Active Audience Severin and Tankard and by McQuail

With reference to the readings by Severin and Tankard and by McQuail, discuss some of the ways that audiences are active.

Although Severin and Tankard agree that audiences are subject to the ‘gratification theory’ they further question the interaction and types of communication that the audiences have with one another after being and audience of a media event together.
McQuails ‘models of mediation’ assign the media with a specific function in the everyday interaction people have with it.

‘A window’ (Comm 321 study notes. 2007)
The media has undoubtedly provided people with a continual, easy to access update of what is happening in the world around us. There is a privacy in the communication that allows us to absorb the information without having to interact with anyone else or be part of it. This is especially significant when we are informed of major events in the world around us eg. Natural disasters or updates on warring nations other than our own. Although the events may be of major consequence to the people who are involved, watching it on the news doesn’t necessarily provide a ‘call to action’ for all people. To some it is purely ‘knowing for knowing’ sake.

‘A mirror’ (Comm 321 study notes. 2007)
The media makes us feel secure that our opinions or feelings about particular subjects are right or are similar others. It can provide the necessary information to use in the course of communication with others and make us feel secure that we are empowered with information.

“A filter or gatekeeper” (Comm 321 study notes.2007)
The media is of course subject to maintaining its own existence and hopefully keeping their audiences informed but also entertained. If what is being relayed to the audience is too controversial or unsuitable then there is the possibility that the conveyor will lose the audience. This is why media networks are constantly holding focus groups and ardently monitoring popularity polls. Severin and Tankard refer to a study that was conducted on radio soap operas “Some listeners found emotional release from their own problems. For others, listening provided escape, while a third group sought solutions to their own problems” (Severin, Tankard. 1988:301). It is almost as if the people who write the programmes are inadvertently acting as counselors or playing the role of people or are generally professionals or people we trust. Recently on Oprah Winfrey a celebrated US talk show host she said that “I don’t watch TV, but I always watch Grey’s Anatomy’ (Oprah Winfrey, Broadcast 29th August 2007) Show only was she inadvertently endorsing that her loyal followers watch the show, she was also saying that she found the programme fulfilled certain needs that she had herself.

“A signpost, guide or interpreter” (Comm 321 study notes.2007)
McQuail states that “there is still a widespread view that media do have effects and a tendency to interpret content in terms of its probable consequences, whether good or bad, intended or unintended”. (McQuail, D. 2000:305) The leading story in The South China Morning Post, September 5, 2007 is about a child prodigy on his first day at University. The coverage gives the impression that the writer is impressed with what the young boy is about to embark on and that is a momentous event. I presume that in the society the paper primarily caters to, the story is seen as been positive for the young boy, I do not however, believe that if the same situation was occurring in a Western society that the story would be as positive. Mc Quail further enhances this with his statement that “Media content has been considered as a ‘cultural indicator’, in more or less the same way as have social and economic indicators in describing conditions.” (McQuail, D. 2000:305) The practice of providing updates or news bulletins as with having episodes in soap operas also helps people to formulate a picture of what is happening and grow opinions and viewpoints as more feeds are given to them.

“A forum or a platform” (Comm 321 study notes.2007)
The fact that there is a plethora of talk back shows both on radio and television and letters to editors etc in magazines and newspapers, accentuates that people like to ask questions, have them answered and be heard. In his article ‘Content and analysis in Communication Research’ Berelson refers to “‘the process of communication- ‘who says what to whom, how, with what effect’ – communication content is the what” (Berelson,B. 2000:15). The messages are being conveyed and then given open forum to discussion. It is entirely at the discretion of the conveyor as to what representation the topic is given and to what way they interpret and receive any communication that is giving back. On March 6, 1995 a man confessed his love for another man on The Jenny Jones talk back show. Three days later the man he confessed to loving shot and killed him after being taunted by friends who had seen the programme. (Wikipedia. June 2007. online)In this extreme example of what the content of a communication can cause it is obvious that it is not only what is being said but how the audience who have experienced then react to it.
‘An interlocutor’ (Comm 321 study notes.2007)
To again use the example of talk shows. Channel 7 Australia has an early morning week day show, Sunrise that covers numerous topics, guests etc. The programme has a board that any questions from the viewing community are recorded on and also acted on. The questions are then put to the relevant source to be answered. The programme acts a forum for people to ask questions and get answers that they may not be able to in other ways. The fact that it is a popular show and that they virtually hold the respondents ransom if they don’t reply works well.

Closely examine a recent edition of a magazine. Discuss the editorial contents and the advertisements in the magazine. What can you tell about the magazine’s audience from your analysis? Are the contents and the advertisements consistently directed at the same target audience?

For the purposes of this exercise, I have chosen to use Australian ‘Men’s Health’ June 2007 edition.

Target Audience Age and group
Both the editorial and advertising content of Men’s Health suggest that the magazine is targeted to men from the early 20’s to late 40’s, the magazine is also very readable for women of the same age group and both articles and advertisements are female friendly. The overall focus is on wellness and body and mind maintenance, the magazine does constantly acknowledge that to achieve both there needs to be hard work.

Editorial Content
The editorial content of Men’s health primarily deals with men managing themselves and the relationships they have with other people – namely women. As the magazines name suggests, there is a strong bias towards featuring articles related to health issues, both physical and emotional. The magazine has a virtual ‘holistic’ editorial approach with a focus on positive outcome and a definite lack of articles that would be deemed to be negative. The more negative issues are covered in point like editorial boxes in the corners of the pages – with short, succinct explanations or recommendations. The editorial style is more conversational and consultative than what is found in business magazines yet the articles still use credible professionals ie A senior lecturer from Monash University to substantiate their claims or findings. The articles convey some positive messages about women and sometimes tend to portray men as being the ‘dumb guy’ This approach could however come across as being condescending if taken in the wrong context by either gender.

By the advertising content used, you would assume that the readers are wage earners who also like to use or own some high end priced products such as Lexus Cars or Jean Paul Gaultier aftershave. The magazine promotes luxury cars as well as expensive sporting goods. Marita Sturken in her article ‘Practices of looking: an introduction to visual culture’ discusses how “In speaking to viewers/consumers about changing themselves, they are always interpellating consumers as in some way dissatisfied.”(Sturken, M. 2001;213). This is certainly the case in not only the advertisements but also the editorial in Men’s Health. It is almost as if the magazine proposes that their advice through editorial and their recommendations of products through advertising will make you a better person if you employ the use of both. Although women are not portrayed as negatively as in some other men’s magazines, there is still a considerable amount of graphic photography using the female body as a sexual object. There is however, an absolute focus on the male body and the maintenance of it. Wolf in her article ‘The Beauty Myth: How images of beauty are used against Women.” States that “Men are exposed to male fashion models but do not see them as role models”, (Wolf, N. 1990:58) The abundance of advertisements and pictorial portraying fit , muscle laden bodies would suggest that the magazine is advertising what they see as being the ultimate male physique. The advertised products that range from sporting shoes to dietary supplements also suggests a way in which to get the ultimate physique.

There is an abundance of advertisements for health and beauty products. The reader does get the impression that if you use the products advertised, you will be better looking. This approach is not dissimilar to the one used by advertisers in women’s magazines and has come under close scrutiny in the past, the over use of illegal steroids and the increasing advertising focusing on male fashion trends would suggest that the male consumer is beginning to become much more product aware than their predecessors. Interestingly in Men’s health magazine, alcohol is freely advertised but there is a definite bias against cigarettes by the endorsement of quit smoking products. It seems hypocritical to seemingly sanction one product that is considered a societal ill and then reject another by advertising a smoking cure.

Watson refers to Ang in his book Media Communication and states “the ideology of populism recognizes the importance of pleasure and that it is a personal thing” (Watson. 2003:281) Men’s Health magazine consistently is directed at men who want to look better and perform better both physically and psychologically. It has a glossy front cover that automatically implies ‘mateship’ by the headline ‘win a trip for you and three mates’ and it refers to getting a better body and gives hints on improving sexual prowess. The magazine endorses that “Identifying with a social group such as one’s gender group has been shown to create an in-group bias favouring the norms and prototypes of the group.” (Maldono, Tansuhaj,Muehling. 2003) and that there is an almost ‘boys club’ ease to the editorial and advertisements that confidently steer the reader towards what is considered to be the more popular and attractive male. There is a strong identification with sports and sporting groups and there is also a strong emphasis on eating right and getting the right job for you. The worldwide popularity of the magazine suggests that the editorial/advertising mix of Men’s Health Magazine creates a reader atmosphere where men feel that they belong to and are part of the social and acceptable group that the magazine portrays.

Berelson, B., ‘Content Analysis in Communication Research.’ From marries,P. and Thornham,S.(eds),2000.Media Studies: A reader,2nd ed., New York: New York University Press, pp.200-209

Comm 321 Study Guide. Dr Paul Adams, 2007. University of New England.
McQuail D, Denis. 2000
Media content: issues,concepts and methods analysis
McQuails mass communication theory. Mc Quail,Denis,London, Sage publications; 2000./4th ed.pp. 303-330
Maldonado,R. Tansuhaj,P.Muehling,D. 2003. ‘The Impact of Gender on Ad Processing: A social identity perspective’. Sourced 16 August 2007 from:

Oprah Winfrey Show. (video recording) 1st September 2007, Star Television, Hong Kong.

Severin &Tankard, ‘Uses of the mass Media.’ From Severin, WJ with Tankard, JW. 1988. Communication Theories: Origins, Methods, Uses, New York: Longman, pp. 300-310

Sturken, Marita, 2001
Consumer Culture and the Manufactuing of Desire. “Practices of looking: and introduction to visual culture” by M. Sturken and L Cartwright. 2001, pp.189-236

“The Jenny Jones show”
Accessed on 1 September 2007 from:

Watson, James. ‘Media Communication’ An Introduction to Theory and Process. 2nd Ed. Palgrave Macmillan 2003.

Wolf, ‘Culture.’ From Wolf, N. 1990. The Beauty Myth: How images of Beauty are used against Women, London: Vintage, PP. 58-85

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