Outside the realm of interpersonal communication exists another form of communication, which involves communication with mass audiences and hence the name mass communication; and the channels through which this kind of communication takes place are referred to as mass media. Both mass communication and mass media are generally considered synonymous for the sake of convenience. Mass communication is unique and different from interpersonal communication as evident from the following definition. Any mechanical device that multiplies messages and takes it to a large number of people simultaneously is called mass communication. The media through which messages are being transmitted include radio, TV, newspapers, magazines, films, records, tape recorders, video cassette recorders, etc and require large organizations and electronic devices to put across the message.
It is clear from the definition that mass communication is a special kind of communication in which the nature of the audience and the feedback is different from that of interpersonal communication. An examination of these components will help in understanding the nature of mass communication itself.
Whosoever is the recipient of mass media content constitutes its audience. For instance, individuals reading newspapers, watching a film in a theatre, listening to radio or watching television, are situations where audience is large, heterogeneous, and anonymous in character and physically separated from the communicator both in terms of space and time. A large audience means that the receivers are masses of people not assembled at a single place. It may come in different sizes depending upon the media through which the message is sent. For TV network programmes, for example, there could be millions of viewers, but only a few thousand readers for a book or a journal. By anonymous, we mean that the receivers of the messages tend to be strangers to one another and to the source of those messages. So with respect to the communicator, the message is addressed ‘to whom it may concern’. Also, the audience tends to be heterogeneous rather than homogeneous in the sense that messages are sent to people in all walks of life and person with unique characteristics.
As compared to interpersonal communication, feedback in mass media is slow and weak. It is not instantaneous or direct as in face-to-face exchange and is invariably delayed. Feedback in mass media is rather a cumulative response, which the source gets after a considerable gap of time. It is often expressed in quantitative terms: like circulation figures of newspapers and magazines, the popularity of a movie at box office, success of a book on the basis of its sales, or the findings of public opinion polls and on the basis of other feedback devices which are used to determine what is acceptable or unacceptable to different audiences. In all such cases, considerable time and money are required to process the feedback received from the audience. Therefore, delayed and expensive feedback is ingrained in mass media.
This is again a characteristic unique to mass communication. The enormous scope of mass communication demands some control over the selection and editing of the messages that are constantly transmitted to the mass audience. Both individuals and organizations do gate keeping. Whether done by individuals or organizations, gate keeping involves setting certain standards and limitations that serve as guidelines for both content development and delivery of a mass communication message.
Functions of Mass Communication
Mass communication has three basic functions:
- To inform
- To entertain and
- To persuade
Additionally it also educates and helps in transmission of culture.
1. To Inform:
Dissemination of information is the primary function of the news media. Newspapers, radio and TV provide us news from around the world and keep us informed. Over the years the concept of news has changed. News media do not ‘tell it like it is’ anymore. From mere describing the events, news media have come to include human interest, analysis and factorized treatment to news.
Journalists are not just ‘reporters’ now. They have become news analysts who discuss the implications of important news stories. Also more ‘soft stories’ are filed these days. In addition to dissemination of information news media provide us information and also helps understand the news events, ideas, policy changes, etc.
2. To Entertain:
The most common function of mass communication is entertainment. Radio, television and films are basically entertainment media. Even newspapers provide entertainment through comics, cartoons, features, cross word puzzles, word jumbles, etc. entertainment through radio consists of mainly music. Radio also provides entertainment through drama, talk shows, comedy, etc.
Television has become primarily an entertainment medium. Even highly specialized channels like news channels, nature and wildlife channels also have a lot of humorous and comic content. Among all media, films are perhaps the only medium concentrating on entertainment. Except documentaries, educational films and art movies, all films are made to provide three hour of escape, fantasy and entertainment.
3. To Persuade
Most of mass media are used as vehicles of promotion and persuasion. Goods, services, ideas, persons, places, events-the range of things that are advertised through mass media is endless. Different media have different features and reach. Advertisers and advertising agencies analyze these features and depending upon the nature of the message and the target audience, choose where (in which media) and how (with what frequency) the message should be placed.