Media- A ring side view of the impact of media on audience

Media and the Public

In the last article, we discussed the two kinds of relationships that exist within the media industry and the ones that it forms with other social institutions. However, another relationship occurs when the media deliver messages to readers. Here the issues of interest involve how readers interact with media products and media technology. Readers are not passive sponges that soak up the many messages they come across in the media. This would imply a one-way relationship, with the media determining the thoughts and behavior of listeners and viewers. Instead, readers of media products must actively interpret media messages.

Relevant resources available to audience might include knowledge and information gained from personal experience, other people, formal education, or other media products. These resources are neither randomly nor equally distributed. The interpretive skills that people bring with them to their viewing, listening, and reading are shaped by aspects of social structure such as class and education. Although media messages are impersonal and subject to multiple interpretations by audiences, the construction of meaning does not take place in individualized isolation.

Active audience interpretation is important, but we must also realize that the thousands of hours people spend with the media do have some influence on them. The structure and agency framework suggests that we have to explore the dynamic tension between the power of social structure and the (always partial) autonomy of human activity. How powerful are media images in shaping how we think and feel? Do they affect how people are likely to behave? How does media technology affect our social relationships? Ultimately, these are complex questions that do not lend themselves to easy answers involving all-encompassing media power or complete individual freedom. The relationship between structure and agency helps illuminate the various levels at which mass media images, whose meanings are neither fixed nor arbitrary, influence but do not determine our understanding of the world.

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