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War of the Worlds to Social Media

Mediated Communication in Times of Crisis


Edited By Joy Elizabeth Hayes, Kathleen Battles and Wendy Hilton-Morrow

Seventy-five years after the infamous broadcast, does War of the Worlds still matter? This book answers with a resounding yes! Contributors revisit the broadcast event in order to reconsider its place as a milestone in media history, and to explore its role as a formative event for understanding citizens’ media use in times of crisis. Uniquely focused on the continuities between radio’s «new» media moment and our contemporary era of social media, the collection takes War of the Worlds as a starting point for investigating key issues in twenty-first-century communication, including: the problem of misrepresentation in mediated communication; the importance of social context for interpreting communication; and the dynamic role of listeners, viewers and users in talking back to media producers and institutions. By examining the «crisis» moment of the original broadcast in its international, academic, technological, industrial, and historical context, as well as the role of contemporary new media in ongoing «crisis» events, this volume demonstrates the broad, historical link between new media and crisis over the course of a century.


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Part 1: Looking Backward: War of the Worlds, Media Power, and Audiences “Talking Back”


P A R T O N E Looking Backward: War of the Worlds, Media Power, and Audiences “Talking Back” C H A P T E R O N E Exchange and Interconnection in US Network Radio: A Reinterpretation of the 1938 War of the Worlds Broadcast JOY ELIZABETH HAYES AND KATHLEEN BATTLES In this chapter, Hayes and Battles1 explore the model of communication laid out in the sound-text of the War of the Worlds broadcast and the study of the event originally published in 1940 as the Invasion from Mars: A Study in the Psychology of Panic. In reinterpreting the radio play, the authors argue that it celebrated radio’s ability to coordinate multiple communication media and create a “constant communicative presence” in which the listener was a central part. Although many audience members were frightened or disturbed by the broadcast, Hayes and Battles contend that the primary audience response was to communicate with others through social and technologically mediated networks. Introduction n the night of October 30, 1938, people across the United States tuned into a night of radio listening, by then the nation’s most popular pastime. Listeners had several options for Sunday evening listening, including any number of local broadcasts, regional network shows, and programs offered by four O ♒ EXCHANGE AND INTERCONNECTION ♒ 20 national networks. Many chose to tune into NBC’s enormously popular Chase and Sanborn Hour, featuring ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy, Charlie McCarthy, while some chose the more serious CBS program, Mercury Theater of the Air....

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