The Media

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The Media The Media

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Table of contents

    These are just two examples of sociological research subjects within the field of the media. There are many more areas that sociologists are interested in, from media ownership to media audiences.

    Let us look at what we will be studying on the topic of media in sociology.

    • In this explanation, we will provide an introduction to the sociology of media.
    • We will first understand the definition of 'media' in sociology.
    • After that, we will look at different types of media.
    • We will discuss control and ownership in media, including theoretical perspectives on it.
    • Then we will look at media sociology, media representations and media audiences.
    • Finally, we will study the relationship between sociology and the media, touching on theories of media in sociology.

    Media in sociology: definition

    First things first, what do we mean when we refer to media? Let's look at a definition of media in sociology.

    A medium is a channel of communication used to send and receive information.

    The term media represents the predominant means of communication such as newspapers, television, and social media.

    Types of media

    Let us now look at the different types of media.

    Old and new media in sociology

    You may have heard of new media, but what is it?

    The types of media that use digital technology as a means of communication are defined as new media. New media uses digital technology such as the internet and social media.

    This is contrary to old media, which includes traditional forms of media such as newspapers, television and the radio.

    The term new media is specifically related to digital media in the sense that it refers to media that are interactive, hypertextual, globally networked, virtual and simulated.

    Popular examples include social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, etc), websites (Google, Amazon, Wikipedia, etc), computer games, and many more.

    The Media, Social media logos, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Social media platforms are examples of new media.

    The advent of computerised technology in the 1990s has led to digitalisation - a huge amount of data is now convertible and can be stored and transmitted as binary code.

    Mass media in sociology

    Mass media refers to the usage of different forms of media by a large number of people. These are generally agencies of communication that convey information, news, education, as well as entertainment to mass audiences.

    Some forms of mass media have the capacity to carry both forms of communication, interpersonal (one-to-one) and mass (one-to-many).

    Emailing permits two or more people to exchange messages. This means that individuals can send emails to specific people, like friends or colleagues, but online retailers like Amazon can also send offers, notifications, or coupons to all their customers via email.

    The above example calls attention to technological development.

    The three major types of mass media are:

    • Print media – newspapers, magazines, books

    • Audiovisual media – television, radio, cinema - are usually commercially owned companies but can be state-owned as well, for example, the BBC

    • Digital media or cybermedia – new types of media that are mostly internet-based - includes social networking sites like Facebook and digital mediums such as mobile phones, and computer game industries

    Global media in sociology

    While the term 'media' includes all means of communicating information such as print, electronic and digital, 'global media' comprises all forms of mass communication that reach every corner of the globe.

    The Media, Icon of global media and connection, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Global media connects people from all across the globe.

    This can be television, newspapers, radio and social media (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc.).

    The influence of global media on culture and society has led to:

    • the evolution of existing media - for example, high-definition, flat-screen, digital television with subscriptions to multiple channels.

    • the emergence of new delivery modes - the emergence of the Internet or the World Wide Web, that has widened the circle of communication.

    Control and ownership of the media

    Control and ownership of the media is significant since the ‘owners’ potentially decide on what information can be communicated to the audience.

    Media ownership

    There are two types of media ownership. The first is private ownership, where companies are owned by individuals or families as opposed to being owned by a state or a public organisation, which is called public ownership.

    • Owners of a private company can decide not to publish news or a book that might raise questions about the company’s value and reputation. On the other hand, state-owned companies are often subject to political control and other approval procedures.

    • Controllers ‘manage’ or run the company business on a daily basis. Although owners have control over what information can be published, the managers create different forms and sources of information as per the needs of the audience.

    Media sociology theories: perspectives on media ownership and control

    How do different sociologists see the relationship between media ownership and control?

    The pluralist approach to media ownership

    Pluralists argue that the power to control the media is not concentrated in the hands of any one elite group; rather, it is democratic, as the media is controlled by the audience. Their perspective on the ownership and control of the media is based on how diverse social groups compete against each other to generate profit.

    In the pluralists' view, the audience reflects various opinions, as they have access to a range of different media companies in a democratic, free-market economy. The media companies compete to get more customers, thus adapting to the needs of the public to stay in business. As a result, media content reflects various views of the masses instead of the biased views of the media owners.

    James Whale claims that the “media moguls” are concerned with global business matters and not about media content, namely, what story needs to be published in a national newspaper.

    If a company fails to meet the needs of the audience its customers will stop buying its media products and move to a different company.

    Therefore, it follows that media content does not reflect a biased view of its owners but, a diverse opinion of the public - those who ultimately buy and consume the content.

    As per the pluralist perspective, consumers are free to select, reject or re-interpret media content, and cannot be manipulated.

    Although the owners hire journalists, editors, and other creators and have the power to determine the content to be published, pluralists point out that they enjoy a considerable amount of freedom in shaping the content in line with the needs of target audiences.

    The instrumentalist Marxist approach to media ownership

    This theory is associated with traditional Marxism. The instrumentalist Marxist perspective explains the relationship between media owners and media content using the concept of social class. In their opinion, the role of media is to manipulate the masses by spreading ruling-class ideology.

    The idea of direct control over the media by owners is associated with the works of Ralph Miliband. He believed that media professionals - editors and journalists, for example - in different media organisations rely upon the owners for their jobs and avoid resisting the spread of bourgeois ideology to save their jobs.

    According to the Marxist instrumentalists, media exercises ideological control in various ways, including by scapegoating, creating divisions between and within social groups and causing diversions.

    Holding 'asylum seekers' responsible for causing 'racial problems' or negative portrayals of ethnic minorities and immigrants are examples of 'scapegoating'. This creates a division between social groups and also discourages criticisms of the ruling class.

    Another example would be news filled with entertainment - news about celebrities, fashion, and style that distracts the public from thinking about critical issues like politics, exploitation, etc.

    The theory implies that media content is primarily controlled by the media owners, who are part of the ruling class maintaining the status quo in line with the unequal capitalist system.

    The Media, Hand of a man controlling wooden puppet, StudySmarterFig. 3 - The way puppets can be manipulated, media content can also influence the audiences.

    Curran (2002) points out that ownership of British newspapers was controlled by a few ‘press barons’ in the earlier part of the 20th century. The controllers would consciously use their newspapers to spread their political views.

    The Glasgow University Media Group (GUMG) claimed that media content does not reflect the opinion and interests of the owners of the capitalist structure. It is rather an unintended consequence of the social backgrounds of media professionals - journalists and broadcasters - and not capitalist plotting.

    GUMG pointed out that numerous journalists in media organisations - national newspapers, television and radio, for example, are white males from a middle-class background, where about 54% receive a private education.

    Another suitable example would be Rupert Murdoch’s control over media content. All of his newspapers promoted content supporting the Iraq War in 2003.

    The ruling class uses media as a tool to spread their opinionated ideas to consciously manipulate the audience (part of the lower class) which, according to Marxist instrumentalists, is passive.

    The Neo-Marxist approach to media ownership

    The Neo-Marxist approach, also called the hegemonic approach, focuses on the spread of dominant ideology by journalists (part of the middle-class) rather than the owners, as they believe that cultural (rather than economic) factors influence media content.

    If news 'sides' with and shows bias towards authorities, such as the police or government, this could reflect the influence of cultural factors.

    In simpler terms, the theory implies that journalists accept the views (norms and values) of the owners (ruling class) and spread the dominant ideology voluntarily, without any need for direct control by the owners.

    The board agenda of media is limited since the journalists present a conservative view, reflecting the views of the ruling class (owners). This is called cultural hegemony.

    Journalists are reluctant to publish content approved or accepted by the owners in the fear of risking their careers. The two processes through which journalists limit content are:

    • gatekeeping - the process of selecting topics for media coverage, and

    • agenda-setting - deciding on how to present the selected topic

    An example of this would be news focusing on the violence (selection) caused by riots and protests (presentation) rather than addressing the issues that caused the protests in the first place.

    The concentration of media ownership

    In recent times, there has been a trend towards reduced and more concentrated individual and/or private ownership over a higher proportion of the media.

    Ben Bagdikian (2004) highlighted that in 1983, 50 corporations had control over the majority of the media, which dropped to 22 corporations owning 90% in 1992.

    Introduction to the sociology of media

    We will now provide an introduction to the sociology of media (also referred to as media sociology). Below, you will find a summary of the topics you will learn in the sociology of media.

    What is media sociology?

    Media sociology is a branch of sociology focusing on the interplay between media content and societal structures. It refers to the impact of the new media and mass media on society.

    Media sociology considers:

    • the factors that influence media content, for example, media workers' attitudes (that are shaped as a result of socialisation)

    • the rules, social institutions, and forces of media organisations (political and economic)

    • the role and influence of media content in shaping social structures related to class, order, identity, and culture

    Some sociologists argue that media has the ability to control our thoughts - it exerts ideological control through the portrayal of its content.

    News selection and presentation in media

    News selection and presentation is a key topic within media sociology. In this topic, we will be looking at how news is selected and proliferated; namely, what 'criteria' something has to meet to be considered news.

    Sociologists suggest that news is socially constructed and is not an unbiased way of viewing current affairs. Events that do not get reported lack news value are not determined as 'newsworthy'.

    Newsworthiness is the criteria that helps media professionals select, and present news content based on news value, and the more news value a subject has, the more coverage it gains. There are various factors that help to determine the newsworthiness of an event. These are:

    • Extraordinariness

    • Threshold

    • Negativity

    • Unambiguous news

    • Personalisation

    Media representations

    We will also be studying the topic of media representations. In sociology, the portrayal of views on individuals or social groups through media products such as magazines and newspapers is called the media gaze. The media gaze is different from media representations, and we will consider why this is the case.

    What are media representations?

    Media representations are standard categories based on stereotypical views that represent different social groups via various means like advertisements, films, and TV.

    Media plays a significant role in representing the key social markers of identity like age, social class, gender, and ethnicity. We will look at how the media represents people according to these social markers.

    Media audiences

    We will now consider the topic of media audiences. Media can leave a negative impact on young audiences through events shown on television via cartoons or films or series and violent video games, which can trigger aggression.

    There are sociological theories that believe media directly influences and has an immediate impact on its audience.

    We can evaluate this view by studying media theories through different models, such as:

    • The hypodermic syringe model assumes the audience to be a 'homogeneous mass', who believes whatever the media portrays without questioning its content.

    • The two-step flow suggests that audiences are active and are influenced by those who they look up to - 'opinion leaders' - and not directly by the media.

    • The selective filter model suggests that messages pass through the following filters before influencing audiences: selective exposure, selective perception and selective retention.

    There are several other media theories and models, which you will find in a separate article called 'media audiences'.

    The relationship between sociology and media

    We'll now look directly at the relationship between sociology and media.

    As we have explored above, topics concerning media - its ownership, news selection, representations, etc. - feature prominently in sociology. But what does sociology have to say about the institution of media overall?

    Below, we will explore varying sociological theories on the media and its wider impacts on society.

    Examples of sociological theory on media

    There are different media sociology theories (theoretical perspectives) on how individuals interact with media and technology. Let's consider the following sociological theories to analyse the relationship between sociology and media.

    The functionalist perspective on the media

    Functionalism centres around how media and technology cater towards the smooth functioning of society. To understand this theory, start by considering the functions performed by media and technology.

    Media and technology can be said to provide us with information and news available via the internet or television and radio entertainment value.

    The commercial and entertainment function of the media leads to creating social norms and values that bind people together.

    Sponsors use television, film theatres, roadways and buildings as well as public transport for commercial advertising. They target audiences to promote and sell their products. Corporations like Coca-Cola and Nescafé even use school and university cafeterias or vending machines to sell their products.

    Another example would be the engagement of large audiences in online gaming, watching online series, going to movies, or even watching television for entertainment.

    Media, through its services, creates an idea about what is 'good' and what is 'desirable', or how one should behave and react. This serves to socialise an individual and helps in passing down beliefs and values through generations.

    However, the continuous flow of information and access to news can lead to narcotising dysfunction, a term used by sociologists to describe when people become desensitised to issues due to repeated exposure to them.

    When we are exposed to breaking news about worldwide tragedies 24/7, we may lose the capacity to care for or pay attention to each one of them. We become apathetic to a certain degree and have only a surface-level understanding of them.

    The conflict perspective on the media

    In contrast to the functionalist perspective, conflict theories emphasise the imbalance created by media and technology that disrupts society.

    Marxism on the media

    The Marxist theory focuses on how the ruling class, which owns and controls the media, exploits the working-class by spreading manipulated information to normalise inequality. Influential and powerful institutions have a great deal of control over what the masses are exposed to.

    The owners usually appoint senior or high-ranking officials who share their ideology. The journalists working below them are often hesitant to publish opposing content in the fear of losing their jobs.

    As a result, the ruling class becomes the 'primary definer' of the media content and gains ideological dominance.

    Feminism on the media

    The feminist perspective stresses the idea that media is patriarchal and upholds patriarchy and gender inequality by promoting gender stereotypes. Let us consider a few examples.

    • A fashion magazine with pictures of women who fit specific parameters that society finds 'beautiful' or 'attractive'. Most of them are thin, light-skinned, able-bodied, and young - why?
    • The portrayal of women characters by Disney, like Snow White, who is shown as a cleaner in the house of seven male dwarfs and rescued by a prince who was drawn to her beauty.
    • Television shows or advertisements represent women in social and domestic roles, such as a mother and daughter washing clothes together, whereas a father and son may be shown playing outdoors, covered in mud.

    All the above examples explain the imbalance created by media that promotes gender roles. The achievements of women are trivialised and given less importance than their looks. This type of media coverage not only reinforces stereotypes but also enhances negative attitudes towards women who defy socially accepted norms.

    The postmodernist perspective on the media

    According to postmodernists, society is media-saturated. The audiences actively use media images to construct their identities - Baudrillard termed this 'hyperreality'.

    Animated characters in computer games or a world of cartoon characters appear real, although they have no basis in reality.

    The media presents 'simulacra', which are events that are hard to differentiate from reality. An example of this would be the opening of cafés named 'Central Perk' after the popularity of the TV show/series 'Friends'.

    Postmodernists argue that there is no dominant characteristic attached to media content. They believe that the audience is diverse and reads media content in a variety of ways as per their own life experiences. It is difficult for those in power to manipulate the masses. With the diverse array of voices and opinions present online, people have become more sceptical of 'truth claims'.

    Finally, postmodernists emphasise the positive effects of the globalisation of media on society. They believe it has made the audience more aware of the diverse cultures and beliefs around the world.

    An example would be access to foreign films, books, music, TV series, games, and other forms of entertainment.

    Media in today's world is more participatory, which provides the scope for the audience to get involved. People have the freedom to create their own content and upload it on online platforms such as YouTube, Twitter, blogging websites, etc.

    The Media - Key takeaways

    • The term media represents the predominant means of communication such as newspapers, television and social media.
    • There are various types of media, including new and old media, mass media, and global media.
    • Ownership and control of the media are significant since the ‘owners’ potentially decide on what information can be communicated to the audience.
    • Media sociology focuses on the interplay between media content and societal structure. It includes the study of news selection and presentation, media representations, and media audiences.
    • There are different theoretical perspectives on how individuals interact with media and technology.
    The Media The Media
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    Frequently Asked Questions about The Media

    What is the role of media in today's world?

    Media in today's world is more participatory which provides a scope for the audience to get involved.

    What is the role of media in the society?

    Although media's primary function is to communicate information to the masses, it is not only associated with providing news in the form of content. It also represents its audience.

    What is the relationship between sociology and media?

    Media in sociology generally refers to the impact of the new media and mass media on society. Sociologists argue that media has the ability to control our thought: this refers to ideological control through the portrayal of its content.

    What are the major sociology theories?

    There are three major theories are functionalism, conflict and postmodernist. Conflict theories include Marxism and feminism.

    Why is media an important part of our society?

    Media, through its services creates an idea about what is 'good' and what is 'desirable', or how one should behave and react. This serves to socialise an individual and helps in passing down beliefs and values through generations.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Think about tv news reporting of natural disasters in developing countries, and how this influences people living in developed countries to donate money in the form of charity or funds to aid support. Giddens describes this process of developing a global identity as ____________ .

    Traditional forms of media like the newspaper are now a part of new media. True or False?

    Which of these is not one the four main aspects of media in sociology?


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