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Audience Theories

Hypodermic Needle Model The Hypodermic Needle Model is a theory that puts across the idea that certain media can have an immediate, direct and rapid effect on its audience, who will believe the events and reports put across without question. Typically, such examples can refer to sensationalist or absurd stories, where the professional nature of the reporting gives the illusion that it is true to the general populace who wouldnt normally research the reported story. A passive audience definitely applies to this theory as many examples of this model in use are ones that are with strange or typically unusual stories, and a passive audience would generally not really think about the potential legitimacy of the media. The theory was in much greater effect before the invention of the Internet and forms of social networking, meaning that checking the legitimacy was much harder thanks to the lack of readily available sources such as Facebook. The most famous example of this theory is the incident involving the radio play The War of The Worlds in 1938, where the realistic radio transcript gave listeners the idea that they were in fact real and that aliens were invading. This highlights the 1930s behaviorism and the fact that most people had no access to source checking material. This model is now mostly obsolete thanks to research and study into how audiences can make their own judgments based on their own knowledge and experience. Uses and Gratifications Theory This theory was created by Herta Herzog in 1944, developed by several other theorists including Laswell, Katz and Blumler and focuses on studying why people consume media and what they get from it, be it entertainment or knowledge. This theory looks at the factors that determine this, like what compels people to find/read/watch media. Unlike the hypodermic needle model, the uses and gratifications theory puts across the idea that audiences have an active role in choosing and interpreting the media they consume. Each theorist who was studying this theory created their own set of rules that grouped the individual reasons as to why someone consumed media. For example, Denis McQuails categories were listed as Information, Personal Identity, Integration & Social Interaction, and Entertainment. Information refers to current and past events, and examples include news channels and documentaries. Personal Identity could be defined as something that strengthens personal views and beliefs, such as debates and reports. Integration is classed as media that can be used to initiate conversation with friends, such as the X-Factor, which is a popular show with a large mainstream audience. Finally, Entertainment is media that can be watched to make the viewer laugh or enjoy, which can includes things like comedy shows or cartoons.

Reception Theory The Reception Theory, created by theorist Stuart Hall, looks at how the audience interprets and receives different types of media. Originally developed for studying communication and media, this theory is split into two separate parts: Encoding is where the media product inserts small messages into the content that push an intended message onto the audience. For example, an image of a dog in a blanket could mean just that to the naked eye, but using the caption, dog starved for three months we immediately begin to interpret it differently thanks to the anchorage. Decoding is when the audience can manage to work out the intended message a media product is putting across. An example of this may be uncovering political themes in an orientated newspaper, where the opposing party is getting more bad images and the supported party is getting good images. Hall also includes the idea in his theory that there are three sides that the audience can respond with when the media product presents an argument. These are Preferred, Oppositional and Negotiated. Preferred arguments would mean that the reader in question sides with the product and generally agrees with the message put across - an example of this would be if a newspaper declared video games are bad for your health a Preferred reader would agree and say I will stop playing video games so I wont damage my health. Secondly is the Oppositional reader, who in contrast to the preferred reader does not side with the argument. Using the same example, an Oppositional reader may say Im still going to play video games regardless. Finally is the negotiated reader, which is considered the even ground. Here the reader will generally accept the message put across, but will find some way to also counteract it, either striking a deal with it, so that their response may be, I will still play video games but spend less time on them so I dont damage my health. Hall believed that the choices the audience made regarding these three arguments were based on their personal values and beliefs as well as their background.