Thursday, 10 September 2015

Key Concepts in Media

In Media Studies we base a lot of our knowledge around a range of key concepts. The basic key concepts are known as; media language, representation, audience, ideology, institution, narrative and genre.
By learning and knowing these key concepts, it is easier to develop a broad understanding of the subject.


The word media language refers to the way in which a text is constructed to create meaning for the reader or viewer of the text.
The text acts as a connection between the person/institution that has created the text and the audience that will receive the text. There are three ways of looking at the role of the text in this institution/audience relationship:

  1. An active institutional view is that meaning is transmitted from the text (created by the institution) to the audience. The institution i seen as active and the audience is considered the passive receiver.
  2. A negotiated view is that meaning is constructed by the text. The institution conceals a meaning into the text and the reader interprets this in relation to other factors. The meaning of the text is therefore "negotiated".
  3. An active audience view is that meaning is re-created by the audience - so the institution becomes passive in the relationship since it has no control over how the audience re-creates meaning from the text in an active way.

If you are studying the text from an active institutional view you should be analysing it in terms of questions such as:
  1. Who constructed this text? 
  2. What context did they construct it for?
  3. What other texts have they constructed?
  4. What codes and conventions can I recognise from other texts they have constructed?
If you are studying the text from a negotiated view you would be asking questions such as:
  1. What genre codes and conventions are being employed here?
  2. What do I know about the time and place where this text was constructed? 
  3. Is this text typical of its genre or time or place? 
  4. What representations are being used in this text to create meaning?
  5. What meaning has been encoded into the text?
  6. What codes and conventions are being used in the text?
If you are studying the text from an active audience point of view you might be asking questions such as: 
  1. How does this text conform to audience expectations? 
  2. What previous experience does the audience use when consuming this text? 
  3. How does the audience create meaning from this text?
  4. How and where might an audience receive this text?
  5. How might this influence the meaning they receive?

Jacques Derrida - Deconstruction:

Jacques Derrida explored the relationship between the institution and audience in a different way. He suggested that an audience deconstructs a text within the context of its logos. The logos is everything that influences the meaning of the text.

The word representation means the ways in which the media portrays particular groups, communities, experiences, ideas and/or topics. All media texts are mirroring reality from different perspectives.
We often analyse representations in the media according to categories such as: 
  • age
  • disability
  • gender
  • socio-economic grouping
  • race
  • nationality
  • sexuality
Through these categories we tend to analyse how people are portrayed or represented.


Stereotypes are characters in a media text who are "types" rather that complex people. Stereotypes are usually negative representations and most have a lot of assumptions. They also usually represent an entire social group in a single character such as for example the drunken Irishman.


The representations used within a text act to define the ideology.


Representations are almost always defined by the genre.


Certain audiences can have a great influence on representations used.


All representations must also be analysed in the context of the institution creating the representation .

Types of representation:

You need to think about different religious groups, different cultures and societies, nations, occupations and societies. Most importantly you need to think about why a group is being represented in this way in a text.

We are all daily consumers of media texts and this is of course interesting for media producers to know their types of audiences. 
The media producers need to ensure that they can define their target audience for their specific product and then make sure that they appeal directly to that target audience.

There are several different types of audiences:

Mass audience:

Mass audiences are large audiences who consume mainstream or popular culture texts such as soap opera, sit-coms or reality TV shows. 

Niche audience:

A niche audience is a much smaller audience which is considered to be very influential. They are often very loyal towards a couple of specific programs.

Audience demographics:

One of the best and most common ways of identifying a target audience is the so called socio-economic model. It is a useful tool for identifying the target audience and deconstruct a text.

Texts are often deconstructed into different target groups:
  1. Group A - lawyers, doctors, scientists, managers who are all well paid professionals
  2. Group B - teachers, senior managers who are fairly well paid professionals
  3. Group C1 - "white collar", junior management, bank clerks and nurses
  4. Group C2 - skilled "blue collar" such as electricians, plumbers and carpenters
  5. Group D - semi and unskilled manual workers such as drivers and post sorters
  6. Group E - students, pensioners and unemployed people 

Audience profiling:

There are several other ways in which the audience can be segmented. If the audience is targeted and identified well the product is very likely to be successful. Due to this, audience is considered to be fundamental to the planning and shaping of a media text.

Audiences can also be segmented into other categories such as:
  1. age
  2. gender
  3. demographic (where the audience lives) 
  4. profiling 
  5. values, attitudes and lifestyles

Semiotics is the study of sign processes and meaningful communication. It enables us to deconstruct how visual and textual messages communicate. There are three levels of deconstructing a text. These are: syntatic level, representational level and the symbolic level.

Syntatic level:

This is known as the most basic level of analysis. It identifies the denotations of the text meaning that it describes what is in the text. 
In order to do this, one should look at the purely visual message that the text communicates.
So, when you are deconstructing a text on this level, you focus on the immediate impression. 

For example: 
  • What are the dominant elements on the screen/page?
  • How is colour being used?
  • What is the overall effect of the text? 

Representational level:

This level examines the meaning of something. At this level you should look at the key concepts, ideas and objects included in the text and the relationship between them. You are also thinking about how the text creates meanings through the linking of elements in the layout e.g. editing etc. 

For example:
  • Has the camera angle or font been used to convey a difference in status for different characters or sections of text? 

Symbolic level: 

At this level you are looking at what hidden meanings or connotations the text carries in terms of ideology and institution.
It is important to remember that a text is dependent on the context of consumption. This means that the interpretation of the signs etc. will depend on the readers' own cultural history.

For example:
  • Symbolic signs can be interpreted differently in different contexts.
By identifying the connotations of the text and the cultural context in which it was created, you will be able to identify the relationship between  the text and the target audience.

Sign systems:

A sign system has two elements

  1. A signified
  2. A signifier
The 'thing', which is represented by the sign is the signifier and the 'concept' represented in the sign is the signified. Many signs may be polysemic. This means that many signs will cary lots of meanings at the same time.

Types of sign:

  • The closest relationship of a sign is an index sign. Indexical signs are closely related to the concept they signify. E.g. A tin of catfood signifies the catfood inside.
  • Iconic signs are like the signified. E.g. A photograph is often described as an iconic sign because it is like the person on it, but it is clearly separated from them. 
  • Symbolic signs do not have an obvious relationship with the signified. E.g. A dove signifying peace is an example of a symbolic sign.
  • Arbitary signs are signs for which the meaning can change. E.g. Language is often an arbitary sign since there is no clear connection between the signified and the signifier. 

Sign systems can be very useful to convey a lot of information very simply. In media texts the sign system conveys many layers of meaning at the same time. 

There are two different types of ideology:
  • Dominant Ideology - this is one which is accepted and understood by the majority of people as part of our culture end expectations
  • Hegemony - this is the control of the current society by government through cultural and social expectations as well as the media
Patriotism is a good example of a key dominant ideology which is promoted through the media.

Every media will have particular ideologies which affect the construction of its texts. These may be explicit ideologies such as a newspaper having a particular political affiliation or implicit ideologies such as for example the representations of a heroine in a typical Hollywood film.

When you are analysing a media text it is important to consider these points of ideology:
  1. Are they explicit or implicit?
  2. How does the text employ dominant ideologies?
  3. What ideological assumptions are made in the text?
  4. Are these ideologies cultures, institutional or both?
  5. Do the ideologies reflect the type of text? 
The institution is the company or the person that creates the text and comes up with the idea for the text. 
The shape of a media institution and the texts depends a lot on four crucial influences:
  • money (lack of money)
  • ownership and the degree this involves
  • artistic or social motivations
  • target audience 

When you are thinking about institution as a key concept it is important to remember that you need to be able to identify:

  • What institution created a particular text
  • how this institutional context has shaped the text 
  • what ideologies are therefore established in the text 
  • what institutional codes and conventions are used in the text 
  • commercial
  • public service 
  • independent 

The narrative is the story of the text. It can both be an explicit narrative in a soap opera or an implicit narrative such as in an advert. 
When studying a text it is reasonable to ask the following questions about the narrative structure:
  • Has the institution created a text with a convential narrative structure?
  • If not, which conventions have they subverted or broken?
  • Why have they done this? 
  • What impact does this have on the audience?
  • What audience expectations have they established or challenged by using this structure?

Time is used in many different ways in a moving image text. There is often a difference between discourse time and story time.

Discourse time is the time taken to narrate the events. Story time refers to the events happening. This can be established in a variety of ways:

  1. Summary - Discourse time is shorter than story time. A way of doing this is to use a fade on a changing clock face.
  2. Ellipsis - Most common way of establishing discourse time rather than story time. For example by keeping the narrative moving
  3. Scene - Story and discourse are equal 
  4. Stretch - Discourse time can be longer than story time, for example through slow-motion or a freeze frame
  5. Flashbacks - These change the linear progression of a text to allow the audience to judge or gain perspective on events


Another word to describe genre would be type. 
TV programs, soap operas etc. will always have and share familiar or instantly recognisable patterns, techniques or conventions that include similar : settings, mis-en-scène, plots, motifs etc. 
Film genres can be categorated into groups such as: action, adventure, sci-fi, westerns, horror films... 

Codes and conventions:

Associated with any genre are its codes and conventions. This means the textual codes which give meaning to an audience and the conventions of the genre such as themes, ideologies or narratives.
When analysing a text it is important to identify the genre of the text quickly since this will help to identify particular codes and conventions
In general you should be able to identify how and where these codes and conventions have been used and be able to writes about why they have been used in that way.

1 comment:

  1. an epic post - full of useful concepts for your exam and evaluation


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