 1946 to 1,438 in 1999. However, the number of Sunday papers rose from 497 in 1946 to 905 in 1999, bringing total daily and Sunday papers to 2,388. This figure represents the highest number of newspapers with the highest total circulation -- 115 million -- for any country in the world. Today, American newspapers face competition not only from network TV, but from a whole spectrum of targeted and specialized media, including personalized web services, local cable programming, interactive television, special-interest publications, catalogs and other direct-mail initiatives. Newspapers are relying on new technology to meet the challenge. Through the Internet, electronic newspapers can be transmitted to hand-held computers and printed using personal computers

The same developments that spurred increased newspaper circulation -- faster printing methods, lower prices, the lure of advertising money --- also marked the beginning of mass appeal magazines. Several types of magazines emerged. The late 1800s saw the start of opinion journals still influential a century later, including the Atlantic Monthly, the Nation, and Harper's. The largest readerships were won, however, by magazines that catered to Americans' increasing leisure time and appetite for consumer goods, magazines such as Cosmopolitan, the Ladies Home Journal, and the Saturday Evening Post. Publishers were no longer just selling reading material; they were selling readers to advertisers. Because newspapers reached only local audiences, popular magazines attracted advertisers eager to reach a national audience for their products. By the early 1900s, magazines had become major marketing devices.
At the same time, a new breed of newspaper and magazine writer was exposing social corruption. Called "muckrakers," these writers sparked public pressure for government and business reforms. Yet magazines did not truly develop as a powerful shaper of news and public opinion until the 1920s and 1930s, with the start of the news weeklies. Time was launched in 1923 by Henry Luce (1898-1967). Intended for people too busy to keep up with a daily newspaper, Time was the first magazine to organize news into separate departments such as national affairs, business and science. Newsweek, using much the same format, was started in 1933. Other prominent news weeklies are Business Week and U.S. News and World Report.
Magazine publishers have increasingly tried to appeal to clearly-defined audiences. Computer technology has helped publishers to target special-interest audiences. As a result of this specialization, the number of periodicals published in the United States jumped from 6,960 in 1970 to close to 10,000 in 1999.

The beginning of regular commercially licensed sound broadcasting in the United States in 1920 ended the print monopoly over the media and opened the doors to the more immediate and pervasive electronic media. By 1928, the United States had three national radio networks - two owned by NBC (the National Broadcasting Company), and one by CBS (the Columbia Broadcasting System).
Though mostly listened to for entertainment, radio's instant, on-the-spot reports of dramatic events drew huge audiences throughout the Great Depression of the 1930s and World War II. President Franklin Roosevelt recognized the potential of radio to reach the American public, and during h is four terms (1933-1945), his radio "fireside chats" informed the nation on the progress of policies to counter the Depression and on developments during World War II. After World War II, television's visual images replaced the audio-only limitation of radio as the predominant entertainment and news vehicle. Radio adapted to the new situation by replacing entertainment programs with a format of music interspersed with news and features. In the 1950s, automobile manufacturers began offering car radios as standard accessories, and radio received a big boost as Americans tuned in their car radios as they drove to and from work.
The expansion and dominance of FM radio, which has better sound quality but a more limited range than traditional AM, represented the major technical change in radio in the 1970s and 1980s. FM radio, aided by the invention of ever smaller portable radios and inexpensive "Walkman" headsets, dominates music programs, while AM has shifted to "talk" and news formats. Barely in existence 25 years ago, "talk radio," in which celebrities and experts from various fields answer listener "call-in" questions and offer their advice on various topics, has grown spectacularly in recent years. It has contributed to the comeback of AM radio. Both FM and AM radio have become increasingly specialized. Music formats, for instance, comprise a variety of specializations -- the top five in 1991 being "country and western," "adult contemporary," "top 40," "religious" and "oldies."
In an era in which TV is clearly the glamour medium, the reach of radio is still awesome. Ninety-nine percent of American households in 1999 had at least one radio; the average is five per household. Every day, radio reaches 80 percent of the U.S. population at one time or another. Revenues more than doubled from $8.4 billion in 1990 to more than $17 billion in 1999.
In 1998, the number of U.S. commercial radio stations had grown to 4,793 AM stations and 5,662 FM stations. In addition, there are 1,460 public radio stations in the United States. Most of these stations are run by universities and public authorities for educational purposes and are financed by public and/or private funds, subscriptions and some underwriting. NPR (National Public Radio) was incorporated in February 1970 under the 1967 Public Broadcasting Act. NPR was created to provide leadership in national newsgathering and production and to act as a permanent nationwide interconnection of noncommercial stations

After World War II, American homes were invaded by a powerful new force -- television. The idea of seeing "live" shows in the living room was immediately attractive. The effects of this powerful medium are still being measured. Television has developed since World War II into the most popular medium in the United States, one that has had great influence on American way of life. Virtually every American household -- 98% in 1999 -- has at least one TV set. Seven in ten Americans in 1991 reported getting most of their news from TV. Three large privately-owned networks -- NBC, CBS and ABC -- claimed 90 percent of the TV market from the 1950s through the 1970s with free broadcasts.

Cable Television
However, the rapid spread of pay cable TV in the 1980s broke the hegemony of the big three. By 1999, close to 70% of American households had subscribed to cable TV. Cable TV, carried by coaxial and fiber-optic cables, originated in 1948 to better serve individuals in mountainous or geographically remote areas who could not receive over-the-air TV stations. The genesis of cable as it is known today stems from development of the domestic communications satellite, approved by the Federal Communications Commission in January 1973.The new technology offered cable programmers a cost-effective method of national and international distribution. In December 1975, Home Box Office, an all-movie channel owned by Time, Inc., became the first programmer to distribute its signal via satellite. The next service to use the satellite was a local television station in Atlanta owned by Ted Turner. It became known as the first "superstation," bouncing its signal off a satellite to reach a nationwide audience. The same technology allowed Turner in 1980 to found the Cable News Network, CNN, the world's first 24-hour all-news channel. By early 1993, MTV, the leading American rock music TV network, had an audience of 46 million in the United States and 32 other countries. Cable television has also been successfully used to reach very defined audiences. Beginning in the late 1970s, a growing number of U.S. cable systems began "narrowcasting" or offering television programming with an entire channel tailored to a narrow section of the audience.Advancing digital technology and increasing wiring of U.S. cities with fiber-optic cable that permits massive transmission of digital signals are giving cable TV subscribers a host of new interactive services. The convergence of the computer with TV is permitting a host of new "interactive" services in which the viewer no longer watches passively, for example "Movies on demand" which allows a viewer to choose between several thousand videos is one interactive service. Another example is "shop-at-home" channels.
Public Television
U.S. public television stations are independent and serve community needs. All public television organizations are linked nationally, however, through three national organizations: the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), created by Congress in 1967 to channel federal government funding to stations and independent producers; the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), formed in 1969 and which today distributes programming and operates the satellite system linking all public TV stations; and the National Association of Public Television Stations (NAPTS), which helps member public TV stations with research and planning. In addition to these public TV stations, there are a growing number of non-commercial stations run by Christian evangelistic ministries, which are, for the most part, supported by donations from viewers and member churches.

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