Sunday, 26 March 2017

Introduction of Mass Communication

MASS COMMUNICATION DEFINED

Mass Communication
Mass Communication
It is omnipresent. The vehicles of mass communication or the mass media are everywhere. From home, office, and outside, no place has escaped from mass, media. it is considered to be intrusive as it easily enters into the private worlds of our homes. It is attractive and alluring. Sometimes we find it excessive and repulsive. .. Often it is considered to be omnipotent or all-powerful as mass communication of information and images through advertising makes us buy things. Wars have been won through mass communication. Most importantly mass communication shapes public opinion.

What then is mass communication? To give a simple definition:

Mass communication a process whereby mass produced messages are transmitted to large, anonymous and heterogeneous masses of receivers.

By 'mass produced’ we mean putting the content or message of mass communication in a form suitable to be disseminated to large masses of people. This also means that some technological means are used for both producing and transmitting the message.
The term 'mass’ means a large aggregate of people spread over vast geographical areas. The characteristics of mass in mass communication are heterogeneous, anonymous, separated from each other; and loosely organized.
Heterogeneous means that the individual members of the mass are from a wide variety of classes and categories in society. Anonymous means the individuals in the mass do not know each other. Also the source or sender of messages in mass communication does not know the individual members of the mass. Also the receivers in mass communication are physically separated from each other and share no physical proximity. They are, in fact, spread over different geographic locations.
Finally, the individual members forming a mass are not united. They have no social organization. If at all they are united, they are very loosely organized. Unlike groups, the mass does not have a body of customs and tradition, no established sets of rules no structure or status roles and no established leadership.

Eliot Friedson (1953) defined mass as follows:
Mass is an aggregation of Individuals who are separate, detached and anonymous.

This is a very simplified definition of the term mass. Many changes have taken place in the recent times particularly in the field of technologies involved in mass communication and segmentation of audience. These have resulted in the audience members being less heterogeneous and anonymous than in the past.

ELEMENTS OF MASS COMMUNICATION

Transmission - Source Receiver Destination Noise
Transmission Model
For communication to occur we require a sender, a massage, a channel and receiver(s). Further there is feedback which is the response or reaction of the receiver; which comes back to the sender through the same or some other channel. Another element, which plays an important role in communication, is noise or the disturbances or barriers.
All these elements are there is mass communication also. In fact Harold Lasswell's model of communication – ‘WHO says WHAT in WHICH CHANNEL to WHOM with WHAT EFFECT’ - is applicable to mass communication also. The difference from interpersonal and other levels of communication lies in the multitude of receivers. In mass communication, multitude of receivers receives the message:

  • Either simultaneously and immediately as in case of radio and television,
  • Individually over a long period of time as in case of films, and 
  • Over centuries as in case of some books like The Quran, Bhagwat Gita, The Bible or the great classics.
  • Other differences are in the degree of physical proximity (in interpersonal communication sender and receiver are mostly face to face while in mass communication they may be hundreds and thousands of miles away)
  • Mass communications differs from other levels of communication in the time taken for feedback to reach back the sender (source). In interpersonal communication the feedback is instantaneous. But in mass communication, the feedback is delayed and often negligible. In certain cases there is no feedback at all. 

THE AUDIENCE

Receivers of mass communication or audience vary according to the medium used. For network television like DD-1, the audience could be millions of viewers. For an average book, the audience could be several thousands. And for a scholarly journal, the audience could be a few hundred. , Whatever the size, each audience is composed of individuals. Each Individual has a separate and distinct personality and they react to the medium's message in different fashions.
 Each individual member of an audience is exposed to, receives, perceives and retains a message differently according to his or her personal self-concept or frame of reference. Scholars often stress upon this aspect of audience individuality because audiences are often thought to be automatons or robots that react to mass communication in one single way.
Another aspect of mass communication is that individual members discuss about media contents and thus many others come to know about it that are called secondary audiences. Sometimes the secondary or indirect audiences may be larger than the original audience. For example millions and millions have read the Bhagwat Gita or the Bible. But more people (then who have read these religious books) know or are aware about these religious books through discussions and discourses. So it is obvious that the effect of mass communication reaches far beyond the initial audience.

THE SOURCE

In interpersonal and group communication the sender is usually one person. He or she thinks of communicating, decides the topic or theme or concept, puts it a proper context according to the receiver and channel, encodes and transmits the message.
But in mass communication the situation is different. Rarely the source is one individual. It is usually an organization or institution. It involves a large group of people who are involved in the conceiving, collecting, processing, encoding and transmission processes.
For example when we read news story in a newspaper, we tend to think that the writer of the story (the reporter) is the sender or source. In fact, often a reporter is assigned by a superior to do the story. So the reporter is not always the initiator. Again after the story is written and reaches the newspaper office, it is either selected or rejected by a news editor or assistant editor. If selected, a sub editor edits the story; the news story is then composed by a compositor, proof read by a proofreader, sometimes rechecked by a host of senior editorial staff. Then the page make up people prepare the layout before it is printed. Only then it reaches us.
Similarly, we tend to think that newsreaders are the sources of news on radio and television. But there is a long chain of people through whom news passes. Thus the source in mass communication is a collection of people with a lot of different expertise. So the people working for the source are all trained in some field or the other.
And almost all these activities involve complex technologies, infrastructure and huge investments.

THE MEDIUM

For the purpose of mass communication many channels or media are used. The first such medium was the book. The writing of books started about 5,500 years ago. In the early days, books were not exactly mass oriented. They were more elitist as only few people could read and even fewer people could afford books which were exquisitely designed, intricately patterned, y, and ornate and painstakingly hand printed works of art.
In the mid fifteenth century all these changed with the invention of movable types and printing press by Johan Gutenberg of Germany. He published the first machine printed book The 42 lines Bible. With technological advances, growth of literacy and an increased demand for knowledge and information led to large-scale production and dissemination of books.
Then came the newspaper. The first newspaper was brought out in 1625. It developed through various stages and by the beginning of the 19th century had developed into a full-fledged mass medium.
Towards the end of the 19th century, in 1895, cinema came. Then in the 1920s came radio. Television followed soon and arrived in the 1930's. Other media like Videocassettes followed soon. The latest mass medium new is the Internet, which has characteristics of all other mass media in some way or other.
All the mass media have become part and parcel of our lives. Although the mass media are usually taken for granted, they play important roles fulfilling many of our wants.
Mass media started as simple vehicles for dissemination of messages. But these have become very powerful. So much so that the media today are more important than the message. Also each medium is so unique and different, that these have developed their unique images.
For example, although radio and TV provide news almost immediately (and even while something is happening), people still read newspapers. This is because the printed word has much more credibility.
Also within a medium, individual vehicles have different features and images. For example, among newspapers of India, The Hindu and The Statesman are considered serious and sober. The Times of India is considered to be modern. Internationally speaking, The Times of London has more credibility among newspapers the world over. Same is the case with The Time and The News Week among magazines. Reader's Digest has a unique image of being a vehicle of clean information and education.
This overwhelming dominance of the media has led eminent communication scholar Marshal McLuhan to coin the phrase Medium is the Message

THE MESSAGE (CONTENT)

The message in mass communication includes information, news, views, education, entertainment and persuasion. We have already discussed how message is initiated, collected, processed, encoded and transmitted.
One important characteristic of message in mass communication is that it is mostly very general in nature. This is because the message is not directed at any specific group but at a highly diverse, dispersed and heterogeneous mass. And it has to cater to the different needs, varying wants and divergent attitudes of the individual members of the audience.
One way of achieving this is through simplicity and commonality. Before preparing the message, some kind of survey is conducted to find out what audience members want and how they want it. Also the lowest common denominator is found out and the message is prepared for and aimed at that audience intelligence level or interest level which will attract and hold the maximum number of audience members.
Whatever type of media content or message - from information, education, to persuasion (advertising etc.) - simplicity and commonality ensure that the message is well received by the maximum number of audience members.
Recent developments include the concepts of infotainment or info edutainment. Here mass media content includes information and entertainment and even education.
Another aspect of media content is the way it is treated by the audience members. As individuals, audience members differ from one ' another, No media content is equally liked or disliked or similarly acted upon by all. In fact, audience members are very selective about what they are exposed to, what they receive, how they perceive it and how much they retain. These are called selective exposure, selective reception, selective perception and selective retention.

DELAYED FEEDBACK

Mass communication differs from other levels of communication, as it is linear and one-way. That is there is no or very little response or feedback. Also even in this age of instant communication, feedback in mass communication is rarely direct and instantaneous. Also generally this feedback reaches the source from far distances, is of a wide variety (as different people react to a message differently) and most importantly reaches the source after considerable time lapse.
For example, the feedback to a newspaper is published in the form of letters to editor after several days of the story being published. The success of books can be judged after months and years. In fact, many books (the plays by William Shakespeare or the books of Prem Chand for example) became successful long after the authors died. Similarly, the success or failure of a film is measured at the box office (ticket counter) long after the film is released. Delayed feedback is, in fact, an in-built aspect of mass communication.
However, attempts are being made to shorten this delay by developing new forms of feedback. Television programme producers conduct audience survey through People Meter, Nielsen Meter, etc. And programmes are rated according to audience liking. Doordarshan conducts its own rating survey called DART.
Public Opinion surveys or opinion polls (developed by George Gallup in the 1930’s) are important feedback measures. These methods are also used as an important ‘feed forward measure as it helps decide what kind of programmes should be prepared in future. In case of advertising, a host of methods including recall tests, recognitions test, personating tests, etc., are conducted to find out about the effectiveness of advertising campaigns before, during, and alter campaigns.

NOISE

One classic, it somewhat exaggerated, example of noise in communication is the rumor game where one person in a group is given a piece of information or a statement. This is then passed on from one individual to the next. By the time it reaches the last person, the original statement is often distorted or twisted to a great extent. Distortion or noise in mass communication is of two types -channel noise and semantic noise. Channel noise is any disturbance within the media. In the printed mass media, channel noise ranges from typographical errors, misspellings, scrambled words, omitted lines or paragraphs, misprinting, etc. Noise in the electronic media includes static (sounds during rain or lightening, etc.) in radio and television or any kind of mechanical failure that stops the message reaching the audience in its original form.
The increased dependency of mass media on technology compounds the problem of noise and with the increasing complexity of these technologies; the probability, of more channel noise (mechanical noise) increases many folds.
Channel noise also includes all those interferences while the message is being received. For example kids shouting while you, are' watching TV and friends dropping in while you are reading a book also constitute noise. In fact, channel noise is present at every stage of the mass communication process from collection of information, processing, encoding, and transmission and at the reception stage. Another problem is the availability of many media at the same time. For example, reading newspapers is disturbed by the sounds from television or radio, etc. This problem could grow and get worse as more and more media become available.
One solution for channel noise is repetition. This is particularly used constantly in case of advertising. Have not we seen certain advertisements hundreds of times? Also television programmes are repeated at least twice. Some programmes, in fact, have more than two repeat telecasts. Repetition works on the Law of averages, i.e. if something is missed or not understood the first time, repetition will solve these problems. However, too much of repetition leads to boredom and the message effectiveness is diminished or lost.
Another solution for channel noise is 'perfecting the channel performance’. Checking and rechecking or proofreading newspaper and magazine stories, reducing static in radio, clearing up hazy pictures on television, etc., are examples of attempts at noise reduction.
Semantic noise or psychological barriers are as frequent and omnipresent as channel noise. They are also equally or more problematic. While channel noises are physical; or mechanical by nature, semantic noises' are about understanding of the message. Language barriers form a major semantic problem. Other problem areas include differences in education level, social-economic status, occupation, age, experience and interest, etc. With so many different variations and differences, it is difficult to prepare messages, which will be understood as desired by the source. As discussed earlier, one-way of solving the problem of semantic noise is to use simplicity and commonality.
Also the cannons of communication clarity, completeness, conciseness, credibility, comprehensiveness, coherency, continuity, etc. help solve the problem of semantic noise to a great extent.

GATE KEEPING

This concept is unique only to mass communication. Mass media content passes through many hands within the source organization before it reaches the audience. From initiation, collection, compilation, presentation, processing, production and finally dissemination, mass media content is regulated at each stage. This is called gate keeping as media content passes through many 'gates’ before these are released. Media personnel engaged in the various stages or the gates exercise their discretion to decide and determine what the audience will read, see, or hear. We have already discussed the example of how a news story passes though different stages before we read it.
Gets keeping is also on exercise in specialization in order to reach selective audiences. Different media and particularly media organizations have developed specific formats to appeal specific audiences. This way gate keeping is limited by nature as it restricts what the audience is exposed to. However, it becomes necessary as no medium can accommodate all the information, education and entertainment. Also audiences will be deprived of specific interest messages or content.
Another feature of gate keeping is that it is highly subjective and personal. Gate keeping is a ‘professionally educated guess’ about what the public will like.

FUNCTIONS OF MASS COMMUNICATION

Mess communication or mass media are described as the fourth pillar of democracy. They perform the role of ‘watchdog‘over the society and government in particular and expose corrupt practices. Mass media like cinema, television, radio and books, etc. help people cope with or escape from their environment. Mass media also create new values. Also mass media serve an important economic function by providing employment to millions of people. In fact, each medium - be it newspaper, television, films, books, audio to and Videocassettes has now grown to the stature of an industry.
All the above functions of mass communication are secondary. The primary functions of mass communication include: Information, entertainment, persuasion and transmission of the culture. Sometimes education is also considered a function of mass communication.

INFORMATION

When we think of mass communication, the first thing that comes to our mind is information. May be it is because of the fact that the very first function mass communication over performed was to inform. Also information is an important part of all other functions. And all media serve the information function to some extent or other.
While all media inform, the print media inform the most. Both newspapers and magazines have strong information thrust and inform us through news. Although not considered to be a medium of mass communication the news agencies (Reuters, Associated Press, United Press Interactional, Agence Press France and in India United News of India and Press Trust of India) have the highest information content. In fact, news agencies form the major source of news for all news media.
Compared to news agencies (also called wire-Services), newspapers have very low informational content. On an average more than half the space of any newspaper is devoted to advertisements (which are persuasion). Newspapers also perform the entertainment function as they provide features comic strips and a variety of human-interest stories
Books, particularly textbooks, have very high information content. Textbooks form about half the book publishing industry. Other types of books include fiction, non-fiction, and technical books. These books have less information content.
As far as TV (along with radio) is concerned, its main thrust area is entertainment. Still, TV provides us a lot of information through news bulletins, current affairs programmes etc. TV documentaries try to incorporate information and entertainment. But television cannot be blamed for ignoring information and concentrating more on entertainment. Viewers expect more entertainment from television and that is what they get.

ENTERTAINMENT

As the print media have information thrust, the broadcast media radio, TV and films have a basic entertainment thrust. This is not to say that these media have an exclusive right to entertainment and provide only entertainment. Broadcast media perform other functions too. And other media also provide entertainment.
However, it is obvious that the broadcast media are intensely, purposefully, and enthusiastically entertainment-oriented. In addition, television plays in important commercial role as a medium of persuasion.
TV and radio schedule their programmes according to viewing habits of people. As less people watch TV during daytime, programmes shown during the day are not very high on entertainment content. ln fact, during daytime we often get reruns, old movies, etc. But the programmes during prime time (evenings) are very high on entertainment as more people watch TV during evenings.
Radio - particularly FM radio - provides programmes of high entertainment value all through the day and evening.
Broadcast media, particularly TV, are blamed and criticized for the mindless entertainment programmes. The problem is that people want entertainment from television. Also to be commercially viable, radio and TV have to provide more entertainment programmes so as to attract more viewers and consequently more advertisements.
Even Public Broadcasting Services, which are free from any financial pressure, being government funded, offer entertainment programmes instead of programmes of consequence like on culture, education, etc. Even BBC provides many entertainment-based programmes. And our own Doordarshan also provides large numbers of entertainment programmes.
However, things are changing for better. While we have many entertainment specific TV channels, there are channels like Discovery, National Geographic, Animal Planet etc. which emphasis on information and education. Also specific education channels are catching up very fast.

PERSUASION

Goods, services, ideas, places, events, political parties, business organizations and social and religious institutions, and even individuals need to be promoted. One effective way to promote is through persuasion. A highly prominent and visible form of persuasion is advertising. And advertising has become an important part of many mass media. So much so that most mass media newspapers, magazines, radio and television - depend on advertising for a major chunk of their revenue. In India, the annual expenditure on advertising is projected to be about 15,000 crores. And a major portion of it goes to the mass media.
Many other means of persuasion are used in addition to advertising. These include public relations, special promotional activities and blatant and subtle attempts at image manipulation and public opinion formation.
Editorials advertorials, letters to editor, Opinion columns etc are often used to the purpose of public opinion formation and image manipulation.
Even films have not escaped. Commercial products are subtly and not so subtly implanted in many blockbuster films. Any recent James Bond film is a good example of this. Shahrukh Khan and Juhi Chawla’s film ’Phir Bhi Di! Hai Hindustani is another example of how films are used to promote commercial products.
Many news stories, interviews, features, etc., are initiated and implanted by public relations practitioners. In the US, political parties use TV to a great extent.
Also much of government news has a propaganda motive 
At this juncture, it is important to note a significant fact about news and advertisements. While only 10 percent of all information and news that reaches reporters and editors is published or broadcast, almost 100 percent of all advertisements received by mass media are published or broadcast. This show how important is advertising to mass media.
In fact, commercial radio and television are solely dependent on advertisement revenues, which is their only source of income. Of course, pay channels get money through cable or DTH fees.
In case of newspapers and magazines, the cover price does not even cover the distribution cost. The rest editorial costs, production costs and profits are covered by paid advertising. For example, one issue of any standard English newspaper in India costs something between Rs. 15/-and Rs.20/-, while almost all dailies (except business dailies) are priced between Rs. 1.50 to Rs. 2.00. And it is no surprise that about half the space in most English newspapers is devoted to advertisements.

Any communication leaves a direct or indirect impact on an individual. It becomes part of one's experience, knowledge and accumulated learning. Through individuals, communication becomes part of the collective experience of groups, audiences of all kinds and finally the masses. Mass communication, being the most potent, most far reaching of all communication, plays an important role in the transmission of culture from one place to another and from one generation to the next.