Communication is a major requisite for unity, stability, social, economic and political development of a society. Equally important is the means and avenues through which communication between and among individuals and groups takes place. Importance of reliable means of communication is hinged on the premise that it is one thing to have the right information but if you do not have reliable medium of passing on your message(s) to the right recipient in the right way and at the right time it is impossible to communicate.
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In other words, sender, information, medium and recipient of a message are the most important fundamental components for efficient and effective communication at interpersonal as well as public levels. Therefore, mass media including newspapers, magazines, televisions, radio and now the internet and social networks like Facebook and Twitter play a very significant role of enabling efficient and effective communication.
The aim of this paper is to find out how approaches to the study of content provide communication researchers with insights into transformative elements of the communicative process that they otherwise would not have.
Communication as a Process
Communication is no doubt an important human activity that is vital in the study and understanding of their behaviour in whatever they undertake in social, economic and political spheres of life. In another sense communication is a process that involves passing on meaningful information in terms of news, ideas and messages.
A sender, a medium, information to be shared and an intended receiver consist of the basic requirements of communication. It is noteworthy that the recipient does not necessarily need to be present or know of the sender’s plan to pass on a piece of communication.
As a result, communication takes place across huge distances in space and time. For instance, in our contemporary world information about happenings in one part of the world is relayed to remote places of world continents almost on a real time basis thanks to advancements made by man in the area of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) during the 19th and 20th Century.
Efficient and effective human communication whether oral, written, nonverbal or visual communication requires that the communicating parties shares an area of communicative harmony. Therefore, the communication process can only be regarded as complete when the addressee of the information has comprehended the sender and given back the necessary feedback where it is needed and possible.
Written communication varies in terms of layout, language, tone and more important content which carry most of the meaning intending to be communicated by the sender. This fact explains why articles on a similar event or issue featuring in two different newspapers may be understood by various news consumers differently.
Hence presentation of a report or a story about a similar event or happening by two journalists influences what readers think and how they think about it in different ways. Therefore, studying the implication of the content aspect of information in communication studies is a major area of academic concern for communication researchers.
How approaches to the study of content provide communications researchers with insights into transformative elements of the communicative process
Studying the content of the medium provides communication researchers with insights into factors affecting the way the message is presented, interpreted and how the receiver understands the message. With the study of literary criticism, communication researchers can learn about ways in which a message can be taken and how the receiver comprehends it. For example, suppose several people read the same poem.
Each person could interpret the poem differently regarding what the poet is expressing in their poem. By trying to figure out the meaning behind the text it opens up ideas of possibility that others may not have thought of and it broadens its perspective.
In society, people may interpret message shown to them based on their own beliefs, customs and culture. How different people read and understand content of the message is usually based on what a person sees and recall from their memories.
Also, the way the message is understood could be influenced by how the message is presented. For example, the media chooses to highlight certain details about events or leave other details out in order for the public to react the way they want. By choosing what to include in the message and what to leave out, the author or journalist affect how the story or message is perceived by the reader or news consumers. It is important to note that what a journalist or writer chooses to leave out of a story is as crucial as what is included.
Communication is supposed to be an instrument of positive progress in any society that is committed to knowing itself and identifying a desired and shared destiny it would like to realize. Thus communication should be transformative.
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Transformative communication is a modern innovative communication process where individuals and groups are encouraged, given power and motivated to modify their behaviors, value and belief systems in order to face present needs, unleashed potentials and opportunities of a changing reality welcoming in a new order toward togetherness (Malay & Alzona, 2006).
There are various approaches that literary scholars and communication researchers use to study media content. Some of them facilitate an intensive inquiry into the content of the medium by considering the complete circumstance within which messages are created and passed on to recipients (Lorimer & Scannell, 2003).
Other perspectives focus on the content alone while there is in some instances some common characteristics between audience theory and content theory (Lorimer & Scannell, 2003).The most common approaches to the study of content in communication research include semiotics, discourse and conversational analysis, modernism and postmodernism, pragmatics, literary criticism, content analysis, structuralism and post- structuralism and media form analysis (Lorimer & Scannell, 2003).
Literary criticism originates from the work of the literary icon known as F.R. Leavis whose ideas had huge influence on the study of literature in English and which were later carried over into study of mass media such as film and television (Lorimer & Scannell 2003).
Literary criticism put emphasis up on autonomy or independence of the content.In the study of literature it does not stress things such as how the novel or poem in question was produced or its issuance and distribution history. Leavis insisted that literary scholars should be interested in the meaning of the content of a literary work and asserted that finding out this was delicate, prejudiced, critical work of analysis (Lorimer & Scannell 2003).Interpretation here meant explaining what the author had in mind as articulated in the content.
As a result, in literary studies, text was treated as the product of the authors and the same theory was used in film studies (Lorimer & Scannell 2003). For instance, directors of films instead of the script-writers were taken as the creative originators of the film.
However, in 1960s this author-centered approach was enthusiastically criticized by great cultural critics like Roland Barthers in his masterpiece essay titled ‘Death of the Author’ (Lorimer & Scannell 2003).Barthers argued that the source of meaning in any content (TV play, novel or movie) could only be the consumer of the information therein because content only derives an important effect in the act of consumption.
This approach to the study of content enables communication researchers to understand the transformative potential of the communicative process by treating the reader as the source of the meaning of the content contained in a given medium. Doing so sets the reader free from the uninteresting undertaking of attempting to discover what the author had in mind (Lorimer & Scannell, 2003).
Consequently, the consumer of news or the reader is understood as being at liberty to construct his or her own sense and to open up instead of close down the meaning of the content (Lorimer & Scannell 2003).Accordingly, authors and journalists should strive to use the most appropriate language, style and tone in order to increase the probability of reader creating beneficial and transformative meanings out of their works in the most creative way possible.
The presentation approach adopted by authors of literary works and journalists should empower the reader and accord him or her interpretational freedom. They should shun the idea of one true and bona fide meaning of the content (Lorimer & Scannell, 2003).
Structuralism and post-structuralism is a famous approach to the study of content with communication researchers. Structuralism is an overall word for particular way of examining anything from a film, a TV play, a fairy story and even language itself (Lorimer & Scannell, 2003).The target of structuralism is to find out the fundamental model both of single texts and different kinds of literary works.
Through structuralism literary scholars and communication researchers’ attempts to see beneath the superficial meaning of the content and get to the concealed core skeletal organization that holds the body of the story together (Lorimer & Scannell 2003).
Structuralism enables communication researchers to undo evident complexities of content in a text such as a story into a simple set of essential story features that can be joined into rigorously restricted number of ways (Lorimer & Scannell 2003). Structural analysis of narrative has been used to study movies and soap-operas and other mass media.
This approach enables communication researchers comprehend transformative elements of the communicative process by making it possible to establish what lies beneath what is seen on the face value of the content under study (Lorimer & Scannell 2003). By reducing the complexities of a given story it becomes easier for communication researchers get an insight on how the content is positioned to transform the reader or news consumer.
Content analysis is also famous with communication researchers. According to Lorimer & Scannell (2003), content analysis does not have theoretical foundations and is quantitative. Content analyst identifies various units of analysis such as concomitant illustrations, nouns, verbs, paragraphs, classifications of spokespersons cited among others (Lorimer & Scannell, 2003).
Then the analyst determines meanings or themes that appear to be most important to a certain piece of communication. It is important to note that meaning categories identified may be relevant on the basis of the author or the interests of the analyst himself or herself (Lorimer & Scannell, 2003).
After identifying units of analysis and categories of meanings, an analyst then counts numerous types of incidences and their affiliation with other kinds of incidences for example words with pictures (Lorimer & Scannell, 2003). Use of content analysis is an effective approach to the study of content. It easily shows how giving of meaning is limited by the medium itself and how it shapes and carries content (Lorimer & Scannell, 2003).
In the daily world of reporting and writing, journalists, news consumers and newsmakers similarly have realized that numerous media constantly choose certain features to emphasize at the expense of others. This selection leads to prejudice about events that varies across each medium (Lorimer & Scannell, 2003).
Content analysis is comprehensive in its study of content and effective in enabling communication researchers study various aspects of a communicative process that allow them to understand its transformative elements.
Malay. B., & Alzona, S. S. (2006).Transformative communication. Shahdara, New Delhi: Megabooks Co.
Lorimer, R., & Scannell, P. (2003). Mass communications: a comparative introduction. Manchester: Manchester University Press ND.