limitations of mass communication models

For all their usefulness, models of mass communication fall short of capturing the complexities occurring in our media systems. The volume of messages is incalculable. What we do know about the volume of messages is that it’s increasing rapidly. Nobody has come up with a model to portray the overlays and interplay of all the content moving through the mass media.

By definition, a model is a facsimile that helps us see and understand the real thing, but no model shows everything. An aircraft engineer, for example, can create a model of an airplane’s propulsion system. Although essential to illustrating how the plane will be powered, a model of its propulsion system doesn’t illustrate the plane’s aesthetic features, its ventilation system, its electrical system, or any of the hundreds of other important features. Engineers are able to overlay various models to show connections and interrelations—which itself is a major challenge—but far short of what it would take to illustrate all that is going on. It’s the same with communication: Too much is occurring at any given nanosecond. So, like all models, mass communication models are useful illustrations but limited because there is far, far more to what’s happening than can be reduced to a schematic.

Different models illustrate different aspects of the process. That the process is too complex for a single model to convey it all is clear from the Lasswell model. Sweeping as it is, the Lasswell model is far less than a detailed framework for understanding how mass communication works, but it is a starting point.

2.6.3 Concentric Circle Model of Communication 1. Objective: Analyze a media message using the Concentric Circle Model of


Scholars Ray Hiebert, Donald Ungurait, and Thomas Bohn conceived one of the most useful models from the late 20th century. Their model reflected a series of concentric rings with the source of the message at the center. The source encodes information or an idea, which then ripples outward to the outermost ring, which is the receiving audience. In between are several elements unique to the mass communication— including gatekeepers, a technologically-based medium, regulators, and amplification. The model creates a framework for tracking the difficult course of a message through the mass communication process. In effect, the model portrays mass communication as an obstacle course.

Figure 2.1 Concentric Circle Model The concentric circle model illustrates a great number of obstacles for a mass-communicated message to reach an audience. These include obstacles

in the technology, including coding for transmission. It’s a detailed model that acknowledges that the media amplify messages, which can compound their effects. Feedback is shown, too. In mass communication, feedback usually is muted and almost always delayed.

Figure 2.1 Full Alternative Text

Medium Hiebert, Ungurait, and Bohn, aware that media affect messages, put the label mass media on one of their rings. Media make a difference. A message that lends itself to visual portrayal, like a comedian’s sight gag, will fall flat on radio. The medium is indeed critical in ensuring that an outward-rippling message makes its way to the goal —an effect, which Hiebert, Ungurait, and Bohn place at the outermost ring.

Amplification In order to fully understand the nature of mass communication, it is important to

know how a mass medium boosts a message’s chance of reaching an audience and having an effect. Radio exponentially increases a commentator’s audience. A printing press amplifies a message the same way. Indeed, it’s the amplification made possible by media technology that sets mass communication apart from chatting with a neighbor or making a class presentation.

Message Controls Most mass communication involves a team, usually dozens of people, sometimes hundreds. Consider video of a terrorist attack shot by an AP photographer in Afghanistan. The video passes through a complex gatekeeping process, with editors, packagers, producers, and others making decisions on how much of the rough footage ends up in distribution to television stations—or whether the images will make the cut at all. Gatekeepers are media people who make judgments on what most merits inclusion in what is sent to networks, stations, and website operators.

Gatekeeping is an unavoidable function in mass communication because there is neither time nor space for all the messages that might be passed through the process. Gatekeepers are editors who decide what makes it through their gates and in what form.

Like gatekeepers, regulators can affect a communicator’s messages substantially, but regulators are not media people. A military censor who stops a combat story is a regulator. Some regulators function more subtly than a censor but nonetheless often powerfully affect messages. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which regulates U.S. broadcasting, is a mighty force in its authority to grant and deny licenses to over-air stations. In 2006, FCC fines for vaguely defined indecency prompted broadcasters to rein in scriptwriters and producers who had been pushing the envelope. The regulation process can be heavy-handed. China, for example, has insisted that U.S. and other countries’ media companies comply with vaguely defined but stridently enforced bans on subjects the government sees as challenges to its authority. Censorship, yes, but Google, Yahoo, StarTV, and other transnational media companies eager to profit from access to potentially huge Chinese audiences have chosen to comply.

In-Process Impediments If speakers slur their words, the effectiveness of their messages is jeopardized.

Slurring and other impediments to the communication process before a message reaches the audience are called noise. In mass communication, based as it is on complex mechanical and electronic equipment, the opportunities for noise interference are countless because so many things can go wrong.

Mass communicators themselves can interfere with the success of their own messages by being sloppy. This is called semantic noise. Sloppy wording is an example. So is slurring. Channel noise is something that interferes with message transmission, such as static on the radio, smudged ink on a magazine page, or a faulty microphone on a television anchor’s lapel. An intrusion that occurs at the reception site is environmental noise. This includes a doorbell interrupting someone reading an article, which distracts from decoding. So would shouting kids who distract a television viewer.

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