Researching MEDIA Audiences (101053)

week9 break




RMA 2013 Lecture 2 Notes

Slide 2 – Defining the Audience

Audiences are formations of people.

Traditionally, they are constructed through attendance at an event, which is some sort of a shared experience in space and time. However, mediated communication facilitates (a)synchronous, mediated participation in social events. The people at these events usually have little connection with each other than an interest in the event they are attending or witnessing (by radio, TV, or the internet): football, Olympics, motor racing, Sunday religious services, X-Factor, Sydney-Hobart yacht race, New Year’s Eve fireworks, etc.

However, they may be linked by being subcultures; fans, ethnic groups, indigenous or religious communities, or even households. Members of these groups have certain shared perspectives. Those formations are shaped by pre-existing social and cultural histories and conditions, and exist independently of the media. The event is not the only thing that brings them together – we consider the shared perspectives as well.

An audience may also be a small local group such as those attending a church service, school speech day, or a theatre performance. Their audience requires the conjunction of the interest with a designated space and time.

Groups who frequent internet chat groups are separated in space, and those in email list groups are separated in space and perhaps in time as well, but they are audiences nevertheless.

As I pointed out last week, being an audience requires more than just being in a particular place at a particular time, otherwise everyone on a railway platform at a particular time would be an audience. All the people having dinner at McDonald’s would be an audience. Something extra is required.

A group becomes an audience when participation becomes structured according to a power relationship affected by the informational dimension of the event. For example, a group on a railway platform becomes an audience when the station staff make an announcement on the PA system and people listen and respond to it. A group at dinner becomes an audience when someone begins to tell a story and the guests pay attention to it.

The media-tization of information is often assumed to encompass the power and control dimensions of the event, but the increasing complexity of the media environment and the growing diversity of audience engagements mean it’s time to expand our definition of ‘media audience’.

According to Ross & Nightingale, Audience events “occupy an increasingly pivotal role as the means by which knowledge is transformed into social, cultural, economic and political action” (Ross & Nightingale, 2003: 6-7).

Being an audience involves more than being in a gathering. Rather, a group of people become an audience when participation is structured “according to power relations governing the access to and use made of the informational dimension of the event” (Ross & Nightingale, 2003: 5). Henceforth, audiences involve processes of privilege and exclusion, asymmetry between the parties that speak and the parties that respond. Accordingly, new media technologies not only affect the access to information, and the uses to which this information may be put, but has the potential to foster new power relations (or reinforce existing structures) between different parties.

Research into audiences is increasingly important to make sense of these processes.

Slide 3

The Developing Audience

As technologies develop, and as media audiences globalise and fragment, and as the different media converge, there are shifts in the kinds of interactions that are associated with being part of an audience.

An audience is not a thing but rather a role enacted by formations of people. These people also have the capacity to function as markets and publics. These three concepts overlap but interrelate in important ways, by means of mediated communication.

New media can deliver immediacy and agency. Media events like Australian Idol and So you think you can dance and The X Factor exploit this immediacy and agency. They treat audiences as markets.

Chat-rooms and email lists are the public forums of earlier times, and they treat audiences as publics.

Despite enabling audiences to respond to media and generate media, the new media environment is still governed by a complex set of power relations that enable particular citizens to take part in the discussion, or exercise control over events.

The mass audience of the twentieth century is replaced by audience formations in the twenty-first century.

Decision by the High Court, announced on 6 Aug 2012: if someone puts something offensive on your Facebook page, it is your responsibility to take it down. How does this affect the audience dynamic?


Slide 4 &  5

The history of the Audience

l  Throughout the early history of media, the audience was treated with contempt.  Traditionally  audiences have been seen as “mindless, ignorant, defenceless, naïve and manipulated or exploited” by media (Livingstone, 2005: 10). These attitudes intensified with the proliferation of  media, although they predate the invention of mass media by thousands of years.

l  Throughout the twentieth century, audiences were a concern because of their passivity, or lack of agency. They were susceptible to political and social propaganda. However, in the nineteenth century audiences were feared because of their agency, rather than a deficiency of it. Today, forms of mediation are changing, with the public being mediated by ever more diversified, pervasive and subtle forms of mass communication and interactive communication.

l  This is not just a technological shift in communicative forms but also a social shift. The media are less separatated to discrete domains but act to blur traditional boundaries between work/leisure, education/entertainment, domestic/civic, and local/global.


Slide 6

Is Social Media Accurate?

Boston bombings were covered by mass media AND social media (bystanders had phones)

Mass media mistakenly identified 2 Chechen brothers (and others)

Social media made same mistakes, especially Reddit.com

Slide 7

Audiences as Publics

l  An essential role in order to have a functioning democratic system.

l  The notion of the public sphere is related to liberal democratic philosophy. It privileges the notion of the free exchange of ideas, ignoring the way in which particular citizens and discursive strategies have always been marginalised.

l  The mass media is often considered a threat to the public sphere, as people have emphasised its capacity to control and 'dumb down' public discourse, at the expense of acknowledging its capacity to inform the public in myriad powerful ways.

l  Discourse is often reduced to a brief news grab.


Slide 8

Audiences as Markets

The Audience as a Market – The Consumer

An essential role in order to have a functioning capitalist system.

The market rejects the necessity for fair information, suggesting that the management of populations on behalf of institutional interests is not only a part of commercial exploitation but also a part of the political manipulation that masquerades as rational discourse.

The market sees the mass media as a tool that enables the promotion of consumerism and advertisement of goods and services.

The market transforms audiences into units sold to advertisers.


Slide 9

What are Publics?

A public is an aggregate of people who engage in public discussion on issues of concern to the state. It is quite distinct from government and from people engaged in private affairs, whether at home or in the marketplace.

The social institutions that ‘house’ such discussions constitute the public sphere. Ideas about the public sphere are based on ancient Greek and Rome where citizens assembled in forums to consider issues facing their city-state. (Heater, 2004)

These ideas and institutions faded from European culture in the middle ages, but gradually reappeared in the early modern period (14th -18th Centuries).

18th Century Europe re-established publics as a valued idea and emphasised reason as the necessary mode of deliberation among citizens.

The size of eighteenth century nation-states made assemblies of even a select class of citizens impracticable, and so the press became integral to the concept of national publics.

In the twentieth century, other media, in particular broadcasting, were added to this.  But the growth of media raised concerns about whether media control publics or are a tool for publics.


Slide 10

Views of media audiences

There are 4 competing views of media audiences:

1.  Media audiences as Public Good

2.  Media audiences as Marketplaces

3.  Media audiences as Communities

4.  Media audiences as Producers

Slide 11

Mass Media as a Public Good

Powerful connection between the individual and the Public Sphere.

Media represents the public to itself

Problems occur when the mass media itself is influenced by government, private sector, or individuals

Recent media reports re Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd

l    At its inception, television was perceived as good for the public. Television, like all mass media, creates a powerful connection between the individual and the public sphere. As a result of this perception, the industry was protected and subsidised by the government, limiting commercial competition, and establishing codes for the transmission of information. For example, there were codes to control advertising and “adult” content.

l    Public knowledge generated by shared exposure creates an imagined public sphere that is all the more convincing to its audiences because the media also represents the public to itself. Audiences tend to assume that the public sphere hosted by the mass media is an accurate representation of what they need to know to participate as citizens in the democratic process.

  l    Despite these shortcomings, mass media is crucial for its capacity to engage in public deliberation. This entails the problematisation and discussion of issues that are of social relevance, enabling a consensus to be achieved through argument.

Slide 12

Mass Media as a Marketplace

TV media content is produced for profit

Media space can be used to sell commodities to audiences via advertising

Focus on maintenance of capitalism

Audience research focuses on ratings and market share

l  Approaching audiences as consumers transforms the relationship between content providers and audiences. This concept is built on two relatively simple bases.

l  The first is that media content is produced for profit.

l  The second is that media is a space where commodities can be directly marketed to audiences.

l  Rather than expressing a duty to inform audiences of information that is vital to democracy, it engages in strategies that are vital to the maintenance of capitalism. The practice of inserting advertisements amongst media content affects the content in rather pronounced ways.

l  Content is designed to attract the maximum number of viewers and hence deliver the largest audience of potential consumers to advertisers.

l  Content is motivated to keep the audience ready to consume. It's not so important to give audiences a message as it is to grab their attention.

  l  Approaches to researching audiences in this context traditionally follow the (rather pedestrian) logic of ratings, market share and quantitative measurement.

Slide 13

Research into Media Audiences - Effects

Typical of academic communication/health research

Affected by prevailing social and cultural concerns

Assesses the efficiency of marketing strategies

Effects of violent media on children

Effects of pornography on adults

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qt5MjBlvGcY  (Hypodermic needle theory)

l  Research into media audiences is affected by the prevailing social and cultural concerns of its era. For example, attention to models that emphasised the power of propaganda were popular in the aftermath of the second world war, as researchers attempted to come to terms with the role that mass media played in mobilising groups of individuals to attack and dehumanise one another. Similarly, the contemporary focus upon the effect that media has upon children is a product of particular ideas about, and social realities of, childhood in contemporary society e.g. The idea that children are vulnerable to messages as they are 'blank slates; for culture to inscribe itself upon, relates to the lack of social and political power that children have (who are spoken for by adults who “think of the children”).

l  Effects research is of interest to researchers investigating audiences as markets and publics. Research into media audiences as markets tends to judge the efficiency of particular form of marketing strategies. 

l  The bulk of research into media audience as a public has sought to investigate the effects that exposure to particular kinds of media have upon particular kinds of people, e.g. the effects of “violent media” upon “children”.

l  Popular, as opposed to elite, forms of culture are most often the focus of this research reinforcing the notion that the masses are vulnerable to media effects.

  l  Effects Research has been discussed in the press in recent weeks due to a return of the discussion of whether an exposure to violent video games makes children more violent.


Slide 14

Models of Media Effects

l  Early models, which retain some popularity within the social sciences, attempt to demonstrate causal relations and direct behavioural effects. However, accepting this research as any sort of conclusive answer is difficult because of the tendency to generate ad hoc hypotheses and engage in post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacies of logic. The former problem creates research that is self-serving, whilst the latter confuses correlation with causation.

l  Furthermore, these experiments are conducted in a forensic/experimental context that hamper extrapolation to audiences who aren't randomly subjected to violent or pornographic material in a laboratory.

l  As Livingstone argues, “in the best field experiments – that is, those based in the most everyday or ordinary settings – the effects tend to be small to non-existent” (2005: 26).

l  However, other experiments, conducted in the field of communication studies, address the power of media not as behavioural effect, but rather, a hermeneutic process that is probabilistic rather than deterministic.

l  This week there is yet another discussion of the effect of violent video games as a training ground for violent behaviour.


Slide 15

Models of Media Communication

l  Rather than asserting a direct line of meaning between the speaker and the audience, communication research acknowledges that contextual factors affect the receipt of a message.
attempted to map the communication in 1948, investigating, 'who says what in which channel to whom and with what effect?'

l  Lasswell's amended model of media communication appears as:

SENDER → (other factors) → MESSAGE → (other factors) → RECEIVER

l  Stuart Hall constructed the Encoding/Decoding model that attempted to explicate these “other factors” through the emphasis of cultural context.
His model centred the text as a piece of meaningful discourse that was produced as meaningful only through the cyclical exchange of knowledge frameworks, relations of production, technical infrastructure, and meaning structures.


Slide 16

Media Audiences as Communities

l    Effects research methodologies were unable to produce results that seemed to reflect the complexity of audience responses to media. Communication models began to move away from broad responses and pay attention to the range of responses that different audiences may experience.

l    This nuanced response is germane to the third conceptualisation of media audiences, evaluating audiences as communities.
(publics, then markets, then communities)

l    Referring to audiences as communities emphasizes the communal nature of cultural expression, and how media relates to cultural identity. As a member of the general public, we respond to mass media, whilst as consumers we respond to advertisements. As members of the media community, we situate ourselves through fluency and identification with media texts.

l    This conceptualisation of the audience was invaluable as it moved the research field from the artificial settings of the laboratory, where the researcher has a distant, almost adversarial relationship to the audience; into the embedded, ethnographic world. The audience was transformed from research subject into research collaborator, helping to define what questions should be asked, rather than merely responding to the researcher's hypothesis. This form of research brought the fandom under scrutiny, revealing complex media engagements between audiences, text and media.

Slide 17

Ethnographic Research

Traditionally, the ethnographer focuses attention on a community, selecting knowledgeable informants who know the activities of the community well.

These informants are typically asked to identify other informants who represent the community, often using chain sampling.

This process is often effective in revealing common cultural denominators connected to the topic being studied.

Ethnography relies greatly on up-close, personal experience. Participation, rather than just observation, is one of the keys to this process.

Ethnography is very useful in social research.

Beginning in the 1960s and 1970s, ethnographic research methods began to be widely employed by communication scholars. The purpose of ethnography is to describe and interpret the shared and learned patterns of values, behaviors, beliefs and language of a culture-sharing group.

Ethnographic work in communication studies seeks to explain "how" ordinary methods/practices/performances construct the ordinary actions used by ordinary people in the accomplishments of their identities. This often gives the perception of trying to answer the "why" and "how come" questions of human communication. Often this type of research results in a case study or field study such as an analysis of speech patterns at a protest rally, or the way firemen communicate during "down time" at a fire station.


Slide 18

21st C technologies – YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, reality TV, hypertext novels, mobile phone apps. We are now living through a revolution in communication and media choice. We have at our disposal the largest range of technologies with which to both produce media and receive media. For some people their phone has replaced the newspaper, the TV, the magazine, even their computers. Some people spend more time on Facebook than any other single activity, including sleep. The ability to record our very significant lives and share events with our ‘friends’ has become the basis of our existence.

No single sources of media, and multiple reception platforms

Problems arise in terms of ethics, accuracy, credibility.

Slide 19

Ethics  Problems

If I have a Facebook page, and someone makes an offensive statement on it (or, presumably, puts an offensive picture on it), then it is my responsibility to take it down, and failure to do so is the same as having made the statement myself.

How does this affect your relationship with your audience? High Court, reported by ABC News, 6 August 2012.

Aug 4: Twitter has introduced anti-abuse tools to prevent death threats and rape threats aimed at women after a journalist suggested that Jane Austen should appear on the 10 pound note in UK. While the abusers were seen to be the perpetrators of criminal acts, Twitter itself wishes to stop such acts. This is like the telephone company trying to stop stalking or crank calls on its telephony system.


  learning Guide

     Tute readings

    More readingssee vUWS site

     other stuff


      Dr. Ray Archee (r.archee@uws.edu.au) 
       0413 149-824 mobile

      Colin Dawson (c.dawson@uws.edu.au)