In today's society, the distribution of information is controlled largely by the print and electronic media. Directly and indirectly, media affect the way in which people learn about their world and form opinions on the salient topics of the day, heavily influencing the process of social relations and the slant or spin applied to the news. This becomes most apparent when one analyzes the ways in which the media guide people's relationships with social institutions (e.g., educational, religious, governmental).
Lacking the time and ability to interact personally with every social institution, individuals depend on the media for information about a variety of issues. Media may not always be largely responsible for public opinion, but there are many documented cases in which this has occurred.
When the bulk of collective knowledge of a given issue is determined by the news media, the press becomes a major factor in the formation of social attitudes and beliefs. According to David Fan, has it been suggested not only that media shape public views of political issues but that they also mold opinion within specific agenda items. Michael Herzfeld maintains it is no exaggeration to say that in the United States, media are a major force in society: They create as much as they reflect the events taking place in the nation.
While individual, seemingly insignificant messages conveyed in the media might appear to have minimal effect, they may accrue over time and form long-term trends of public opinion that affect the outcome of public debate. This entry examines the portrayal by media of the relationship between bilingual education and immigration and provides a context for it in the broader dynamic of society and the press.
Given that media play an important role in the construction of public opinion and have the potential to directly affect the political process, it is important to understand the impact that individual media forms have and how they are consumed by the public. There are special characteristics of newspapers that help to shape public opinion. While many people elect to watch television and/or listen to the radio for their news and information, the printed format of newspapers offers specific advantages.
Newspapers are not limited by time. Readers can afford to devote more time to read and review print news and editorializing and to choose when and where they will do so. This lack of time constraint also allows newspapers to present many more stories than broadcast news on radio or television. This entry focuses on print media in one state and how it influenced the public's view of a ballot initiative to abolish bilingual education in that state