The purpose of this is to give some examples of the work of sociologists in media analysis. It takes a number of surveys conducted in the past and analyses them from the sociological point of view and determines their significance. The route between sociology and mass communication seems to be a one-way street. This is surprising because the exercise of social power, the mediation of social relations, the reproduction of society and culture, and the organisation of social experience are significant in sociology and media studies. (Sociology has a lot to say about the media and the media very little to say about Sociology.)
The sociological study of communication is an attempt to answer the simple question of ‘who says what, in which channel, to whom and with what effect?’ This definition implies overt intention, avowed purpose, and communicative efficiency. However, some sociologists take the view that a greater emphasis on the role of society and external social forces in defining the roles of ‘sender’ and receiver’ is more appropriate. The former view further assumes that messages are as much received as sent and that motives for receiving are as significant as motives for sending. Thirdly, it further assumes the media are not neutral but complex social institutions with motives. Fourthly, messages are sent by media that have encoded purposes with many possible interpretations of origin and function.
Developments Of Theory: Directions of change are occurring in media theory summarised as; radical subjective (based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions.), radical objective (not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.), subjective functionalist (Belief in or stress on the practical application of a thing, in particular.), and; objective functionalist (Not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.), all of these are characterised by critical thinking, qualitative methods and attention to knowledge and culture rather than to society and behaviour. The objective functionalist view is that Communication can be seen as an integral part of a culture and consciousness, as well as a tool of human activity. The primary question in sociological analysis of communication is ‘does culture (including mass media) influence social structure or does social structure influence culture?’
Media as Organisation and Institution: Viewing the media as a social institution where formally organised work takes place directed toward the production of knowledge and culture, the media share features with other complex institutions. Since most media work is part of show business it is not surprising that ‘illusions’ have to be protected. News is a manufactured version of reality with influences, for example, generated by public or private status. Journalists can be moved by professionalism alone and report the world as they believe it is with the hope of communicating the message that the world is improvable by ‘middle class’ ideals which are perceived as anti-working class and thus tainted. What pleases the public and finally sell newspapers may very well be the primary influence in news reporting.
Media Content and Culture: Systematic analysis of content and media output is subject to statistical research and manipulation. The primary of such research tends to be to shed light on aims of originators and to interpret cause and affect. The tradition of comparing media reality with social reality remains strong. For example, media reportage on legitimate social welfare recipients as being somehow a danger to society is often obvious. The middle class ethos appears under threat by such activity and media will protect such interests while risking weak and disadvantaged people.
The Media Audience: Sociologists are always fascinated by media audiences. Topics looked at include structure and variance and social-demographic factors which relates to cultural background and time availability. Another question for sociologists is whether the audience are ‘passive’ or ‘active’ in assimilating media messages. There are inconsistent answers to this question. The main product of the media is audience and this can be sold to advertisers. Developing audiences by not patronising them is a financial transaction imperative to the success of media outlets. Thus, catering to the demands of the audience is necessary.
Media Effect and influence: this too is an area significant and widely researched field for sociologists. Some research concludes that the media is powerful but homogenised (standardised) in its objective to change long-term public opinion. The media will construct their own definition of reality and sell it to the audience and thus the media plays a part in the unfolding of major social events, especially at times of critical events. Research suggests that the public view is influenced by the creation of this Hyperreality, which can be adapted by audiences as absolute reality.
Conclusion: The sociology of mass communication has always been stimulated by and concerned with issues of wider social relevance and we can see some extension of the range of issues that are raised in relation to mass media. These issues include, for example, the position of women, international media flow, and its consequences; the consequences for society of media change. Technology is moving at a rapid pace but these changes too are worthy of closer sociological analysis. Local community may or may not benefit from rapid change in interactive media and the heralded information society is being greeted at its dawn by social analysts with a mixture of optimism and pessimism comparable to that, which greeted the first age of mass media.
Mass Communication Theory (An Introduction)