Mass communication—mass information relayed through mass media to the general public—can be very overwhelming at times. There is so much media produced on such a grand scale, which people consume on a daily basis, that at times it can be difficult to know how to manage all of the information we are receiving. Many people may just relent and accept the mass production of media rather unconsciously. But it is possible to become personally empowered by developing a greater awareness of the process of mass communication—its purpose, goals, and its impact on consumers. When consumers are aware, they can become empowered, which means they can utilize mass media in a way that benefits them. They can become wise consumers rather than unaware subjects.
Finding tools to navigate through all the mass communication and put media to a use in a way that makes sense for the user is the key to gaining personal empowerment in this regard. The tools of personal empowerment include gaining an understanding of how mass communication works as a process.
Asking the following questions can help with the personal empowerment process:
What motivates people, groups, and organizations to produce mass messages?
Can information be presented in a useful way, without bias?
Can persuasion ever be honest?
Does the process of mass communication distort or otherwise affect a mass message?
Can you trust mass media?
1.2 Purposeful Mass Communication
Study Preview Mass communicators have a purpose with every message they craft. One purpose is informational, which can help people make intelligent decisions in their daily lives and in their participation in society. Persuasion can be a purpose of mass communication. Indeed, people find media essential in making most purchases and even embracing points of view. Another purpose is amusement.
Learning Objectives By the end of this module you will be able to:
1.2.1 To Inform 1. Objective: Outline the roles of media-delivered information
Media-delivered information comes in many forms. Students heading for college, especially if they plan to live in a dorm, receive a brochure about the dreaded disease meningitis. It’s a life-or-death message about reducing the contagion in cramped living quarters. The message “Inoculate Now” is from a mass medium—a printed brochure or a mass-mailed letter or an e-mail attachment from the campus health director.
Digital News Options. Many people now get their news on their tablets or smart phones.
The most visible mass media-delivered information is news. People look to newscasts and news sites—even talk show hosts like Steven Colbert, Bill Maher, and David Letterman—to know what’s going on beyond the horizon. If not for mass media, people would have to rely on word-of-mouth from travelers to know what’s happening in Afghanistan, Hollywood, or their state capital.
Information creates awareness in many forms—not just news and health brochures. For example, advertising offers information to help consumers make intelligent decisions. In a democracy, media comprise an essential forum for news and information and the exchange of ideas that promote intelligent citizen participation.
1.2.2 To Persuade 1. Objective: Compare the ways by which mass media persuades people
The study of mass communication is primarily concerned with how mass media persuades people receiving the information to in some way change their opinions, beliefs, perspectives, attitudes and/or behavior.
Persuasion is defined as causing someone to think or behave in a certain way. Persuasion within the context of mass communication and mass media involves the process of convincing the audience of something, such as swaying their opinion or causing them to act in response to new information. Persuasion can be negative, particularly if the information is shared in propaganda. On the other hand, persuasion can also be good, particularly if the impact on the audience is a positive one, such as persuading the general population to get a flu shot.
Persuasion in the absence of diversity of ideas can be dangerous, such as in a religious cult or political dictatorship. But the use of persuasion in an environment with a free exchange of ideas can be an effective way of gaining a consumers’ attention and articulating an important message, such as how to stop child abuse, or what direction our country should head politically.
People come to conclusions on pressing issues by exposing themselves to competing ideas in what’s called the marketplace of ideas. In 1644 the thinker-novelist John Milton eloquently stated the concept of the value of competing ideas: “Let truth and falsehood grapple; whoever knew truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter.” Today more than ever, people look for truth by exposing their views and values to those of others in a mass media marketplace. Milton’s mind would be boggled by the sheer volume of differing ideas with which to grapple. Consider the diversity of ideas expressed through talk radio, newspaper editorial pages, anti-war lyrics from iTunes, blogs, and tweets, to name a sliver of the array of ideas in the marketplace.
The role of persuasion is especially important in a democratic society, in which public policy bubbles up from the citizenry over time. Consider the debate for decades on limiting young people’s access to alcohol. Should the legal drinking age be 18? 21? No limit at all? Or should booze be banned entirely? As the debate has worn on with both sides making their cases, public policy representing a grassroots majority has evolved. The media have been essential in this process in getting the word out. The same process occurs for all cutting-edge issues across a broad range (e.g., abortion, gay marriage, war, and peace).
The most obvious form of persuasion that the mass media facilitates is advertising. People look to ads to decide among competing products and services. What would you know about Nikes or iPads if it weren’t for advertising?
A major element in persuasion also comes from the public relations industry, which uses media to win people over. General Motors employs a public relations staff to make people feel good about GM. The Republican National Committee wants people to feel good about the GOP (Grand Old Party). The techniques of public relations fall
short of advertising’s pitches to make a sale. nonetheless, public relations people have persuasion as their end goal.
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