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Research Proposal: Fear Mongering Nature of Media

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This research project aims to look at the discourse of media — in particular mass news media — in in its scaremongering, exaggerating and often narrowly negative-focused media tactics. The ethics of fear are highlighted, and how this process might undermine a ‘healthy’ and informed public in the modern attention economy.

This research project will seek to answer a particular set of pertinent questions plaguing the mass media ‘system’, and traverse beyond the already obvious and known to many media academia: the media has an clear process of instilling fear into the public, but why? And how deep is the pervasiveness of fear in the general public? Also, a look at the more critical questions: How are they fears of the average citizen preyed upon in the reportage of daily news, both online and offline? The commercial agenda of mass media corporations will be highlighted, in an a retrospective look at the political economy of media in relation to the consumers and producers.

In an age where most reportage in the mass network media is packaged in a sensationalised, fear-instilling way, we have created a public that has been carefully moulded to produce instant sensitivity to even the smallest accounts of crime or concern. Where every act by a lone gunman is immediately interpreted as an act of national terrorism, or where politicians move beyond the realm of highlighting public safety to using security warnings as part of the power-agenda politicking game, we have created a society that not only thrives on fear, but demands it. We fear the corruption of national authenticity with the arrival of boat people, body perceptions are preyed upon relentlessly in TV and advertising campaigns instilling fear of not being the best version of yourself, rather than just being yourself (Note this will be explained further through critical analysis of the global whirlwind reality TV phenomena known as ‘Keeping up the with Kardashians’), of which is furthered within the more networked publics that have a fear of missing out, that if they are not constantly highly attuned to media, they’ll miss the next ‘it’ thing (closely studied further with a look at the networked media usages of adolescents).

Media theorists have long debated models around the production and reception of mass media into the publics. The hypodermic needle theory, a spawn of the 1930’s behaviouralism movement, was coined first to analyse this. The agenda-setting theory (McCombs & Shaw) filled in the grey areas the hypodermic needle theory did not explain or explore, which was taken further by the media effects model (Bryant & Thompson) which replaced the early assumption of audiences being passive and homogenous in their reception to media. Both the agenda setting and the media effects model are used in this research essay to analyse and critique the effect that mass media has on the public through way of scaremongering and ‘moral panics’, though not using the hypodermic needle theory on the consideration that is now obsolete in fully explaining the process and effects of public fears.

The task will be carried out with close study of a collection of academic journals on various parts of the media ecosystem in relation to fear, and also of the networked usage of media technologies amongst adolescents, and also the usage of online articles written in exposition of the scaremongering system. The ‘online’ sources are used from veritable accounts, and many will be used that are published by writers and journalists who exist in the media scaremongering ecosystem themselves.

Tentative Bibliography

Brownlow, A. (2005) A Geography of Men’s Fear, Geoforum, 36, 5, 581

This explores the chronic fear of violent crime victimisation in young males across America, which is spurned on by hyper-masculinity perceptions imposed upon them by mass media. Useful to take a look at the scaremongering nature of media in the context of what visible (statistical) reaction it causes in a specific demographic.

Bryant, J., & Thompson, S. (2002). Fundamentals of media effects. New York : McGraw-Hill.

Core text when explaining the notion that media influences people,



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