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Media Sociology: Media Content Analysis

Media Sociology: An Introduction

The module looks at the media content and factors that shape it in our society. It looks at the internal and external factors that may influence media content and why this may be necessary. Media content is not a true reflection of issues within the society. The content is shaped by various factors in the society which results into the emergence of different versions of the truth. Sometimes the truth may be given a version that makes it cease to be the truth. The ideologies that we have in the society, the interaction with other members of the society, the cultural values that we hold and our behavioural patterns are some of the major factors that have influence in the content of media. The module looks at how the world we live in influences media content.

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Questions to consider

One of the questions that have remained in the public domain for a long time is whether film and television violence make children violent when interacting with their peers. Everyone appreciates the fact that we need a society that is free from any form of violence. There is also an agreement that media plays a critical role in defining our perceptions towards various issues in the society. It would, therefore, be important to know why filmmakers produce violent programs. In most of the cases, violence is presented as being cool. The violent individuals have their way, while the weak are destroyed. Personal attitude and media workers orientations play an important role when it comes to defining the type of content to produce. Sometimes corporate policies and professionalism may affect the nature of information from the media. Issues such as ideological differences and corporate ownership of the media stations sometimes dictate the media content.

The syllabus

The syllabus will focus on the basic functions of media in our modern society, and the role it plays in democracies and non-democracies around the world. The structure of the global media and its effect on the media content will also be given a serious consideration in the module. The change pattern that the functions and structure of media has taken over the years and how this has affected the society is covered. It will also be necessary to kook at the relationship that exists between power and media. Such relationships always define the manner in which realities are manipulated in the media content. The syllabus will also look at the relevance of advertising in our modern society and how it has shaped the versions of realities. The module also defines how each student will be graded in the assignments and academic tasks that they will be tasked to address. Class participation, mid-term exams, class presentations, course concepts, and final exams are the main grading areas for the module.

Influences on Content

Media routines

In order to understand the factors that affect media content, it is appropriate to analyse the media routines. In our society, people do not think independently. Their thoughts are influenced by the activities happening around them. We tend to copy or modify what others have done but in a way that will be socially acceptable based on the standards within a given community. Media workers always speak the language of the community. They are part of the community, and therefore, their thoughts are influenced by the events taking place in the society. Routine in the context of media content refers to a given set of constrains that affect a media worker. It is the immediate context through and within which the journalists do their jobs. However, there are gate keepers that help to inform the final content that is given by the media houses. These gate keepers include book publishers, television producers and directors, and new editors. Before the content is released into to the audience, these gate keepers always go through it to determine whether the content conforms to the societal standards.

Understanding the hierarchy of influences on media content may help explain the decisions that some of the media workers make in their reporting. Individual convictions have a major influence on the content of the media. The personal beliefs of the individuals will define the approach they take when reporting. The second factor is the media routine level. There is always an attempt by the media workers to maintain the routines that have been traditionally used in reporting news. Organisational level comes third in the list. The organisational behaviour and practices will define the content that is reported by each organisation. The extra media level also influences the content of the message from a given media station. Finally, the ideological level factors also form another important determinant of the media content. The figure below shows the model.

Hierarchical Model of Influence on Media Content
Figure 1: Hierarchical Model of Influence on Media Content

Media system

The media system comprise of individuals, practices, and regulations that work in harmony in order to ensure that the content is developed and delivered to the audience in a manner that is within the expectations of the society. Professional journalism follows the laid routines. This means that it is easy to predict their possible actions when addressing various topics. The media routines have a close link to the organisational perspectives, especially on mass media. Each media worker in different industries must understand his position. From bloggers, actors, models, and poets, to writers and movie directors, every individual must understand their roles in defining the media content. The journalists must understand that they have a massive influence on the content of news they deliver to their audience. The source of media routine such as the data to be collected, the process of publishing the content and the rules that exist to ensure that there is coherence in reporting is also critical in defining the media content.

Influences on Content-Media Workers

Characteristics of media workers and how this influences the media content

It is a fact that other environmental factors may influence the content of media. However, the media workers play a pivotal role in defining what is reported. The character of the individual journalists and their perceptions towards a given issue may influence the reporting pattern and the content of the information. These characteristics of the journalists influence the content in various ways. The characteristics of media workers such as their ethnicity, gender, religion, or sexual orientation will define how they approach different topics when making their reports. Their personal experiences and family status will also influence their reporting pattern. Factors that inform the decisions of media workers can be classified as either direct or indirect impacts. Direct impacts are ethical and professional concerns of the media workers. There are principles that they are expected to hold while collecting or reporting their findings. Indirect impacts are the personal values, beliefs, and attitude towards certain issues in the society. These factors may not necessarily be based on the professionalism or ethical practice. They are personal convictions of the journalists based on their personal experiences and beliefs.

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Background and characteristics

Background issues and characteristics of the individual media workers play an important role in defining the media content. Gender is one major factor. The way women feel about given social issues such as domestic violence may be different from the views of men. This means that the way a woman will report on domestic violence will be different from the way a man would do it. Ethnicity is another important background factor that will define the way a reporter will pass a message. An Arab journalist will consider the intervention of the West to counter Islamist groups such as ISIS as interference, while a journalist from the West will consider it an effort to bring world peace. Sexual orientation largely influences the media content. Their orientation defines what they consider normal or abnormal. A reporter who is gay will find it normal reporting a gay marriage. The same may not be said about a reporter who is not gay. Their convictions about the issue of gay marriages will be manifested in their reports. Finally, the content of a report will be defined by the qualifications of a reporter. The way an average reporter passes a piece of information is different from the way an elite reporter does it. An elite reporter knows how to modify the content to fit into various contexts. Behavioural issues and deviance are other important factors that influence media content.

Influencers of Media Content

Some definitions

It is important to start by defining what media content is before analysing the factors which affect it. In its simplest form, media content refers to anything, from audio, to visual and the mannerisms that the mass media produce and distribute. Quantitatively, it refers to the amount of focus that media gives to a given incident or issues within the society. Qualitatively, it refers to the approach the media workers take in reporting a given incident, and the image they portray through their deliberate choices of words. On the other hand, media sociology seeks to investigate why the media content is modified in a given way. It looks at how various factors influence media content. For example, it would be interesting to understand why female models are used when advertising cars. The producers of such adverts have never thought of using men, probably to demonstrate the strength of a car. This is an indication that it is largely assumed that majority of people who buy cars are men, and the use of beautiful models may influence their decisions in one way or the other.

Media sociology theories

More often than not, media content is based on the factual data other than theories. Journalists have the responsibility to give a report that is true and verifiable, irrespective of whether it supports a given theory or not. It will be the responsibility of the audience to relate the truth to given theories that exist in such contexts. However, it is important to note that some theories play an important role in the approach taken by the reporters in delivering news. Journalists are expected to be a mirror through which a given fact is presented to the audience in its truest form. However, the truth is that beliefs and values may influence the way a journalist processes and presents a given form of information. Social and institutional forces within our society may have a strong influence on the content of the media and the reporting pattern. The legal policies and perceptions of the audience towards given information are some of these external forces. Sometimes a journalist may be in a dilemma trying to balance the truth with what the audience wants to hear or what the law says.

Beyond processes and effects

It is true that media has a strong effect on the recipients. However, this text is concerned about how the media content is created under different contexts. This analysis can be done at different levels. It can be done at a macro or micro level. It is important to appreciate that those social sciences and communication studies are not perfect. Sometimes, news may not portray the truth. The journalists may modify it in a way that will meet their intended motives. Biased reporting may facilitate modification of truth to meet the individual or organisational goals.

Analysing Media Content

Importance of media content

At this stage, it is important to explain why media content is important. Mass communication is still given prominence over the social media. This is so because the society believes that reports from the mass media are verified and not based on a rumour that is very common in the social media. For instance, what may be the motive of a terrorist group like al-Qaeda when they record and then post the execution of people they consider their enemies? One factor that makes media content to be very important is that it helps us to predict how it will impact the audience. Viewers rely on media to learn about the world. The content they get from the media helps in shaping their views about different issues in the international society. Most people believe that the content they receive from media is the reality. If such contents are distorted, the truth will remain concealed from the members of the society. Media content also influences the ability of the audience to embrace change in the society.

Categorising the content

In order to categorise the media content, it is important to ask a number of fundamental questions. Issues such as the medium of the content, importance of the message, and the intended use of the information are some of the questions that one should ask. The content can be categorised as environmental reports, correlation of the society, transmission of fundamental social heritage from the older generation to the new generation, or entertainment. Surveillance content looks at issues that may be of threat to the environment or individual members of the society. It is meant to motivate the political, economic or social reactions from the audience. Correlation content is largely associated with the editorial activities and propaganda. Such contents seek to persuade the audience to think in a given pattern when looking at various political issues. Transmission content includes all forms of contents that need to be delivered to the audience through popular channels. Content can only reach the intended audience in time if it passes through clearly defined channels. Entertainment content is meant to provide pleasure, relaxation, respite, and gratification to the audience. Its conveyance should give emphasis to the need to create a pleasurable experience. News and entertainments use the same medium, but are intended to meet different purposes. News should inform and define the actions of the audience, while entertainments should make them happy and relaxed.

Media plays an active role on issues such as manipulation of realities through visual and verbal messages. By manipulating the reality, the media workers are able to manipulate the audience to think in a given pattern.

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Patterns of Media Content

The module seeks to determine the ideas, activities, views, and people that are most frequently presented in the media. It also looks at how the media systematically shifts from the social realities for reasons known only to the media workers. The module also looks at whether the content is presented frequent enough as to emphasise on issues about social realities and trends.

How to figure out the pattern

Media workers are always keen on presenting the content that is of interest to the audience. They want their contents to be heard, and this makes it important for them to look at contents that meet the demands of the masses. Issues of public interest will be given large coverage, while issues that affect the minority will be ignored or given very little coverage. The following are some of the common patterns.

Political bias

This remains the biggest challenge when it comes to objective presentation of information to the audience. Political bias may be open or hidden, intended or unintended. Open intended political bias is common in the current society as media stations try to push agendas of people in power. Such partisan reports are very common in opinion columns, advertisements, and editorial endorsements. The message may be modified to portray an individual or item in a way that pleases the media worker. Propaganda is another intentional but hidden political bias commonly used by politicians. Sometimes they promise the public things they know they cannot deliver. Unwitting bias such as selection of topics or championing for a given ideology is also common in the political arena. The problem faced by the society in addressing the political biases is that people fear the truth. They prefer hiding behind the propaganda instead of facing the truth.

Behaviours

In many instances, reporters are keen on reporting the behavioural patterns that are considered unnatural in the society. It is rare for a media worker to report an incident where an individual has done something that is perfectly normal. They consider such incidents to lack media value. They go for issues such as violence and deaths from violence because they consider such information to be of interest to the public. Negative news seems to attract more attention than news of good things happening within our society. Deviance in reporting is very common. Cases where media workers deviate from the truth have been common in our society as personal interests get deeply entrenched in the news delivered from the media stations. Money and power make it easy for an individual to deviate the truth from the public. This helps the individuals to remain in power because they distort any fact that may make them be viewed as evil.

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