Media Analysis Goals and Skills
Elliot Gaines, Ph.D.
Certain skills or abilities are prerequisite to successful communication analysis:
- Reflexivity refers to the ability to see yourself, know how you feel or think about categories of life situations, and understand your own "world view" (or paradigm) as distinct from how others may view the world, a set of circumstances, or a particular event. "Others" may be constituted through various distinctions: race, ethnicity, class, gender, age, or a particular historical context.
- The ability to recognize the values or beliefs that support a particular interpretation of events or circumstances.
- The ability to recognize assumptions (or ideological silences) that necessarily support certain values and beliefs so that they may be articulated and examined beyond their silent (and a-priori) quality.
- The ability to recognize differences between specific information communicated, knowledge embodied by an interpreter, and value-added through interpretation of communication phenomena.
- The media analyst must understand the distinctions between discourse within the media phenomenon (story world) and the circulation of meaning in the audience.
- The media analyst asks questions such as: who is encoding the message and why; what is the context/history behind a narrative; what assumptions are embedded in the messages; and how does the medium itself influence the nature of communication?
- The purpose of media analysis is not necessarily a matter of judgment or morality, right or wrong, but simply understanding the nature of communication.
- Theoretical perspectives are not laws or even rules, but they offer guidelines to help understand the process of media analysis.
Applied Method for Communication Analysis
The following criteria for the analysis of the expression of communication phenomena must be based on empirical evidence as data:
- Separate distinctive elements of a sign system such as sound, images, text, and context.
- Identify cultural codes that organize sign systems into meaning-making patterns of communication. (What forms of communication organize words, sounds, and images?)
- Designate the function of each sign at the denotative and connotative levels. Identify the signifier, the signified, and the relationship established between them (icon, index, symbol, or the context) that generate meaning.
Ask the following questions about the communication:
- Who is the source of information?
- What is the intended meaning?
- Why is this communication phenomenon available? (To entertain, inform, persuade, etc).
- Does the encoded (intended) message rely on assumptions, cultural myths, intertextual references, values or beliefs that are not explicitly expressed?
- How can the potential for different meanings (polysemy) be interpreted? That is: what are the possible alternative decodings of the intended meaning and why?