Explorations in Mass Communication: Issues and Controversies Catherine Murray



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Explorations in Mass Communication: Issues and Controversies

Catherine Murray

Fall 2003

Course Team

  • Diana Ambrozas

  • Doris Baltruschat

  • Wei Gao

  • Natalie Tkachev

Course Objectives

  • To provide a map to navigate the field

  • history & political economy

  • Popular culture & media analysis

  • Society and technology

  • Locate contemporary controversies

Course Skills

Develop the Four stages of critical thinking:

  • Description

  • Analysis, Framing of Arguments and Proof

  • Interpretation & Debate

  • Evaluation/Originality



The Alchemy of Grades

  • Description

  • C+

  • Basic facts mastered and patterned

  • Analysis

  • B range

  • Meaning of patterns probed, knowledge applied. Hierarchy of patterning proofs

  • Interpretation

  • High B

  • Comparisons and analogies. Judgement. Argument and Illustration.

  • Evaluation

  • A-A+ range

  • Values. Understanding

  • If creative originality or thought leadership an A plus

Course Tools

  • Framing arguments

  • Organizing proof

  • Writing persuasively

  • Developed in tutorial debates

  • Short essay paper

Lecture & Tutorial Support

Notes for lectures available from TA: Friday

  • Lectures are audiotaped and available in library

  • READ before lecture

  • Tutorials

  • Attend each tutorial

  • Participate in debate

  • Essay assignments: start by week 4

  • EXAMS

  • Mid Terms are Pop Quizzes in Tutorial

  • Workshop for final exam available

The Big Picture

  • Communication is a battleground of power

  • Historically, allied with state or business corporations ( & now entertainment corporations)

  • Central to institutions of democracy and capitalism

  • 130 outlines how media work, how they are shaped by and shaping the economic, political and social worlds around us

  • Do the Media create critical citizens or consumers?

Recent Issues & Controversies

Key Concepts

  • Media & Communication defined

  • Mass Communication defined

  • Model of the Communication Process

  • Mapping the Flow

The Definition of Media

  • Broadly, what enables communication to take place

  • May be interpersonal and one on one( speech, writing, facial gesture) which is beyond scope of CMNS 130

  • May be technical/broader in scale

  • Specifically, a technological development that extends the channel, range of speed of communication among large groups of people

Media of “Mass” Communication

  • Print

  • Newspapers

  • Magazines

  • Books

  • Audio

  • Radio

  • Music/Sound Recording

  • Visual

  • Film

  • TV

  • Videogames

  • Digital

  • Internet



The Definition of Communication

  • From Latin Communicare

  • Verb: to share, impart, to make meaning common

  • To give or receive information, signals, messages in any way

  • Using talk, gestures, writing or other means

  • Definition: Fleras page 36

  • “ a meaningful exchange of information”

Origins of Communication

  • Part of human search to transcend time and space

  • One of the oldest of human practices:

  • Essential for social survival, economic organization

  • Formal study rooted in classical politics from times of Ancient Greece and Rome under a different title: rhetoric, literary criticism, persuasion (humanities)

  • Development of the study of Mass Communication allied with rise of social sciences and mass marketing WW2

Mass Communication

  • Communication from one person, group or institution through a transmission system or medium to large audiences or markets

  • From one ( or few) to many

  • Implies concept of gatekeeper: controller of transmission/message design

  • Implies concept of effectiveness and efficiency: is messaging achieving what it intended?



Transmission Model of Communication

  • Sender….Message….Receiver

  • Based on Harold Lasswell’s model ( 1948)

  • Helps identify the stages through which communication passes so each one can be properly studied

  • Modern models recognize networks are more complex, no longer one way and there is more interaction and feedback between sender and receiver

Transmission Model II

  • Central Questions:

  • Who says what to whom with what effect? ( transmission model)

  • Useful in early study of propaganda, and advertising ( stimulus response assumption)

  • Sees mass communication as a process of transmitting intentional messages for the purpose of social control, or marketing

  • Implies the study of state or government policies, economic processes of advertising and commodification of popular culture

Characteristics of Mass Communication

  • Message produced in complex organizations

  • Message fixed in some form with information and symbolic content ( either in digital bits or commodity form)

  • Message is sent/transmitted or diffused widely via a technological medium

  • Newspaper, magazine, CD or videocassette, radio, television, satellite or Internet

  • Message is delivered rapidly over great space

  • Message reaches large groups of different people simultaneously or within a short period of time

  • Message is primarily one-way, not two way

Transformation of ‘Mass’ Communication

  • Arrival of computers and switched two-way interactive technology …digitization

  • Internet

  • From one to one, … from many to many--almost infinitely

  • Rise of transactional media ( pay per bit)

  • Resistance of media piracy:swapping and downloading

Nature of the Mass Communicator/Sender

  • Mass communication is produced in complex formal organizations

  • With multiple gatekeepers

  • Using a great deal of money

  • Increasingly in private sector institutions in the West

  • Existing to make a profit

  • In a highly competitive market, working to reduce risk by merging and oligopoly



7 Trends in Communication

  • Compression of space and time

  • Larger and larger territories covered: networks of networks emerging (www)

  • Mobile, wireless untethered access: ubiquity

  • Communication across borders virtually instantaneously



2. Commodification

  • Spread of private and not public enterprise, interpenetration of marketing, consumption and media

  • Widespread ideology of consumption/consumer “sovereignty”



3. Deregulation and Concentration and Conglomeration

  • Withdrawal of public sector, less regulation, more role for market

  • Trend to mergers and acquisitions

  • Multi media holdings

7 Trends Cont’d



4. Globalization :

  • Growth in international trade in cultural products, rise of 6 or 8 main companies dominating markets and merging industries
  • AOL Time Warner;Disney;Vivendi, Viacom, Sony, News, Bertelesmann


5. Digitization and Convergence

  • Conversion of sound pictures and text into computer readable formats by representing them as strings of zeros and ones
  • Now, telecommunication providers involved in TV and cable
  • Digitization enables the production, circulation, manipulation and re-purposing or storage of information on unprecedented scale


6. Specialization ( part of “demassification”)

  • Narrowly “casting’ or “targeting” communication to particular interests… shrinking share of general interest TV

7. Personalization

  • The “daily me”: personal tailoring of media diet/media products
  • Ideal type: MP3 downloading of custom music

A Different Approach: the Cultural Model

  • Encode meaning-----decode meaning

  • Involves Creation of the Text, design of the sign. symbol or codes and signification or interpretation

  • Fleras, p. 36:

  • Communication is much more than message exchange.. The enrichment that communication brings in terms of culture, cohesion and connectedness is widely acknowledged.



Cultural Model II

  • Central Question:

  • How does communication construct a map of meaning for people in everyday life? (cultural model)

  • How do people negotiate common meaning and are bound by it

  • Starts from the assumption that:

Any attempt to understand the power of the media requires us first to understand how these products are located within and work to construct meaning in everyday life (Grossberg et al, p. 237).

  • Embraces ideology/belief systems and ritual: mass communication is the representation of shared beliefs where ‘reality’ is produced maintained, repaired and transformed

CMNS 130

  • Looks at issues of policy and political economy

  • Interaction of technology, organization of cultural industries and cultural power

  • Text: Augie Fleras, Mass Media and Communication in Canada

  • Fleras a sociologist

  • His agenda: This text intends to “out” the mainstream media as a persuasive dynamic that manipulates and conceals even as it enlightens and informs. Contradictions prevail: to the one side the media reflect, reinforce and advance the interests of the powerful. To the other side, there are sufficient “openings” for oppositional forces to transform the media…vii.

Next Week: Media and Modernity

  • Read Fleras

  • Tutorial: Introduction to the Media



  • BACK TO LECTURE NOTES



  • BACK TO INDEX



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