Defining and Researching The Mass Media

  • Created by: BronwynH
  • Created on: 27-04-16 10:45

Content Analysis

Content analysis is a method for summarizing any form of content by counting various aspects of the content. This enables a more objective evaluation than comparing content based on the impressions of a listener. In other words, it's used to explore the content of various media (books, magazines, TV, film etc.,) in order to discover how particular things are presented. There are different types of content analysis:

  • Formal Content Analysis: this collects quantitative data on a pre-coded grid
  • Thematic Content Analysis: theis identifies themes to count
  • Textual Content Analysis: this is a more qualitative approachas it involves analysing the use of language.
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Content analysis is a way of quantifying the output of the mass media. It looks at the obvious surface messages of the media - words, phrases, images etc. It requires certain terms to be ooperationalised (defined) this makes it easier to be repeated. It is used to count the number of times they occur in an article, story, programme etc. these are indicators of the extent of a particualr phenomenon, such as gender stereotyping.


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Semiology is the study of signs. Anything can be a sign, a word, image, sound, hairstyle etc.The media uses these signs to transmit information and messages. Semiology is a research method that involves analysing the images and messages that are being conveyed so that the meaning can be uncovered. 

Roland Barthes is viewed as the founder of semiology. 

  • Anything can be a sign - a word, image, sound, colour, clothes etc
  • He argues that signs have two levels of signification (how signs work)
    • Denotation - The physical/descriptive and factual
    • Connotation - Personal associations with the sign

Connotations depend on our experience of the world, our values, beliefs and norms. So connotations are things we learn through culture and socialisation. Therefore different signs have different connotations for different people and semiology tries to decode the signs in order to understand the connotations (or messages) being transmitted by the media.

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Media producers assume that we have shared connotations

  • Audiences will 'read' their signs in the same way
  • Audiences will read the signs in the way the media producers intend them to. 
    • Preferred Readings - If we read the signs in the way the media producers want us to E.g. the news is serious, factual and true.
    • Oppositional Readings - If we read the signs in a way not intended by the producers. E.g. the news is boring, not relevant to my life of the news is biased.


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There are two main types used by sociologists:

  • Laboratory Experiments - They are mainly used by natural scientists, they are used because they give the researcher control over the variables involved. They are used to test hypotheses, and they can be used to establish cause and effect.
  • Field or social Experiments - They take place in a natural environment, and examines individuals in everyday life, the researcher sets up a situation in a familiar social context and manipulates certain variables to test their influence, participants are usually unaware tey are being observed.


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Laboratory Experiments - 

They involve the researcher exerting control over the environment in which the research takes place. Allowing the researcher to establish a relationship between an independant variable (cause) e.g. media content such as a video game and a dependant variable (effect) e.g. a violent reaction. 

Bandura's Bobo Doll Experiment:

He tested 36 boys and 36 girls aged between 3-6. The role models where one male adult and one female adult. He separated the 72 children into 3 groups of 24 (mixed gender).

  • Group 1 - Watched the role model behaving agressively towards a toy, the Bobo doll. They attcked it in a distinctive manner. the children then copied these an acted the same way towards the Bobo doll
  • Group 2 - Watched a non-agressive model - less violent than group 1
  • Group 3 - Had no role model - The control group - less violent than both

Before the experiment the children were pre-tested to see how aggressive they were. 

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Mass Media - Definition

When individuals refer to the 'media' they are using the short-hand term for the 'mass media'. Early studies in the 1920s and 1930s used straightforward definitions that referred to ways of communicating to large audiences, like in cinema's, magazine's, newspaper's and radio's. However, recently these definitions have beome increasingly complex as the range, role and scope have increased. New media has also been introduced which allows information to circulate worldwide, almost immediately, McLuhan (1971), described as a 'global village'. McCullagh provides us with a basic definition of the mass media: "The mass media are simply the means through which content, whether fact or fiction is produced by organisations and transmitted to and received by the audience"

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Devereux (2008) contributes a useful analysis of the mass media in their social context by identifying a number of key aspect that help us to develop a more detailed understanding of their role:

  • Mass media is the means of communication between 'senders' and receivers'.
  • Mass media texts as cultural products within social, cultural and political significance.
  • Mass media as industries or organisations.
  • Mass media as agents of social change and globalisation.
  • Mass media texts as commodities produced by media industries.
  • Mass media as agents of socialisation and powerful sources of social meaning.
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The power and the influences of the media are highly debated. Some commentators see the media as a beneficial institution that educates, informs and entertains, and gives the audience diversity and range from which to exercise choice. Other individuals are concerned that the media has a negative effect (controlling even) on the audience. These concerns are founded on the view that the audience is passive and accepts the messages and does not criticise them. This view is based on the concept of determinism, which sees human behaviour as a fixed consequence of particular events or experiences and denies or minimises the possibility of free choice.

"Media determinism", McLuhan (1964) argues that the media, and in particular new media technologies have a determining influence on social change. He believes that the widespread and ever-changing use of the media has a fundamental effect on how people experience life, society and the world.

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Determinism ?


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This is ways of reguating and controlling the media that involve preventing or removing material from reaching its audience or ristricting the audiences being reached. Censorchip can be used by the government and regulatory bodies and can be brought about by the decisions and judgements of media professionals known as self-censorship. Media owners may be thought of as using censorship when tehy seek to control the media content. Governmental censorship includes the use of the Official Secrets Act and DA Notices (which are official requests not to publish an item) to prevent the reporting of certain events on the grounds that it could damage national security. Regulatory bodies, known as 'watchdogs', like the Press Complaints Commision and the British Board of Film Classification, aims to keep a check on media content. Other forms of censorship include the use of a watershed (on television) to restrict content broadcast before a specific time.

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Censorship can be seen as formal and informal. Formal censorship includes regulation by official bodies such as the government. Informal censorship is exercised by media professionals based on mutual agreements and informal discussion. The effectiveness or desirability of censorship is a subject of great debate. Some say it is unnecessary as it is not proven that the media has an effect on the audience, and others argue that free choice should be protected at all costs. Some argue that censorship is important as it helps to protect those that are vulnerable in society and believe that the media can have a significant effect on the audience and society.


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