THEORIES OF MASS MEDIA
Theories of Mass Media
Mass media is any form of communication produced by a few people for the consumption of many. It is the channels of communication through which messages flow. Television, radio, internet, newspaper and magazine are the common examples of these mass media. It performs three key functions such as educating, shaping public relations and advocating for a particular policy or point of view. Furthermore, mass media are capable of facilitating short-term, intermediate-term and long-term effects and influence on audiences. (cited in 2006)
On one hand, studying and analyzing the theories of mass media can provide a framework for the understanding of the role and effects as well as the influence of mass media since theories are formulated according to its applied settings. Moreover, mass media theories also provide critical factors and perspectives underlying mass media. Agenda Setting, Priming, Framing, Cultivation Theory, Dependency Theory, Hypodermic Needle, Knowledge Gap, Media Richness, Medium Theory, Spiral of Silence, Two Step Flow and Uses and Gratifications Approach are the mass media theories ( 2006).
Agenda Setting Theory
Agenda setting is the creation of public awareness and concern of salient issues by the news media. It describes the very powerful influence of media in telling the audience of what issues are important. It depicts the power of media in presenting images to the public. In agenda setting, the press and media do not really reflect the reality since they filter and shape it. Public perceived certain issues as more important than the other issues because media concentrate only on a few subjects and leads. ( 1985)
Political communication systems and presidential campaigns are appropriate examples where agenda setting theory is applied. In the research done by McCombs and Shaw in presidential campaigns in 1968, they found out that the mass media exerted a significant influence on what voters considered to be the major issues of campaign by assessing the relationship between what voters in one community said were important issues and the actual content of media messages used during the campaign. (1972)
Priming is established by offering the audience a prior context that will be used to interpret subsequent communication. This enhances the effects of the media on its audiences. In priming, the media provide the audience with standards and frames of reference. It provides audience about what a news program looks like and what a credible person looks like. (, & 1998)
If agenda setting tells mainly the importance of an issue, priming refers whether something is good or bad or whether the issue is communicated effectively ( 2001).
Framing as a quality of media communication leads other to accept meaning over another. This can be done by selecting the topics and drawing the public attention to that topics, then media decides where people think about. Consequently, framing is the way media and media gatekeepers organize and present events and issues they cover. In addition, the way in which the news is brought, the frame in which the news is presented, is also a choice made by journalists. Then, audiences interpret these events and issues in the way they are provided. Frames then are abstract notions that serve to organize or structure social meanings. ( & 1996)
Framing is related to agenda setting since both bring up certain topics when news items occur. However, framing expands its context by focusing on the essence of the issues at hand rather than on a particular topic. Similarly in framing, the media does not only tell what to think about but also how to think about. ( 1993)
As and argues, the mass media particularly the television, cultivate attitudes and values which are already presents in a culture by maintaining and propagating these values amongst members of a culture, thus binding it together. This refers to the cultivation theory. Cultivation theory suggests that television is responsible for shaping and cultivating viewers’ conception of social reality. However, the degree of shaping and cultivation of such conception differs between the two groups of television viewers-the heavy viewers and the light viewers. ( & 1976)
Heavy viewers or people who watch a lot of television are likely to be more influenced by the ways in which the worlds is framed by television programs than the light viewers or the individuals who watch less. On one hand, light viewers may have more sources of information than heavy viewers. Similarly, there is an intensified effect on the audience in the situation wherein what they see on television is what they have experienced in life. This event leads to a double dose in televised messages which tends to amplify the cultivation effect. ( & 1976)
Media System Dependency Theory
This theory which merged out of the communication discipline and was originally proposed by and in 1976 explains the integral relationship among audiences, media and the larger social system. This theory suggests that public depend on media information to meet certain needs and to achieve certain goals but they don’t depend on all media equally ( & 1976).
On the other hand, there are two factors that influence the audience’s degree of media dependence. Two factors influence the degree of media dependence. First, audience will become more dependent on media that meet a number of their needs than on media that provide just a few. The second source of dependency is social stability. When social change and conflict are high, established institutions, beliefs, and practices are challenged, forcing audience to reevaluate and make new choices. At such times audience reliance on the media for information will increase. At other, more stable times audience dependency on media may go way down. ( & 1976)
Hypodermic Needle Theory
The hypodermic needle theory suggests that the mass media could influence a very large group of people directly and uniformly by shooting or injecting them with appropriate messages designed to trigger a desired response. Both images used to express this theory (a bullet and a needle) suggest a powerful and direct flow of information from the sender to the receiver. ( 1989)
Hypodermic needle theory expresses the view that the media is a dangerous means of communicating an idea because the receiver or audience is powerless to resist the impact of the message since media messages are injected straight into a passive audience which is immediately influenced by the message. This run parallels to the bullet theory which also suggests that the message is a bullet, fired from the "media gun" into the viewer's "head". ( 1989)
Knowledge Gap Theory
The knowledge gap theory was first proposed by , and at the University of Minnesota in 1970. They believe that the increase of information in society is not evenly acquired by every member of society where people with higher socioeconomic status tend to have better ability to acquire information contrary to the poor people. The knowledge gap can result in an increased gap between people of lower and higher socioeconomic status. The attempt to improve people’s life with information via the mass media might not always work the way this is planned since mass media have the effect of increasing the difference gap between members of social classes. ( 2002)
Media Richness Theory
Media Richness theory is based on contingency theory and information processing theory of in 1977. First proponents of the theory were made by & in 1984. This theory proposes that communication media have varying capacities for resolving ambiguity, negotiating varying interpretations, and facilitating understanding. Media Richness assume that people want to overcome equivocality and uncertainty in organizations and that variety of media commonly used in organizations work better for certain tasks than others. (, & 1987)
Medium theory is similar to the media richness theory since it also focuses on the medium characteristics itself rather than on what it conveys or how information is received. In this theory, a medium is not simply a newspaper, the Internet, a digital camera and so forth but the symbolic environment of any communicative act. Media, apart from whatever content is transmitted, impact individuals and society. ’s thesis is that people adapt to their environment through a certain balance or ratio of the senses and the primary medium of the age brings out a particular sense ratio thereby affecting perception. (cited in 1989)
Spiral of Silence Theory
As an attempt to explain in part how public opinion is formed, Neumann introduced the spiral of silence in 1974. The phrase "spiral of silence" actually refers to how people tend to remain silent when they feel that their views are in the minority. It is related to the mass media in such a way that mass media influences public opinion. Shifts in public opinion occur commonly and therefore this theory is used to search an explanation for behavior whether to speak up or stay silent. ( 1991)
Two-Step Flow Theory
The two-step flow theory first introduced as a two-step flow of communication by , , and in , a 1944 study focused on the process of decision-making during a Presidential election campaign asserts that information from the media moves in two distinct stages. First, individuals (opinion leaders) who pay close attention to the mass media and its messages receive the information. Then, opinion leaders pass on their own interpretations in addition to the actual media content. (, & 1944)
The two-step flow theory has improved our understanding of how the mass media influence decision making. The theory refined the ability to predict the influence of media messages on audience behavior and it helped explain why certain media campaigns may have failed to alter audience attitudes and behavior. ( 1994)
Uses and Gratifications Approach Theory
Uses and gratifications theory attempts to explain the uses and functions of the media for individuals, groups and society in general. To explain how individuals use mass communication to gratify their needs, to discover underlying motives for individuals’ media use and to identify the positive and the negative consequences of individual media use are the three objectives in developing uses and gratifications theory. On one hand, at the core of uses and gratifications theory is the assumption that audience members actively seek out the mass media to satisfy individual needs. ( 2001)
We cannot deny the power of the mass media. Mass media can provide us with messages and information that may influenced our actions and decisions. Nevertheless, we can permit it to disrupt our lives seriously or we can use it to improve the quality of our lives. However, to make the choice, we need mass media theories-theories that explain the role and impact of mass media in our lives and in the humanity as a whole. Mass media theories are typically intended to address specific problems and issues brought about by the proliferation of mass media in the society. Similarly, it is easier to learn and understand the role and influence of mass media by examining mass media theories and the problems and issues they addressed concerning the mass media itself.
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