As an integral part of modern society, media is an essential phenomenon that performs critical functions, such as the production and communication of meaning. The variety of media forms enables conveying the meaning across time and space by words, sounds, images, and interfaces. The media forms produce and communicate meaning differently, which can be examined by virtue of the semiotic studies that cover signs and symbols as visual and linguistic conceptual tools to create the meaning. Semiology serves as an analytical tool for studying the process of media communication. Hence, the semiotic studies provide a different insight into the communication by identifying the aspects that define meaning as the act of mediation, as well as the way the media messages become relevant.
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Media Analysis in terms of Semiotic Studies
For a better comprehension of the semiotics, the Manawatu Guardian newspaper’s cover was chosen for the following analysis (Figure A1). This analytical approach aims at explaining how things mean what they mean and different ways it is implemented, usually in contrast with the spoken language. According to Long & Wall (2012), it is the” study of meaning and the different systems that make meaning possible” (p. 37). Such systems imply images, color schemes, bodily gestures, music, and multiple fields of mass communication. Moreover, Branston & Stafford (2006) state that semiotics is a “theory of signs” that studies the way they produce meanings or make a significance (p. 12). Two visionary thinkers, Ferdinand de Saussure and Charles Sanders Peirce, designed the groundwork for semiology.
It might be perceived that any newspaper is being manufactured as part of the industrialized and technical process undertaken by media personnel. Considering sign as the basic unit of communication, it is possible to analyze the cover page of the Manawatu Guardian newspaper in terms of semiology. Based upon O’Shaughnessy & Stadler’s (2012) study, any message or, therefore, meaning, can only be communicated through signs, which forms a system that consists of a sign, signifier, and signified (p. 132). The main title on the newspaper’s cover page includes a sign that says, “Born deaf but implant open doors,” which represents the idea of someone suffering a congenital disability but found a solution to this problem. The signifier that concerns the physical properties or aspects of a sign is the image of a little girl, whose name is Maisy Taylor, which communicates about the story of this girl. Ultimately, as the conceptual aspect of the sign, signified implies that the girl on the image is deaf but has an implant that changed her life.
Furthermore, signs also communicate through denotations and connotations that are considered as two levels of meaning. The concept of denotation refers to the commonsense meaning of the particular sign, which implies the most straightforward way to describe a sign (O’Shaughnessy & Stadler, 2012). Hence, the overall denotation for the cover page signs involves the black letters text on the white background enriched by the colorful images on the right corner and at the bottom of the page. There are three female figures on each of the images; one is holding a deco with the cookies, a little girl, and a woman wearing a scarf and a hat. The variety of text fonts and sizes is accompanied by a red rectangular, an accent at the bottom with the graphic image of a Christmas tree.
The connotation provides a deeper meaning to the image or a text, as well as their interaction that the reader analyzes on different levels. The concept of connotation, on the other hand, is responsible for the second order of signification, including emotions, values, and associations that the signs provoke (O’Shaughnessy & Stadler, 2012). First, the reader might consider the information on this cover page as of utmost importance, since it is the introductory page that highlights vital news. The main image of a little girl conveys positive emotions as she smiles on it. Such an impression is facilitated by the bright and warm colors, as the sun is shining on her. This can immediately be interpreted as news with a good message in it. The red color of the rectangular at the bottom with a Christmas tree provokes a festive mood and reminds a reader about the presents for the loved ones. However, there are two types of connotations, the individual and the cultural ones, which means that every perspective on the information is shaped by personal experience and that the connotations are different for every culture.
In terms of print media, there is an evident lack of an in-depth narrative context compared to the television. Image is the only visual aspect of the print advertisement and requires the enhancement of its meaning. Such an approach is called anchorage, the image captions that highlight the preferred meaning of the text. While the images can be interpreted differently, the anchorage defines the exact meaning. The cover page for Manawatu Guardian does not include the direct anchorage; however, the paper can be seen as more of the societal source, rather than strictly political or business newspaper. This can be concluded by the caption under the newspaper’s title image that says, “your paper, your stories.” The bottom picture of the Christmas tree includes the anchorage that tells a reader about the sale at the knitting store with the address below.
An Argument for Understanding of the Wider World: Conclusion
The semiotic analysis of print media proved its capacity to analyze the close interaction of the words and images, and the way they construct meaning in media texts. As such, it is essential to note that cultural and social positions shape an individual meaning and affect the reader’s perception. Following the ideas of Devereux (2014), the power of a media text is to shape perceptions of social reality and depends ultimately on its ability to influence audiences. However, the complex nature of media lies in its “embeddedness in cultural forms,” as well as its incomplete perception of reality that it refers to and affects accordingly (Dyer, 2002, p. 4).
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The study aims at emphasizing the possible meanings that can be produced through such an analysis of signs, signifiers and signified, denotations, and connotations, as well as cultural codes of understanding. It emphasizes the particular meanings by the specific semiotic construction that examined each of the sections and the paper in general, including letters, text, images, colors, and emotional undertones. Danesi (2019) suggests that semiotic analysis pursues disclosing the nature of the materialistic objects in connection with its meaning in all dimensions, such as personal, social, historical, which shapes the interpretation process. Media is commonly seen as an interpretation of the world and, therefore, semiotics of the newspaper’s cover page enables a detailed argument for an understanding of the wider world.
Branston, G., & Stafford, R. (2006). The media student’s book (4th ed.). London, England: Routledge.
Danesi, M. (2019). Understanding media semiotics. (2nd ed.). London, England: Bloomsbury Academic.
Devereux, E. (2014). Understanding the media (3rd ed.). London, England: Sage.
Dyer, R. (2002). The matter of images. London: Routledge.
Long, P., & Wall, T. (2012). Media studies: Texts, production, context (2nd ed.). Harlow, England: Pearson.
O’Shaughnessy, M., & Stadler, J. (2012). Media and society (5th ed.). South Melbourne, Australia: Oxford University Press.