The mass media are newspapers, magazines, books, radio, film. and television and its related technologies. They are generally divided into print media and electronic media. The print media re older, having developed over the last 500 years, while the electronic media are products of the twentieth century.
What do the mass media do in society? They give us baseball scores and tell us about the Middle East; they explain inflation, and they interpret current events. The media sell goods, services, candidates, and opinions. They make us laugh, they create drama, and they bring music into our lives. In short, they communicate
In order’ to understand mass media and mass communication, we need an elementary understanding of the communication process-the events that define communication. That is the subject of the first part of this chapter. In the final sections we will look at the functions of mass communications and the nature of audiences. (“Communication,” without the “s,” refers to the theory or theoretical process; “communications,” with an “s,” refers to the mechanical means by which communication occurs. Thus “mass media” and “mass communications” are synonymous.)
Elements of Communication
No single definition of communication is agreed upon by all scholars interested in the subject; diversity abounds . .Sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists, linguists, and speech communication specialists all offer definitions, some of which follow. Communication
is the process of transmitting meaning between individuals; is the process by which an individual (the communicator) transmits stimuli (usually verbal symbols) to modify the behavior of other individuals (comrnunicatees); occurs whenever information is passed from one place to another; is not simply the verbal, explicit, and intentional transmission of messages; it includes all those processes by which people influence one another; occurs when person A communicates message B through channel C to person D with effect E: Each of these letters is an unknown to some extent, and the process can be solved for anyone of them or any combination.
For our purposes we will describe communication in simple terms as s-r for the stimulus-response process, or the interaction between a source and receiver. (Thus we have two referents for “s” and two for “r” in this definition, which our examples and models will attempt to make clear.) Although scholars debate whether communication occurs between other species or even inanimate entities, we will limit our discussion to the idiosyncrasies of human communication in general and its complex subcategory, mass communication
Communication takes at least two entities: an event outside the individual (the stimulus) and the individual reacting (the response). Thunder and lightning striking fear in a young child constitute communication. The thunder and lightning are .outside the child, and fear is the child’s reaction. From this simplest example, another factor in the communication process can be inferred. The child is changed. The thunder and lightning have been programmed into his or her mental computer, and will remain there as a part of the child’s experience. This is the effect of communication, and all communication has some effect, if only that of total boredom.
The two principal factors in the communication process are a source and a receiver, and both are required. A thunderstorm in the wilderness out of sight and earshot constitutes no communication by our definition (there is no receiver, no human effect).
Further, this simple s-r model points up that all communication is an individual, even a personal process. Thunder and lightning over a city strike fear into many hearts, but into each one separately, without reference to any other. Each child will react differently some sobbing, crying, cowering, or even curiously watching out the window. Some, sensing no fear at all, will thrill at the sounds and sights of the natural fireworks. In this sense; the thunderstorm becomes’ a form of mass communication, Individuals’ reactions to different stimuli vary.
The fire alarm means different things to the firefighter and the theatergoer. Human communication involves a message-iixe or feminism-that is carried over a channel, whether alarm bell or magazine article. Human communication has a purpose; it does not rise out of thin air. In these instances, the purpose is to call
attention to a fire (information) or to voice an opinion on a controversial topic (persuasion). That these messages were received differently is the crux of communication. Reception and, consequently, reaction and effect differ· according to each individual’s orientation. Orientation, in turn, depends on many factors that can be reduced to the individual’s experience ..the sum total of all that has gone before. Since a good deal of that experience has been communication, the complexities of the process and its circularity become apparent .
The Communication Model
Emerging from all this is a model of the communication process that consists of a source or encoder sending a message over a channel to a receiver or decoder. Communication shorthand for this is shown in figure 1.1.
The source has a purpose in trying to communicate: to inform, to persuade, to entertain. In order for communication to occur, there must be some kind of effect on the receiver: a change in cognitive (thinking), effective (feeling), or behavioral (acting) processes. This response or reaction is seen as feedback and constitutes another elementary basic communication model. This feedback is basically another phase in the same process of transferring messages between ..sources and receivers. We see in figure 1.2 that the roles of sender and receiver have been reversed and a communication cycle begun.
The simplest illustration, of course, is an ordinary conversation. A·woman says, “Good moming.” She is the source; her purpose is to establish contact. The message is “Good morning,” the, channel is speech” and the ~an to whom the message is sent is the receiver. This may seem a bit complicated for such a simple transaction, but if the sequence and ingredients of this simple interpersonal communication are understood at the outset, it will enormously simplify the investigation of the much more complicated mass communication process.
Once the man has heard the greeting and responds, communication has taken place. The effect is one of warmth and reciprocity, and he responds, smiling and saying, “How are you?” This is his reaction; it constitutes feedback to the woman and completes the simple .communication process. Feedback: Note, however, that both the smile and response of the man were a part of the feedback. Note further that in replying, the man became a secondary sender and the woman receiver; thus, the model reverses itself with his reply.
Note finally that the man’s answer partially determines what the. woman will say next. “How are you?” demands an answer: “Fine; thank you,” or “Terrible.” The principle here is that feedback conditions the course of future communication between the wo by limiting the options available to them. Interference: There remains one more element in the basic communication process–interference. The technical term for interference is noise, and it consists of two types: channel noise and semantic noise. Channel noise is interference within, or exterior to, the channel or medium. If, for instance, the woman was seized with a fit of coughing when she said “Good morning,” the man would have difficulty understanding her. The woman might have to repeat her greeting; in any’ event, there was channel interference in her speech. Alternately, if she said “Good morning” in a Lahore subway during rush hour, It.Is doubtful that anyone could.hear her.
Channel noise can be corrected in two ways. First, the woman may try not to cough or sneeze, to use clear enunciation, and to speak loudly enough for the man to hear; in short, she may perfect the channel-speech. The other means is by repetition; if the man didn’t hear her the first time, he may the second or third time. ” Semantic noise, on the other hand, is more complex; it is interference within the communication process itself. If the woman greeted the man in a Chinese dialect, the man probably would not understand her if he spoke only English.
This language barrier is the simplest example of semantic noise, but there are more prevalent and subtle forms indicated by differences in education, socioeconomic status, residency, occupation, age, experience, and interest: Often we hear someone say “I simply can’t talk to him.” This is an example of semantic noise. These two individuals may be poles apart in their orientation, interests, backgrounds, and habits. “The generation gap” is a glib description of semantic noise provoked by age differences. The solutions to semantic noise, as in the case of channel noise, are incumbent upon the sender. After all, her original purpose was to communicate. One solution is to try to communicate on the level of the receiver. Kindergarten teachers use simple words, short sentences, and brief lessons because they know their students’ vocabularies are limited and their attention spans are short. These teachers are trying to eliminate semantic noise. In briefest summary, the solution to semantic noise is to appeal in terms ofthe receivers’ interests.
Recognizing the semantic problems that can arise in one to one .encounters, and the degree of interference that surrounds the simplest conversation, the scope of interference that is inevitable becomes apparent when such situations are multiplied by many in mass communication.
Mass Communication: For our purposes a simple definition will suffice: mass communication is a process whereby mass-produced messages are transmitted to large, anonymous, and heterogeneous masses of receivers. By “large” we mean a larger mass than could reasonably be assembled in a single place in physical proximity; by “anonymous” we mean that the individuals receiving the messages tend to be strangers to one another and to the sources of those messages; by ,”heterogeneous” we mean that the messages have been sent “to whom it may concern” –. to people from all walks of life, with unique characteristics, and not necessarily a single homogeneous type of audience. Recent advances in mass communications technology, and highly sophisticated means of understanding and reaching out to special interest audiences, mean that the audiences! receivers are somewhat. less anonymous and heterogeneous than in the past. Basically, the discrepancy is so vast between the single one-to-one situation and contemporary mass communications, often involving tens of millions of receivers, that the numerical differences become differences in kind. Further, these differences stretch across the entire model, showing various changes in the source, channel, receiver, and feedback, as well as in noise.