Charity Hitt MMC 6660 Blog

University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications

Research Paper Proposal

with 3 comments

Is Niche Programming Contributing to Viewers Who Are Less Informed in the Information Age?


Statement of Purpose:

In an age where audiences have unprecedented amounts of news, information and entertainment sources at their literal fingertips, are we using this access to information for good? Specifically, how are increasing amounts of niche networks and programming effecting our media consumption habits? Does an increase in access to niche content (through cable TV, internet, streaming devices, etc.) correlate to increased viewing of content directly related to our personal interests, and a decreased motivation to seek out educational or informational programming?


During graduate school, I have been a graduate teaching assistant for Media Programming. One of the most interesting topics that we frequently discuss is the idea that the audience is now becoming their own programmer.  With the birth and dissemination of several technologies, the viewer now has power more than ever before to choose the content which they are exposed to: The technology of digital recording devices (DVR) allows a viewer to pick and choose which shows to watch and when, the internet allows us to seek out and stream digital content and recommends content of similar natures, and Twitter and Facebook allows us to aggregate news and information from only our preferred sources.  I am curious to see how this affects our knowledge and desire to seek out information regarding the world around us.


Technological advancements across media platforms have led to media and audience fragmentation, making available an unprecedented wealth of content and information on almost any topic of interest, no matter how niche. In regards to the Internet, James Carey argues that stemming from the transmission view of communication, popular literature and technological conversation insists, “The profound possibility for moral improvement is present whenever these machines are involved” (Pg. 18, 1989).  While the possibility for moral improvement is certainly there, is that possibility being seized by the masses? With an availability of content that appeals so narrowly to the individual, have we become more concerned with our individual interests and less concerned with that which is of interest to our society as a whole?

In his book, The Dumbest Generation, author Mark Bauerlein laments the current generation as the least informed, least motivated, and all around dumbest to ever exist, in spite of their access to a wealth of knowledge they have been awarded through various technologies (2008).  Bauerlein and his research point to social media as one of the main instigators of this issue, claiming that these sites have helped the millennial generation to become experts in each other, as opposed to becoming experts on any other topic, forgoing their opportunity to seek out news or information about things outside of their social circles (2008).  However, social media isn’t the only form of communication that could be a factor, and the millennial generation isn’t the only one that could be effected.  With an increasing amount of niche networks, viewers of all ages are able to become experts in food, sports, home decorating, or reality tv stars; is this access to niche media content targeted at highly specific demographics and psychographics, having the same effect as Bauerlein describes with teens and social media?  More specifically, if we have greater access to media content that appeals to our personal interests, are we boxing ourselves in to a pattern of consuming the same types of media content, and is this content in place of, or in addition to educational or informative programming?

Using the theory of selective exposure as the basis for this study, I will explore viewer attitudes towards the increasing availability of niche networks and programming, and the way it effects their viewing choices, in particular how it effects their viewing of educational or informational programming.

Description of Research/Perceived Problems:

After initially researching this topic, I’ve found a wealth of information that is related to, but not replicated by this study.   There is an abundance of literature on the topic of selective exposure as it relates to political programming and media violence specifically, but the body of research is slimmer when it comes to niche programming.  There is also a wide array of research available on how Internet and increasing media use is effecting teens, but far less on how these issues are impacting other members of our society.  I will use the abundance of sources offered by the library and Internet in order to gather more information and build a literature review on this topic.

As a relatively new topic in the grand scheme of media research, I have already encountered of few issues in locating source material.  Utilizing the interlibrary loan capabilities has been helpful, as well as the relatively low cost of material on Amazon (where I ordered Baurlein’s book after it was unavailable through the library).  I have also requested a few academic studies directly from the authors, hoping to be granted temporary free access in order to incorporate their studies into a comprehensive review of the literature on this topic.


I plan to conduct this research through a survey.  The survey will be designed with early questions that categorize my sample by age, interests, media usage habits, and level of access to media content (basic broadcast, basic broadcast/internet, basic broadcast/cable/internet).  The latter part of the survey will ask questions related to the respondent’s news or educational programming consumption habits.  The questions will be designed to reveal whether the viewer’s consumption of educational programming have changed as their access to niche programming increased or decreased. The goal of these survey results is to determine if an increase in access to and viewing of niche content related to ones personal interests is directly correlated to a decrease in a respondent’s interest in and viewing of informational programming.

Works Cited

Bauerleing, Mark. (2008). The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Threatens Our Future.  New York: Penguin.
Baerling discusses his belief that though the current generation has more access to information than any other before them, because this generation has grown up with new media, they are less informed.  The author critically points to social networking as the basis for the problem.

Bryant, Jennings, and John Davies. (2006). Selective exposure processes. In Psychology of entertainment. Edited by Jennings Bryant and Peter Vorderer, 19–33. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
This chapter is an updated discussion of selective exposure, from Bryant and  Zillman’s previous text in 1985.  It is a curret overview of the process which a viewer undergoes when selecting entertainment programming. This particular text argues selective exposure is influenced by a viewer’s mood.

Carey, James. (1989). A cultural approach to communication. Communicatios as a Culture: Essays on Media and Society (pp. 1-23). Retrieved September 11, 2012, From
This text discusses two  different approaches to communication; the transmission approach and the ritual approach, both born from religious and moral context.  The transmission view approaches communication as the literal transmission of communication from sender to reciever, while the ritual view approaches it as a communal act.

Hartmann, Tilo, ed. (2009). Uses and gratifications as media choice. Media choice: A theoretical and empirical overview. New York and London: Routledge. Retrieved September 13, 2012, From
This text used the Uses and Gratification theory as a backdrop for their discussion on what drives certain personality types to view particular genres of programming, and how this guides their viewing decisions.

Weaver, A. J. and Kobach, M. J. (2012), The Relationship Between Selective Exposure and the Enjoyment of Television Violence. Aggr. Behav., 38: 175–184. Retrieved September 13, 2012, From
This study examines the correlation between the enjoyment of selective exposure to media violence, and the enjoyment of media violence.

Lee, P., Leung, L., & So, C. (2004). Toward Intelligent Societies: The Impacts of Globalization, Customization, Flexibility and Multiple Identities. Impact and Issues in New Media: Toward Intelligent Societies (pp. 1-20). Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, Inc.
This chapter is a collaborative effort of authors Lee, Leung and So, whcih  discusses the increase in societal problems that are prevalent as ICTs (information and communication technologies) permeate society.  The authors argue that we are equipped with access to more information than ever before, and the idea that an uniformed society is implausible; however it is not impossible.

Logan, R. (2010). Television. Understanding New Media: Extending Marshall McLuhan (pp. 192-203). New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.
This work is an update and extension of author Robert Logan’s former colleague and mentor, Marshall McLuhan.  The insightful chapther dedicated to television viewing shows the different ways in which new media effects television; for better and for worse.

Macnameara, J. (2010). Audience Fragmentation and demassification. The 21st Century Media (R)evolution (pp. 120-135). New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.
This chapter focuses on perceptions surrounding the mass audience, and its fragmentation.  The author questions whether a mass audience ever truly existed, and whether the fragmentation of audiences is only a result of more choices in media programming that cater to specific interests.

Messing, Solomon and Sean J. Westwood. (2011). An Era of Social Media Effects? How Social Media Change the Way We Consume News and Reduce Partisan Selective Exposure. Retrieved September 13, 2012, From
Through experiments in selective exposure and social media, the authors attempt to demostate that social ties, and the endorsement of information from those ties, directly correlates to why a viewer chooses selective exposure to certain media content.

Twenge, J. M. (2006). Generation Me: Why today’s young Americans are more confident, assertive, entitled–and more miserable than ever before. New York: Free Press.
Twenge exposes, using personal interviews as well as detailed research, how the newest generation of young adults differs, in an unfavorable way, from those of the past, and argues that new media is the source of the problem.

Zillman, D. and Jennings Bryant. (1985). Selective Exposure to Communication. Hillside, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
This text is an overarching review of selective exposure of media from both the viewpoints of a communications scholar and a psychology scholar. It discusses the process of selective exposure in television, in particular.


Written by charityhitt

September 16, 2012 at 8:43 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. This is good, BUT ” in the age of information, is our society a whole becoming less informed?” is much too broad for a short research paper – can you narrow to some aspect that you could view as a chapter in your thesis?

    Ronald R. Rodgers

    September 16, 2012 at 10:58 pm

    • Do you feel like I have narrowed it down enough, specifying that this paper will focus solely on niche networks and how they effect media consumption habits? Or do I need to go even further, such as identifying one niche network and how it has an effect on its viewers’ media consumption habits?

      Thanks for your help!


      September 17, 2012 at 1:56 pm

      • Yes, this seems much more doable within the constraints.

        Ronald R. Rodgers

        September 25, 2012 at 3:52 pm

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