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Understanding the importance of Media Communication Theories

Written by Alicia Ward


PREFACE This essay, with the permission of Ms. Charmaine Henry dated March 29th 2012, has been transcribed and designed to reflect form an actual book. This was done to showcase creativity and present to the reader an entertaining and engaing paper.

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

PREFACE WHAT IN A THEORY

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ORIGINS AND EARLY BEGINNINGS

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FROM THOUGHT TO THEORY

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PERSPECTIVE FROM ANALYSIS

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THE FINAL CHAPTER

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REFERENCES

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WHAT’S IN A THEORY

As I sat in my communication class staring at the topic, COMMUNICATION THEORIES I thought to myself, what on earth does theories have to do with communication? Science students attempt to prove or disprove them; psychology students discuss them; and sociology students write about them. So I figure that theories are clearly for those brainy students and have nothing to do with me or mass communication for that matter. Or so I thought. I don’t know about you, but as a communication/media student if I’m going to have to learn about them and eventually be tested on them then I might as well wipe the sleep out of my eye and pay attention to what the lecturer has to say. Sounds reasonable right? ________ So what is a theory you ask? Well, I was curious to know too and with a little digging I found that a theory is “a general statement that summarizes our understanding of the way the world works…it tries to explain something that is difficult to understand” (Severin & Tankard, 2001). And this means what exactly? It simply means that if, like me, you’ve ever wondered why things happen the way they do or questioned the reasons behind peoples’ behaviours and reactions to particular situations or events then there is a theory that explains just that. Get it? No? Ok, let me try again, a theory gives us simple explanations to complex ideas or phenomenon. That’s right, now you get me. I saw the light bulb go off over your head so I know you’re following me. Let’s continue shall we... I’ll see you in chapter 2. ______

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ORIGINS AND EARLY BEGINNINGS

The questions that are now floating around in your head are perhaps questions such as: what is the link between theories and mass communication? What are mass communication theories as a matter of fact where did communication come from? We live in a practical world, why are communication theories even important? I’m not reading your mind, so don’t get scared. I know you have these questions because I pondered the very same. I’ll tackle each question one at a time. I’ll begin with the first. Theories are relevant to communication because, as we have established before, they provide simple explanations to things that usually baffle us; that includes communication methods and techniques as well as the production and function of media messages. ______ Here’s something interesting; “in the past folklore, commonsense and traditional wisdom were the foundation that guided peopl’s understanding and practice of mass communication ... some of these assumptions were documented and tested while others were ratified, nullified [and] partially confirmed” (Severin & Tankard, 2001). This lead to the development of theories that assisted media practitioners, and now us, media students, in understanding the practice and process of mass communication. The result that emerged was the ability to forecast predictions and manipulate results of mass communication efforts. Theories therefore, to answer our second question, were birthed to assist media researchers in examining: the arena in which they operate, how media messages are cultivated, framed, and delivered to an audience, and how construct creative ways in which specific circumstances that relate to mass communication can be addressed. _____

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I know what you’re thinking, “boy was that a mouthful”. Believe me, I felt the same way when I was first introduced to the topic. I’ll give you some tips though, be sure to walk with a drink and some popcorn as we leave and go to chapter 3 because trust me, it gets

interesting.

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FROM THOUGHT TO THEORY

I’ve been telling you quite a bit about communication theories and judging by the hint of suspense written all over your face the next logical thing for me to do would be to identify what exactly these theories are. I will not keep you in suspense any longer because in order to understand or be able to conclude why communication theories are important in today’s ‘practical’ world, you must first know what they are and how they work. In case you didn’t know I’ll tell you now, communication theories can be divided into three categories: individual persepctives, sociological perspectives, and alternative paradigms. Collectively, these perspectives assist media and communication practitioners in identifying the effects of medai and communication on issues such as gender sterotyping, racial profiling, and crime and violence. I’ll only present to you the theories that fall under the most popular categories; indidvidual perspectives and sociological perspectives. Here’s something interesting to take note of, mass communication theories aren’t just the results of studies and extensive research. They help to explain: 1. The uses to which people put mass communication that is, how audiences use communication technology and mass media; 2. How audiences learn from mass media; 3. How media and communication shape people’s values and views.

Interesting stuff huh? ______

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Let’s begin by taking a look at indidvidual perspective theories. Have you ever wondered why a message would still have an impact on you and the way you view a particular individual or situation long after you would have been exposed to the message? As the magic bullet theory explains, also called the hypodermic needle, mass communication messages have strong and universal effects on all audiences exposed to them (Severin & Tankard, 2001). Now you understand why persons can so vividly express thoughts and feelings about WWI and WWII or other historical happenings having not being there to experience any of it (Bramsted, !965) ; the way in which they were exposed to it, especially since it was fraught with propaganda, affected person’s knowledge, attitudes, and behaviour the event.In essence, to clarify any confusing thoughts you may have, this theory is claiming that messages are crafted to deliberately have lasting effects on consumer perspective and attitudes.Opposers of this view however claim that the magic bullet theory has limited effects; though effective in transmission it is ineffective in changing attitudes.

______ Im sure you’re probably thinking,well,since the magic bullet theory was considered to have “limited effects” are there any theories that yeild powerful effects? (I like you, you’re a thinker!) Indeed there are,the spiral of silence theory is one of them. If you’ve ever been ‘silenced’ by the viewes of the majority (10 vs. 1) over a controversial subject then you already have an idea of how the spiral of silence theory works. Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann developed this theory and she purpourts that, people form impressions about a controversial matter based on the distibutuion of public opinion (Serverin & Tankard, 2001). I’m against abortion, but I dare not air such views in a forum where 90 out of 100 persons oppose that view. Why? Im no punk but, the stronger the argument against my Page | 8


position on the subject the more likely I am to remain ‘silent’. That’s just how this theory works. If you were present at the same forum and you listened to the views being expressed you would conclude that your view, assuming that you are also against abortion, is not represented because unfortunately you’re in the minority. I cant help but think that the spiral of silence is a well-orchestrated plot employed by media practitioners to not only shape our impressions about which opinoins are dominant but, to further maintain the status quo. See, I told you things would get interesting. Keep reading. _________

If you have ever found yourself involved in a discussion where certain views made you think: since when did he start thinking like that? Then i have terribly news for you, that friend or colleague, and perhaps even you during some point in time, have fallen victim to the works of the cultivation theory. Im sure you’re wondering, who was the genius that developed such a thing? His name is George Gerbner,this is his explanation “consistent exposure to the same message produces what researchers refer to as ‘cultivation’ – the teaching of a common worldview, common roles and common values” (Severin & Tankard, 2001). Here’s an interesting study that should make this theory much easier to understand: Preston (1990), used a cultivation theory perspective to examine the effects of exposure to pronography over a long period of time. The exposure t opronography included reading soft-core porography magazines and watching X-rated movies on VCR’s. The effects on cultural beliefs were examined in terms of four variables; sex role stereotypes, sex traits, and sexuality stereotypes and rape myths. Results showed that men high in exposure tended to show greater stereotyping about sex roles, sex traits, and sexualtiy than mean low in exposure to pornography.

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In case you didn’t realize I’m more than happy to inform you, in order to manipulate our opinions about ourselves and others media practitioners bombard us with carefully crafted messages that subtly underscore particular ideas, or beliefs. With consistent exposure, we eventually internalize these messages which in turn alter our roles and manipulate our opinions, values, and belief system. _________ As intelligent human beings we are aware of many things and are capable of controlling some things in our lives. If it sounds as though I’m going to tell you about another theory then you’re correct. The uses and gratification theory, purported by a gentleman that goes by the name Elihu Katz, suggests that persons are more aware of their ability to choose media and control what they view and listen (Severin &Tankard, 2001). If that’s too much to comprehend look at it this way, uses and gratification assumes that individuals use media to satisfy their needs and it attempts to identify what those needs or what are the motives for using media. Interestingly, Severin and Tankard (2001), I’m sure you can tell by now that they have a lot to say about theories, identified four categories of needs that explain why people use media. These are: cognitive needs- acquiring information, knowledge, and understanding; affective needs- emotional, pleasurable, or aesthetic experience; personal integrative- strengthening credibility, confidence, stability and status; and finally, social integrative- strengthening contacts with family, friends etc. Finally, a theory that moves away from what media does to us and instead helps us to understand what we do with media. We choose the television or radio station in which to listen to and we filter the information to satisfy our existing needs.

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Do you know Trayvon Martin? I’m sure up until recently you never even heard the name but, like so many of us who have been watching our televisions, listening to the radio, and browsing on Twitter and Facebook, he has now become a topic of discussion in our homes, schools and places of employment. 17 year old Trayvon Martin was shot by a neighborhood watch man who assumed he was a trouble maker because he was a black boy, dressed in a hoodie, walking through a gated community. We have hand it to the press, they may not tell us what to think but they have a subtle way of telling us what to think about. In the case of Trayvon, thoughts of hate crime, racial discrimination and racism become prevalent in our minds. Through repeated news coverage or feature the media is capable of raising attention or importance to a particular situation or phenomenon in the mind of the audience (Baran, 2009). This process is known as agenda setting and a common belief associated to this sociological perspective is that the press and media do not reflect reality; they filter and shape it.

More common examples of agenda setting can be identified in the ways in which women and persons of different races are often portrayed in the media. I’m sure you have seen enough movies where women are portrayed as being subservient to men and fulfilling roles confined to the home. when they are portrayed as operating outside the home “those few working women included in television plots are symbolically denigrated by being portrayed as incompetent [or] inferior to male workers” (Tuchman et al,1978). Do you know what else is interesting, the way in which the black race, particularly men, are characterized as being poverty stricken, uneducated and most strikingly, violent. “Not only are African American men more likely to be shown as criminal suspects than actual crime statistics suggest, the ways in which African American criminal suspects are depicted imply that they are likely to be particularly violent or threatening (Oliver, 2003). These sorts of techniques make assume that media practitioners are trying to establish further

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segregation within society by framing the mind of audience members to characterize individuals the way they are depicted in the press. ________ Ever wondered why or how an idea or practice became popular ‘overnight’? If not Everett Rogers can tell us why, he calls it diffusion of innovation. This, yes you guessed it, theory “traces the process by which a new idea or practice is communicated through channels among members of a social system” (1995). Like agenda setting this theory establishes itself through consistent exposure; once members of society are consistently exposed to an idea or practice it is likely that they will eventually adapt to that practice or conform to the new idea being presented to them. Rogers was a smart man, he identified the five adaptor types to which person can be categorized: innovators, those who are eager to try new ideas; early adaptors, those who are opinion leaders in communities; early majority, those are more influenced by t their peers rather than their leaders to support a new idea or practice; late majority, those who were skeptical at first but succumbed because of economic necessity or increasing network pressure; and lastly, laggards, those who choose to maintain traditional ideas and practices. So the next time you find yourself engaging in a new practice or supporting an idea that seemingly because popular in a matter of 24 hours, think on these things. _______

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PERSPECTIVE FROM ANALYSIS

All things considered, let’s put the scholarly talk aside and reason a bit. Like me, you may still be wondering “WHY ARE THEORIES IMPORTANT?” We live in a practical world, there is no way this theoretical rhetoric still applies. That’s what I said, but come on I couldn’t say that in class. When you really think about it these seemingly ‘insignificant’ explanations to media and communication do have some relevance to them. Firstly, theories are significant to media practitioners and more specifically media students (that means us) because they provide a foundation in which our understanding of media and communication production and performance is constructed. It is especially important to those who will be managing and directing the workings of media and communication, you know John, that production geek that always in the third row, yeah, he’s going to need to understand theories too. Also, in a world where technological, political, and cultural influences affect media content amongst various societies, it is imperative that today’s media student be grounded in a proper theoretical base that can be applied to selected platforms to which they would be expected to perform. See, theories are still important; more important than we thought. Despite the belief that theories are no longer applicable because information and practices are constantly evolving and would therefore render poor result when executed, the position will be maintained that they are still relevant because not only do they provide clear explanations to otherwise ambiguous situations and phenomenon but they also assist media practitioners in developing ways to effectively construct and deliver information that will direct and signify the values and norms of a functioning society.

______

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THE FINAL CHAPTER So there you have it I have exhausted some, but certainly not all media and communication theories providing descriptions of each, demonstrated how they are used and have provided explanation towards their effectiveness. All to contend a single point: media and communication theories are still important, yes, even in today’s “practical” world. They explore and explain as well as establish a foundation to which production, performance and function of media communication can be understood and therefore, properly utilized. You can now return to Facebook or Twitter, the discussion is over. Thanks for reading.

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REFERENCES Baran, Stanley J. (2004). Introduction to mass communication- media literacy and culture. McGraw Hill: New York. Bramstead, E.K. (1965). Goebbels and national socialist propaganda 1925-1945. East Lansing; Michigan State University Press. Oliver, M. (2003). African american men as “criminal and dangerous”: implications of media portrayals of crime on the “criminalization” of African American men. Journal of African American Studies, 7(2), 3-18. Preston, E.H. (1990). Pornography and the construction of Gender In N. Signorielli and M. Morgam. Cultivation analysis; new directions in media effects research, pp. 107-122. Newburry Park, California: Sage. Tuchman, G. Kaplan Daniels, A., Benet, J. (1978). Hearth and home: images of women in the mass media. Oxford University Press, New York, pp. 3-17.

Date: March 30th, 2012 ID NO. 620047021 Lecturer: Ms. Charmaine Henry Tutor: Mrs. Maxine Francis-Riley

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Theory: Understanding the Importance of Media Communication Theories