Summary of Chapters 1 to 3 in
Mediating the Message in the 21st Century
by Pamela J. Shoemaker and Stephen D. Reese
Chapter 1 Summary – Mediating the Message in the 21st Century
The first two chapters of Mediating the Message in the 21st Century by Pamela J. Shoemaker and Stephen D. Reese function largely as an introduction to explain to the reader the current state of the communications field in academics and how it has arrived at this point. One of the first points that the authors cover is to lay out the Hierarchical Influences Model as suggested and laid out by Gans and Gitlin. This model is built on a number of key ideas by which to analyze media content or at least to question or to understand the context that may determine the information we receive. These points are:
Content is influenced by media workers’ socialization
Content is influenced by media organizations and routines.
Content is influenced by other social institutions and forces.
Content is a function of ideological positions and maintains the status quo.
Taking these ideas into consideration, the Hierarchical Influences Model lays out the notion that there are myriad dynamic forces by which media content is determined. From the macro to the micro, these are: Social Systems, Social Institutions, Media Organizations, Routine (Societal) Practices, and Individuals. Therefore, it is important not to become too fixated on any one particular level when attempting to analyze media content or communications, as any of these forces can be potentially having influence at any time.
The authors then go on to encourage the reader to think about how the media decides which particular content to feature or to air, as well as how it may then depict or frame the content itself to have certain influences on the viewer(s).
This chapter served as an introduction both of the historical context of the field of communication research, as well as the ideas which the authors will be working with and building on throughout the course of this book. Regarding the Hierarchical Influences Model and the earlier ideas on which it was built, I think that much like my general belief towards many things in life, truth can be found in nearly all of the ideas, and that no particular one can make a claim to be the full story or a comprehensive explanation.
Chapter 2 – Mediating the Message in the 21st Century
The second chapter builds on the introductory explanations of the first, and goes on to provide additional details about the study of communication. However, interestingly, this chapter begins by sounding largely economic, as the author right away focuses on the idea of production and control regarding the mechanisms of the media. One of the first details provided is another framework, this one developed by Harold Laswell, to study media content. Laswell’s main questions to consider are:
- Says what?
- Through which channel?
- To whom?
- With what effect?
Then, the author highlights a key period in the field of communication studies, during which the Chicago and Columbia schools brought up a number of influential ideas. First, the Chicago school approached media and communication studies with the main belief that social sciences could be an important Progressive tool for tackling social problems, and that the mass media would play an important role in this. The founders of this school believed that the mass media could be used as a positive tool for the betterment of society and to build social consensus. Communication was pervasive, and essential to the maintenance of society and culture. The Columbia school then provided innovative theories building on these ideas, such as the two-step flow hypothesis as proposed by Katz and Lazarsfeld. They contended “that ideas often flow from the media to opinion leaders who in turn spread them to other less active members of the population.” (26) This was a unique and intriguing perspective to take.
Chapter 3 – Mediating the Message in the 21st Century
The author begins the third chapter with the main idea that media content is not an accurate reflection of reality. As the media have the power and control to frame or to depict certain events as they choose, so too the media have the power to amplify certain ideas or beliefs in society. As this chapter progresses, the author seems to be portraying him- or herself as making a strong case for the democratization of information, which in his or her eyes is currently far from being the case. Inequality lies not only in the amount of representation afforded to people and groups in the media, but also in their very access to vital information such as news. One significant section of this chapter is that in which the author lays out the idea of reality television news. This notion contends that the event as portrayed by the media does not reflect reality, and in fact becomes more of an event or spectacle than the actual one. It is almost as if through the media, reality is becoming fiction.