II. Control and Public PolicyWilbur Schramm
III. Television and Its Place in Mass CultureRichard Hoggart
IV. AudiencesLeo Bogart
V. EffectsJoseph T. Klapper
Urbanization, industrialization, and modernization have created the societal conditions for the development of mass communications. In turn, these processes of social change produce societies that are highly dependent on mass communications. Mass communications comprise the institutions and techniques by which specialized social groups employ technological devices (press, radio, films, etc.) to disseminate symbolic content to large heterogeneous and widely dispersed audiences. In other words, mass communications perform essential functions for a society that uses complex technology to control the environment. These functions of mass communications include the transmission of a society’s heritage from one generation to another, the collection of information for the surveillance of the environment, and the correlation of the various parts of the society in response to changes in the environment. Social science research on mass communications seeks an objective understanding of the institutions that fashion mass communications and the consequences of communication and mass persuasion for human society.
The social scientific perspective. In surveying the extensive research on mass communications, one finds that there are great gaps between the orientations of social scientists and those of mass media personnel and their critics. First, there is a great difference in estimates of the effectiveness and potency of the mass media based on the findings of social scientists as compared with the viewpoints of those directly involved in operating the channels of mass communications. Mass media personnel, as well as their critics, tend to contend that the mass media are all-pervasive influences and powerful agents of social change. Thus they point to the individual and dramatic impact of specific programs and campaigns, such as the publication in Germany of President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points early in 1918, or Orson Welles’s dramatization of H. G. Wells’s War of the Worlds over the CBS radio network in 1938 (for which see Cantril 1940). They point to the long-term consequences of the mass media in fashioning tastes and moral standards and in creating images of political leaders. While social scientists continue to differ in their particular inferences and conclusions, in general they tend to view the impact of the mass media as circumscribed. They see the mass media as limited agents of social change and as only one element among others, such as technological progress, organizational controls, cultural and ideological forms, and the processes of socialization and personality development.
In part, this gap is due to the different questions being asked by mass media personnel and by social scientists. Professional practitioners in the mass media are seeking specific and pragmatic answers to practical communications problems, while research workers are more concerned with general principles and hypotheses. In part, this gap is due to the weaknesses and limitations of social science research on mass communications, which, because of its highly fragmented character, is often not cumulative and therefore unable to supply valid answers to basic issues.
Second, the mass media have been subjected to uninhibited social criticism by some intellectuals and practitioners who see them as contributing to the demise of civilization. These critics hold the view that the growth of the mass media, in and of itself, deteriorates moral and intellectual standards. This point of view stands in contrast to the aspiration of intellectuals at the turn of the century, who hoped that with the proliferation of the mass media, modern society, however large and complicated, could yet fulfill the requirements of the democratic process. It was in the mass media that hopeful thinkers saw a new opportunity for mass education and the elevation of men’s minds. Modern political history has undermined such intellectual hopes, and in the contemporary world the mass media are seen by critics as speeding up the development of a mass society and the destruction of individuality. But the social scientific point of view must reject the notion that the growth of the mass media necessarily produces an undifferentiated society with a general lack of articulation and an inability to make collective decisions. Researchers must see the mass media as instruments of social control and social change that may have either positive or negative consequences, depending upon their organization and content.
Popular images of the pervasive effects of the mass media were generated by the use of propaganda during World War i, by the growth of mass advertising in the United States during the 1920s, and by the use of mass techniques of agitation in the rise of European totalitarian movements. Thus, it is understandable that the first results of empirical research were to challenge such perspectives and to debunk popular notions. For example, although the pioneering studies on the impact of the movies carried out under the auspices of the Payne Foundation (Charters 1933) showed definite and discernible consequences of moviegoing for youth behavior—often socially undesirable consequences —the over-all conclusions hardly attributed a pervasive influence to the film in shaping youth culture. Specific studies on totalitarian states conducted during World War ii and thereafter also revealed that after the seizure of power by dictators mass persuasion became less important as a basis of control in these political systems. The image of limited communication effect was, in particular, reinforced by research on the basis of civilian and military morale in Germany and Japan (see, for instance, Shils & Janowitz 1948), which showed that ideology was of limited significance and that hostile propaganda could operate only within specific confines. In addition, laboratory studies on the impact of the mass media, as well as studies using the sample survey technique, also tended to produce findings that highlighted the limitations of mass effects, especially since these research procedures were used mainly to study specific messages and short-term effects.
Nevertheless, students of mass communications recognize that available research describes only part of a complex process and that the findings of specific empirical studies need to be evaluated and integrated by means of a more systematic frame of reference that takes into consideration the fundamental nature of personality and the broader process of social change. This frame of reference includes, first, the assumption that the mass media both reflect the social structure and social values of a society and operate as agents of social change. Because of the diffuse nature of communications processes, the mass media are both causes and effects; or, in the language of social research, they are both independent and dependent variables. Therefore, the full range of effects can only be understood by making inferences about causal processes. Second, the analysis of mass communications involves not only a study of the continuous process of transmitting symbols and their effect on audiences but also the equally complex and subtle process by which the audience communicates with and influences the communicator. In fact, this assumption implies that the analysis of mass communications is incomplete unless this two-way process is included. Third, mass communication systems invariably involve an interplay with interpersonal communications. Again, a comprehensive analysis requires the study of how interpersonal communications condition the communicator as he produces messages and content and, in turn, how interpersonal communications negate or increase the impact of mass communications on audiences.
As a result of the complexity of the mass communication process, most research has been oriented toward probing one or another phase of the total process. Harold Lasswell’s phrase, “Who says what to whom with what effect?” has been the general format in which specific research proceeds: The “who” question includes the study of the organization and personnel of the mass media; “what” refers to the content of the mass media; “to whom” points to the structure of the audience and various audience characteristics; and the “with what effect” aspect has received attention in the studies of mass media impact and audience response. Although this format was coined over thirty years ago (Lasswell 1932), it still presents a highly useful approach for integrating the large number of diverse approaches to the study of the mass media of communications and their effects. But the study of each element must be thought of as a step in understanding the total process and especially in estimating the long-run consequences of mass media.
Personnel and organizational structure The “who” question has been investigated through two different but highly interrelated approaches. First, who are the people—the managers, directors, writers, performers—who produce and transmit mass communications? This is the sociology of an occupational and professional group. What are the social origins, educational backgrounds, career lines, and professional organizations of mass media personnel? What type of personalities are attracted to work in the mass media, and what are their self-images and social perspectives?
Second, since mass communications must inevitably be produced by large organized collectivities rather than by individual persons or small groups, what are the decision-making processes in mass media enterprises? How are these enterprises structured in terms of status, power, and other elements of social control? What consequences do the technological characteristics of the various media have on their internal organization? How does the control of the mass media relate to the economic and political organization of the society?
Personnel and professionalization have been the least explored aspects of the mass media. However, two comprehensive studies by Leo Rosten—one on the Washington corps of correspondents (1937) and the other on the Hollywood movie colony (1941)—reveal several central issues. The Washington correspondents represent a case of the highly developed but informal type of professionalization, where rules and regulations concerning standards of performance have evolved and are enforced by colleague pressures so as to raise the level of performance. On the other hand, Hollywood, as a movie colony and subsequently as a television center, represents an extreme case of the type of media establishment that has a high level of social and interpersonal tensions; in such communications enterprises the demand for spontaneity and creativity necessarily outruns human energies. The popular stereotype of Hollywood as a frenzied, schizoid community staffed by persons with constant fears of failure and frequent feelings of self-hatred is a caricature that is apparently not without support in fact.
The limited number of studies of the sociology of the creative arts in the mass media, together with astute observations of participants who have written on the subject, such as James T. Farrell (1946), suggest that one major source of discontent and “alienation” among mass media personnel derives from the organizational need to bureaucratize creative effort. The result is a divorce of creative workers from control over and identification with the end products of their work. The term “bureaucratization” must be used with reservation, for a considerable number of productive activities in the mass media have not become rationalized. Therefore, sociological observations about alienation among the producers of mass aesthetics are difficult to translate into precise conclusions. These notions apply to the very small numbers of truly creative personalities and not to the vast bulk of symbol handlers and technicians. Moreover, it would appear to be an error to assume that inevitably the essence of creativeness is lost in organized group effort. We need merely to recall the corps of assistants who worked with Michelangelo and Rubens or the monuments to collective artistic creativity such as the Sainte-Chapelle and the cathedrals of Chartres and Milan.
The significant point is not that artistic and creative work has been collectivized in the mass media for the first time in human experience, but that it has been extensively collectivized on a scale never before possible. The technological requirements of the mass media and the exaggerated pressure to create rapidly under deadlines force a high degree of specialization and a detailed review of each person’s efforts. In the setting of a massive and complex organization, as is to be found in many of the mass media, it is not difficult for the individual worker, whether artist or not, to lose or otherwise abnegate his sense of personal responsibility for the quality of the work eventually produced. Nevertheless, against this response must be weighed the pressures of creativity or of professional responsibility to maintain areas of individuality even in these large-scale organizations. One of the reasons that such pressures continue to exist is that the pervasive demand for new ideas and new content insures a constant and ever increasing search for talent.
It is also important to distinguish between genuine creativity and professional responsibility among mass media personnel. Social research has little to say about the conditions under which genuine creativity appears, but it is clear that the organization of the mass media has tended to inhibit or at least dampen the development of professional responsibility. It is very difficult to apply the concept of professionalism to the mass media personnel in a one-party state, while in nations with multiple-party systems and relatively autonomous communications institutions, the status of mass media personnel is more that of employees of a large-scale organization than that of practicing professionals. Even in Great Britain, where the organization of journalists is highly developed, the professional associations are more concerned with conditions of work than with professional standards. In democratic societies there are no bodies for enforcing professional standards among journalists or even quasi-public bodies for reviewing and evaluating their performance. Professionalization therefore takes the more limited form of an emphasis on more adequate educational preparation (a topic about which there is little agreement), a concern with informal relations among specialists, and the development of devices such as the increased reliance on the “by-line” in order to identify mass media products with individual producers and writers [seeJournalism].
The absence of higher levels of professionalization in the mass media is a result of the structure and process of decision making within the mass media. Because of the presumed importance of the mass media as instruments of social and political control, these institutions become fused with the basic control structure of any society. In a totalitarian state, this control is comprehensive but not without inherent limitations. If the media of such political systems are to serve more than merely to reaffirm basic societal loyalties, and if they are to disseminate information and contribute to collective problem solving, then some limited degree of independence is required. Alex Inkeles, in his Public Opinion in Soviet Russia (1950), a research study that describes the organization of the Soviet mass media, points to such devices as letters to the editors and reports of self-criticism as efforts to increase the validity and acceptance of mass media content. In some one-party socialist societies there have been modifications of central party controls, including the development of limited areas of professional responsibility for mass media personnel. Often the modification takes the form of creating specialized periodicals with limited circulation to reach specialized groups without disturbing the larger process of mass media control via precensorship.
In multiparty states with mixed forms of media ownership and control, the historical development of the mass media shows a trend toward greater freedom from government control. In such states there is typically an emphasis on the necessity of an independent and competitive mass media system. However, political theorists have come more and more to recognize that the removal of governmental interference does not necessarily, or in fact, produce mass media systems that meet all the requirements of a free society. There have been a small number of penetrating studies of the control structure of the mass media in the United States and Great Britain. Most of these studies were undertaken by foundations, universities, and, in a few notable cases, governmental agencies. They all concluded that certain technological, economic, and organizational factors may prevent competition from supplying an effective basis for high levels of mass media performance. One of the most important of these studies was conducted in the United States under the aegis of a quasi-public sponsor, the Commission on the Freedom of the Press. It is noteworthy that the principal financial supporter of this commission was Henry Luce, head of the Time–Life publishing corporation.
The work of the commission included historical surveys of the radio, motion picture, and book industries, as well as a comprehensive review of the role of the government in the mass media process. The policy recommendations of the commission (Commission on Freedom of the Press 1947) were afterward closely paralleled by the findings of the British Royal Commission on the Press (Great Britain … 1947–1948). In short, while government interference was rejected by both reports, the view they set forth was that traditional conceptions of competition would not guarantee adequate media performance. Instead, it was recommended that the mass media accept public responsibility for presenting a comprehensive and meaningful interpretation of contemporary events and that the government would have to take a positive role in this process.
Underlying these recommendations was a series of empirical observations that were documented in the 1940s and have been repeatedly confirmed by subsequent research. For the United States, these studies point to a drift of the major media toward increasing centralization in their decision-making processes, but none has even suggested that complete monopolistic control is or will be the outcome in any of the mass media industries. The evolving pattern is rather that which appears to obtain in many other areas of mass production, namely, that a limited number of very large units dominate a wide sector of a particular medium or even a combination of media. That a degree of competition has characterized the relations among these organizational giants cannot be denied. This competition is to a considerable extent enhanced by the fact that the audience can choose between various media.
Moreover, technological changes do not inherently move in the direction of supporting more and more concentration. For example, frequency modulation (FM) radio has introduced a new network of decentralized units; and even in the newspaper field in the United States, the trend toward consolidation has leveled off as new reproduction techniques have been introduced. Equally apparent, however, is the fact that the large producers of mass communications have often cooperated with each other in generally successful efforts to fend off attempts by other, supposedly countervailing, power groups (such as the government, the churches, and other public or private interest organizations) to influence decisions regarding the structure and content of the mass media.
In assessing the consequences of this drift toward power concentration, simple stereotyped conclusions are not warranted. For the United States, there is considerable evidence that the larger and more all-embracing these industries become, the more they come to resemble public institutions and the more sensitive they grow to the shifting imperatives of public opinion, public relations, and public responsibility. Of course, the mass media have developed codes of performance to protect themselves from the extreme excesses of public pressure. These codes have tended to be negative in outlook and to neglect the needs of specialized audiences. It has been suggested that in some circumstances the fewer the units of mass communications the less they are susceptible to the dictates of particular outside vested interest groups. Thus it is argued, for example, that publishers in a community with only one newspaper are relatively immune to the pressures of advertisers, inasmuch as the latter have no recourse to the threat of taking their business elsewhere.
To make these observations is not to suggest, however, that where mass media are operated as business enterprises a community of interests with other business enterprises fails to operate. Nor is it to argue that the mass communicators’ growing consciousness of the attitudes of the public means that the control of the mass media is inevitably becoming more responsible. The meaning of public opinion and public responsibility may be read and interpreted in different ways. Recourse to the dictates of public taste and opinion may quite conceivably mean little more than the misuse of survey data to justify existing tastes, rather than stimulate new and more enlightened interests. Furthermore, an easy acquiescence to the amorphous and often ambiguous desires of the audience may simply reinforce those pressures and opportunities for the abdication of leadership responsibility for change.
If in the democratic societies the issues of media control focus on professional and organizational responsibility, throughout wide sectors of the world the basic issue is still the establishment of greater autonomy of the press. Raymond Nixon’s investigation of the freedom of the press throughout the world indicates that there is a gradual trend toward broader freedom. He linked this development to higher levels of education and economic development (Nixon & Ward 1961). However, there is no reason to believe in the inevitability of such a trend or to assume that specific variables are at work. This issue involves the most fundamental and complex processes of political development.
Content of mass communications The symbols and messages of the mass media are available for widespread consumption. The sheer availability of mass communications content has stimulated a considerable body of research into the “what” aspect of Harold Lasswell’s four-faceted question. Research into mass media content, or content analysis, as it has come to be called, has been particularly influenced by the recognition that such content is amenable to quantitative treatment (see especially Lasswell & Leites 1949; Berelson 1952). As a result, content analysis procedures, both quantitative and qualitative, have been applied to all types of media content, most frequently for descriptive purposes and to a lesser extent as an analytical tool for analyzing the communications process and its impact. First, content analysis has been an effective instrument for describing both short-term and long-term trends in media content. The range of topics covered by descriptive trend studies is indeed broad: for example, such studies have traced the decline in prophetic religious themes in popular sermons (Hamilton 1942), the growth of scientific authority as a basis of child-rearing advice in women’s magazines (Mead & Wolfenstein 1955), and the trend in propaganda, from World War i to World War ii, toward a less emotional, less moralistic, and more truthful orientation (Kris & Leites 1947). Second, content analysis supplies an approach for comparing the same material as presented in different media within a nation or the contents of the same media as between different nations. For example, Asheim (1949) found that in converting dramatic fiction into movies the result was not to produce “happy” ends but rather indeterminate endings. For cross-national purposes, school textbooks have supplied a convenient device for revealing societal differences (Walworth 1938).
Third, the procedures of content analysis are also particularly appropriate for comparing media content with some explicit set of standards or abstract categories. For example, studies have been done to determine whether newspapers conform in their content to particular standards. In this vein, content analysis is also used as a form of propaganda detection or propaganda analysis. The objective may be to identify the use of particular propaganda devices, such as simplification, glittering generalities, testimonials, and the like. Alternatively, the objective may be to uncover propaganda strategies by the use of such analytical categories as distortion, parallel presentations, or patterns of imbalance. Propaganda analysis can be based on comparing a suspect source with a set of categories derived from a source identified as representing a biased or propaganda outlet. This particular technique was applied during World War ii by the Organizations and Propaganda Analysis Section of the U.S. Department of Justice to compare native fascist publications in the United States with Axis media content. Findings based on these procedures were admitted in court trials of Nazi agents and native fascists and had the consequence of absolving many suspect newspapers and radio stations from charges that were based on only a few examples of bias in their presentation of news or in their editorial comments.
Fourth, content analysis offers a relatively precise technique for describing the diffusion of scientific and scholarly knowledge and for observing the process of popularization of scientific materials. A leading example of this aspect of content analysis is the readability test (Flesch 1951); such tests have been developed to help editors and publishers judge the difficulty of a particular communication and to estimate the type and size of audiences that can readily understand the message.
On the basis of the existing body of quantitative and qualitative research, several broad generalizations may be made about the contents of mass communications. First, what is communicated by the mass media is a highly selected, nonrepresentative sample of all that is available for communication. Likewise, the content that is received and consumed by the potential audience is a highly selected sample of all that is communicated. Second, considerably more communications content is entertaining than informative; there is more of the sort that distracts and diverts attention and less of the quality that stimulates consideration of the central social, economic, and political problems of living. However, notwithstanding the demonstrable difference between the contents of mass communications and the contents of human existence, there remains in the mass media a quantity of the sober and serious, the educational and informational, so considerable that it has served, in the view of some experts (see, for instance, Schramm 1954), to confound and confuse rather than to educate and inform segments of the mass audience. Third, because mass communications are commonly aimed at the largest possible audience, most of them are simple in form and uncomplicated in content. In their desire to be understood by the overwhelming majority of their audiences, mass communicators have tended to deemphasize intricate presentations, the meanings of which may be unclear and may be misinterpreted. However, with the growth of mass literacy and with ever larger segments of the population receiving college-level education, counter trends have developed. As a society enters the phase of advanced industrialization, there is a trend within the general mass media toward devoting a portion of their content to high-level material, just as there is a trend toward higher quality in those media, such as FM radio and certain publishing houses, that cater to more specialized audiences.
If content analysis procedures are to produce more than descriptive findings, it is necessary to address the simple but basic question, “What does the content of mass communications mainly reflect —the characteristics of the mass audience or the characteristics and intentions of the communicator?” Undoubtedly, the contents of most mass communications reflect both of these elements. In any particular study it is difficult to separate out the relevant importance of each element, and therefore the significance and validity of content analysis remains decidedly problematic. But it is precisely by making assumptions about the conditions under which the contents of the mass media serve either as indicators of the intentions of the communicators or as reflections of the interests and values of the audiences that content analysis is transformed from a descriptive tool to a device for analyzing the process of mass communications.
The use of content analysis in order to infer the intentions of the communicator is best applied to highly purposive communications such as political content. Nathan Leites (1951) speaks of the “operational code,” that is, the basic assumptions and directives underlying the communications of political elites. The more knowledge an analyst has about the organizational setting of political communication the more feasible is such content analysis. Thus, Gabriel Almond, in his study The Appeals of Communism (1954), is concerned with the contrast between the pattern of internal communications among Communist party leaders and their core members, on the one hand, and the content of their communications to larger external audiences, on the other. Leo Lowenthal and Norbert Guterman, in Prophets of Deceit (1949), analyze the content of fascist output in order to probe its underlying intentions and to assess the limited extent to which these agitators propose an explicit program. This approach also makes the assumption that agitational propagandists have the ability to reflect the repressed aspirations of their particular publics. While their format and appeals may be extreme and their audiences small, their content reflects a measure of potential political desires of the larger society and therefore warrants the closest scrutiny.
By contrast, if content analysis is to be used as a measure of the underlying values and sentiments of the audience, it is appropriate to use mass media content with wide appeals and to trace changes through time or to make comparisons between different countries. We are dealing here with the notion of the “focus of attention.” One of the earliest efforts in this regard was that of Hornell Hart (1933), who studied changes in social attitudes and interests through analyses of selected popular magazines published from 1900 to 1930; he found a general decline for this period in the status of religion and religious sanctions, which he took as a measure reflecting changing attitudes toward religion. Leo Lowenthal (1961) has reported on the change in the heroes of popular magazine fiction from idols of production to idols of consumption. Martha Wolfenstein and Nathan Leites (1950) have used the movies as an indicator for the comparative analysis of sexual attitudes in Great Britain, France, and the United States, while McGranahan and Wayne (1948) studied dramatic plays to compare the Zeitgeist of the United States with that of Germany. Content analysis of the mass media has become an element in the cultural analysis of traditional societies that are in the process of modernization. Because of the problems involved in making inferences about causality in content analysis, the burden of the task of analyzing the impact of mass media has shifted to the direct study of audience structure and audience response. [SeeContent analysis.]
Audience research One aspect of the direct investigation of the impact of the mass media is the description of the size and structure of the audience for each particular medium of communication. There is a large amount of material, especially from the industrialized nations of Europe and North America, but also increasingly from all the nations of the world, that describes the “to whom” of mass communications in terms of gross characteristics and media preferences. The Department of Mass Communications of UNESCO has an active program for collecting basic statistical data on the development of the mass media and the size of audiences throughout the world. These world-wide reports rely mainly on statistical data about the number and circulation of newspapers, radio receiving sets, movie theaters, published books, and other measures of audiences that derive from production figures. Important aspects of audience size can also be measured from such “built-in” or automatic measures of consumption as ticket sales, newsstand circulation, or subscription sales. However, a basic impetus to audience research has come from those media, such as radio and television, which lack such simple measures; the managers of these media frequently want to know more about the social characteristics of their audiences and to find out what particular segments of their output receive the greatest attention.
Interest in audience research is particularly strong in the United States, where the mass media are heavily supported by commercial advertising revenues. Paul F. Lazarsfeld has been one of the leading experts in the development of such research. Although various mechanical and electronic devices as well as self-reporting questionnaires and diaries have been used, the standard approach is to make use of sample surveys to measure audience size and composition. Frequently these surveys are conducted by telephone and involve elaborate and rapid field work in order to measure the relative position of leading mass media performers. For the United States, Handel (1950) has summarized movie audience research, and Bogart (1956) has done the same for television.
In countries where radio and television are operated by the government, audience research is carried out for the purpose of understanding audience reactions and as an aid to program planning. Thus, for example, the British Broadcasting Corporation and the various West German regional networks have extensive audience research programs. Even in such one-party socialist states as Poland, radio audience research is undertaken both for scientific purposes and in order to take into account consumer preferences and tastes.
A summary of the more quantitative findings of audience surveys will show some of the changes that have taken place as the content and roles of the media have changed. Although American audiences are by no means typical, they do reflect the pattern existing in those countries where there is an increasingly high level of mass media penetration together with some choice between alternative offerings. In the United States television has emerged as the dominant medium, and national surveys in the mid-1960s reveal that the typical American family watches as much as four hours of television daily. Despite this extensive exposure to television, 85 per cent of the families read one or more newspapers regularly, and 60 per cent read one or more magazines regularly. As newspapers have transformed themselves from essentially political journals to purveyors of news, human interest features, and amusement materials, their readership ranks have been broadened to become more representative of the whole population. Television has captured large segments of the former radio audience; however, radio broadcasting of music and news has re-emerged in response to more specialized demands. The movies have suffered the most from the impact of television; but film attendance is still extensive among young people, and “super-features” attract mass adult audiences. The number of comic books sold each month exceeds the number of children in the country. Clearly, the term “mass audience” is no misnomer.
Researchers have also devoted energy to the question of whether mass media exposure is competitive or cumulative (Columbia University … 1946). Is exposure to one medium associated with exposure to others, or does one medium crowd out the next? No clear-cut answers are available, for at least two patterns can be discerned. In one sense, exposure is cumulative: with an increase in level of education, persons who are exposed to one medium (including television) are likely to expose themselves to newspapers, magazines, and books. In other words, as a person’s field of interest is broadened by more education, his interests in the mass media also grow. However, there is a point at which competition sets in, for even with the growth of leisure there are limits to available time. Especially among better educated persons, extensive involvement with television reduces the time spent on and interest in other mass media. For these groups, there appears to be some competition between the printed media (newspapers, magazines, and books) and the electronic media (television and radio).
By contrast, the development of the mass media and audience exposure in the so-called new nations reflects limited levels of literacy and scarcity of technological facilities. However, most of these nations make large investments to increase literacy and to expand the mass media as part of the processes of economic development and the formation of central political control. In many of them literacy has risen at a faster rate than was the case for Europe during the nineteenth century. While these new mass media systems are not developed in depth, after a country achieves independence there is characteristically a striking increase in the capacity of these media to disseminate messages from the central political authority. In these nations the media and audience structures that develop are different from those of Western industrialized nations. Newspapers and magazines supply crucial but limited channels of communication between elite groups, especially in the urban centers, while radio emerges as the national mass medium because of its low cost and because it does not depend on the prior development of literacy.
Audience research has developed in the direction of seeking to describe more precisely the social and psychological characteristics and the specific content preferences of the persons who make up the audiences of particular media. Routine surveys of audience structure, especially those sponsored by commercial groups, proceed in terms of basic categories such as age, sex, education, occupation, and income. But these categories are not refined enough to capture the complexities of contemporary social structure. Nor do the categories focus sharply enough on the web of group and associational life through which a person is integrated into the larger society. As a result, the explanatory power of conventional research into audience structure is not very great.
Emerging lines of research are reflected in the work of university-based scholars, such as Harold Wilensky (1964), who have sought to classify audience membership in terms of more refined categories, such as career patterns and work settings. This approach focuses on the content as well as on the amount of education. Emphasis is placed on the bureaucratic setting in which the person follows his profession or occupation and on the role of voluntary associations in conditioning media exposure.
Audience research has also come progressively to concentrate on social-psychological and personality characteristics. Both from a theoretical point of view and in the practical application of research findings, it is not enough to know the gross characteristics of those persons who are exposed to a particular channel of communication. It is equally important to isolate those social-psychological predispositions that can be appealed to in order to mobilize new audiences or to change the exposure patterns of existing ones.
Walter Lippmann’s classic book, Public Opinion (1922), in which he developed the term “stereotype,” still remains a basic point of departure for the analysis of audiences. Human personality has a powerful capacity to simplify social reality and to select congenial elements from the media content. The oversimplification of social reality, especially when it is rigidly rooted in personal and social needs, is the essence of the process of stereotyping. Following up on these basic insights and broadening the perspective to include the observations of psychoanalysis resulted in a series of brilliant studies by Herzog (1943), Warner and Lunt (1941), and Henry (1947).
In recent years, advertisers have shown considerable interest in the study of the motive structures underlying exposure to various types of sale messages. The term “motivation research” has been loosely used to refer to studies that seek to understand the social psychology of audience exposure to advertisements. Popular accounts of these developments (see, for instance, Packard 1957) have attracted widespread public attention, but they have not answered the question of the extent to which such audience research has increased the power of advertising beyond that produced by forceful and imaginative practitioners operating without benefit of systematic research.
At some point research on audience characteristics blends with the direct study of audience reactions and media impact. Audience research includes studies of media preferences, interest in particular types of content and messages and in the mass imagery of the media, and the level of confidence and trust that the audience places in different media sources. These dimensions are not only audience characteristics but also indicators of the ongoing impact of the mass media. Thus in the United States, for example, surveys indicate that popular trust in television as a news source has gradually risen to a level comparable to that for newspapers. The increased confidence in television as a news source is concentrated among young people who have grown up in a television culture and thus accept this channel with fewer reservations than their parents.
In the United States audience research sponsored by commercial television companies also documents extensive audience criticism of television content, including complaints about the great amount of violence and the heavy emphasis on advertising. While such criticism reflects a popular culture that encourages critical remarks about television, and while this criticism does not lead to marked resistance to television exposure or articulated demands for changes in programming, these attitudes are noteworthy. These findings underline the conclusion of careful observers that television no longer has a single mass audience but, like the film audience, is becoming more specialized. According to Steiner (1963) there are at least two major segments in the television audience. On the one hand, there is the mass audience that is satisfied with a common fare and that exercises little or no selectivity in its viewing habits. On the other hand, there is another segment that consumes massive dosages of television but that actively searches for a more subtle media fare. (The distinction is between the viewers of the nondescript westerns and those who require westerns that have historical, revealing, or thoughtful contents, such as “High Noon” or “Gunsmoke”; another example is the distinction between the viewers of an anthology of light drama and those who watched the “Play of the Week.”) Nevertheless, these same findings on audience structure indicate that as the national levels of education rise, there are marked changes in the mass media, but that because of the economic and organizational reasons described above in the section on media control, a lag persists in the capacity of the mass media to supply the demands of more discerning audience tastes and standards.
The findings of studies of communications effects are strongly influenced by the research methods that are employed. The three basic approaches are experimental studies, both laboratory and quasi-laboratory experiments; surveys based on interviews or questionnaires; and intensive case studies employing participant observation, informal and group interviews, personal documents, and other sources of documentation. While the technical aspects of effect studies have been greatly refined and improved, these methodologies were already employed in the Payne Foundation studies of films which were completed during the early 1930s.
The first two methods are the most extensively utilized because of their presumed quantitative precision. In the experimental technique, persons are given controlled exposure to a communication, and the effects are evaluated on the basis of the measurement of attitudes before and after such exposure. This method also requires comparison with a control group that is not exposed to the message. In the sample survey method, data are collected by means of questionnaires or interviews dealing with media exposure and attitudes, opinions, and behavior. The goal is to derive conclusions from correlations obtained between the degree or conditions of exposure to various communications and the measured attitudes and behavior. A sample survey can be a type of field experiment if the interviews are repeated during the period in which the population studied is exposed to the mass media. The third approach, that of the case study in depth, has emerged less as a specific method of research than as a strategy of evaluation and synthesis of material from a variety of sources.
From the thousands of laboratory experiments, it has been demonstrated that under contrived conditions even brief messages can produce measurable changes in attitudes among selected groups. Because experiments deal with persons removed temporarily from their social group attachments, it is understandable that experimental findings are formulated as psychological and social-psychological propositions without regard to the cultural and social setting. Under the stimulation of Carl Hovland and his associates (e.g., Hovland et al. 1953), this form of experimentation has become highly sophisticated, and the theoretical assumptions have been made explicit. This approach has generated some illustrative findings with regard to the conditions under which communications tend to be effective, for example: communications are more effective when they seek to alter peripheral rather than central attitude patterns, when they are cumulative, and when they seek to reinforce rather than to convert existing attitudes. However, it is recognized that there are limiting conditions that are not included in the experimental design.
Experiments have demonstrated a “sleeper” effect, namely, that the consequences of exposure to even a brief message can be delayed and become manifest some time after the exposure. Considerable research has been done on such topics as the credibility and prestige of the source, the order of presentation of items, and the manner of presentation of controversial issues. For example, experiments have shown that among better educated persons the presentation of both sides of an issue produces more attitude change than the presentation of only one side, while less educated persons are more influenced by communications that employ one-sided arguments (Hovland et al. 1949).
Investigation of the question of whether attitudes are changed more by arguments that diverge a little or by ones that diverge a great deal from a person’s opinion has led to contradictory findings. The importance of the issue or its salience to the person may be an intervening variable; that is, for important issues arguments that diverge slightly may produce more change in attitudes than do marked differences (Hovland et al. 1957). Psychologists have been particularly concerned with the role of anxiety in producing or inhibiting the receipt of information and modifying attitudes, since a great deal of mass communication makes use of “scare” techniques. Laboratory research indicates that there is a point at which the anxiety produced by such appeals becomes so great that it actually inhibits attitude change (Janis & Feshbach 1953).
The findings from experiments seem to show evidence of attitude changes that are greater than those reported by survey research studies. This discrepancy is due to the differences in the research technology and the research objectives, for neither approach supplies definitive and comprehensive answers. Experiments deal with specific delimited messages, while surveys must of necessity focus on broader flows of communications. The experimental situation is seen as contrived, and therefore the results have been labeled by some specialists as unreal. In particular, because the experimental situation deals with specific messages, it rules out those contradictory messages that a person encounters in the real world of communications. In other words, because the subjects are “forced” to be exposed to a message, the process of self-selection of content is weakened. It is precisely this mechanism of self-selection of material congruent with one’s existing opinion that reduces the impact of mass communication. Sample survey findings are better able to cope with this process of self-selection. Moreover, experiments generally tend to deal with immediate reactions to mass communications, while surveys cover a longer period of time and therefore include the extinction effect.
Experimental studies tend to deal with relatively unimportant issues as compared with surveys. Again, this would lead to uncovering greater impact in the case of experiments, but there have been efforts to introduce important substantive issues into experimental work. Perhaps the most important difference between the two methods is that in experimental work the salience of social group affiliation is eliminated and the audience is reduced to a collection of individuals, a form of mass so to speak, and therefore becomes more liable to persuasion. Some experiments have built-in group process variables and have found that communication effects are therefore reduced. An alternative formulation of the issue is the contention that most experiments deal with university undergraduates in an educational setting, that is, a population and a setting predisposed to change, and that this is not an adequate representation of social reality.
Nevertheless, the experimental approach has important advantages because of its precision and ability to focus on specific variables. In contrast, because the survey approach cannot focus on specific messages, it may overlook particular forms of mass media impact. For example, survey work on the impact of television has followed the same pattern as the earlier work on the impact of movies. In Great Britain, Hilda Himmelweit and her associates (Himmelweit et al. 1958) found that television did not have a profound effect on children’s behavior and academic achievement; its effect was more discernible on a small minority of overexposed children for whom there was reason to believe that television served as a form of defense, as a result of social and personal difficulties. However, experimental studies of exposure to television programs containing aggressive materials give a clearer indication that exposure to such content produces disruptive and socially undesirable effects. It is as if the experimental approach operates as a magnifying glass in revealing subtle reactions that become obscured by more diffuse research tools.
If the experimental method is subject to criticism because of its contrived and oversimplified character, the survey approach has the pervasive difficulty of adequately analyzing the host of intervening variables between the communications “input” and the resulting attitudes and social behavior. However, the strength of the survey method rests in its concern with group process, that is, both with primary group structures and the role of the opinion leader. Mass communication research has been influenced by observational and case studies, particularly in industrial sociology, which have underlined the crucial importance of primary groups (face-to-face intimate associations) in fashioning attitudes and morale. The impact of research findings on military morale during World War ii served to refine and extend this type of sociological analysis. In particular, Edward Shils and Morris Janowitz (1948) observed that the German Wehrmacht was relatively immune to Allied propaganda appeals because of the effectiveness of primary group cohesion, which protected the rank and file from the appeals of outside sources. The hardcore noncommissioned officers constituted a cadre of “opinion leaders” who supported the control structure; direct attachment to and trust in Hitler served as the basis of secondary attachments. Only when the primary group structure was disrupted were German military personnel accessible to the symbols of Allied propaganda.
There has been a variety of survey researches that have elaborated the importance of primary groups and of rank-and-file opinion leaders in conditioning the impact of the mass media. Preoccupation with these concepts has led to an interpersonal or “two-step” theory of mass communications. As set forth by Elihu Katz and Paul F. Lazarsfeld (1955), this theory asserts that the mass media have influence through informal leaders who have high exposure to the mass media and who in turn make their interpersonal influence felt on their close associates. In this view, the innovation of new practices takes place because the mass media supply ideas to these opinion leaders, who then rely on face-to-face contact as the mechanism of diffusion [seeDiffusion, article onINTERPERSONAL INFLUENCE].
Undoubtedly this is one process of audience response, but there are other processes through which the mass media have an impact. First, there is considerable research evidence that some persons are directly accessible to the mass media because they have weak rather than strong group attachments (see Daugherty & Janowitz 1958). These are persons characterized by a high degree of “anomie” and a limited degree of social integration. Often these individuals verbalize their distrust of societal institutions and the mass media; nevertheless, they come to depend heavily on selected channels for their opinions and social support. Second, on certain issues, certain persons will find themselves under conflicting primary group pressures, especially during political campaigns (Janowitz & Marvick 1956). These persons are likewise more accessible to the mass media than those persons who live in a politically homogeneous culture. Third, there are both temporary and more chronic social and psychological conditions, especially during periods of stress and crisis, that weaken the effectiveness of informal face-to-face pressures and controls; under such circumstances the mass media can more directly impinge on the individual’s attitudes, values, and behavior [seeBrainwashing; Persuasion].
The two-step theory of communication is neither precise enough in its conceptualization of opinion leaders nor detailed enough in the accumulation of empirical materials. The term “opinion leader” might best be reserved for the limited number of top-level figures in journalism, politics, economic, and professional life who are strategic in the introduction of new ideas. For the United States, the number would be in the hundreds at most, and such persons are not to be located by sample surveys. In addition, one can speak of mid-level and local community level opinion leaders of increasing numbers but of decreasing influence. Even local community level opinion leaders are limited in number and not identifiable by conventional sample surveys. Forms of sociometric and reputational designation have been used to describe these leaders, especially in studies of community power structures. These researches indicate that, while there are general opinion leaders, leadership can vary on the basis of the specific issues involved. Moreover, formal office and official position also have elements of opinion leadership, since power to influence opinion is not confined to informal and interpersonal networks [seeCommunity, article onTHE STUDY OF COMMUNITY POWER].
The persons identified in sample surveys as opinion leaders might best be described as local “activists.” They do have higher levels of exposure to the mass media and greater involvement in local community affairs than other people. These activists also tend to be better educated and of higher socioeconomic status than the population in general. Therefore, one important research task is to understand the dynamics of opinion formation in low income groups and in marginal groups, where the penetration of local activists is incomplete and fragmentary. There is reason to believe that for these groups such functionaries as trade union officials, teachers, and political party officials are more crucial than informal “opinion leaders.” Moreover, because lower income people characteristically have weak networks of social contact outside their familial settings, their incomplete views of the larger social order tend to be fashioned by the mass media.
Mass media and social control
The emphasis on discovering specific reactions and changes generated by media content tends to produce a basic distortion or limitation in their findings. The bulk of the content of the mass media is not designed to challenge or modify the social and political structure of a nation, either in a one-party state or in a democratic society. This is not to underemphasize the ability of minority groups to have their points of view presented in the mass media; rather, this is to emphasize that a fundamental impact of the mass media is to contribute to the patterns of social control. Therefore, the impact of the mass media must be judged not only in terms of the changes in attitudes and behavior produced but also in terms of the reinforcing effect on social norms and social behavior.
To study mass media as a system of social control, it is essential to encompass all of the elements of Lasswell’s formula. This requires the use of the case study, despite all of its scientific limitations. W. I. Thomas’ and Znaniecki’s classic study, The Polish Peasant in Europe and America, includes one of the first major theoretical and empirical analyses of the functional significance of the press as an instrument of social control (1920). Thomas demonstrated that for the submerged Polish community under alien rule in Europe or in minority status in Chicago the native language press supplied an important element of group integration and a linkage to the wider community. Robert E. Park continued this sociological perspective in his study The Immigrant Press and Its Control (1922). Lasswell and Kaplan (1950), in their analysis of political power, also assigned to mass communications a crucial role in maintaining and fashioning the symbols of legitimate government.
Theorists with such widely diverse formulations of contemporary social structure as Louis Wirth and Talcott Parsons have emphasized the importance of mass communications systems as instruments of social control (see Wirth 1948; Parsons 1942). Within this general frame of reference, research studies of the structure of industrial societies have taken various forms. For example, Riley and Riley (1959) have sought to probe peer group structure and the consumption of the mass media as elements of normative structure among youngsters. In his study The Community Press in an Urban Setting, Morris Janowitz (1952) sought to fuse within a single work analyses of several aspects of the press: its historical development, ownership and control, the social role of the publisher, the image of the community as reflected by the contents of the press, and the functions of the local press for its readers. This research viewed the community press as one of the social mechanisms through which the individual is integrated into the urban social structure. Harold Wilensky (1964) has traced out the role of the mass media in leisure in order to distinguish those occupational groups for whom the mass media operate to strengthen their associational integration and those for whom the mass media serve as a substitute for group membership. This perspective has also penetrated studies of political communication. The emphasis of such research is less on the study of audience reactions to specific messages and the specific political decisions that are presumed to be generated than it is on the role of the mass media in defining the political issues of the day and in fashioning the relevance of politics for the individual (see, for instance, Lang & Lang 1959).
The social control perspective also supplies a basis for the development of the comparative analysis of mass media systems, a research theme that is likely to grow in importance in the years ahead. The first of such analyses were case studies of the Nazi social system by Harold Lasswell, Ernst Kris and Nathan Leites, and others, who analyzed the declining role of mass communications as the Nazis shifted to a heavier reliance on organizational pressure and terror. Alexander Inkeles and Barrington Moore have studied the Soviet Union during different periods of political control and have emphasized the manner in which the elites have utilized the apparatus of mass agitation, not only as propaganda devices but also as imperfect and fragile channels for informing themselves about popular attitudes and loyalties [seePropaganda].
In the comparative analysis of mass communications, the use of mass communications in the rise to power and the consolidation of power by the Chinese Communist party present fundamental issues for communications research. Historians will debate the question whether the Chinese communists’ seizure of power and their consolidation of power took place with less terror than in the case of the Russian Revolution. If there was less resistance to their consolidation of power, and consequently less need for terror, this may have been the result of the greater decay of the traditional Chinese social structure. But in the process of political revolution, mass agitation and effective propaganda of the deed appear to be important techniques. While the rise of “thought reform” (brainwashing in popular jargon) is not confined to China, it has been practiced in China on such an immense scale that it has contributed to common understandings and therefore has effectively articulated with organizational controls. As a result, during the first fifteen years after their seizure of power, the Chinese communists were able to rule without the mass purges that characterized the Russian Communist party.
Social scientists have made efforts to integrate the study of the mass media as instruments of control with the study of political and economic developments in the so-called new nations of Africa and Asia. For example, Daniel Lerner (1958) has emphasized the general pattern of increase in standard of living, urbanization, literacy, and exposure to the mass media during the process of transition from traditional to modern society. Social research must guard against the danger of imposing categories grounded in Western experience on these mass communication processes. While there is a heavy emphasis on the expanding of the mass media in developing societies, the penetration of the central authority into the daily consciousness of the mass of the population has to overcome profound resistances. In this process of modernization, the resulting forms are not inevitably Western or European but are likely to include important neo-traditional elements, especially in the area of mass media and mass culture.
The responsibility of social scientists
Finally, research into mass communications has led to extensive debate about the moral implications of social research and the professional responsibility of social scientists. A minority of social scientists, as well as outside observers, have expressed concern that the findings might create the basis for extensive mass manipulation that would weaken and destroy democratic freedoms and values. By contrast, the typical opinion among social scientists working in this field is that knowledge accumulates slowly and that this fear is greatly exaggerated. They rest their position on the historical observation that even without the benefit of scientific research political agitators intuitively have succeeded in the worst imaginable forms of mass manipulation.
A more careful and reasoned defense is to be found among those social scientists who are concerned with a “sociology of knowledge” position. These persons hold that the pursuit of scientific knowledge is a valid and legitimate human goal, provided the research procedures are carried out with due regard for human dignity. They accept the notion that agitators have succeeded without scientific knowledge, but they do not claim that this observation relieves the social scientist from both personal and professional responsibility about the use of his findings. Obviously, in a free society there is a limit to his control over the use of his findings, but he must take reasonable steps to protect both himself and society. These steps involve seeking to insure that his findings are accurately reported in both the professional and popular media and that his research is not made the permanent private property of a particular group or sponsor. He must also seek through professional associations to establish and enforce adequate standards of performance.
The “sociology of knowledge” position rests not merely on personal and professional responsibility but also on a theory of knowledge as well. In this view, the accumulation of knowledge is designed to assist understanding of the power, and therefore of the limits, of mass communications. It assumes that a deeper understanding of social and political processes can serve to reinforce a pluralistic society. In fact, research into mass communication has served to reduce the image of the omnipotence of communications. Mass communications operate within definable parameters, and when mass manipulation becomes excessive, although the results can be disruptive and disastrous, there are other social processes at work as well. In short, research into mass communications has served to emphasize the underlying issue that “institutional building” is required for effective social change. There is no logical or demonstrated reason that it must of necessity create a basis for mass manipulation.
The amount of monographic research literature on mass communication is vast and will doubtless continue to increase. A number of comprehensive bibliographic volumes have been prepared on the available scientific and semi-scientific literature: for instance Smith, Lasswell & Casey 1946; and Bureau of Social Science Research 1956. As convenient guides to the analysis of mass communications, a series of research and source books has been published for use by students and practitioners. Among them are Berelson & Janowitz 1950; Schramm 1954; and Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues 1954. Joseph T. Klapper’s The Effects of Mass Communication 1960, and Wilbur L. Schramm’s The Science of Human Communication 1963, supply convenient bibliographic essays.
Almond, Gabriel A. 1954 The Appeals of Communism. Princeton Univ. Press.
Asheim, Lester 1949 From Book to Film: A Comparative Analysis of the Content of Novels and the Motion Pictures Based Upon Them. Ph.D. dissertation, Univ. of Chicago. → Partially reprinted in Berelson & Janowitz (1950) 1966.
Barghoorn, Frederick C. 1964 Soviet Foreign Propaganda. Princeton Univ. Press.
Berelson, Bernard 1952 Content Analysis in Communication Research. Glencoe, III.: Free Press.
Berelson, Bernard; and Janowitz, Morris (editors) (1950) 1966 Reader in Public Opinion and Communication. 2d ed., rev. & enl. New York: Free Press.
Berkowitz, Leonard; Corwin, R.; and Heironimus, M. 1963 Film Violence and Subsequent Aggressive Tendencies. Public Opinion Quarterly 27:217–229.
Bogart, Leo (1956) 1958 The Age of Television: A Study of Viewing Habits and the Impact of Television on American Life. 2d ed. New York: Ungar.
Bureau of Social Science Research, Washington, D.C. 1956 International Communication and Political Opinion: A Guide to the Literature, by Bruce L. Smith and Chitra M. Smith. Princeton Univ. Press.
Cantril, Hadley 1940 Invasion From Mars: A Study in the Psychology of Panic. Princeton Univ. Press.
Chafee, Zechariah 1947 Government and Mass Communications. Univ. of Chicago Press.
Charters, W. W. 1933 Motion Pictures and Youth: A Summary. New York: Macmillan.
Commission on Freedom of the Press (1947) 1958 A Free and Responsible Press: A General Report on Mass Communication … Univ. of Chicago Press.
Conference on Communication and Political Development, Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., 1961 1963 Communications and Political Development. Edited by Lucian W. Pye. Princeton Univ. Press.
Daugherty, William E.; and Janowitz, Morris (compilers) 1958 A Psychological Warfare Casebook. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.
Deutsch, Karl W. 1953 Nationalism and Social Communication: An Inquiry Into the Foundations of Nationality. Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press; New York: Wiley.
Doob, Leonard W. 1961 Communication in Africa: A Search for Boundaries. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press.
Farrell, James T. 1946 The Fate of Writing in America. New York: New Directions.
Flesch, Rudolf F. 1951 How to Test Readability. New York: Harper.
Great Britain, Royal Commission on the Press 1947–1948 Minutes of Evidence. 1–38. London: H.M. Stationery Office.
Hamilton, Thomas 1942 Social Optimism and Pessimism in American Protestantism. Public Opinion Quarterly 6:280–283.
Handel, Leo A. 1950 Hollywood Looks at Its Audience. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press.
Hart, Hornell (1933)1934 Changing Social Attitudes and Interests. Pages 382–443 in President’s Research Committee, Recent Social Trends in the U.S.: Report. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Henry, William E. 1947 Art and Culture Symbolism: A Psychological Study of Greeting Cards. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 6:36–44.
Herzog, Herta (1943) 1950 What Do We Really Know About Day-time Serial Listeners? Pages 352–365 in Bernard Berelson and Morris Janowitz (editors), Reader in Public Opinion and Communication. Enl. ed. Glencoe, III.: Free Press.
Himmelweit, Hilde; Oppenheim, A. N.; and Vince, Pamela 1958 Television and the Child: An Empirical Study of the Effect of Television on the Young. Oxford Univ. Press.
Hoggart, Richard 1957 The Uses of Literacy: Changing Patterns in English Mass Culture. Fair Lawn, N.J.: Essential.
Hovland, Carl I.; Harvey, O. J.; and Sherif, Muzafer 1957 Assimilation and Contrast Effects in Reactions to Communication and Attitude Change. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 55:244–252.
Hovland, Carl I.; Janis, Irving L.; and Kelley, Harold H. 1953 Communication and Persuasion: Psychological Studies of Opinion Change. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press.
Hovland, Carl I.; Lumsdaine, Arthur A.; and Sheffield, Frederick D. 1949 Experiments on Mass Communication. Studies in Social Psychology in World War ii, Vol. 3. Princeton Univ. Press.
Inkeles, Alex (1950) 1958 Public Opinion in Soviet Russia: A Study in Mass Persuasion. 3d printing, enl. Russian Research Center Studies, No. 1. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.
Janis, Irving L.; and Feshbach, Seymour 1953 Effects of Fear-arousing Communications. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 48:78–92.
Janis, Irving L.; and Hovland, Carl I. (editors) 1959 Personality and Persuasibility. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press.
Janowitz, Morris 1952 The Community Press in an Urban Setting. Glencoe, III.: Free Press.
Janowitz, Morris; and Marvick, Dwaine (1956) 1964 Competitive Pressure and Democratic Consent: An Interpretation of the 1952 Presidential Election. 2d ed., Michigan, University of, Governmental Studies, No. 32. Chicago: Quadrangle Books.
Katz, Elihu; and Lazarsfeld, Paul F. 1955 Personal Influence: The Part Played by People in the Flow of Mass Communications. Glencoe, III.: Free Press. → A paperback edition was published in 1964.
Klapper, Joseph T. 1960 The Effects of Mass Communication. Glencoe, III.: Free Press.
Kris, Ernst; and Leites, Nathan C. (1947) 1953 Trends in Twentieth Century Propaganda. Pages 278–288 in Bernard Berelson and Morris Janowitz (editors), Reader in Public Opinion and Communication. Enl. ed. Glencoe, III.: Free Press.
Lang, Kurt; and Lang, Gladys E. (1959) 1966 The Mass Media and Voting. Pages 455–472 in Bernard Berelson and Morris Janowitz (editors), Reader in Public Opinion and Communication. 2d ed. New York: Free Press. → This article was first published in 1959 in American Voting Behavior.
Lasswell, Harold D. 1932 The Triple-appeal Principle: A Contribution of Psychoanalysis to Political and Social Science. American Journal of Sociology 37: 523–538.
Lasswell, Harold D.; and Kaplan, Abraham 1950 Power and Society: A Framework for Political Inquiry. Yale Law School Studies, Vol. 2. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press. → A paperback edition was published in 1963.
Lasswell, Harold D.; and Leites, Nathan 1949 Language of Politics: Studies in Quantitative Semantics. New York: Stewart.
Leites, Nathan C. 1951 The Operational Code of the Politburo. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Lerner, Daniel 1958 The Passing of Traditional Society: Modernizing the Middle East. Glencoe, III.: Free Press. → A paperback edition was published in 1964.
Lippmann, Walter (1922) 1944 Public Opinion. New York: Macmillan. → A paperback edition was published in 1965 by Free Press.
Lowenthal, Leo 1961 Literature, Popular Culture and Society. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.
Lowenthal, Leo; and Guterman, Norbert 1949 Prophets of Deceit: A Study of the Techniques of the American Agitator. New York: Harper.
McGranahan, D. V.; and Wayne, I. 1948 German and American Traits Reflected in Popular Drama. Human Relations 1:429–455.
Mead, Margaret; and Wolfenstein, Martha (editors) 1955 Childhood in Contemporary Cultures. Univ. of Chicago Press.
Nixon, Raymond B.; and Ward, Jean 1961 Trends in Newspaper Ownership and Inter-media Competition. Journalism Quarterly 38:3–12.
Packard, Vance O. 1957 The Hidden Persuaders. New York: McKay. → A paperback edition was published in 1958 by Pocket Books.
Park, Robert E. 1922 The Immigrant Press and Its Control. New York: Harper.
Parsons, Talcott 1942 Propaganda and Social Control. Psychiatry 5:551–572.
Personality and Persuasibility, by Irving L. Janis et al. Yale Studies in Attitude and Communication, Vol. 2. 1959 New Haven: Yale Univ. Press.
Riley, John W. JR.; and Riley, Matilda W. (1959) 1962 Mass Communication and the Social System. Pages 537–578 in American Sociological Society, Sociology Today: Problems and Prospects. Edited by Robert K. Merton et al. New York: Basic Books.
Rosten, Leo C. 1937 The Washington Correspondents. New York: Harcourt.
Rosten, Leo C. 1941 Hollywood: The Movie Colony, the Movie Makers. New York: Harcourt. → See especially Part 2.
Schramm, Wilbur L. (editor) 1954 The Process and Effects of Mass Communication. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press.
Schramm, Wilbur L. (editor) 1963 The Science of Human Communication: New Directions and New Findings in Communication Research. New York: Basic Books.
Shils, Edward A.; and Janowitz, Morris (1948) 1966 Cohesion and Disintegration in the Wehrmacht in World War II. Pages 402–417 in Bernard Berelson and Morris Janowitz (editors), Reader in Public Opinion and Communication. 2d ed. New York: Free Press. → First published in Volume 12 of the Public Opinion Quarterly.
Smith, Bruce L.; Lasswell, Harold D.; and Casey, Ralph D. 1946 Propaganda, Communication and Public Opinion: A Comprehensive Reference Guide. Princeton Univ. Press.
Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (1954) 1962 Public Opinion and Propaganda: A Book of Readings. Edited by Daniel Katz et al. New York: Holt.
Steiner, Gary A. 1963 The People Look at Television: A Study of Audience Attitudes. New York: Knopf.
Thomas, William I.; and Znaniecki, Florian (1920) 1958 The Wider Community and the Role of the Press. Volume 2, pages 1367–1396 in William I. Thomas and Florian Znaniecki, The Polish Peasant in Europe and America. New York: Dover.
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Division of Free Flow of Information 1959— Professional Association in the Mass Media: Handbook of Press, Film, Radio, Television Organizations. Paris: UNESCO.
Walworth, Arthur C. JR. 1938 School Histories at War: A Study of the Treatment of Our Wars in the Secondary School History Books of the United States and in Those of Its Former Enemies. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press; Oxford Univ. Press.
Warner, W. Lloyd; and Lunt, Paul S. (1941) 1950 The Social Life of a Modern Community. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press.
Wilensky, Harold L. 1964 Mass Society and Mass Culture: Interdependence or Independence? American Sociological Review 29:173–197.
Wirth, Louis 1948 Consensus and Mass Communication. American Sociological Review 13:1—15.
Wolfenstein, Martha; and Leites, Nathan 1950 Movies: A Psychological Study. Glencoe, III.: Free Press.
Every society controls its mass media in accordance with its policies and needs. The controls may be legal and political (that is, laws and censorship), economic (ownership and support), or social (criticism and the giving or withholding of patronage). They may be positive, designed to obtain a desired kind of performance from the media, or negative, intended to prohibit a given kind of performance that might endanger the state, the rights of individuals, or the norms of society. The patterns and degree of control depend upon the political and economic orientation of the society.
Government and the mass media
All constitutional systems affirm the principle of freedom of expression. Thus, for example, the United States bases its policy in regard to the mass media on the first amendment to the constitution, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press,” and the fourteenth amendment, “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” Article 12 of the Spanish charter of July 13, 1945, proclaims that “all Spaniards may freely express their ideas as long as they do not advocate the overthrow of the fundamental principles of government.” Article 125 of the constitution of the Soviet Union states that “the citizens of the U.S.S.R. are guaranteed by law (a) freedom of speech; (b) freedom of the press.” According to article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Obviously such unanimity of principle would not give rise to such differences in practice unless freedom of expression was differently defined and understood in the several cultures.
The historical background
The first mass media came into being in western Europe under authoritarian governments that were already concerned over the emergence of an ambitious middle class and justifiably worried over what printed matter might do to rouse the people against the power centers. Therefore, steps were soon taken to control the new media. Patents, or licenses to publish, were given only to persons regarded as politically “safe,” and these people were permitted to exercise the privilege of publishing only as long as they refrained from rocking the ship of state. In the seventeenth century many books and periodicals in the areas of politics and religion were censored before publication. When licensing and censorship became cumbersome, in the late seventeenth century, the governments found it more convenient to rely on the threat of punishment after publication —for example, prosecutions for treason or seditious libel, the former charge, as Siebert says, being “reserved for activities which shook the foundations of the state; sedition … for the irritating flea-bites of the dissident and the nonconformist” (Siebert et al.  1963, p. 23).
These controls, of course, were aimed at preserving the government in power. But in a deeper sense they grew out of a long tradition of authoritarian philosophy, from Plato, who thought the state was safe only in the hands of wise men (Republic, especially books 6 and 8; Apology; Crito), to Hobbes, who argued that the power to maintain order is sovereign and not subject to individual objection (Leviathan, 1651), to Hegel, for whom “this substantial unity is an absolute unmoved end in itself, in which freedom comes into its supreme right. On the other hand this final end has supreme right against the individual, whose supreme duty is to be a member of the State” (Philosophy of Right, 1821).
Freedom of expression—the classic doctrine. As the rulers of Europe had feared would happen, printed materials were in the forefront of a series of democratic revolutions in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. These revolutions brought in governments that based their information policies on the philosophy of the European Enlightenment, the concept of natural rights of man, and the confidence that rational man, given a fair chance, can distinguish truth from error. Thus France wrote into article 11 of its Declaration of the Rights of Man, in 1789 (and confirmed it in the preamble to the constitution of October 27, 1946), that “the unrestrained communication of opinion being one of the most precious rights of man, every citizen may speak, write, and publish freely.” John Milton (Areopagitica, 1644) spoke confidently of a self-righting process if free expression were permitted: “Let her [Truth] and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?” John Stuart Mill (On Liberty, 1859) said: “If all mankind minus one were of one opinion (and only one person were of the contrary opinion), mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”
Out of such doctrine, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, grew a private-enterprise press, accustomed to publishing and criticizing freely, and with it the concept of a “free market place of ideas” from which the public could freely select what it felt to be right and true. The relation of mass media to government was almost precisely reversed. Instead of existing by sufferance as long as they supported and advanced the policies of government, the media now came to be considered representatives of the public in keeping watch on government, and therefore to be kept as free as possible from control by government.
Freedom of expression—modern variations. In the late nineteenth and the twentieth centuries extreme libertarianism has been modified in practice, for a number of reasons. For one thing, modern psychology identified many areas of irrationality in “rational man” and cast considerable doubt on his ability to distinguish truth from skillful propaganda. Furthermore, the growing concentration of ownership of the media made it more doubtful that all viewpoints would be adequately expressed in a free-enterprise market place. The emergence of films and the broadcast media presented new control problems, because of their supposed influence on morals and beliefs and because the allocation of broadcast channels could not be left to uninhibited competition—someone had to referee. Therefore, even in countries where libertarianism had been strongest, owners and operators of the media were asked to assume greater responsibility for their actions, and more controls were placed on the newer media—film, radio, and television—than on the press.
However, nations in the modern world have so combined libertarian and authoritarian doctrine and practice that among the noncommunist states it is possible to discern almost a complete spectrum of systems, from the most libertarian to the most authoritarian—let us say, from England, where the doctrines of Milton and Mill still keep the government’s hands as much as possible off the media, to Spain, where the law of April 22, 1938, is still in force, saying that because of the essential functions of the press it “could not be suffered to continue to exist in independence of the State … it is for the State to organize, supervise, and control that national institution, the periodical press.”
Totalitarian control of mass media. Since 1917 another type of mass-media system has developed, beginning in the Soviet Union and based on the thinking of Hegel (Philosophy of Right, 1821), Marx (Capital, 1867–1894), and Lenin (1901). Lenin argued that private ownership is incompatible with freedom of the press. “Freedom is a sham,” he said, “as long as the best printing plants and the huge stocks of paper are in the possession of the capitalists” ( 1935–1938, vol. 7, pp. 226-227). Therefore, said the Soviet delegate to the fifth session of the United Nations Economic and Social Council, “in order to enjoy effective freedom of the press, the highly complex technical means of modern information must be controlled… . Only when the resources necessary for the control of the press are public property do the people enjoy effective freedom of the press.” What is the press to be free to do? Its purpose, said a Soviet theorist, “is not to trade in news but to educate the great mass of the workers and to organize them, under the sole guidance of the Party, to achieve clearly defined aims.” “We must and shall transform the press,” said Lenin in 1918, “into an instrument for the economic re-education of the masses” (last three quotations are from Terrou & Solal 1951, p. 51).
In the Soviet Union and other communizing countries, the press is thus intended to serve an instrumental purpose under the close control of the Communist party, which thinks of itself as a kind of general staff for the proletariat. None of the media are privately owned; they are either parts of the government or operated by an official organization. The result is a planned and systematic press, in contrast to the somewhat less systematic ones of countries where private competition alone has determined where a newspaper should survive. Needless to say, the entire media structure is very closely supervised and integrated, and controversial events are reported and discussed for the Soviet citizen with a unanimity of interpretation to which a Western reader is unaccustomed.
Methods of political and legal control
The Commission on Freedom of the Press (1947d, vol. 1, pp. 62–68) has listed most political and legal controls that have commonly been applied to the media. They include licensing in advance; censorship of offending material before publication; seizure of offending material; injunctions against publication of a newspaper or book or of specified content; requirement of surety bonds against libel or other offense; compulsory disclosure of ownership and authority; postpublication criminal penal-ties for objectionable matter; postpublication collection of damages in a civil action; postpublication correction of libels and other misstatements; discrimination in granting access to news sources and facilities; discrimination and denial in the use of communications facilities for distribution; taxes; discriminatory subsidies; and interference with buying, reading, and listening.
Almost any mass-media system will, of course, be subject to certain basic statutory controls, among them a law designed to protect individuals or groups against defamation, a copyright law to protect authors and publishers, a basic statute designed to preserve the common standard of decency and morality against infraction by the mass media, and another basic statute to protect the state against treasonable and seditious utterances. Where the systems chiefly diverge is in the extent to which they are subordinate to political authorities and the extent to which in their controls they go beyond the statutory restrictions just listed.
Subordination to political authorities
There are different degrees of subordination, of course. But clearly subordinate to political authorities are communizing media systems like those of the U.S.S.R., classical authoritarian systems like those of Spain and Portugal, and new-nation systems like that of Ghana. Clearly not subordinate are systems like those of the United States, Great Britain, France, Australia, and other countries of Europe and the Americas where libertarian philosophy has been strong and of new states like India where an effort has been made to maintain libertarian ideas despite the stresses and strains with which all new governments have to contend. Between the two extremes are a very large number of countries in which the media are partly subordinate, partly not.
Mass media subordinate to the political authorities are ordinarily subject to the classical authoritarian controls: licensing, censorship, and punishment for issuing material offensive to the government or the prevailing norms. Most systems have an official organization of some sort to supervise the media and enforce the controls.
In the Soviet Union, for example, there is Glavlit, a directorate established by an order of June 9, 1931, “to exercise every form of politico-ideological, military and economic supervision of printed works, manuscripts, photographs, pictures, etc., intended for publication and distribution, and also to supervise broadcasts, lectures, and exhibitions.” There are local branches of Glavlit, and their representatives are placed in press and printing establishments (Terrou & Solal 1951, p. 119). Glavlit has the right to authorize a new periodical and to close it. A book or pamphlet must bear the imprimatur of Glavlit, and every page of proof must be approved and signed by a representative of Glavlit before it may be printed. Furthermore, mass media in the communizing states are generally official enterprises, the editors of many papers are appointed by the Central Committee of the Communist party at the appropriate level, and party propagandists and theoreticians are placed with influential publications. Thus, the mass media in such a system are integrated into the official structure in a way that builds control into their every operation.
In noncommunist authoritarian systems, ownership of the press may or may not be public, but as Terrou and Solal (1951, pp. 127–128) say of Spain, it makes no difference because “the management of the enterprise is subject to a ’power of oversight’ and publishing is hemmed in by a network of obligations and restrictions which make it quite unnecessary to lay down special provisions for the formation or operation of the enterprise… . The supervision to which it is subjected places it, in relation to the authorities, in a state of absolute hierarchical subordination.” The mechanism for this subordination, in the case of Spain, includes a state organization for management and supervision, empowered to fix the size of circulation, intervene in appointment of members of the managerial staff, oversee the work of the staff, censor where necessary, and issue rules for the journalistic profession.
Thus, at the authoritarian end of the political control spectrum it is perhaps less appropriate to speak of state intervention than of state integration, inasmuch as the media are so completely interwoven with public policy and the administrative machinery of the state.
Control in nonsubordinate countries
At the other end of the spectrum, however, in the countries where the media are not subordinate to political authorities, there is a conscious attempt to keep state intervention at a minimum. This is reflected in a high proportion of private ownership in the media, a minimum of prior authorization, a maximum of freedom to criticize and to argue opposing viewpoints, and an attempt to keep official controls, if at all possible, in the courts.
In the United States, for example, the newspaper, magazine, and book press, radio and television, and films are mostly privately owned; a variety of enterprises and a high degree of competition are encouraged. In most of the other countries where the media are not subordinate to political authorities, the press and films (at least the entertainment film industry) are likely to be privately owned and operated.
Radio and television broadcasting. Broadcasting is organized in a great variety of patterns. In many of the Latin American countries, as in the United States, it is private enterprise. In such countries as Great Britain, Japan, Canada, and Australia private and public broadcasting enterprises operate side by side. In these countries special efforts are made to keep the public broadcasting system free of governmental political influence. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), for example, is a public corporation—neither a private nor a state enterprise—responsible to a board of distinguished citizens (Briggs 1961). In a majority of countries, however, broadcasting is a state monopoly. In Belgium it is a public foundation; in France, a public service with its own budget; in Germany, a public establishment operating typically under a large broadcasting council, representing many cultural, religious, and professional organizations, that appoints the board of governors; in Italy, a company operating under concession from the state; in India and numerous other countries, an administrative service.
Broadcasting, however, by its very nature is hard to keep completely free of government. Even in the United States, where every effort is made to keep the government’s hands off radio and television content, it is still necessary for the government, through the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), to choose among applicants for channels— which it does chiefly on the basis of their experience and financial soundness and the programs they promise. Many other countries, because broadcasting is so important for reaching all the people, have felt it necessary to keep it a national service, under government management.
Motion pictures and the press. Motion pictures are censored on moral grounds even in countries where the media are not subordinate to political authorities. In the United States this censorship has usually occurred at the state or municipal level; in some other countries, at the national level (Commission 1947c; Lyon-Caen & Lavigne 1957). The continuing economic crisis of the film industry in some countries has made it the beneficiary of government loans and subsidies to an extent unmatched by any other privately owned mass medium, but the prime motive of this government intervention (whatever its eventual results) is to make the industry profitable, as well as a source of national prestige (Political and Economic Planning 1952).
The press, in nonsubordinate countries, is generally quite free from official control beyond the statutory ones mentioned earlier. It is not usually required to obtain a license to publish, beyond, perhaps, registering the names of the journal and the responsible persons. In peacetime, at least, it is ordinarily free of government censorship (for discussion of these issues, see especially Johnson 1958; Williams 1957).
Freedom of political comment. The media of the nonsubordinate countries are typically quite free to criticize or oppose government policies. In time of war or national crisis, of course, any government is edgy about criticism or uninhibited circulation of news. In World War ii, for example, U.S. news media accepted a voluntary censorship of news, presided over by a well-known newsman, Byron Price, but overseas the military services censored news originating in areas under their control. A sense of national crisis leads many young and developing countries to restrict criticism from the media even in peacetime. However, in the case of older and more solid states in peacetime, a truly extraordinary amount of criticism is permitted— even encouraged. France provides an excellent example of a press full of vigorous and conflicting viewpoints (although under President de Gaulle there has been a large number of prosecutions for printing comments offensive to the chief of state), and during at least twenty of the last thirty years two-thirds or more of the daily newspapers in the United States have been editorially opposed to the president in office. In the United States Justice Holmes’ doctrine that “clear and present danger” to the country must be proved (Schenck v. United States, 1919) stands between most critics of the government and punishment for harsh words.
Even in countries where criticism is encouraged, however, governments are frequently accused of controlling the release of and access to official news in the government’s best interest (Rourke 1961). This is generally called “managing the news.”
When a Western newspaperman says that the Soviet press is not free, he is likely to mean that it is not politically free. When a Soviet newspaperman says that the U.S. and western European press is not free, he is likely to mean that it is not economically free. Thus, Vyshinskii ( 1948, pp. 612–613) charged that the London Times “is the organ of banks, connected through its directors with Lloyd’s Bank, with the largest railroad companies, with insurance companies.” Hearst, he said, was “a big American capitalist.” The Western press, he charged, was free for capitalists only; true freedom “consists essentially in the possibility of freely publishing the genuine, not the falsified, opinions of the toiling masses, rather than in the absence of preliminary censorship.”
Patterns of ownership
In a private-enterprise system, of course, control does go with ownership, and Breed (1952) and Rosten (1937) have shown how the wishes of the owner and top management, even when not directly expressed as orders, are still reflected in the performance of the enterprise. For this reason, and because of the importance, in libertarian theory, of representing a wide range of viewpoints in a “free market place of ideas,” some observers have been concerned over trends toward bigness and fewness in the United States media and also in the media of some other countries. Whereas newspaper competition was the rule fifty years ago, now less than 5 per cent of U.S. cities and towns with daily newspapers have competitive ownership (for a description of this trend, see Nixon 1949). Starting a city daily in the United States is now so costly that it is seldom attempted. The result is that ownership has been increasingly restricted and has come to represent the wealthier and usually more conservative strata of society. For example, although a majority of United States voters are registered in the Democratic party, over two-thirds of the newspapers that endorse presidential candidates usually endorse the Republican candidate.
There has been no decrease in the number of broadcasting stations, as there has been in newspapers, but much of their programming is provided by three television and four radio networks (Bricker 1956). To prevent further concentration, the government permits each network to own no more than five stations. Until recent years there was a concentration of film making in a few gigantic enterprises, which owned both studios and theaters. Government antitrust action requiring the separation of studio and theater enterprises and the growth of new companies to make films for television have reversed the trend toward concentration in the movie industry (Bernstein 1960). The wire news services to newspapers and broadcasting stations are provided mostly by two large news agencies, the Associated Press, a cooperative, and United Press International, a privately owned company. In a famous case in 1945 the Associated Press was required, under antitrust legislation, to accept clients for its services even though the new clients might be in competition with older ones; it thus became, in effect, a common carrier for news (Associated Press v. United States, 1945).
Influence of advertisers
Directly or indirectly, advertisers have the power to affect private mass-media enterprises. Efforts to influence newspaper policy by withholding advertising have more often failed than succeeded in the United States (Schramm 1957, pp. 132–133), but the economic decisions of advertisers and agencies, quite apart from any political intent, have sometimes held the power of life and death over very large enterprises. For example, the decisions of many large firms to advertise elsewhere, especially on television rather than in print, together with rising costs, have caused the closing of some of the largest magazines in the United States and of the New York Mirror in 1963, when it had the second largest circulation among newspapers in the United States.
In the case of commercial broadcasting, advertisers can exercise a certain amount of influence on content by deciding whether or not to sponsor a particular program. Some countries (Great Britain, for example) do not permit the sponsorship of a program and sell only the time between programs (see Wilson 1961 for the background to this compromise). A certain amount of indirect economic influence on the content of broadcasting arises out of the importance of audience ratings (U.S. Congress, House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce 1961). It is important to provide many advertisers with the largest possible markets, and this so-called tyranny of ratings tends to result in more attention to large-audience programs than to the needs of smaller audience groups and in a flood of imitations of successful programs.
Other economic restrictions. Import restrictions, basically economic but sometimes used also as political controls, decrease the flow of information and informational materials across many national borders.
In countries where the mass media are not financially sound, economic control is sometimes exerted by allocation of newsprint or other scarce resources to favored enterprises. In some countries bribes to reporters and editors are reported to be common. And one of the most common economic controls where the press is new or weak is subsidization by a political group or individual.
Public opinion, especially when reflected in subscriptions, audience ratings, or film attendance, is a powerful control on private-enterprise media and to some extent a control on publicly owned media. Thus, for example, the BBC, although a public corporation, has continually modified its television programming as a direct result of comparisons between its audience ratings and those of commercial stations.
Because feedback to the mass media is usually slight, these enterprises are often influenced by letters or telephone calls from the public. A few hundred letters and calls about an offensive statement have been known to result in putting a U.S. network program off the air (Schramm 1957, p. 152). Some critics are influential. The criticism of books is more highly developed than that of films or broadcasts, and there is almost no regular criticism of newspapers. The scarcity of such criticism led the Commission on Freedom of the Press, in the United States, to recommend “the establishment of a new and independent agency to appraise and report annually upon the performance of the press” (Commission [1947b] 1958, p. 100).
Opinion has proved especially effective when it represents large organized groups. The Catholic Legion of Decency, for example, has influenced the movie industry with its recommendations of acceptable and unacceptable films and the implied threat of boycott by a large group of consumers (Facey 1945). Members of opinion groups have sometimes been effective in influencing the selection and display of books in libraries (Fiske 1959). Trade associations and other affiliated groups have been alert to what they consider unfair treatment of their members, especially in films. Indeed, it has been remarked that if the film industry fully heeded the protests of special groups, it might very well not be able to make movies with people in them. More recently, however, the American film industry, doubtless as part of its attempt to recapture the audiences lost to television, but also encouraged by the commercial success of some imported “art” movies, has taken a more aggressive attitude toward the censors. How far this trend will continue and whether it is supported by a genuine change in public taste remain matters for speculation.
Some public policy problems
A high proportion of the mass media’s public policy problems grow out of either an attempt to balance freedom and responsibility in media performance or a conflict of rights. Countries where libertarian roots are deep and where most media are not subordinate to political authorities are likely to be preoccupied with keeping their media free; whereas authoritarian countries (although many of them would deny that their media are not free) are more likely to be concerned with keeping the media responsible.
In the United States this relationship between freedom and responsibility raises continuing policy problems. There is no great desire to return to the unbridled and irresponsible political writing of the early nineteenth century, which Mott called “The Dark Ages of Partisan Journalism” ( 1962, pp. 167–180). Libertarianism of that kind is obsolete. But many observers and critics feel that the media should not only be free from something; they should also be free for something. What the mass media should be free for, the kind of responsible performance to be expected of them, has been studied during the last twenty years by a number of expert commissions, notably the Commission on Freedom of the Press, in the United States, and a series of royal commissions in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and Sweden, among others. Many of the problems before these commissions have dealt also with conflicting rights: the public’s “right to know” versus individual rights, such as privacy and fair trial; the public’s right to protect moral standards versus the artist’s right to be heard or seen and the adult public’s right to receive adult media; the media owners’ right to free expression versus the public’s right to a variety and balance of viewpoints and interpretations; and so forth. It is generally agreed that the best hope of resolving such conflicts in the public interest (in a country like the United States) is for the owners and operators of the media to assume the responsibility for providing a free market place of ideas and a vigorous service sensitive to individual rights and minority as well as majority needs.
Freedom and responsibility
If the media are not responsible, said the Commission on Freedom of the Press (1947b), someone will have to enjoin responsibility upon them. The implication is that the government would have to do this. And yet there has been the greatest reluctance on the part of critics, media, and government alike to permit the federal government to move into control of media content. For example, the so-called Blue Book of the FCC (see Siepmann  1956, pp. 37–40) became a cause célèbre in 1946 chiefly because it implied that the FCC, having granted a license partly on the basis of an applicant’s promise to deliver a certain kind of programming, should check up on whether he keeps his promise. The United States federal courts have more often proved themselves a resource for overturning local and state censorship than for confirming any government controls on content. Indeed, perhaps the most successful control a government agency has been able to place on content has been through the Federal Trade Commission, which monitors television and radio advertisements for false claims.
Self-regulation—some dilemmas. The emergence of professional organizations and of professional codes of good practice has sometimes been hailed as a recognition of responsibility by the media. The newspaper code (”Canons of Journalism,” adopted by the American Society of Newspaper Editors) is a highly generalized statement, requiring no specific adherence. The Production Code of the Motion Picture Association of America, on the other hand, contains a detailed list of specifications for avoiding offense to moral sensibilities and pressure groups. It is administered by an office supported by film makers, which is empowered to require changes in films, if deemed necessary, before awarding a Seal of Good Practice. The radio and television codes are less specific. They are administered by an agency of the National Association of Broadcasters, which, so far as is known, has never dropped a member for nonadherence to the code. In both the film and the broadcasting industries some enterprises do and some do not subject themselves to the code. A number of schools of journalism have, in a sense, established self-regulation by joining in a program to evaluate their curricula by professional standards.
Whereas self-regulation is an evidence of responsibility, still the working of the codes and regulating programs illustrates one of the problems of nations and media that operate in the libertarian tradition: it is relatively easier to apply negative than to apply positive controls. It is easier for a society to ensure that what it dislikes is not done by the media or to the media than to ensure that what it feels it needs from the media it gets.
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It is notoriously difficult to define mass communications precisely, but television, among all the media, is likely to have the highest proportion of those characteristics which feature in any reasonable definition. It has by far the largest audiences of all forms of communication; indeed, it sometimes reaches virtually the entire population of a nation—as, for example, in the United Kingdom during telecasts of great national interest, such as a royal message, a state funeral, or a football final. Radio, too, can have most of a nation for its audience, but it cannot cross language barriers. Television, being visual, does just that. Through the use of satellites it is now multiplying its audiences several times over. The same program that can be seen in the United States can also reach huge audiences across the countries of Europe up to the iron curtain or sometimes even beyond it. Furthermore, it reaches these audiences at the same time or, give or take a few seconds, at virtually the same time; these enormous audiences are not made up of successive audiences, as are those of the cinema.
Television’s audiences are more amorphous and less self-selected than those of the other media of communication. Most of its audiences are made up of general consumers of television, that is, people who sit down ready to be entertained for the greater part of an evening, without necessarily having chosen a specific program at a particular time out of a feeling that it has a special appeal to them as differentiated individuals. They do not divide themselves, nor are they often divided by the providers of television, according to age, sex, class, or region. By comparison, the readership of the national press in Great Britain, for example, is still roughly assignable to social class, though this characteristic is weakening under the impact of the newer “classless” media.
Television reaches right into the living rooms of its amorphous audience. It seeks to hold them and to retain that hold, rather than being content to be reached for as the mood arises. This becomes less true if there is more than one channel and if the programs on those channels are arranged so as to contrast with each other and encourage selective viewing. However, where the funds for television come from advertising, the point holds even where there are several channels: they all narrow their programming toward those items which seem likely to keep the average consumer–viewer from switching off or over.
Television is an archetypal form of mass communication also because it is an industry—an industry whose products are recreation, ideas, and education. Further, the men who produce the programs—authors, scriptwriters, visual artists, directors, producers, actors, program controllers—are physically and to some extent culturally separated from their audiences, and that separation is progressively increasing. Mass-communication industries, comprising large bodies of highly endowed and intensely professional people with more than average articulateness, inevitably become narcissistic toward their own trade; they progressively worship the machine that draws on their talents and increasingly prefer not to ask searching questions about their more complex interrelations with their society and the individuals who compose it. Their link with the audiences is indirect; they put their programs into the camera, and the engineers beam them into millions of separate homes; there is no one-to-one relationship. The programs themselves become consumer products for which the producers have a sort of pure professional or aesthetic love; around them accrue much of the folklore and legend common to all such highly sophisticated mysteries.
Like all major mass communications, television has a continuous production belt. It is a recreational, cultural, educational, and informational “sausage machine,” which must be fed day after day so as to produce at roughly the same times roughly the same amounts and proportions of material. Inevitably and progressively (unless the process is deliberately resisted) it turns out the same kind of material, which is all of the same density and texture although it appears with different packaging—material that is predigested, homogenized, sterilized, artificially colored and seasoned each and every day. The pressures toward this kind of uniformity arise from the persistent need to deliver interesting goods day after day, to meet the schedules, and to keep up the ratings. The servants of the machine may and do change, as the shifts rotate daily and weekly, and as personnel come and go over the years in the great factory. But the consumer product has built into it a range of established and recurrent characteristics, partly because of the necessary organizational structure of the factory, partly because of the inherent qualities of the medium itself, and partly because of pressure from the audience to provide them with what they have come to expect. There is, of course, more variation than has been suggested; however, there is much less than one might have expected.
Questions about television’s possibilities for growth as well as its dangers are, then, questions about all mass communications. Moreover, these are not only questions about the medium in itself. No medium of mass communication can be adequately discussed solely in terms of itself; such a discussion inevitably leads to a discussion of the society which television reflects and affects and which uses it in this way rather than that. However, this important outer area can be touched on only peripherally within the limits of this article.
Television’s relation to its audiences
Although television is important and pervasive in its effects on attitudes and behavior, it is probably not as important as it is commonly thought to be. There are not a great many reliable psychological studies on the effects of television, though the number is fast increasing, nor are their results in all respects definitive. All that we can say at present is that television probably cannot change taste radically or upset deep-seated assumptions, but that where it follows the grain of personal or social predispositions, it can reinforce them. Recurrent violence on television seems likely to encourage acts of violence only in the psychotic or mentally disturbed, and television programs which go along with the tastes and interests of a particular social group are most easily assimilated and tend to strengthen those tastes. These effects are increased when a given theme recurs often, is dramatically presented, and provides the viewer with the opportunity to identify himself with a character on the screen (see Klapper I960; Halloran 1964).
Even these limited findings have important indications for program planning. To what extent can one risk further unbalancing the unbalanced? Should a program planner settle for meeting the existing expectations of the largest majority? However, these are small questions in comparison with those about which we are still almost wholly in the dark. For example, it may have been proved that television is likely to cause the acting out of violence only in those who are already disturbed: but is it also true that exposure to repeated violence—as a thing simply to be enjoyed—has no effect, at the deepest levels of the psyche, on the millions of “normal” viewers?
Patterns of programming
What should television offer its audiences? There can be no simple answer. In practice, answers differ from country to country according to prevailing ideologies; these ideologies determine the administrative and financial structure of the various television systems and so determine their patterns of programming.
In Britain, both the British Broadcasting Corporation and the commercially financed but publicly controlled channels (ITV) are required by law to “inform, educate, and entertain.” In practice, both systems entertain first, inform next, and educate least of all (in terms of time given to specific formal education). In the United States the place of entertainment is manifestly more prominent; in totalitarian countries information and education have a more important place than in Britain or the United States and tend, insofar as both are colored by ideological purpose, to be run into one another.
But what functions in relation to their audiences might be said to be more or less fundamental to any television system in a democracy? First, it should provide a good deal of reasonably straightforward services for the known needs of the majority of the population. The broadcasters have to amuse most of us in the periods when we most seek amusement, and they have to keep us (though it can only be sketchily) abreast of what has been happening in the world. Thus they have to provide entertainment ranging from the equivalent of a variety show to that of a concert hall, as well as a range of informational sources varying from the equivalent of a morning newspaper to that of a weekly journal of opinion. Moreover, all this must be done in the light of the fact that television is very expensive and that therefore the number of channels available (so far as we can see at present) is not likely to be sufficient to allow very fine breakdowns by audience taste. For much of its time, television will have to think, if not of absolute majorities, at least of sizable minorities.
But even this approach is a different concept of programming from the one dominant in those countries in which the audience sought most of the time is the largest possible majority of the total population. It is not sensible to oppose this view with the notion of television as the servant of small minorities; but even with only one channel, a television system can serve a range of overlapping sizable minorities much of the time. This is the promise of educational television in the United States (Schramm et al. 1963). The word “overlapping” is important. Large minorities are not discrete sections of the total population. The same people can belong to different large minorities at different times, depending on how they are feeling. Of course, programming can be so arranged as to hit the dead center of average taste most of the time and so discourage any form of selectivity in viewing. If the broadcasters are successful in obtaining this kind of consistent attention, then they are tempted to decide that their audiences are as uniform in tastes as their own programs. The history of some unexpectedly successful programs (for instance, in Great Britain), which were not designed for the “mass audience” but which nevertheless got a surprisingly hefty minority audience, challenges that thinking.
One can extend this idea that the taste of today’s audiences is actually more varied than program planners are led to think or lead themselves to think. The existing tastes of most of us are not simply a product of irremovable hereditary factors; they are to a large extent a product of our opportunities, education, social class, available money, and where we happen to be born. It seems reasonable to ask whether broadcasters should simply reflect the average range of interests which a great number of other environmental forces have together produced at any particular time. If they decide to do this, they should realize that their role only appears to be a passive one. They will, in fact, be harnessed to the service of, and made to pull in the same direction as, many other powerful forces whose aim—in commercial democracies —is to exploit the existing range of tastes and interests. In that apparently passive role, television will therefore not be passive at all; as seen above, it will by its nature reinforce the existing narrowness in range of taste and the existing assumed limits. Should the broadcasters not be free, within sensible limits, to cater also to the potential as well as to the actual tastes of their audiences? Thus they might decide to offer programs which some people, though not as yet a large majority or even a sizable minority, find imaginatively and intellectually exciting, in the hope that others, who might otherwise never have had a chance to know of such possible interests, may become interested too.
This part of the argument is much confused by the clash of slogans. Shall broadcasters “give the people what the people want,” or shall they “give the people what they ought to have”? This fruitless contrast was usefully dismantled by the British Committee on Broadcasting (the Pilkington Committee) in its report published in 1962.
The choice is not between either giving the public what it wants, or giving the public “what someone thinks is good for it,” and nothing else. There is an area of possibility between the two; and it is within this area that the choice lies. The broadcasting authorities have certainly a duty to keep sensitively aware of the public’s tastes and attitudes as they now are and in all their variety; and to care about them. But if they do more than that, this is not to give the public “what someone thinks is good for it.” It is to respect the public’s right to choose from the widest possible range of subject matter and so to enlarge worth while experience. Because, in principle, the possible range of subject matter is inexhaustible, all of it can never be presented, nor can the public know what the range is. So, the broadcaster must explore it, and choose from it first. This might be called “giving a lead”: but it is not the lead of the autocratic or arrogant. It is the proper exercise of responsibility by public authorities duly constituted as trustees for the public interest. (Great Britain 1962, p. 18)
Any decision to put on programs other than those apparently justified by simple “feedback” from the market or by plain consonance with existing taste can be called paternal, patronizing, or propagandist. Indeed, such a decision is dangerous. Program planners are also mortal men with circumscribed views and assumptions that are not always examined. Their interpretation of the need to offer their audiences the chance to widen taste may, for example, amount to no more than the desire to make as many people as possible into “middlebrows”; they may have very simple views of the relations between social class and cultivation.
Criteria of value in programming
It is extremely difficult to define a “good” program. “Good in relation to what?” is a useful question, but it is only the first question; relied on for long, it becomes the motto for an evasive relativism. “Counting heads” is not a sufficient test of a program’s success, but it is not irrelevant. When a program attracts an unexpectedly small audience, this may indicate that, though the producer did all he could to make it interesting without compromising the integrity of his subject, only a tiny minority of people are at present willing to be interested; on the other hand, it may indicate that not enough thought—at least, not enough of the right kind of thought—went into the effort to communicate widely. Again, technical competence is important and technical brilliance admirable. But, in the face of the difficulty of defining “good television” without seeming either patronizing or a victim of the market, many television producers hold on to technical virtuosity or “professionalism” as an end in itself. There are certain programs where the possibilities of the medium are being extended through a fascinating exploration of its inherent characteristics. However, in general, technical skill is and must be the servant of the particular subject or theme which is being presented.
In presenting that material, the broadcasters must aim at “objectivity” and “balance.” This is often said, and although it sounds easy, it is in fact difficult. The two words are not synonymous. “Objectivity” means the decision not to push a particular editorial line, but rather to present the rough and qualified contours of truth as accurately as possible. “Balance” means ensuring that all sides have a fair and a reasonable chance to be heard. Both “objectivity” and “balance” have to be positively and flexibly interpreted, or they will become polite synonyms for sitting on the fence and for balancing one side against the other so nervously that all sides lose their force. The problem—which can be solved—is to avoid propaganda or partiality, to suggest the complexity of truth, and to allow the sense of the importance of making choices to be felt.
”Objectivity” and “balance” are not sufficient criteria of value in programs. Furthermore, though remembering that tastes do differ provides a useful check to narrow-mindedness, it still leaves virtually all the difficult questions about standards unanswered. We have seen that thinking in terms of fixed sociocultural hierarchies does not help much either. There is no room here to do more than has been done: to point to the complexity of the problems, indicate some of their elements, and reiterate their importance. As a coda, another quotation from the Pilkington Report may be useful:
Triviality is not necessarily related to the subject matter of a programme; it can appear in drama, current affairs programmes, religious programmes or sports programmes just as easily as in light comedy or variety shows. One programme may be gay and frivolous and yet not be trivial. Another programme may seek prestige because it deals with intellectual or artistic affairs —and yet be trivial in its grasp or treatment; it may, for example, rely for its appeal on technical tricks or the status of its compere, rather than on the worth of the subject matter, and the depth of its treatment. Triviality resides in the way the subject matter is approached and the manner in which it is presented. (Great Britain 1962, paragraph 98)
On the more practical aspects of the relations between television and its audiences, the question is, What links should exist between the two? This question is best discussed in the final section of this article, which deals with structures. The point of mentioning it here is that it underlines once again television’s inherent trend toward centralization and thus its separation from its audiences. We have already noted that separation increases as television’s practitioners become more internally engrossed in their work, because by definition the practitioners are self-consciously professional and most members of their audiences are not. Television is not a home industry or a folk industry. Even its conventional art has to be carefully planned; it doesn’t just happen because someone just happens to feel that way. Television is a many-layered industry with stage after stage interposed between an original idea and what eventually appears on the screen. Inevitably, it produces an ethos—a mystique—of its own.
The qualities of the medium itself
Television production is a several-stage process, and thus it is an even more complicated process than that of producing a finished performance of a dramatist’s final script in the live theater. Moreover, this medium often uses several writers at the same time on the same script or teams of writers working concurrently on a number of scripts or a series; in other instances a story line and thematic pattern are established and different men take over the script writing at different times, or the relationship between a writer and his producer is a continuous dialectic. All these differences between television and live theater need not mean loss to a dramatist used to the ways of the theater; he may gain from them so long as he recognizes their possibilities as well as their limits.
The medium has qualities which restrict those who use it or at least closely define their areas of movement, but so do all art forms and channels for the expression of art. As in other fields of art, the tension between the given limitations of the medium and its new and peculiar possibilities challenges the imagination of a writer and suggests different ways of exploring experience. The restrictions of budget for any particular program, as well as problems of available space and personnel, are similar in kind to those technical and commercial pressures which were felt, say, in the development of the novel during the nineteenth century. The relevant considerations here can range from the simple and obvious to the most psychologically obscure: from merely circumventing a shortage of cameras to discovering new possibilities within the medium by means of a creative response to the challenge of that shortage. The parallels with, for example, the writing of sonnets are obvious.
About the qualities of the medium itself not a great deal that is authoritative has been written, but there are some useful hints and guesses. Television has a peculiar “immediacy” and “fluidity”: it strongly suggests a sense that “it’s all happening”—a sense of “thereness,” “thisness,” and “nowness”—and it tends to break down pre-existing categories. It resists stage acting and even cinema acting, breaks through the picture frame or mental proscenium arch, and merges the spectator with the picture, on its sidelines if not at the center. On television everything tends to become a form of documentary. Television tends to seek “personalities” of its own. Of course, television personalities help to build up “channel loyalty” and link disparate items, and so program planners like them. But the power of personalities is more than that: they are part of the self-validating and self-sufficient immediacy of television in its own right.
Television has an exceptional sense of immediate history. When a great public occasion—for example, a state funeral such as Sir Winston Churchill’s—is seen on television, the sense of immediate historical presence is overwhelming. Furthermore, television can make a funeral in a back garden seem heavy with the meaning of life. It heightens even the most “ordinary” ordinariness of life and seems to give it dramatic significance. Because of its sense of actuality, of its Brechtian breaking of distance, we are all sidewalk spectators of the drama of life when we watch television. Sometimes one really believes in the reality of an event only because it has been validated through being seen on television.
We know little about what all this really means yet; it is too early to determine how far television may be encouraging a more plastic and fluid psychic responsiveness, or how far it may be the agent of a disconnected, discontinuous flow of value-free sensations (see McLuhan 1964). When it is not simply providing routine servicing, television is constantly seeking its own forms—its own kinds of drama, comedy, current affairs, and educational programs. Much has been done, but television programming is still at no more than the end of the beginning. This exploration, plus the assumption, already discussed, that an audience’s potential range is greater than its actual range, requires the emphasis to be put on openness and experimentation in program planning. About both the medium itself and its deepest relationships with its audiences we still know too little to be dogmatic.
The formal structures of television
There are three main kinds of formal structure for television, as for all broadcasting: the state-controlled, the commercially impelled, and the in-between, or—as I would prefer to call it—the potentially democratic.
In the first, the communications system is an arm of government and so at bottom propagandist, no matter what its apparent face. It can be found in one form or another in communist countries, fascist countries, and in other types of authoritarian countries, especially those in which the Roman Catholic church is strong. It stresses the party line and the national philosophy, and keeps a tight hold on the channels for debate. Under this system the greatest sufferers are information and education, since both are consistently distorted. Television is regarded chiefly as a channel through which things are done to people rather than as a medium with its own possibilities and characteristics. Therefore state-controlled television tends not to be experimental either about what the medium can best do or about what audiences might enjoy if they had the chance.
In the second system—the commercially impelled—television is tied to commerce, usually because it makes its money by selling advertising time. Such systems can vary from those in which advertising is regarded (or said to be regarded) chiefly as a convenient means for financing the programs to systems in which (public professions notwithstanding) the main feature is advertising. In the former type of system, the programs are still the most important thing, whereas in the latter type they are regarded as carriers or bait for the commercials; however, in the end, the pressures on all such systems are very much the same. This emphasis on commercial values can happen under any system which allows advertisements but obviously is likely to be more extreme under direct sponsorship.
The drive is to maximize profit by increasing the number of impacts delivered or persons reached; the audience is seen as a vast number of possible consumers whom it would be advantageous to hold as one large mass. The basic urge of this kind of television is, therefore, to keep the largest possible number of people content for the largest possible amount of time. Its natural drive is the reverse of that of state-controlled systems; it stresses entertainment rather than information and education. It tends to narrow the range of programs offered, so as to concentrate on types of programs considered likely to attract a mass audience. Thus it tends to ignore minorities, because minorities are subdivisions of the potential single mass audience. A good example of this self-defeating concentration on a narrow range of programs known to be popular can be seen in the programming of New York City’s numerous television channels during prime time. The commercially impelled system also reduces the urge to experiment, whether in regard to the potential tastes of the audiences or to the more freely imaginative possibilities of the medium itself; it inherently seeks to exploit existing tastes.
The “potentially democratic” system
I called the third system the “potentially democratic” because I doubt that a full-fledged democratic broadcasting system exists anywhere in the world. At its best, the British Broadcasting Corporation sometimes gets near to it. In such a system the state does not have day-to-day supervision or any executive control (though in the public interest there must be some overriding guardianship); nor is the advertiser able to distort the uses of the medium, since there is no advertising.
The two chief difficulties in such a system are paying for it and providing the necessary minimum of supervision without inhibiting the broadcasters. Advertising—with the advertisement revenue-receiving body formally and genuinely separated from the program-providing body—might just be possible at one end of the financial spectrum; the danger here is the steady spread of the pressures of advertising into the planning of programs. Mass-media advertising is like a seamless garment, and to think you can seal off a part of it is to be like the young lady of Riga who thought she could ride a tiger with impunity. At the other end of the financial spectrum is a system of direct payment from public funds to the broadcasting authority, who would be entrusted to use it for broadcasting in the public interest, with “public interest” not too restrictively defined. This has various possible forms, too, and some are less tricky than others. But obviously the danger here is that the state will exercise increasing, creeping pressure, as the direct provider of funds.
In between these two ends of the financial spectrum there are, again, several different ways of paying for broadcasting. On the whole, the most successful is the license fee, because it gives most scope for the broadcasters to serve the public interest in the wide and flexible sense described earlier. Although there are arguments against this approach —for example, that it is a form of “poll tax,” or that it is too expensive because the money has to be collected in millions of small packets—the arguments in its favor seem overwhelming. The license fee falls on all, and almost all use broadcasting; furthermore, it multiplies and subdivides the sources of money so that no one large agency is tempted, because it is footing the bill, to try to exercise consistent strong pressure or feels cheated if things do not go in just the way it wants. However, once practically every family has a television set, the ceiling on new licenses has been reached, and from that time on, the amount of the license, if it is to serve its purpose, must be tied to increases in wages and incomes.
The supervision of a “democratic” (nonstate and noncommercial) broadcasting system is even trickier than the problem of paying for it. There must be a buffer between the broadcasting professionals and whatever party happens to be in power at any one time—a buffer which allows the broadcasters to stand on their own professional feet and exercise proper editorial independence but which also stops them from too narrowly, too remotely, or less than responsibly defining the public interest. Countries trying to operate this system vary in the buffer they use, but the British Broadcasting Corporation’s board of governors, for both its strengths and its weaknesses, is an interesting particular instance (for the problems of educational television in the United States, see National Educational Television 1960).
Below the government level, it is important that broadcasters be kept responsive to public need. But “public need” is not easy to define, and some large-scale bodies which claim to speak for “ordinary opinion” are no more than philistine and restrictive. There seems to be a need for a range of responsive and well-informed bodies forming links between the producers and their audiences: not pressure groups in a political or economic sense but interest groups, specialist groups, and professional groups —all helping to form a texture of relevant critical understanding and of challenge and response between the two sides of the operation.
In all this, the overriding need is to find a structure that will let professionalism in broadcasting (in the sense defined above) grow and become, as far as possible, responsible for itself. The fully democratic broadcasting system which might emerge if the twin pressures of the state and the advertisers were thus avoided is difficult to define precisely (and even more difficult to put into practice), but a rough workable definition is certainly possible. Such a system would not assume an automatic and close correlation between “cultivation” and social class; it would not think of itself as offering some fixed sociocultural status symbols downward to the masses. Nor would it reject the standards of civilization in the pursuit of popular support. Nor would it peddle “culture” as a form of marginal differentiation in the “affluent society.” It would be a very varied and pluralist organization with a strong but dispersed life. Furthermore, it would be highly professional in that it would be not only technically efficient but also would devote a great deal of thought to the possibilities of the medium and to its own varied and changing relationships with its audiences; and it would regard its audiences, too, as varied and changing. It would be editorially objective but not inhibitedly given to fence sitting. Finally, it would combine a very high degree of freedom with a relevant sense of responsibility.
Research on television by social scientists has so far concentrated on audiences. Leading studies include Lang & Lang 1953; Belson 1959; Steiner 1963; Glick & Levy 1962. Bogart 1956; Klapper 1960; and Halloran 1964 summarize much other research in this field. For the structure of the television industry in the United States it is still necessary to consult journalistic accounts such as Opotowsky 1961 and Paul 1962, as well as trade sources such as Variety. The structure and social responsibilities of television have been examined in Great Britain, Broadcasting Committee 1962; Canada, Committee on Broadcasting 1965. In the United States, some of the same issues were raised in a more acute form by the hearings in U.S. Congress 1960. Schools of journalism and public communication, especially in the United States, have shown an increasing interest in mass-media research; the best-known outlet for articles from this source is the Journal of Broadcasting. McLuhan 1964 is a brilliant and idiosyncratic philosophical treatise on the mass media. Developments in educational television in the United States are dealt with in National Educational Television and Radio Center 1960 and Schramm et al. 1963.
Belson, William A. 1958 Measuring the Effects of Television: A Description of Method. Public Opinion Quarterly 22:11–18.
Belson, William A. 1959 Effects of Television on the Interests and Initiative of Adult Viewers in Greater London. British Journal of Psychology 50:145–158.
Bogart, Leo (1956) 1958 The Age of Television: A Study of Viewing Habits and the Impact of Television on American Life. 2d ed., rev. & enl. New York: Ungar.
Canada, Committee on Broadcasting 1965 Report. Ottawa: Queen’s Printer.
Glaser, William A. 1965 Television and Voter Turnout. Public Opinion Quarterly 29:71–86.
Glick, Ira O.; and Levy, Sidney J. 1962 Living With Television. Chicago: Aldine.
Great Britain, Broadcasting Committee 1962 Report. London: H.M. Stationery Office.
Halloran, J. D. L. 1964 The Effects of Mass Communication. Television Research Committee, Working Paper No. 1. Leicester Univ. Press.
Journal of Broadcasting. → Published since 1956/1957 by the Association for Professional Broadcasting Education.
Klapper, Joseph T. 1960 The Effects of Mass Communication. Glencoe, III.: Free. Press.
Lang, Kurt; and Lang, Gladys E. 1953 The Unique Perspective of Television and Its Effect: A Pilot Study. American Sociological Review 18:3–12.
Love, Ruth L. 1965 The Business of Television and the Black Weekend. Pages 73–86 in Bradley S. Greenberg and Edwin B. Parker (editors), The Kennedy Assassination and the American Public: Social Communication in Crisis. Stanford Univ. Press.
Mcluhan, Marshall 1964 Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: McGraw-Hill. → A paperback edition was published in 1965.
Miller, Merle; and Rhodes, Evan 1964 Only You, Dick Daring! Or, How to Write One Television Script and Make $50,000,000: A True-life Adventure. New York: Sloane. → A factual account of what it is like to be a writer for a major U.S. television network.
National Educational Television and Radio Center 1960 The Impact of Educational Television. Edited by Wilbur L. Schramm. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press.
Opotowsky, Stan 1961 TV, the Big Picture. New York: Dutton.
Paul, Eugene 1962 The Hungry Eye. New York: Ballantine.
Schramm, Wilbur L. et al. 1963 The People Look at Educational Television: A Report of 9 Representative ETV Stations. Stanford Univ. Press.
Steiner, Gary A. 1963 The People Look at Television: A Study of Audience Attitudes. New York: Knopf.
U.S. Congress, House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, Special Subcommittee on Legislative Oversight 1960 Investigation of Television Quiz Shows: Hearings. Washington: Government Printing Office.
Variety. → The leading weekly journal of show business, published in New York since 1905; its TV section is a mine of basic information.
Weinberg, Meyer 1962 TV in America: The Morality of Hard Cash. New York: Ballantine. → A well-documented account of the TV quiz show scandal in 1959 and the subsequent congressional hearings.
The rise of the mass media has been inseparably linked to the growth of national cultures with a linguistic unity, to the increase of literacy, and to key events in the technological revolution—from movable type to the transistor. In these relationships, cause and effect intermingle. The rise of literacy in the Western world was accompanied by the birth of the first inexpensive newspapers, but mass literacy was required before any of the print media could win a wide public. Mass literacy in turn depends on an organized system of mass education, inconceivable in a purely feudal or tribal society.
”Mass,” in this context, suggests an absence of social structure, although not necessarily of group identity. A principal characteristic of the mass audience is that it is dispersed. An audience for an FM radio broadcast may be far smaller than one for an open-air concert, but the former constitutes a mass audience in the sense that its members perceive themselves (and are perceived by the radio station’s manager) as potentially consisting of all persons within range of the station’s transmitter. The audience at a “live” concert quite evidently does not see itself in this way. The reason is that the messages of mass communication are open to all. The oldest form of such open communication is the public proclamation—a form that includes the public poster and the wall news bulletin. Yet, public announcements of this kind, with their implicit reliance on secondary transmission of the news by word of mouth, are not ordinarily thought of within the framework of the great mass media of today.
Traditionally, the mass media have been regarded as “merely means of transmission” (Hall & Whannel 1964). But as McLuhan (1964) points out, “the medium is the message,” in the sense that its own peculiar attributes help to determine the very meaning of the communication. In short, the essence of any medium is that it mediates. It is not so much a neutral channel through which a message flows as it is a distinctive material in which the message is recast. Such mediation is already performed by the written word as it appears in any society that has evolved beyond the level of folk culture; indeed, the transmission of culture depends first and foremost upon the written word. In this sense, the scribes of antiquity were the precursors of Caxton and Gutenberg. The printing press was essentially a mechanical means for achieving on a larger scale what the medieval manuscript copyists (whose work, organized in the monasteries on a group basis, had some of the features of mass production) had already assured in principle.
The invention of movable type did not in itself make the book into a mass medium, since two necessary conditions were absent: mass literacy and the means for widespread dissemination of identical communications content. The latter condition did not really come into existence until the arrival of mass-produced and inexpensive newspapers in the mid-nineteenth century. These were made possible by the high-speed rotary press and cheap wood-pulp paper and were later made still cheaper by the introduction of automatic type-casting machines. The dramatic effect of these innovations can be inferred from the fact that from 1846 to 1850 daily newspaper circulation nearly doubled.
The first newspapers, in the seventeenth century, had been feeble affairs by modern standards, in terms of both content and number of readers. Yet, only an arbitrary cutoff point can be used to state when their circulations reached proportions that would justify calling them mass media. According to one authority, in 1704 the average daily sale of all London newspapers combined was 7,300, or about 2.7 million a year (Altick 1957, pp. 47–48). Whether this circulation is considered large or small for a country where the population hardly exceeded 6 million depends on the historical perspective from which it is viewed. At any rate, it is certain that the number of newspapers sold in England almost doubled between 1753 and 1780. Individual newspapers, however, had not reached appreciably larger circulations by the end of the century; over-all sales were greater simply because there were more newspapers (ibid., p. 48). Moreover, the stamp duty on English newspapers made them too expensive for the average member of the public, although copies were available free to habitués of the clubs and coffeehouses that flourished in the larger cities. It was not until the nineteenth century that newspapers became as cheap and as widely circulated as they are today. In the period 1860–1870, for instance, most daily newspapers in New York sold for four cents or less, and by 1872 at least three of them were credited with daily circulations in the range of 90,000 to 100,000; comparable circulations were achieved by London and Paris newspapers during the same period (Mott  1962, pp. 403–404).
Radio, in the days before tape recording, extended the concept of what makes a mass medium beyond the criterion of mere reproducibility of communications content. Unlike the telephone (a medium of private communication made possible by mass facilities), radio has the same ability as print or cinema to put the same message before many people at the same time. It is precisely the direct extension of the communicator’s message beyond the scope of interpersonal contact that transforms private communication into a mass medium. Thus, the enormous distribution of phonograph records, for instance, makes them a mass medium, particularly in the area of popular music, where fashions in style and in the fortunes of individual performers show sharp fluctuations and strong susceptibility to organized promotion.
The great twentieth-century inventions—film, radio, phonograph records, and television—have made literacy unnecessary for understanding mass communication, but the spread of the mass media presupposes a society that has attained a degree of affluence, in which mass literacy is taken for granted. The mass media are in evidence throughout the mid-twentieth-century world, but the size of media audiences varies enormously from place to place.
Current media statistics, such as those in UNESCO’s World Communications, are rapidly outdated, particularly in the case of the newer media. In 1955 there were about 6 million television sets in use in western Europe. By 1960 the number had quadrupled, and by 1965 it had grown eightfold. By contrast, in the relatively stagnant economies of Latin America and Africa the number of television sets showed only a very slow rate of growth (for these and related figures see U.S. Information Agency 1966, p. 4, table 1).
It is highly tempting, but also misleading, to classify countries according to the incidence of radio or television sets, cinemas, or newspaper or magazine circulation per capita. The penetration of a medium may be diffused or concentrated in terms of either geography or social class.
In certain countries of Africa, Asia, and South America the mass media are in full use only among upper-class and upper-middle-class urban elements, who represent a small part of the total population. However, if the absolute size of this minority is substantial (as in India), the media may still represent a considerable cultural and political force. For instance, the news of President Kennedy’s assassination was soon known by a very large proportion of the Indian people, even those in villages far from a radio set. As is documented by Lerner (1958), even in a folk society of illiterate peasants close to the ancestral soil and without access to radio, television, movies, or the printed word, there are usually found geographically dispersed members of the extended mass society. Deep in the jungle or on the plains, surrounded by villagers or tribesmen, there is always a trader, a government administrator, a teacher, a medical technician, an agricultural specialist, or an itinerant peddler. Anyone who has ties to the outer world sustained by reading, by radio, or by occasional excursions to the urban centers can act as a relay point through which new information and ideas reach those who live by the traditional order.
But the newer media, which do not depend on the printed word, have direct effects quite independent of such secondary diffusion. In remote hamlets throughout the world the agents of governmental and international welfare organizations erect their movie screens each night to show training films on health, agriculture, sanitation, or politics. In ten thousand tropical open-air cafes the radio blares from dawn to late at night, within hearing range of all who pass by. In the big cities of even the most backward lands crowds of slum dwellers gather each night in taverns and clubs and before the windows of radio stores to watch the television shows. They constitute a regular television audience even though the price of a set is well beyond their means.
The very universality of the mass media appears to serve contradictory functions. The diffusion of the same information to different groups enforces social cohesion by creating common heroes and symbolic reference points. At the same time, this very diffusion may be a socially divisive force insofar as it emphasizes particular subcultural interests in a complex and heterogeneous society. Mass media may help a group to define its own distinctive character, as may be seen in the cases of the French-speaking audience of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the native readers of Drum in the Republic of South Africa, or audiences of Negro weekly newspapers and radio stations in the United States.
The institutions of modern political democracy are inconceivable without mass media, through which political information and opinion can be disseminated and discussed. Yet, paradoxically, the totalitarian governments of the twentieth century could not have established or maintained themselves in power without making use of press, film, and radio. Autocracy, whether in eighteenth-century France or nineteenth-century Russia, has long used censorship of the media as a device for stifling dissident voices. But only recently have state-controlled media been used, as in the Germany of Goebbels or the Ghana of Nkrumah, to create mass support for the ideology of the regime in power.
In countries with representative governments radio and television have added significant new dimensions to the operations of the political process by introducing new criteria for evaluating candidates—their ability to project their personalities with charm and vigor, in a context dominated by professional entertainers. Broadcasting has also brought a vicarious sense of direct participation in the political process to a broadly scattered electorate that relied in the past on the more impersonal contacts of print. The intrusion of cameras and microphones into political meetings, demonstrations, and conventions has brought a new self-consciousness to the behavior of the participants and altered the very character of such events.
Comparative mass media systems
If nations are to be classified according to the prevalence of mass media, we must first set aside countries such as Yemen or Mali, which lack indigenous media and therefore depend on radio signals or occasional publications that cross their national boundaries. Other countries can be ranked according to the level of their print culture, as measured by the rate of literacy and the figures for circulation and readership of newspapers and magazines.
The highest per capita readership of newspapers is found in the United Kingdom, where a newspaper is sold for every two people every day (United Nations … 1964, p. 331). Short distances enable the morning national newspapers of that country to attain overnight distribution throughout the nation. Thus, the distinctions between the newspapers tend to be based on politics and social class differences rather than on local interests, although some national dailies publish regional editions. In contrast, the United States has no national newspapers and the major part of even the big-city dailies is made up of local news and advertising.
In general, areas with a strongly developed print culture, as in Europe, North America, and Japan, are also those with the most advanced broadcasting culture. But this is not always the case. Some Asiatic and South American countries emerged into the age of radio and television, while bypassing the spread of universal literacy. In many Latin American slums television antennas are marks of social status, which sprout from the roofs of dismal shanties whose illiterate inhabitants lack running water and other basic necessities. In some countries (e.g., Israel and the Republic of South Africa) reasons of politics or economic need have kept out television as a matter of official policy, in spite of public demand.
The relative importance of the various mass media in any country cannot be judged by the extent to which people have access to them. Countries with comparable populations (including comparable literacy rates) vary substantially in the number of newspapers or magazines actually read by the average reader. Broadcast listening and viewing hours vary with national cultural values, tastes, and behavior styles even when the proportions of set ownership are comparable. Listening patterns also reflect government action and the state of the economy, which together determine the hours of the broadcast day, the number of stations on the air, the quality of programming output, and the intensity of competition. It should also be remembered that the penetration of a mass medium extends beyond its physical presence, through messages relayed by word of mouth—the “two-step flow,” described by Katz and Lazarsfeld (1955). The number of copies printed may give no clue to the real influence of a publication. Addison and Steele’s Spectator may have had a far greater number of readers per copy than any newspaper or magazine in England today. In many areas of the world publications are still passed from hand to hand or, as in the Soviet Union and China, placed on billboards for all to see.
The extent of media penetration in a country cannot be predicted solely from knowledge of its educational or economic level. For instance, in the Congo, where a third of the population could read in 1950, two newspapers were circulated for every 1,000 people, and there were six radios for the same number (United Nations … 1964, p. 80). But in Nigeria, with a lower level of literacy (about 11 per cent), the penetration of the press was four times as great and of radio twice as great (p. 102). Other contrasts may be found in Latin America. Argentina, with 86 per cent literacy, had 155 copies of the press for every 1,000 people (p. 177). Uruguay, with the same proportion of literates, had 260 copies per 1,000 (p. 194). While Argentina had 167 radios for every 1,000 people, Uruguay had 354, but Argentina, which introduced television earlier, had 42 sets per 1,000 people (p. 177) and Uruguay only 24 (p. 195). Venezuela, with half its population illiterate, had only 96 newspapers circulating per 1,000 population but had 194 radios and 60 television sets, more than Argentina (p. 196). Another interesting contrast in rival economic systems was afforded by East Germany and West Germany, both with virtually universal literacy. The number of newspapers per 1,000 people was much higher in East Germany (456) than in West Germany (307). The proportion of radios was about the same (about 3 for every 10 people), but West Germany led in television sets—139 per 1,000, compared with 90 per 1,000 in East Germany (pp. 286, 290).
The concept of audience
Comparative studies of mass media are somewhat obscured by ambiguous terminology, which reflects changing uses of the word “audience” itself. The term audience (Latin audientia) connotes a situation in which a powerful, but passive, auditor (such as a king or magistrate) listens to an advocate or suppliant actively presenting his case. Hence comes its later application to the theater. In the classic tradition drama exists only in relation to the audience. That heightening and purging of the emotions of which Aristotle wrote in his Poetics is inconceivable except in the mutual empathic relation of actors and onlookers bound together in an interplay of feeling, even though the words and gestures are all on one side of the stage. Since the audience is an integral part of the dramatic spectacle, it must also be regarded as a body that is collective in nature and that has social characteristics of its own apart from the characteristics of its individual members. Aristotle was no doubt describing an “ideal type” rather than rendering a literal description of the Athenian theatergoers of his day. By definition, an audience, in the Aristotelian sense, must be conscious of its presence and purpose in being where it is and of its own reactions. There is a social cohesion among the members of the audience, but this rises out of the spectacle, which is their common experience. Their unity is forged by the spectacle and exists only as long as the spectacle continues. Drama arouses the feelings of awe and pity only to the degree that it can play on those universals in human experience and aspiration which are intensified in a collective setting.
From its early associations with the sense of hearing, the word “audience” in the nineteenth century began occasionally to be applied to the reading public as well. To Charles Dickens on the lecture platform there may hardly have seemed to be a major distinction between the people who read his books in serial form and those who gathered to hear his readings. But it was only with the motion picture that the term “audience” became applicable to a mass medium in the classical (i.e., theatrical) meaning. The movie theater is, after all, superficially identical with the legitimate theater in its seating arrangements, its fixed spatial relationship between spectacle and public, and its rule that the audience must sit in darkness and for the most part in silence.
There are two new elements in the motion picture experience. In the first place, the movies can do without the conventions that ordinarily distinguish the world of the drama from the world of reality. Events on the theatrical stage are always directly perceived as re-enactment, as fiction. The very presence of flesh-and-blood actors makes it impossible for the audience to confuse the depicted action with the truth. But movie photography, with its ability to collapse time and to broaden scenic perspectives to take in all the complex settings, landscapes, backgrounds, and moving multitudes of the real world, can create the illusion that what is being shown is somehow a direct representation of something that actually did happen. The second critical difference between the cinema and the theater (and the one that most concerns us in this context) lies in the absence of feedback. The communication is disembodied, it flows in one direction. Except for the long-range influence of box-office receipts, fan mail, and the articles of critics, there is no way for actors, directors, or producers to know at first hand whether they have succeeded or failed, because there is no regular way for the audience to express itself either during or immediately after the performance.
Radio and television, like the movies, are derivations of the theater inasmuch as they are spectacles arranged for the benefit of a specific group. Also like the movies, they communicate content in an order and at a rate over which the audience has no control (often with a time lag between the original performance and the exposure) and reach people who cannot transmit their reactions directly to the performers. The listeners to a particular broadcast (and to some extent the regular listeners to a series of broadcasts) share a common experience and a certain consciousness of each other’s presence. Quite early in the evolution of radio programming the studio audience was introduced as a device to promote empathy on the part of the scattered listeners. It also served to provide the live entertainers with the feedback reactions considered necessary to evoke their best efforts. As technology became more sophisticated, the latter aspect was given less importance. But it was still found necessary to produce the illusion of a studio audience, in order to stimulate the response of the unseen listeners or viewers. This was made possible by the use of recorded applause and laughter that could be adjusted to specified degrees of loudness and enthusiasm.
There is a fundamental difference between the feedback from audience to producers of films or broadcasts and that from audience to writers or editors of print media. Newspapers have a long-standing tradition of publishing a selection of letters from readers; eight per cent of the people in the United States report they have written at least one letter to a newspaper (Audits and Surveys Company, Inc. 1961). The reader who writes in does so, not so much to enlighten the editor or to convince him to change his mind, as to see his own opinions in print and presumably to influence other readers. In this sense, he is aiming at a mass audience for his opinions.
In the case of mail from listeners, viewers, or movie-goers, the writer wants to communicate directly with the star or producer to whom his letter is addressed. Not always is he merely approving, complaining, or suggesting changes, as a fan or critic. Often the fan letter is a device for achieving human contact with the admirable or powerful figures he imagines stars to be. He may ask for help with his personal problems; he maintains the illusion that the star feels as close to him as he does to the star, whose private life may be a matter of public record and interest (Bogart 1949).
The letters column on the editorial page provides the newspaper editor with a mechanism by which to evade concern with the letters’ content. Since broadcasters do not have a comparable mechanism, they are bound to take letters more seriously, particularly critical letters, to which they often assign a weight beyond true proportion. This tendency is supported by the apparatus of commercial broadcasting, in which the sponsor of a program—and the whole business establishment of the broadcasting industry—normally finds it both unnecessary and commercially distasteful for even a single viewer to be antagonized. The media producer’s perceptions and preoccupations with the public’s reaction to his efforts have been better described in thinly disguised “fictional” narratives, such as Foreman’s (1958), than by professional sociologists.
The measurement of audiences for television and radio programs is a major industry in the United States and is carried out on a highly systematic and continuing basis in western Europe, Japan, and several countries of Latin America. Identical techniques are generally applicable to television and radio, although the advent of the easily portable transistor radio has created a highly mobile audience, which is difficult to measure.
Audience as a measurement concept for radio evolved some years after the term “radio audience” had become a conventional part of the broadcaster’s vocabulary. Initially, the yardstick of radio penetration was the count of receiving sets. This paralleled the use of a tangible unit of measurement for newspaper and magazine circulation: printed sold copies. Later, various formulas were used to estimate the number of listeners in ratio to the number of letters, and surveys were made to measure just what stations people could receive on their sets.
The measurement of program audiences by the survey method was a by-product of commercial broadcasting in the United States, as described by Head (1956) and documented in the Harris Committee hearings (U.S. Congress … 1963). Stations and networks sold air time to advertisers in units which appeared to be fixed, but which actually varied greatly in the size and character of the listener groups they yielded. The sponsor was not really buying an hour of time on a station or a half-hour on a network, but rather the opportunity to present a sales message to a certain number of listeners. That number would vary according to the signal strength and popularity of the station and the timing and appeal of the sponsor’s program.
As advertisers made larger and larger investments in radio, they became increasingly concerned with the need for accurate measurement. Thus, radio research in the United States evolved from one-shot, unsystematically done surveys to continuing studies, first directly sponsored by the broadcasting industry and then produced as syndicated services by individual research firms, which in some cases developed into institutions of considerable wealth and power. Curiously enough, the evolution of audience research by the noncommercial British Broadcasting Corporation underwent a parallel evolution, from special to continuing studies (Paulu 1956).
What was encompassed in the term “audience” could only be defined pragmatically, in terms of the statistics yielded by particular research methods. “Audience” could be the number of people who said they “ever” listened to a particular show, or it could be the number who said they had listened to that show last week. It could be the number who reported they were listening to the show at the very time they were interviewed in person or on the telephone. It could be the number who selected the show from a roster of programs that had been on the air the previous night or who listed the show in a radio-listening diary. “Audience” could encompass not only the respondents, who were the source of information, but the other family members on whose listening the respondents also reported. “Audience” could be the people who listened to any part of the program, those who listened for at least five minutes, or only the average number listening per minute of program.
An enormous range of statistics was produced by such a variety of definitions and research methods. Each measurement assigned a single quantitative value to the term “audience,” yet what was being measured represented more than a single kind of listening experience. The members of the audience are continually drifting in and drifting out; some of them are more attentive than others. A rather considerable variety of media-exposure patterns were thus lumped together only for the sake of convenience. Measurement now consisted of estimating the intangible “listening experience” rather than the tangible quantities of radio sets or of letters to the station.
In most countries where broadcast-audience measurement exists it is provided either for an entire nation or for one or a few principal cities where receivers are concentrated. In the United States the highly competitive system of commercial broadcasting has created a number of services which measure audiences nationally and locally in hundreds of cities. Measurements are made of total set usage at various times of the day, the size of the total audience for a program, and the number of people listening or watching at a particular minute. Still further measurements are made to ascertain the composition or characteristics of the viewers and the audience stability (that is, the degree to which the audience shifts over time from show to show).
Distinctions may also be made between different levels of viewing interest. These correspond to the difference between the primary audience (the actual subscribers or purchasers) of print media and the secondary, or “pass-along,” audience. As more television families have come to own more than one television set—21 per cent in the United States as of August 1965 (Advertising Research Foundation 1965, p. 10)—viewing has tended to get more and more remote from its original character as a group experience. This is comparable to the evolution of radio from its central position in the family living room to a personal, highly portable instrument. The degree to which people like individual programs does not show a consistent relationship to audience size, as measured by ratings.
The evolution of broadcast-audience research had a profound effect upon the study of print media, in which the established criteria of measurement involved that most tangible of yardsticks, paid circulation.
The drive for measurement of audiences for print media was, as in broadcasting, a by-product of the sale of advertising. The editorial vitality or political influence of a publication, like that of a broadcast program, has generally reflected, not its size, but rather the fire, talent, and ingenuity that go into it. Advertising, however, has tended to be most responsive to sheer numbers, although environment is of course not neglected. But circulation alone is no longer generally considered an adequate yardstick of a publication’s appeal. In the United States a large part of the circulation of print media is today delivered to the people who buy their subscriptions on a long-term basis, often at vastly reduced rates. This stems from the continuous drive to gain greater and greater numbers of “guaranteed” readers to sell to the advertisers.
Years after the newspapers and magazines of the United States had found advertisers satisfied with audited paid circulation as the basis for comparing one publication with another, they suddenly found that the audience figures for radio programs were of a magnitude that few publications could match. The term “audience” was applied to print media in an effort to match these large figures by demonstrating that a newspaper or magazine normally had several readers for every copy printed and placed in circulation. The rise of mass-circulation magazines, particularly the picture magazines with large “pass-along” or casual readership, made it possible to use the general opinion survey as a way to locate readers and to compare their total numbers from one publication to the next. It was through these competitive demands of American advertising media that audience became a commonplace concept in the field of communications research. The overwhelming preponderance of effort and expenditure in the study of mass media in Europe and the United States has been devoted to the measurement of the size and characteristics of media audiences. In the United States a number of “syndicated services” report on a variety of different media through periodic surveys. Personal interviews and self-administered questionnaires have been used to measure the extent to which different magazines are read by the same people or to which individual programs are watched by readers of certain periodicals.
In an economy where the mass communications media are operated privately for profit, measurements of audience size are inevitably the basis of decisions that affect media content. Other things being equal, most mass media operators seek to broaden rather than restrict their coverage. They would prefer that their influence be greater rather than less.
Differentiation of audiences
”Audience” has been commonly used as a term that aggregates units of equivalent value, so that a major research interest has been to count these units rather than to differentiate them. Audience figures for print and broadcast media are dealt with comparatively, as though communication in space and time could somehow be reduced to a common basis, and audience figures for each medium have been lumped together without regard to the setting in which different people experience each one or the different qualities of communication each may represent to different groups.
In the United States one of the problems in evaluating audience data on the mass media is that surveys are not usually designed to permit subgroups to be distinguished except in a very coarse way. Survey samples are usually not large enough to isolate the small segments of the population that represent the true market for elite culture. The conventional way of dividing an audience into income or education groups may isolate the upper fourth or the upper fifth under each heading, while the key target of elite culture may be no more than the top 1 or 2 per cent. When these people are averaged in with the others the results may appear to suggest that income and education have less effect on audience taste or choice than they in fact do. For example, a study made by W. R. Simmons for Harper-Atlantic Sales, Inc., in 1965 found that readers of Harper’s magazine differ markedly in travel and consumption styles from other persons of “identical” income, education, etc. (Blair 1965).
Media audiences may be differentiated at three levels: exposure to the medium, to the vehicle, and to its content. At the first level an analyst must deal largely in terms of broad-scale demographic generalizations. Certain kinds of people may be said to be strong newspaper readers or television watchers or the first to acquire a television set when the medium is new. Within this framework it becomes necessary to further differentiate the audiences for individual publications or programs, whose exposure patterns may be quite different from those of the average user of the medium. Further, different kinds of people vary in their selective attention to the features or articles of a periodical or to the segments of a broadcast; a publication will not be read with the same degree of thoroughness by every reader and not every item in it will be read by the same kinds of people.
Media audiences or publics are often thought of as mutually exclusive (as in the case of programs which come on the air at the same time on different stations or of rival periodicals with radically opposite political viewpoints). But far more commonly, mass media audiences really consist of different aggregations or combinations, into which the same people may be shuffled, regrouped, or subdivided. Such subdivisions may occur for many different reasons. For instance, they may reflect stages in the life cycle. In an advanced media culture young children are exposed to broadcast media before print media and begin to select their own radio and television programs before their parents begin to read newspaper items or cartoon captions aloud to them. In the United States 44 per cent are reading newspapers themselves by the age of seven (Schramm et al. 1960).
Studies done by the Japanese Ministry of Education have shown that 11 per cent of the children in Tokyo were watching television by the age of two, 40 per cent were watching by the age of three, and among five-year-old children the percentage rose to 96 (Furu 1965, p. 61). As children mature, both their media habits and their preferences for different types of media content undergo substantial change. This is illustrated in a classic study of small children’s shift from animal to human fantasy in comic book preferences (Wolf & Fiske 1949), as well as in numerous studies of shifting preferences for various types of television program content (summarized in Bogart 1956).
Adults also differ in their characteristic media patterns. For example, a study of workers in Leningrad, reported by Durham (1965), found weekly television viewing among young adults to be under five hours a week, while older persons watched nearly two hours more per week. A study by the English Institute of Practitioners in Advertising found that 44 per cent of the 16–24 age group saw a film at least once a week, as compared with only 5 per cent among those over 65 (Hall & Whannel  1965, p. 346). The Newsprint Information Committee’s study of newspaper reading in the United States found that the percentage reading a paper on the average weekday increased from 72 per cent among teen-agers to 83 per cent in the 40–54 age group and then declined to 78 per cent among those 55 and older (Audits and Surveys Company, Inc. 1961). A high proportion of popular recordings are bought by adolescents, particularly in the affluent postwar society of the United States or western Europe. The volatile musical tastes of the adolescent subculture have thus come to dominate popular music in general.
Audience differences may also reflect the mere distribution of access to a medium and the economic forces that affect it. Thus, in a country where television sets are expensive and radios are relatively cheap, the typical audiences for television and radio will have different incomes. The audiences for different media may also be sharply differentiated by social class; indeed, social class may be one determinant of the degree of reliance on different media. For example, Steiner (1963, p. 75) reports average daily television viewing in the United States ranges from under 3 hours among the college educated to nearly 4| hours among those with less than four years of high school. There may also be ethnic or religious differences in the audiences of different media vehicles. According to an unpublished survey made by Data Inc. in 1964, each of the three afternoon papers then published in New York drew its readers preponderantly from the members of a different religious group.
Moreover, people who are identical in income and education may choose different media for psychological reasons. For example, it has been found that blue-collar workers who watch educational television are more apt than their neighbors to identify themselves as members of the middle class, as “opinion leaders,” and as individuals with cultural and civic interests (Schramm et al. 1963).
Broadly speaking, the great mass media in most countries strive for popular appeal to all sectors of society. But in practice their appeal is differentiated both with respect to specific media vehicles (individual programs, films, publications) and to the different types of content (sports, finance, food, fashion) presented by each medium. Curiously, since television is a pastime activity, the number of hours spent viewing appears to be independent of the number of different programs available at the same time (Bogart  1958, chapter 4). The differentiation of media audiences cannot, therefore, be explained wholly in terms of economic opportunity and direct consumption cost; the role of different tastes and interests is equally important.
There are also variations in physical opportunity for exposure to media—variations that correspond to different specialized sex, age, or interest roles. A magazine sold only at the check-out counter of supermarkets is bought primarily by the shopping housewife; a television program that comes on in the late afternoon, when the mother is preparing dinner and the father has not yet returned from work, attracts a great many young children regardless of its content. In Muslim countries religious tradition keeps most women, apart from the urban elite, out of the motion picture theater.
Content and physical opportunity are likely to complement each other. Broadcast programs aimed at uplifting the morale of the housewife are placed on the air in the morning precisely because the housewives will make up the bulk of the listeners or viewers.
But content also determines audience appeal, inasmuch as there may be a symbolic identification between the roles or interests of the audience and those of the protagonists and characters, fictional or real. Clearly, the level of taste or intellectual complexity of media content will also influence audience composition. Everyone is more or less conscious of his own interests and exposes himself to the mass media accordingly. In effect, people read the publications and watch or listen to the programs that are most in conformity with their tastes, predilections, and opinions (Berelson et al. 1954, chapter 11). But the audience is also selective at a level below the threshold of consciousness, inasmuch as it selectively perceives and retains in its memory the most relevant, congruent, or comfortable part of the media content to which it is exposed [see COMMUNICATION, MASS, article on EFFECTS; see also Bogart & Tolley 1964].
Audiences may also be differentiated in terms of political orientation. This has been a traditional function of the press in most democratic countries, where a variety of viewpoints are available. In much of the Western world, choice of a newspaper is an act of political self-expression. At the same time, it may indeed relate to social status just as political party alignments do. The reader of The Times of London, of Le Monde of Paris, of Rio de Janeiro’s Correio da Manhã is apt to be conservative not merely because of what is on the editorial pages of those papers but because their total substance and tone appeals to the conservative business communities of those cities. In the United States the reduction of competition in all but the very largest cities has altered the traditional role of newspapers as organs of conflicting opinion. But many newspapers that enjoy a monopoly position offer a diversity of viewpoints through the syndicated columnists on their editorial or magazine pages.
All the mass media have in common an ability to provide information, to stimulate or to relax, to pass time or to kill it, to persuade, to act as rallying points for diverse bodies of taste and opinion. There are, however, profound differences between print and the audio-visual media, with regard to their communicatory capacities.
In the time-bound media (broadcasting and film) the audience has no control over the rate of input as it does with print. Thus, the selective separation of irrelevant “noise” from meaningful information takes place at a slower pace and with more focused attention. The reader must “work harder” than the listener or viewer, but he remains in control and sets his own pace. This helps explain why print-oriented people tend to be better educated than those who are broadcastoriented, both in the heyday of radio and in the age of television. It may also explain why empathy, identification, and catharsis appear to be the peculiar properties of the time-bound media, while reflection, internal rehearsal, and fantasy are the attributes of the print media (Wright 1960).
Mass culture and mass media
By common definition, mass media are those that attract people over a broad range of intellectual or cultural levels. Yet media-audience differentiation often carries an implicit classification of media content as “mass” or “elite” in terms of classical aesthetic canons. In this area, it is impossible to make sharp conceptual distinctions.
One broad distinction that is often made is between generalized and specialized organs of mass communication. Under the latter heading might be included trade publications, local periodicals, and broadcast programs or publications in such relatively specialized areas as fashion, sports, or education; many such publications or programs may reach vast audiences, yet their appeal is consciously directed or restricted. A good example of the former would be the kind of lavishly produced film epic, pioneered by Cecil B. De Mille, that aims to include something to suit every taste, while offending none. But even this distinction is hard to apply consistently. If an opera singer cuts a recording of an operatic aria in an edition of twenty thousand pressings, this would generally be conceded to fall into the realm of elite culture. But if she appears on a television variety program and sings the same aria before millions of viewing families, this might be said to bring the same content into the domain of mass culture. Similarly, a scholarly publication with five thousand readers might not ordinarily be considered a mass medium, but a community weekly newspaper with the same circulation would fall under that heading.
It therefore seems more appropriate to characterize as mass media all media that use techniques making for a loss of direct personal communication between the communicator and his public. This would include all printed publications, including some with highly restricted publics: hard-cover books, “little” magazines, the specialized organs of voluntary associations, corporations, trade unions, and other groups. Under the same heading, “art” films, educational television, phonograph recordings, FM radio, and other audio-visual media with limited appeal would have to be considered mass media, in contrast to the plastic and live performing arts, even though all of these are a part of elite culture.
The popular culture manifested in the mass media is quite distinct from folk culture; for instance, the existence of a folk culture implies direct personal participation in art forms such as music or the dance. The “high culture” elite that preserves the traditional spirit of the arts is to be distinguished from the power elite that controls the content and distribution of the mass media. Of course, it is possible to be a member of both these elites at once; the well-educated television producer who refuses to have a television set in his house is not a wholly mythical figure.
The relation of the mass media to contemporary popular culture is commonly conceived in terms of dissemination from the elite (masters of the media) to the mass (consumers). There are periods when this process is reversed, when popular culture in its most vulgar aspects enters into the culture of the elite as a display of disenchantment with prevailing social forms or symbols. During the eighteenth century it was the utmost chic for the aristocrats of the French court to assume the guise of shepherds and peasants in their festive outings, as immortalized in the paintings of Boucher and Fragonard. Somewhat reminiscent of this studied reversal of social-class roles, fashions in the 1960s have included the celebration of the horrendous, the commercialized cliché, or the recently outmoded under the rubric “camp.” The high prices commanded by pop art or the craze in fashionable society for the discothèque symbolize the transformation of popular culture into an elite genre; they offer a counterpoise to the spectacle of hillbilly pop tunes composed in Times Square office buildings by white-collar suburbanites.
Elite culture varies in physical accessibility, according to the medium through which it is diffused. Good bookstores, art cinemas, and other specialized channels of dissemination tend to be restricted geographically to major cities and intellectual centers, while periodicals and broadcasts are more widespread. In most countries, whether or not the broadcasting system is staterun, elite culture on television is confined to the very early or very late parts of the broadcast day or to those parts of the weekend during which most people do not watch television at all, because of its limited audience appeal.
In any given week a substantial number of program hours may be devoted to elite-culture material, but as Minow points out (1964), this is usually isolated in time, so that the interested viewer must search for it. He must expend energy to find interesting programs just as he would to find the particular books he wants to read, the motion pictures he wants to see, or the art exhibits, plays, or concerts he wants to attend. Most members of the elite-culture audience presumably do not want to expend this kind of energy, because they view television as a pastime, much like anyone else. At any rate, it is known that high-brows on the whole do not watch mainly high-brow shows. This has been documented in several studies of the educational television audience (see, for instance, Schramm et al. 1963). Similarly, more upper-income New Yorkers read the Daily News than the New York Times (Simmons …  1964, p. 38), and among upper-income Londoners, 36 per cent read the Daily Express and only 10 per cent The Times (Hall & Whannel  1965, p. 234).
The relation between critical success and popular success is difficult to trace in any mass medium, but in television it does not seem to exist at all. The reason is that the functions of the critic have been transferred to the audience, whose choice of program is recorded and analyzed by commercial rating organizations such as the A. C. Nielsen Company. The influence of these ratings on program content can be inferred from the fact that about two-thirds of United States network television shows are replaced each season on the basis of ratings rather than of press notices.
In a highly developed mass-media culture like that of the United States the audiences for all the major media reflect the general distribution of population, even though individual vehicles are directed at one sex or age group. Mass-media content tends to be pegged at a level that appeals to the largest number of people and is correspondingly inoffensive or uncritical of the established order. Its hallmarks are the familiar, the hackneyed, and the stereotyped.
In most countries with a commercial system of broadcasting, audience measurements indicate that public choice in programming comes very close to the entertainment formula established years ago by American radio and motion pictures. Countries with a state-operated system of broadcasting face the continuing problem of balancing programs aimed at social uplift with others that will assure the presence, night in and night out, of a large body of attentive viewers. This is complicated when commercial and state-operated or educational channels exist side by side. A kind of Gresham’s law of popular preference operates to make no more than a minority available for an elite-interest or educational program when it competes with less demanding amusements. The BBC’s famous “Third Programme” draws 1 per cent of the audience (Paulu 1961).
At the same time, the minority audience for elite culture purveyed by the mass media may encompass far more people than would be reached by the same content through traditional means or forms. Berelson (1964) estimates that the average United States college graduate spends nearly twelve hours per month “in the presence of culture,” while the person who has not completed high school spends two or less. He estimates that commercial television accounts for 22 per cent of the total amount of time spent in this way by all segments of the population.
Educational television in the United States has not been able to attain massive audiences in competition with commercial television. Only 10 per cent of the people in areas covered by ETV watch it at all in the course of a week (National Educational Television and Radio Center 1966, p. 7). Yet, in many countries ETV has demonstrated its value both as an adjunct to regular classroom instruction in schools and universities and as a means of independent adult education. In eastern Europe substantial audiences are assured for educational telecasts at times when they are the only programs available to the viewer.
In commercial broadcasting, advertising may become an important influence over programming decisions, since it is in the interest of broadcasters and advertisers alike to attract large audiences to the advertising messages and so obtain the largest possible yield for the advertiser’s investment. Advertising also occupies a substantial amount of broadcast time and thereby becomes an important element in the actual symbolic content of the medium. The information advertising conveys and the fantasies and desires it generates are also significant factors in the substance of print publications throughout the noncommunist world. As McLuhan (1964) suggests, advertisements are often prepared with more thought than the material that surrounds them.
The mass media have brought the members of diverse societies into a common universe of discourse and have been an increasingly powerful force for the international unification of ideas and values. Certain symbols (Mickey Mouse, the Shell sign, the cowboy) have been diffused and universalized to the point where they lack any specific cultural reference. Schramm (1959), analyzing fourteen prestige newspapers around the world, found the proportion of news originating outside the country or area ranged between 14 per cent and 50 per cent, with a median of 32 per cent. Even though news media in nearly all countries are highly parochial and nationalistic in perspective, major news events are perceived as having broad general significance, regardless of their immediate relevance to the particular country.
But if the mass media tend to break down barriers to international understanding, they also tend to create new ones. The media have made possible the emergence of specialized bodies of lore and information which are by-products of an increasingly complex technology and a more intensive division of labor.
The growth of the mass media in Europe and the United States makes increasing demands on leisure time, which is itself increasing. This tends to deepen the chasm between the commonplace and the exceptional, between the popular culture of comic strips, pop records, and soap opera, and the elite culture of fine opera, drama, poetry, and the visual arts. At the same time, the broad-scale dissemination of the elite culture through the mass media makes its character at least superficially familiar to vast populations to whom it would otherwise be utterly unknown.
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The effects, alleged effects, and possible effects of mass communication are numerous and varied, direct and indirect. The development and extent of modern radio and television networks and the growth of the media industries have obviously affected the technological and economic nature of modern society and have nurtured revolutions in the use of leisure time and in processes ranging from pedagogy to marketing. The mere classification of the effects of mass communication presents a formidable methodological problem, which has as yet defied attempts to construct exhaustive schemata.
No such range of effects can be discussed within the scope of this article. The effects that are here considered are those with which the behavioral sciences are perhaps most concerned, namely, the effects of modern mass communication upon the attitudes and behavior of its audiences.
Even within this area, certain exclusions have been necessitated by limitations of space and by the specialized treatment which such discussions would require. Thus, the article does not deal with the use of mass media in formal pedagogy, whether presented in classrooms or on closed or open broadcast systems. Relatively little mention is made of either the effects of mass communication in international psychological warfare or the effects of domestic mass communication in countries other than the United States; the various and dissimilar ways in which foreign communications systems are organized and controlled, and the different cultural milieus in which their audiences exist, preclude casual generalization of the processes here described to foreign arenas.
Finally, no attempt is here made to deal with the effects of mass media as instruments of consumer advertising. The goals of such advertising and the psychological significance to the audience member of the decisions involved are often so unlike the goals and decisions of the kind of persuasive communications here discussed that generalizations from the one topical area to the other are hardly permissible.
The article will first consider the effects of mass communication as an agent of persuasion. The principles established by findings in this area will be found to be reflected in the topical areas here discussed, namely, the effects of mass media upon audience views of public issues, the effects of mass media upon public taste, and the effects of depictions of crime and violence. Some of the vast areas of ignorance about the effects of mass communication are noted, along with some suggestions as to how some of them might be explored.
The research literature here cited includes both surveys and laboratory studies that bear upon the press, motion pictures, radio, television, and, in some cases, laboratory approximations of such media. No attempt is made to indicate precisely what medium is under discussion in reference to every cited finding. Many of the studies bear on mass communication as a whole rather than on any one medium, and in any case the findings here cited are believed by the author to be applicable, except when otherwise noted, to any or all of the media.
Persuasive mass communication
It has been repeatedly demonstrated that by far the most common effect of mass communication is to reinforce its audience’s pre-existing interests, attitudes, and behavior and that the least common effect is to convert audience attitudes and behavior. In addition, pertinent attitudes of a considerable proportion of the audience are modified in intensity or salience but not in direction, that is, not to the point of conversion.
The relative frequency of these types of attitude change was first documented in a now classic study (Lazarsfeld et al. 1944) of the origin and fate of vote intentions during the 1940 U.S. presidential campaign. Employing panel techniques, these researchers interviewed several hundred residents of Erie County, Ohio, prior to the nominating conventions and at approximately monthly intervals thereafter, right up to election day. The study found that after exposure to months of mass media campaigning and partisan propaganda, 53 per cent of the respondents voted exactly as they said they would in May, before the candidates were even nominated. To whatever degree mass communication affected these voters, it did so in the service of reinforcement. By contrast, less than 10 per cent had been converted to the opposition candidate. Practically all the other respondents had undergone minor attitude changes short of conversion.
Later research has gone beyond the identification of effects and is able to describe much of the dynamics of their occurrence. Central to the study of these processes is the fact that mass communications rarely work directly upon their audiences but function within a nexus of other factors that mediate the potential effects. These mediating factors tend, for the most part, to make mass communication an agent, but not the sole cause, of reinforcement.
It is not possible within the scope of this article to cite and discuss all such factors. Nor, indeed, are all of them yet known. Among the most basic and most important, however, are audience predispositions and certain selective processes they engender; the influence of group norms; the operation of a process variously called the two-step flow, personal influence, and opinion leadership; and the position of mass media in a free enterprise society.
Predispositions and selective processes
The term “predisposition” requires little if any explanation. As used here, it carries its common denotation as a “tendency toward.” More precisely, “predisposition” can be viewed as an attitude “set” that is pertinent to the issue at hand and that exists prior to the audience member’s exposure to whatever mass communication is under surveillance. Thus, a person may be predisposed to vote Republican, to enjoy classical music, or to commit acts of violence. It is the substance of such predispositions which mass communication tends to reinforce, not in and of itself alone but rather as a contributory agent, working through the selective processes noted below.
Selective exposure. Research has repeatedly shown that people tend to expose themselves to mass communication material that is in accord with their existing attitudes or interests and to avoid communications that express contrary attitudes or are outside their fields of interest. Persons who do not like classical music, for example, are most unlikely to expose themselves to broadcasts of classical music and will tend to avoid them in favor of others more in accord with their existing tastes (see, e.g., Suchman 1941). By the same token, persons with Republican predispositions are more likely to expose themselves to Republican campaign propaganda than to Democratic campaign propaganda, and the same is true of Democrats (see, e.g., Lazarsfeld et al. 1944 and, in reference to television, Schramm & Carter 1959). In brief, the audience member uses the medium much as he would a large supermarket: he selects from its many offerings the fare he knows he likes, and he does not as a rule purchase products which he dislikes or with which he is unfamiliar. The process of selective exposure is thus a process of feeding existing appetites and thus reinforcing dietary preferences. Applied to mass communication, selective exposure minimizes the likelihood of the predisposed audience member’s being exposed to the other side of the issue and maximizes his continued exposure to sympathetic communications. It is therefore a cause of behavior that tends to make mass communication a reinforcing rather than a converting influence.
Selective retention. The tendency of audience members who have been exposed to unsympathetic material to recall it less well than they recall sympathetic material, and to forget it more rapidly, is known as selective retention. The phenomenon was well documented as early as 1943, when Levine and Murphy observed such effects following the exposure of students to political tracts variously supporting and attacking the students’ own points of view. The occurrence of selective retention in at least some degree has been widely regarded as obvious and has aroused little research curiosity in recent years. Its occurrence continues to be documented, however, among the findings of studies devoted to other objectives (e.g., Zimmerman & Bauer 1956, later replicated by Schramm without published report).
This kind of subconscious erasure obviously tends, like selective exposure, to reinforce the audience member’s existing views and to minimize the likelihood of his being converted.
Selective perception. The audience member’s court of last resort is selective perception, or the tendency to perceive material as sympathetic to his predispositions, even when the material presented is not, in fact, sympathetic. Since it occurs both concurrently with and after exposure to un-sympathetic communication, it is hard to disentangle chronologically from selective retention. Having been exposed to unsympathetic communications that they recall reasonably well, audiences tend so to distort the content as to render it, in their own minds, supportive (and thus reinforcive), even though it is in fact a statement of opposition. Thus, communications designed to advance racial tolerance have been perceived by prejudiced persons as affirmations of ethnic inequality (Columbia University … 1946; Cooper & Jahoda 1947). In the course of informal inquiry, the present author personally observed that a poster proclaiming “It takes all races to make our city run” was perceived by prejudiced persons as a confirmation of their views that minority group members were needed to perform the menial chores necessary for the majority groups to live in comfort. More recently, persons who witnessed the Kennedy—Nixon debates were found able to recall statements or views with which they disagreed but to assign such statements to the candidate they shunned, regardless of which candidate actually made the statement (Katz & Feldman 1962). Thus, selective perception, like selective exposure and selective retention, is another phenomenon that mediates the effects of mass communication and does so in the direction of reinforcement.
Social psychologists have repeatedly demonstrated the profound influence that group norms assert upon the attitudes and opinions of individuals who are or wish to be members of the group in question (an excellent review of the basic pertinent literature will be found in Katz & Lazarsfeld 1955).
Briefly, membership in groups has been found to serve as an anchoring point of many attitudes and, for the most part, to act in a variety of ways as a deterrent to opinion change. Both formal and informal groups tend to possess or develop considerable homogeneity of values, attitudes, and opinions in reference to specific issues. Persuasive mass communications that take positions alien to those of the group are therefore likely to be resisted by the individual member, not only because they are in conflict with his own predispositions but also because conversion would endanger such psychological and social benefits as he derives from good standing in the group. Discussion of issues with other group members has been found likely to reinforce both the individual’s original attitudes and his resistance to the unsympathetic communication. Such discussion has also been shown to exercise a “refresher” function: by making the norms more conspicuous, the discussion serves to draw unconscious drifters back to orthodoxy (McKeachie 1954).
By way of example, predispositions on the part of respondents toward opinions characteristic of their family groups, and even a readiness to adhere to a given point of view for no other reason than that it is family-anchored, have been noted in various studies, including the previously mentioned investigation of the 1940 U.S. election campaign by Lazarsfeld and others (1944). So strong was the tendency toward family homogeneity found in this study that “only 4% of the 413 panel members who voted claimed that someone in their families had voted differently” (Lazarsfeld et al.  1960, p. 141). Similar if less marked homogeneity was found among co-workers and among comembers of formal organizations.
It would seem logical that the strength of these tendencies would be correlated both with the salience of the question to the group and with the degree to which the audience member values his membership. Pertinent research, however, has indicated that this is not always the case. Experiments are reported, for example, in which the correlation appears in reference to one issue and one group but fails to appear in reference to another issue of presumably equal salience or among members of a presumably similar group (Kelley 1955; Kelley & Volkart 1952). To the best knowledge of the author, this anomaly has not yet been clarified or resolved.
The two-step flow of communication
A phenomenon often integral to the influence of mass communication has been called personal influence, interpersonal influence, the two-step flow of communication, and opinion leadership. The process and its history are described in detail by Katz (1957) and will here be treated only as necessary to establish its influence as a mediator of mass communication effects.
The important aspect of the phenomenon, from this point of view, is that in reference to decisions in various areas of attitude and behavior, people have been found to be influenced by specific other individuals as strongly or more strongly than they have been influenced by mass communication. These “others” have variously been termed opinion leaders, gatekeepers, influentials, initiators, innovators, and taste makers. They do not usually occupy formal positions of leadership, being characteristically neither political officeholders, teachers, preachers, nor any other type of elite. Their chief demographic characteristic is that they have no distinctive demographic characteristics. They are simply people who, consciously or unconsciously, critically influence the attitudes and opinions of a handful of people demographically like themselves. Their following is characteristically small, involving only a handful of persons; their influence is typically exerted in informal face-to-face discourse and may or may not be purposive; and their leadership is characteristically exercised within a limited topical sphere. The opinion leader in reference to public issues, for example, is not likely to be an opinion leader in reference to aesthetic issues or in reference to fashion.
Where opinion leadership exists, it has been found typically much involved with mass communications. Thus, the opinion leader is usually more exposed to topically appropriate mass communications than are his followers, to whom he may or may not pass on the information he has gleaned. (This capability is reflected in the term “gatekeeper” and in the concept of the two-step flow of communication.) The opinion leader may direct followers to mass communication to document or promote his opinions or, vice versa, he may interpret to his followers what mass communication on a given topic really means. The essential point is that where personal influence exists, it often mediates the effects of mass communication.
The direction of this mediation was long obscured by the fact that the phenomenon first came under research scrutiny in reference to change: changes in vote intention, changes in fashion, the adoption of new agricultural techniques, and the like. Studies of the role of the opinion leader in such circumstances led to his being widely if implicitly conceived as primarily an agent of change. It has recently become apparent, however, that personal influence probably functions more often as an agent of stasis than as an agent of change. Thus, the opinion leader has been found to be an embodiment of group norms, whose leadership is effective precisely because it provides satisfaction in terms of the shared values of the informal groups to which both leader and follower belong. Even the nature of personal influence in certain processes of change appears to be more a matter of counteracting departures from the norm than of initiating such departures: for example, personal influence in changing vote intentions appears to be primarily exerted on persons who had previously changed away from group norms, and the effective exercise of opinion leadership apparently serves in the main to bring such persons back into homogeneity with the group. In sum, recent re-evaluation of earlier research suggests that opinion leadership, or interpersonal influence, probably works in the direction of stability and reinforcement more often than it does in the interests of change. Insofar as this is true, and insofar as it touches on mass communication, personal influence (or opinion leadership, or the two-step flow) appears to be another of the factors that mediate the effects of mass communication in such a way as to render the media primarily agents of reinforcement. [See Diffusion, article oninterpersonal influence.]
Mass media in a free enterprise society
Mass media that function as profit-making enterprises in a free, competitive economy must strive to please enormous and highly variegated audiences and to avoid offending any significant proportion of the population. Although a sizable portion of media offerings—particularly news, commentaries, documentaries, and other informational programs—deal with highly controversial subjects, the major portion of mass media offerings are designed to serve an entertainment function. These entertainment products generally tend to avoid controversial issues and, implicitly or explicitly, to reflect beliefs and values already sanctified by the mass audience. To whatever degree this occurs, the media themselves serve to reinforce such beliefs and values. This course is the more likely to be followed by those media, such as television networks, whose investment and production costs are high. Small-budget media, such as specialized magazines or individual radio stations, can afford to address themselves exclusively to selected, small audiences, but national television networks cannot do so and remain economically viable. Put another way, mass communication that is profit-oriented must be directed primarily to mass tastes and must reflect mass values. When a mass medium ceases to do this, it ceases to be a mass medium.
The creation of opinion on new issues
Reinforcement and conversion can, of course, occur only where there is an opinion to reinforce or oppose. It cannot occur in the absence of opinion. Although there has been relatively little research on the subject, the media appear to be extremely effective in creating opinions. By way of a common-sense example, a few months before Fidel Castro came to power, probably less than 2 per cent of the American people so much as knew his name, let alone his political leanings. A year thereafter, however, the American public knew a great deal about him and his political behavior and were rather homogeneous in their opinions about him. The source of their knowledge and the bases of their opinions were obviously restricted, for all practical purposes, to the mass media.
It is not difficult to see why the mass media are extremely effective in creating opinions on new issues. In such a situation the audiences have no existing opinions to be guarded by the conscious or subconscious play of selective exposure, selective retention, or selective perception. Their reference groups are likewise without opinion, and opinion leaders are not yet ready to lead. In short, the factors that ordinarily render mass communication an agent of reinforcement are inoperative, and the media are thus able to work directly upon their audiences. The attitudes that the audiences derive from the media thereafter enjoy the reinforcive effects described above.
Areas of public concern
Persuasion on public issues
Data revealing the vast predominance of reinforcement over conversion in the area of political persuasion have been noted above (see Lazarsfeld et al. 1944). Similar findings have emerged from research on the influence of mass communication in many political campaigns (see especially Berelson et al. 1954). A modest study pursued by Schramm and Carter (1959) revealed that the audience for a Republican-sponsored election eve telecast contained twice as many Republicans as Democrats and succeeded in changing the vote intention of only one person among the hundred or so respondents. Star and Hughes (1950) found that a multimedia campaign designed to increase knowledge and approval of the United Nations attracted an audience consisting for the most part of persons who knew a good deal about the United Nations and were already favorably disposed toward it. Wiebe (1958) found that the broadcasts of the Army–McCarthy hearings were selectively perceived by most of the audience, whose existing opinions about the senator and the issues were accordingly reinforced. Other similar findings are numerous.
It must not be assumed, however, that reinforcement, which involves no change in opinion, is synonymous with lack of effect. Reinforcement is an effect, and an extremely important one. It strengthens the resolve in question, produces a type of immunity to counterpropaganda, and nurses straying sheep back into the fold (see, for instance, Lazarsfeld et al. 1944; Berelson et al. 1954; Katz & Feldman 1962).
Furthermore, none of the foregoing is to gainsay the fact that conversions do occur. It is, rather, to suggest that conversion occurs infrequently and usually under very special conditions, and it is often a kind of indirect reinforcement. In brief, convertees are often found to have been, as it were, predisposed to conversion. An excellent example occurs in research literature bearing upon the effects of Voice of America broadcasts to European satellite countries (International Public Opinion Research, Inc. 1953). Defectors from these countries to the “free world” were found, in many instances, to have lived for years in relative contentment under Stalinistic communism and either not to have listened to the Voice of America enough to make a difference or in any case to have been unaffected by the broadcasts. At first blush, it appeared that exposure to the Voice of America had suddenly become effective among persons for whom it had been previously ineffective and had rapidly made them not only intense anticommunists but warm and knowledgeable exponents of Western views as well. Deeper research revealed that many of them had become disaffected for wholly nonpolitical reasons. Some, for example, were young men facing the draft. Some were factory managers who had been demoted for not achieving their production quotas. The future of life at home had suddenly become unattractive. Seeking a better future, they began searching about. At this point the Voice of America became a convenient and effective agent of conversion. Put in other words, these people had become predisposed to change, and the Voice of America was available to help them implement the change. Somewhat similar findings have been reported in reference to the effect of Allied propaganda appeals to Nazi soldiers (Shils & Janowitz 1948) and in reference to the effect of UN information campaigns upon communist troops participating in the Korean conflict (Schramm & Riley 1951).
Concern over the effects of mass communication on the level of public taste has been expressed in reference to virtually all American mass media. Social critics have variously feared that mass communication would hinder the development of good taste among children and debase the existing tastes of adults. The mass media have also been called upon to assume the primary responsibility for developing the aesthetic tastes of their audiences.
Research indicates that mass communication, in and of itself, neither raises nor lowers the tastes of any significant portion of the audience (see, for example, Lazarsfeld 1940; Suchman 1941; Wolf & Fiske 1949; Klapper 1949; Himmelweit et al. 1958). Here again, as in reference to persuasion, mass communication serves primarily as an agent that reinforces whatever levels of aesthetic taste its audience members bring to it. Persons who do not like classical music, or do not like programs on relatively high cultural levels, simply do not expose themselves to such programs and are in fact often unaware of their existence. Increasing the incidence of such programs is thus unlikely to change the tastes of any significant portion of the audience.
Research reveals, however, that given a predisposition to develop cultural and aesthetic tastes, people can and have done so by watching or listening to appropriate media offerings. A now classic study (Suchman 1941) revealed, for example, that persons who were not particularly interested in classical music were sometimes impelled to listen to it on the air because they felt that their ignorance was inappropriate to some status they had recently attained. Their motivation to begin listening to the classical music was totally extraneous to the aesthetic quality of the music itself. By and by, however, they came to like the music for its own sake.
The interesting question also arises as to whether group norms serve to debase aesthetic tastes. It is conceivable, for example, that some persons who like media material on a high aesthetic level may find such tastes a subject of ridicule and thus a social handicap in groups that are otherwise congenial. The norms of such groups may demand familiarity with material of a lower quality. The individuals concerned may therefore undertake to view such aesthetically inferior material at the cost of the higher-quality material they prefer, and in the course of time they may come to like such material for its own sake. It seems unlikely that such a process would actually kill anyone’s taste for aesthetic material, but it might decrease his exposure to it. The phenomenon, if it occurs at all, does not seem so likely to involve an actual negation of existing tastes as, rather, to produce a broadening of tastes in a downward direction. Several authors have suggested, in speculative essays, that some such process occurs (e.g., Friedan 1963; Tamiment Institute 1961). Others (in particular Steiner 1963; Berelson 1964; Wilensky 1964) have documented the universal participation, by intellectuals as well as nonintellectuals, in mass culture and mass media products. But no research known to the author really faces the question of whether any change in the communication consumption habits of cultural elites has occurred since the development of the media of mass entertainment.
In any case, however, it is clear that mass communication serves for the most part to reinforce existing tastes. While it is not usually the prime mover, it can play a major role in taste development by providing a means of implementing such predisposition to change as may derive from extramedia sources. Accordingly, research into the operation of these extramedia sources would appear to be a prerequisite, or at least a necessary and integral part, of any campaign aimed at the development of audience taste.
Crime and violence
The American public, and indeed other publics as well, has always feared that media depictions of crime and violence would lead children to commit violence or at least to regard its commission with equanimity. The concern has been expressed not only in reference to television but, before that, in reference to comic books, movies, radio, and even newspapers.
The effect of depictions of violence on attitudes and behavior (as opposed to immediate emotional effects) has been the topic of inquiry of several studies, and additional studies are now being pursued. Prior to about 1960, this research typically consisted of surveys in which children who were heavy media users or heavy consumers of media depictions of crime and violence were compared with children who did not rate heavily on either count. These surveys typically resulted in one of two sets of findings. Either the two groups of children were found not to differ in reference to such criteria as were employed in the study, or the heavy users were found to differ in regard to characteristics that for the most part antedated or were irrelevant to their exposure to the media material. Thus, an elaborate study of the effects of television on British children (Himmelweit et al. 1958, p. 215) “found no more aggressive, maladjusted, or delinquent behavior among viewers than among [non-viewing] controls.” These findings are in accord with earlier studies, for example, that of Lewin (1953), who found no differences among heavy and light violence consumers in tendencies toward delinquency, school attitude or achievement, or conduct.
As noted above, other studies did find differences between heavy and light consumers of violence. Ricciuti (1951), for example, found that children who particularly liked programs containing crime and violence scored somewhat lower than their colleagues on IQ and school achievement and were slightly below average in general happiness and interpersonal adjustments. At the same time, Ricciuti found no differences between the groups in nervous habits, fears, daydreams, and frustration reactions. A complex study by Bailyn (1959) revealed that certain types of depicted violence were particularly liked by boys (not girls) who were both highly exposed to such depictions and who exhibited certain psychological characteristics, including numerous problems relative to themselves, their family, and their peers, as well as a tendency to blame difficulties on others rather than themselves. Bailyn considers that these factors antedate the children’s partiality for the aggressive material and thus “would not logically be thought of as effects of exposure” (ibid., p. 3). She notes that these psychological characteristics are very similar to traits that were previously found by Sheldon Glueck and Eleanor Glueck to play a role in the “causal complex of delinquency” (ibid., p. 37). She points out, however, that these characteristics do not in themselves differentiate between high and low exposure and that it is only those boys who are both highly exposed and possess these characteristics who are especially partial to the media material involved. High exposure, she found, was primarily associated with lack of parental restrictions on media usage and with low IQ.
Various other studies suggest that preference for crime and violence material is not a cause but a correlate of maladjustment. Eleanor Maccoby, for example, found that children who were mildly frustrated immediately before viewing films remembered more of the aggressive content than did the nonfrustrated children (unpublished study, described in Bogart 1956, p. 154).
The most extensive study of television in the lives of American children supports the findings of the earlier studies cited above and concludes “that the kind of child we send to television, rather than television itself, is the chief element in delinquency … . [The] most that television can do is to feed the malignant impulses that already exist” (Schramm et al. 1961, pp. 165–166).
Within the last few years, the survey literature has been supplemented by a host of laboratory experiments whose findings are regarded by some people as indicating that media depictions of violence or aggression elicit aggressive behavior on the part of children or young adults. The typical procedure involves the exposure of subjects, usually for not over ten minutes, to a film clip depicting “aggression” and thereafter seeking the effect of the exposure as manifested by predetermined criterional behavior (see, for instance, Bandura et al. 1961; Lovaas 1961; Mussen & Rutherford 1961).
In almost all the experiments involving child subjects, both the stimulus material and the criterional behavior involve laboratory simulations of “aggression” which are so distant from aggression in the consensual sense of that term that generalization to the topics of social concern seems quite unjustified. Thus, stimulus materials have included films of adults attacking a plastic doll, cartoons in which animals wrestle, and the like. Criterional behavior has also typically involved the rough handling of toys or even, in one instance, a statement that it would be fun to see a balloon popped. The occurrence of effects is sought immediately after exposure, and the persistence of any observed effects is very rarely an object of inquiry.
In one of the experiments which involved children and in which some approach to interpersonal aggression was undertaken (Bandura 1963), the child subjects were exposed to a stimulus film in which one adult, dressed like a child, seized the toys of another adult, who was also dressed like a child, precipitating a mild fight. A significant degree of spontaneous imitative aggression occurred among children who saw a version of the film in which the aggressor won, but not among those who saw a version in which the victim was triumphant. These data are regarded by Bandura and others as an indication that children will imitate depicted violence if it is shown to be fruitful. However, the only study in which children were enabled during criterional behavior to “attack” each other with rubber daggers or similar play weapons revealed no significant increase in violent or aggressive behavior, as these terms are commonly understood (Siegel 1956).
Several experimenters have pursued parallel laboratory studies with adult subjects (e.g., Berkowitz 1962; Berkowitz et al. 1963; Walters et al. 1962; Walters et al. 1963; Walters & Thomas 1963). In many of these, the stimulus films portrayed real interpersonal violence. However, the criterional behavior involved, in its most “violent” form, very small increments in the duration and intensity of electric shocks, which the subjects had been told to administer in the first place. [SeeAggression, article onPsychological aspects.]
The vast difference between the types of “violence” or “aggression” in these studies and the commission of real physical violence has led many researchers, including the authors of one of the studies (Mussen & Rutherford 1961), to deny the validity of generalizing the experimental results to the likelihood of committing real violence in a naturalistic situation. The present author agrees with this (see also Hartley 1964 for a review and critique of experiments in this tradition).
Other areas of effect
The scope of this article does not permit discussion of all the attitudinal and behavioral effects that have been subjects of social comment, concern, or, in some cases, hope. Prominent among the questions we are thus unable to discuss is whether television viewing promotes passivity or, conversely, whether it stimulates new interests and activities; another common concern is that it reduces time spent on reading. In general, the pattern of effect that has been described throughout this article appears applicable to these other areas. Thus, research indicates that television neither changes active children into passive children nor changes passive children into active ones (Himmelweit et al. 1958). Rather, it provides an easy way for passive children to be passive, and it is a source of new interests and activities for children who are naturally curious and active (Himmelweit et al. 1958; Schramm et al. 1961). Although the data are not completely clear, the effects of television on reading appear to follow a similar pattern (see, for example, Himmelweit et al. 1958; Witty 1966). In those areas, as in others, reinforcement appears to be the dominant effect.
Despite all that has been said above, our knowledge of the effects of mass communication is still limited, and there is need for additional research. Perhaps the most crucial need is for a series of inquiries on what children of various ages actually perceive when they look at the cinema or television screen or when they view or read other mass communications. It is only in the last three or four years that communication researchers have begun rigorously to question the frequent if implicit view that children perceive either what adults perceive or what adults think children perceive. These assumptions, once made explicit, appear to be obviously naive and probably invalid.
A second topic demanding research might be called the fate of minor attitude change. It has been noted above that such changes, falling far short of conversion, are quite common. But, for all we now know, these minor changes may be steppingstones on the path to major changes that have been neither sought nor documented. The concept of “sleeper effects,” that is, the possibility that major effects will become visible only weeks or months after exposure to the communications, was first formulated by Hovland, Lumsdaine, and Sheffield (1949), but the conditions promoting or inhibiting such effects and the patterns of their development have not as yet been adequately described. The recently developing interest in “learning without involvement,” perhaps best set forth by Krugman (1965), seems likely to be found pertinent to this general area, as does also the recent work pursued by Festinger and Maccoby on “resistance to persuasive communications” (1964).
A third area of ignorance is closely connected to the second. Much research has been devoted to determining the effects of a specific mass communication program, or of a series of such programs, on audience attitudes and behavior. But in actual life the audiences of mass media are exposed to hundreds or thousands of communications, many of them similar in content or point of view to the few specific programs whose effects are assayed. Our knowledge of the over-all effects of mass communication will remain limited unless and until research can be directed upon the effects of cumulative exposure to mass communications. This is tantamount to saying that there is urgent and critical need for “longitudinal studies” that keep audience members under scrutiny for years or decades. The methodological problems involved in the pursuit of such a study are formidable and have not yet been reduced to malleable proportions.
There is need also for inquiry into the variety of functions that the same communication may serve for different members of its audience. By the same token, there is equal need for inquiry into the apparent ability of diverse and dissimilar types of communications to serve the same functions for specific audience members. The old methods of classifying programs as “informative” or “entertaining,” or in such gross categories as “light drama” and “serious drama,” are beginning to appear somewhat naive. The classification of audiences primarily or exclusively in terms of such time-honored demographic categories as sex, age, educational achievement, and the like is probably equally naive. The development of our knowledge as to how mass communication affects its mass audiences will probably be handicapped until functional patterns of communication can be identified and defined and until audience subgroups can be defined in terms of the functions that various types of mass communication serve for them. The potential fruitfulness of such a research approach has been discussed by Wright (1960), Klapper (1960), and Katz and Foulkes (1962).
Joseph T. Klapper
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