In the first chapter we were introduced to some basic characteristics of the communication process and the nature of mass media. It is appropriate to turn our attention to some important theoretical issues centering on the effects of mass media in society. In order to fully appreciate how social scientists have come to understand what the media do to us and what we do to the media, we will take a historical journey for the next several pages, observing the development and refinement of mass communication theory throughout the current century.
Theory doesn’t develop full-blown from the pens of casual observed. It is one of the end results of long, careful analysis of many variables. Theories are not universal laws explaining in complete and unquestionable detail all the causes and effects of phenomena being studied. Rather, theories are systematically related generalizations, calling for further analysis of phenomena and variables. In the case of mass communication scholarship, theory emerges from social scientists who have coupled the tools used in such fields as psychology, sociology, anthropology, history, and economics. Intellectual kleptomaniacs abound in mass communication research, as scholars borrow sometimes indiscriminately from this wide variety of disciplines. This has been both an asset and a liability. It is an asset in that mass communication theory is broadly based and exciting; a liability in that it just might be too easy for sloppy, overly electic scholarship to serve 88 the foundation for what PflAAC8 A8 substantive theory.
For those reasons, our trip through some of the significant theories about mass communication will be tentative, as we point to highlights and milestones along a path whose ultimate destination is still a mystery to us.
The chapter is divided into three sections, reflecting the three dominant thrusts social scientists have taken. First, we discuss the early theories whose arguments were that the mass media were enormously influential forces in society–theories weakly based on research, but strongly based on somewhat naive assumptions about powerful propagandist messages and malleable audiences. Next is the mid-century’s collection of studies about the minutiae of forces, influences, noise, and audience traits culminating in conclusions that were, at best, highly tentative–theories maintaining that the media must not have very much direct influence because there were too many contaminating variables to take into consideration. Finally, we see a recent series of speculations and theories maintaining that the media are powerful but subtle influences on increasingly discriminatory audiences-theories emerging from long-term and sophisticated studies and somewhat different viewpoints on humanity ..
This chapter is not offered as the last, word on the subject, but as a cursory overview of a highly significant aspect of media studies.
The Mass Communication Process
In the preceding chapter, some basic distinctions between interpersonal and mass communication were discussed. It was noted that the main difference between the types of communication resided in the nature of single versus multiple receivers, and immediate versus delayed feedback
Look what happens when we expand this to the mass media situation. The “who” or source of information cannot be readily identified and understood, because he or aha is part of a complex organization, complete with institutional, financial, social, and individual pressures. In order to understand the performance of the source, researchers would have to undertake gate keeper studies-studies of those factors which motivate the journalist, movie producer, cartoonist, advertiser, public relations practitioner, or other mass media decision-maker to function as he or she does. What is important to remember is that while there appears to be only one source or gatekeeper functioning, for all practical purposes there are as many sources at any given time as there are audience members. If Abd-ul-Salam on PBS News and Noon Jhan on PrV are being viewed by millions of Pakistanis on a particular evening, each member of the audience is perceiving Abd-ul-Salam and Noor Jhan through his or her own eyes, projecting personal values, biases, attention or inattention levels to the message being presented by the newscaster and singer at any given moment. There is not “one” Abd-ul-Salam or Noor han but millions of them.
It follows that the “says’ what” –the message- is equally complex. For each receiver there is a slightly different message regardless of the fact that the sender is transmitting a single message. Just as it is impossible to appreciate the totality of audience attitudes toward the sender, so it is impossible to comprehend its understanding of the message. But researchers undertake content analyses of the messages in order to ascertain patterns of the sender’s verbal and nonverbal behavior. In isolation, the content analysis is not better means of gaining a full understanding of the complete process than is a gatekeeper study. Both have to be done in conjunction with studies of the other factors in Lasswell’s communication matrix, or we have incomplete insights into the process.
“In what channel” refers to the physical medium. being used to transmit the message from senders to receivers. Because it is a physical medium, it is often studied by mathematicians, electricians, physicists, engineers, or other scientists and technicians trained to deal with mechanicalInstruments and their problems. Extending our example of a Abd-ul-Salam newscast or a Noor Jhan music video, a full comprehension of the total effectiveness of the shows would have to include physical studies of the network’s and local stations’ transmission capabilities, atmospheric disturbances, cable capacities’, and quality of
A individual: television sets. When analyzing the effectiveness of print media-words and pictorial images in newspapers, magazines, or books-researchers are concerned with every thing from whether typefaces are legible to whether the ink smears on readers’ hands. This type of study is referred to 8.8 media or channel analysis, and, as implied above, should be considered only one part of the complete mass communication analysis.
Naturally, Lasswell’s “to whom” refers to the audiences. It is not a mass of people behaving as one unit, it is millions of individuals with their unique demographic and psychographic characteristics. The large, anonymous, and heterogeneous audiences, as described by sociologist Charles Wright, are more numerous than the source can possibly interact with or address at any given time on a face-to-face basis. Their members generally are unknown by the source; and they are made up of the broad spectrum including RgCR, educational levels, -races, sexes, religions, interests, and attitudes. Given these characteristics and the inevitable factors of semantic noise, researchers conducting . surveys or other audience analyses began to realize several decades ago that at best they can only approximate the entire audience reaction to a mass-mediated message. In short, there are things going on in the media-societal mix that the basic stimulus response model of the mass communication process cannot possibly account for