Media Effects in Aggregate: Confluences and limitations

In prior updates, these posts have addressed the various complications of media effects research; across models, eras, and paradigms, media effects research is a complicated field trying to study, figuratively, already fidgety subjects within contexts that are moving faster than scholarly papers can be produced (Valkenburg, Peter, and Walther 2016, 331). The field either needs new theories (Bennett and Iyengar 2008, 708) or to find the underlying assumptions and biases which are undermining their perspectives (Neuman 2018, 376). With this aim in mind, Valkenburg & Peter (2013) and Valkenburg, Peter, & Walther (2016) strive to reassess the literature. These papers deconstruct the literature to make cross-comparisons and groupings between independently developed models, to find unifying descriptors for areas of seemingly infinite variety, and to collect and re-integrate their findings into a digestible, succinct-yet-comprehensive form.

Valkenburg, Peter, and Walther identify five “global features” of media that are shared amongst different models, which they use to mark out the contexts which media effects models address (2016, 319). The features are audience selectivity, media properties (like mode, format, and genre), an assumption of indirect media effects, conditional effects based on individual differences, and transactional or reciprocal media effects (Valkenburg, Peter, and Walther 2016, 318 – 26). From their analysis, they find that both media and nonmedia factors are inexorably linked (Valkenburg, Peter, and Walther 2016, 332). Media effects take form through a web of interdependent factors that exist within and between media, outside the media, and even outside the context of media-use. Since the factors involved in media use, influence, and selection cannot be taken in isolation, more sophisticated and comprehensive models are required. They posit that inconsistencies and minimal media effects might be caused by undertheorizing (Valkenburg and Peter 2013, 222). However, this poses methodological challenges, as “theories in the social sciences are not applicable irrespective of context” (Busse, Kach, and Wagner 2017, 576).

Media effects models as a whole are at risk of narrowing generalizability in the face of technology-driven social changes (Valkenburg, Peter, and Walther 2016, 332). Other researchers are even more damning, with Bennett and Iyengar (2008) believing that the validity of current research methods and theories faces risks that can only be addressed through new theorizing. Other researchers believe the models may be valid, but incomplete, and instead they call for structural changes to the publishing and funding of research that would permit researchers to pursue their work with critically different mindsets: “We may be asking the right questions but have a paradoxical paradigm-induced blind spot that leads us to ignore or explain away null finding or reverse effect” (Neuman 2018, 376).

Literature reviewed
  • Bennett, W. Lance, and Shanto Iyengar. 2008. “A New Era of Minimal Effects? The Changing Foundations of Political Communication.” Journal of Communication 58 (4): 707 – 31. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1460-2466.2008.00410.x.
  • Busse, Christian, Andrew P. Kach, and Stephan M. Wagner. 2017. “Boundary Conditions: What They Are, How to Explore Them, Why We Need Them, and When to Consider Them.” Organizational Research Methods 20 (4): 574 – 609. https://doi.org/10.1177/1094428116641191.
  • Neuman, W. Russell. 2018. “The Paradox of the Paradigm: An Important Gap in Media Effects Research.” Journal of Communication 68 (2): 369 – 79. https://doi.org/10.1093/joc/jqx022.
  • Valkenburg, Patti M., and Jochen Peter. 2013. “The Differential Susceptibility to Media Effects Model.” Journal of Communication 63 (2): 221 – 43. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcom.12024.
  • Valkenburg, Patti M., Jochen Peter, and Joseph B. Walther. 2016. “Media Effects: Theory and Research.” Annual Review of Psychology 67 (1): 315 – 38. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-psych-122414-033608.

Audience Selectivity: Uses-and-gratifications and selective exposure

Audience selectivity is an area of research that looks to explain the reason that people make the media use choices that they do. The two dominant approaches, uses-and-gratifications and selective exposure, share a perspective shift from other types of media research — they focus, not on what the media does to audiences, but on what audiences do with the media (Rubin 2009, 168; Valkenburg, Peter, and Walther 2016, 320); however, the two approaches to selectivity research hold incompatible perspectives on collecting and interpreting data.

The shift to audience-centered research requires a psychological perspective (Camaj 2019, 1), and for the models to consider the factors that influence selectivity “within the context of other influences” (Rubin 2009, 165). With these distinctions, selectivity research gains a more holistic understanding of the layers of intervening variables that guide and inform the selection process. Both approaches explain selection choices as being based on the needs and desires of the individual as moderated by psychological and social factors (Valkenburg, Peter, and Walther 2016, 320).

From these points of agreement, they diverge in ways with significant implications for data collection and validity. Uses-and-gratifications looks to explain the factors that influence an individual’s selection choices because audiences are active participants in both selecting and interpreting media. It further presumes that audiences are fully self-aware and able to accurately account for the selection-making process. This is important because uses and gratifications relies on self-reports as its principal form of data collection. If this assumption is wholly wrong, then the entire corpus of uses and gratifications studies is called into question. Selective exposure, however, argues the opposite; it assumes that audiences are “not fully aware of their selection motives” (Valkenburg, Peter, and Walther 2016, 320). Self-report data, then, is used minimally (Knobloch-Westerwick 2015, 8), which comes with the risk of discounting important data related to the selection experience. Instead, selective exposure researchers use behavioral observation in the hopes of collecting more objective measures (Knobloch-Westerwick 2015, 8). However, these methods bring their own issues because behavioral observation can be invasive, overt observations can alter or bias selection motives and choices, and observational studies — functionally — imply a reliance on laboratory contexts that may hamper generalizability. Being unable to study audiences in-situ, which would be observing media use and selection as it actually occurs and as it is influenced by differing contexts and environments, may undermine the implications and conclusions of selective exposure research. If you build up models and theories that can only explain selection in a laboratory context, then what have you gained — or more crucially, what have you missed?

The two branches of audience selectivity will persist until one or both of their limitations can be addressed. Setting aside philosophical implications regarding the mind and the impossibility of neutrality, in the practical sense the two branches of research cannot be unified until they are able to accurately qualify the limitations of self-reporting or to achieve designs of behavioral observation that demonstrably minimize intrusion while remaining ethically sound.

Literature reviewed
  • Camaj, Lindita. 2019. “Week 3: Media Audiences & Selectivity.” Notes. University of Houston. COMM 6317: Media Effects.
  • Knobloch-Westerwick, Silvia. 2015. “Building Blocks of the Selective Exposure Paradigm.” In Choice and Preference in Media Use: Advances in Selective Exposure Theory and Research, 3 – 24. New York: Routledge.
  • Rubin, A. M. 2009. “Uses-and-Gratifications Perspective of Media Effects.” In Media Effects: Advances in Theory and Research, edited by Jennings Bryant and Mary Beth Oliver, 3rd ed, 165 – 84. Communication Series. Communication Theory and Methodology. New York: Routledge.
  • Valkenburg, Patti M., Jochen Peter, and Joseph B. Walther. 2016. “Media Effects: Theory and Research.” Annual Review of Psychology 67 (1): 315 – 38. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-psych-122414-033608.

Classifying Infinite Variety

Once scholars shifted to incorporate how audiences themselves effect media, they were confronted with the messy realities of humanity; that our individual differences complicate, confound, and defy but that those differences also “[represent] the very thing that makes humans interesting, unique, and infinitely worthy of our research attention” (Oliver and Krakowiak 2009, 517). Models had to become to more sophisticated to adequately explain media use and influence as new technologies upset old paradigms and as media audiences generated new trends and variety in media use. Using a negative outlook for illustrative purposes, media use has consequences that can be described in terms of where they take place or manifest, the forms those consequences take, and finally the severity of their outcomes.

Media effects can manifest at multiple levels. Overtime, models had to incorporate different levels of analysis to explain apparent effects because influences and effects take form both within and between people. Broadly, these are the micro- and macrolevels of media effects (McLeod, Kosicki, & McLeod, 2010, via Potter 2011, 903). The micro is the intrapersonal level — it includes factors like pre-existing beliefs and amount of activity or engagement — whereas the macrolevel is concerned with the societal effects of media (Potter 2011, 903 – 4). However, this initial division ignored how effects manifest differently within societal groups (as well as institutions, organizations, and cultures) than they do within relatively smaller groups of individuals (like social groups and co-workers), so researchers like Chaffee and Berger (1987), McLeod, Kosicki, and McLeod (2010), and Potter (2011) have suggested additional levels of analysis that fall between the individual and the many (Potter 2011, 903 – 4). This is the mesolevel, though some research further distinguishes between person-to-person and network scales of interaction (Potter 2011, 904). Across the different levels, models also need to consider the results of media use: their forms and the impact that they have.

First, Potter (2011) frames the outcomes as coming in distinct types of effects — the media can act on our “cognitions, attitudes, beliefs, affects, physiology, and behaviors” (2011, 904), though the exact typology varies across the literature (Potter 2011, 897). Valkenburg and Peter’s Differential Susceptibility Model of Media-use expands the means of discussing outcomes by reframing the aforementioned types as conditional effects and adding four other categories of indirect media effect — collected and synthesized from the media effects literature (2013, 222 – 23). Those categories consider how outcomes can manifest differently based on: (1) how/why/for-what individuals are using the media, (2) how individuals mentally and physiologically respond to that media, (3) the “second-order” media effects resulting from other media effects, and (4) the reciprocity between outcomes and further media use (Valkenburg and Peter 2013, 222 – 24).

Finally, each outcome of media use has an impact that can be described in terms of varying strengths of effects. Implicit in this is change. Effects can result in a change to an attribute which can vary in strength — take a jumpscare, which triggers an orienting reflex, elicits a strong (magnitude of the change) physiological response (type of effect) in a person (level of effect) that increases their heart rate (a specific measure of change) — but this is a fundamentally limited perspective. Potter expands types of changes to include other dimensions. He intuits three properties to describe the changes resulting from an effect: “kind, magnitude, and weight” (2011, 904). This permits him to describe amounts like minuscule to large changes (magnitude: a change occurred, by how much did the attribute change?), changes that reinforce existing factors and resist further change (weight: does the change reinforce/strengthen existing beliefs?), as well as more radical shifts which overcome prior insusceptibility (kind: true persuasion, the change to an attribute was from one type to another). That said, the distinction between magnitude and weight can be confusing — they are a mixed metaphor — and Potter’s later use of waveform metaphor (2011, 907 – 9) or, alternatively, terms from social influence scholarship like change, formation, and reinforcement (Holbert, Garrett, and Gleason 2010, 17) may provide better clarity when quantifying and qualifying what results from a media effect.

Literature reviewed
  • Holbert, R. Lance, R. Kelly Garrett, and Laurel S. Gleason. 2010. “A New Era of Minimal Effects? A Response to Bennett and Iyengar.” Journal of Communication 60 (1): 15 – 34. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1460-2466.2009.01470.x.
  • Oliver, B., and K. M. Krakowiak. 2009. “Individual Differences in Media Effects.” In Media Effects: Advances in Theory and Research, edited by Jennings Bryant and Mary Beth Oliver, 3rd ed, 517 – 31. Communication Series. Communication Theory and Methodology. New York: Routledge.
  • Potter, W. James. 2011. “Conceptualizing Mass Media Effect.” Journal of Communication 61 (5): 896 – 915. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1460-2466.2011.01586.x.
  • Valkenburg, Patti M., and Jochen Peter. 2013. “The Differential Susceptibility to Media Effects Model.” Journal of Communication 63 (2): 221 – 43. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcom.12024.

Polarity in Effects Research

How much impact does mass communication have on audiences? This central question of media effects came about during the early Twentieth Century when the proliferation of broadcast and “industrialized” media was underway and the consequences of “European totalitarian propaganda” were becoming apparent (Neuman and Guggenheim 2011, 171). Since its inception as a formal field of study — and perhaps before (see Greenberg and Salwen 2009, 61) — Media Effects research has gone through phases that can be typified as dealing with, and occasionally assuming, significant effects and minimal effects. This has its origins in the specific contexts of different periods and places, it has shifted from contrasting extremes to nuanced perspectives, and it has presented a narrative that media effects researchers have relied on to orient their field for both critical and detrimental purposes.

If it was the industrialization of mass media that began the study of media effects, then it was for what industrialization entailed. In broader contexts, it came with the newfound uniformity and ubiquity of goods that mass production offered (Geddes 1932, 13 – 15). For communication researchers, industrialization of the media meant that state-sponsored propaganda could be served directly to the people instead of filtering through error-prone messengers and the well-informed (Neuman and Guggenheim 2011, 171; Valkenburg, Peter, and Walther 2016, 316). The Modern era was a societal paradigm shift — this was a period when everyone shifted from purchasing artisan handiwork to buying identical teapots. Just like the artisans imparted imperfections and humanistic qualities to their work, messengers imparted their own (Neuman 2018, 370 – 71, 374). Applying this analogy, what changes when messages lose their humanistic qualities and imperfect transmission? Greenberg and Salwen posit that in the aftermath of WWI there was an intuitive belief that a very few, powerful individuals would be able to use an industrializing and modernizing media to send propaganda with uniform effects (2009, 62). Neuman and Guggenheim indicate that the early “magic bullet” perspective of media effects may have had more nuance than it is typically credited (2011, 172), which may also indicate that early media effects research was prompted by concerns over these new technologies and media contexts, mirroring today’s similar, if opposing, concerns (compare Bennett and Iyengar 2008, 716; Chaffee and Metzger 2001, 367). However, some researchers and the public at-large held the impression that media had a direct influence over “vulnerable audiences” (Chaffee and Metzger 2001, 366 – 67), that the message need only be received to have impact, and that audiences were homogeneous, passive, and “malleable” (Greenberg and Salwen 2009, 62).

Researchers eventually abandoned this perspective — and in light of Congressional interest, researchers like Klapper heavily criticized it (Neuman and Guggenheim 2011, 172). Mass media doesn’t have such clear effects; nor are audiences homogenous, passive, or malleable. The earlier notions were predicated on a mechanistic approach to the study of mass media (Rubin 2009, 165), but these simplistic models presumed uniform and immediate effects and were therefore ill-equipped to explain the factors that lie between communication and effect (Carey, 1989, via Neuman 2018, 370). The minimal effects hypothesis was championed by Klapper in response to political science research which revealed that political persuasion was heavily mediated by external factors like predisposition, interpersonal relationships, and the influence of thought-leaders (Neuman and Guggenheim 2011, 172). Klapper argued that the media’s influence was confirming and reinforcing existing beliefs (Greenberg and Salwen 2009, 66 – 67). This era of minimal effects was an attempt to explain why there were not uniform and immediate effects resulting from media use by using “two-step flow” which models how such external factors as personal influence might mediate messages and persuasive effects (Bennett and Iyengar 2008, 707 – 8; Greenberg and Salwen 2009, 72; Valkenburg, Peter, and Walther 2016, 319). This area of research quickly lost its footing — Klapper was lampooned with a procession of examples with “not-so minimal effects” (Iyengar, Peters, & Kinder, 1982, via Neuman and Guggenheim 2011, 172), and the field began embracing an era of new models which can be loosely called “moderate effects” (Greenberg and Salwen 2009, 67).

Moderate effects, agenda setting in particular (Bennett and Iyengar 2008, 708), is the prevailing view of media effects research. It envelopes models like “agenda setting, knowledge gap, [and] gatekeeping” (Greenberg and Salwen 2009, 67). However, these models are as much an artifact of their time and place as the models from the 1920s (Bennett and Iyengar 2008, 707). Does agenda setting pass muster when the number of media sources is orders of magnitude larger than those in 1968? Can knowledge gap make sense of knowledge distribution when digitally-democratized information with always-on access presents a total and fundamental upheaval to how information was accessed in the 1970s? Is gatekeeping meaningful when audiences become their own gatekeepers, or when the role is delegated to algorithms? In light of new technology and new paradigms of media use, Bennett and Iyengar argue a return to minimal effects — or, more accurately, a return to the minimal effects paradigm as a perspective for readdressing contemporary models and research (2008, 707 – 8). The old models, prior to Klapper’s minimal effects era, were insufficient to describe a changing media environment, and the minimal effects era sparked the creation of new methods, measures, and models to describe the “strong effects” that were manifesting in new contexts (Bennett and Iyengar 2008, 708). Bennett and Iyengar’s call for a return to minimal effects is, at least in part, a provocation to again generate new models for new contexts. It’s also a callback to that era; an opportunity to do it better, this time considering the social and technological changes within comprehensive models which address the oversights that Bennett and Iyengar consider the greatest failure of the literature from that earlier period (Bennett and Iyengar 2008, 708). In the contemporary landscape, they see society as being hyper-niche and disconnected from the social institutions which once bore considerable influence (Bennett and Iyengar 2008, 707), and they see the challenges that threaten to break, not just current models, but also the relevance and validity of current designs for media effects data collection and research (Bennett and Iyengar 2008, 724). Central to Bennett and Iyengar’s argument is that audience structure is radically different due to changes in communication technology (2008, 717) which allow audiences to self-select media (2008, 717) while largely avoiding inadvertent media-use (2008, 717 – 18). The authors assert that audiences are becoming increasingly politically fragmented through selective exposure and partisan echo-chambers (Bennett and Iyengar 2008, 717, 719 – 20). In this environment, current measures and models of persuasive media effects begin to fail (Bennett and Iyengar 2008, 724) — they show as minimal effects. Holbert, Garrett, and Gleason largely agree about the need for new theorizing, but they also contend that this focus on news and political information hides some unfounded assumptions (2010, 15 – 16). They caution that a preoccupation with examples, questions, and measures based around news sources in the study of political media effects is itself an assumption to be questioned (2010, 15, 17 – 18, 31). The critical discourse between the groups reveals that Bennett and Iyengar aim to uncover the field’s assumptions at-large (2010, 38) and that their true concern is current research methods and models being insufficient to describe and measure the effects taking place in the new media environment (2008, 708, 2010, 37).

The media effects research is abundantly clear that effects do occur and that they can be anything from minimal to strong (Bennett and Iyengar 2008, 708; Greenberg and Salwen 2009, 67; Valkenburg and Peter 2013, 222), leading to a new era of theorizing broadly called “moderate” (Greenberg and Salwen 2009, 67). However, this name predisposes the literature to a specific narrative. The models and research implications have moved well beyond minimal versus strong effects, there is no polarity nor debate, yet Neuman and Guggenheim accuse the scholarship of continuously casting these new models against Klapper’s minimal effects (2011, 173). A polarity between minimal and significant effects belies the complex interconnectedness of mass communication, media effects, and audiences. It also belittles Klapper’s contribution to the field, integrating selectivity and nonmedia factors into mass communication studies (Greenberg and Salwen 2009, 66; Neuman 2018, 373). In a field already preoccupied with responding to public fears regarding harmful media effects (Potter 2011, 897), this polarity (rather, the narrative of it) is a false dichotomy between one-dimensional options when a greater breadth of perspectives exist. Even with the addition of a “moderate effects” perspective, this narrative conflates what is significant (in the sense of noteworthy, non-trivial) with what is measurable (Neuman and Guggenheim 2011, 172), and it hides an assumption that minimal and significant are mutually exclusive when this need not be the case. Conceivably, effects may be both minimally measurable through current methods and models while still having significant consequences on media audiences. Conversely, if we imagine a pair of Maximal Effects — to abuse the language — the first may weaken over time, while the other appears as a flash-in-the-pan. Neuman and Guggenheim strive to move the literature beyond this fictitious debate, and they chastise the field for perpetuating and engaging in the narrative:

[T]he minimal-effects/significant-effects polarity we believe is a demonstrable impediment to the design and interpretation of media effects. […] It would appear that even after 50 years, simply to demonstrate a statistically significant effect in the ongoing battle against the vestiges of Klapper’s evil empire is sufficient justification for celebration and publication. (2011, 173)

And, Neuman later adds to this line of reasoning:

Perhaps our paradigm would be strengthened if we recognized that media effects are neither characteristically strong nor are they characteristically minimal: they are characteristically highly variable. (2018, 370)

The narratives of polarity and of conquering minimal effects are simplistic comforts in the face of the crucial issues and limitations that the field must contend with. It is time for media effects researchers to put them aside.


Literature reviewed
  • Bennett, W. Lance, and Shanto Iyengar. 2008. “A New Era of Minimal Effects? The Changing Foundations of Political Communication.” Journal of Communication 58 (4): 707 – 31. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1460-2466.2008.00410.x.
  • — —  — . 2010. “The Shifting Foundations of Political Communication: Responding to a Defense of the Media Effects Paradigm.” Journal of Communication 60 (1): 35 – 39. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1460-2466.2009.01471.x.
  • Chaffee, Steven H., and Miriam J. Metzger. 2001. “The End of Mass Communication?” Mass Communication and Society 4 (4): 365 – 79. https://doi.org/10.1207/S15327825MCS0404_3.
  • Geddes, Norman Bel. 1932. Horizons. Boston, Little, Brown, and Company. http://archive.org/details/horizons00geddrich.
  • Greenberg, Bradley S., and Michael B. Salwen. 2009. “Mass Communication Theory and Research: Concepts and Models.” In An Integrated Approach to Communication Theory and Research, edited by Don W. Stacks and Michael Brian Salwen, 2nd ed, 61 – 74. Communication Series. Communication Theory and Methodology. New York: Routledge.
  • Holbert, R. Lance, R. Kelly Garrett, and Laurel S. Gleason. 2010. “A New Era of Minimal Effects? A Response to Bennett and Iyengar.” Journal of Communication 60 (1): 15 – 34. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1460-2466.2009.01470.x.
  • Neuman, W. Russell. 2018. “The Paradox of the Paradigm: An Important Gap in Media Effects Research.” Journal of Communication 68 (2): 369 – 79. https://doi.org/10.1093/joc/jqx022.
  • Neuman, W. Russell, and Lauren Guggenheim. 2011. “The Evolution of Media Effects Theory: A Six-Stage Model of Cumulative Research.” Communication Theory (1050-3293) 21 (2): 169 – 96. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2885.2011.01381.x.
  • Potter, W. James. 2011. “Conceptualizing Mass Media Effect.” Journal of Communication 61 (5): 896 – 915. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1460-2466.2011.01586.x.
  • Rubin, A. M. 2009. “Uses-and-Gratifications Perspective of Media Effects.” In Media Effects: Advances in Theory and Research, edited by Jennings Bryant and Mary Beth Oliver, 3rd ed, 165 – 84. Communication Series. Communication Theory and Methodology. New York: Routledge.
  • Valkenburg, Patti M., and Jochen Peter. 2013. “The Differential Susceptibility to Media Effects Model.” Journal of Communication 63 (2): 221 – 43. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcom.12024.
  • Valkenburg, Patti M., Jochen Peter, and Joseph B. Walther. 2016. “Media Effects: Theory and Research.” Annual Review of Psychology 67 (1): 315 – 38. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-psych-122414-033608.

Notes from Love Data workshop

Since Hurricane Harvey, Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research has been collecting data and making it available to the public along with the tools and resources to use it.

They’ve created two repositories and sets of tools:

Houston Community Data Connections (HCDC)
  • datahouston.org
  • Targeted to non-expert community officers
  • Hosts webinars and in-person training
Kinder Urban Data Platform
Upcoming Events:
HCDC Data Talk: Understanding Gentrification in Harris County
Th, Feb 21, 1-2 pm
Online webinar
(urban disparity, urban planning)
 
HCDC Data Talk: Transportation, Infrastructure and Safety Concerns
Th, Apr 18, 1-2 pm
Online webinar
(placemaking, urban planning)
 
Urban Reads: I-45 Meets the Walkable City
Feb 27, 2019
7:00 pm to 8:30 pm
Lecture
MATCH (Midtown Arts & Theater Center Houston) - Matchbox 4
3400 Main Street
(transportation, urban planning)
 
The Future of Urban Mobility
Apr 11, 2019
7:00 pm to 8:30 pm
Panel
Bioscience Research Collaborative
6500 Main Street
(transportation)

Data collections
Library Databases and Data Resources
Social Explorer
  • current/historical census data
  • business patterns
  • health
  • crime
ICPSR
  • 500,000 social science research data
  • public use and restricted use data
  • different formats available
  • Learning: classroom exercises for teaching and resources for students.
  • Youtube channel with guides on using data
Gallup Analytics
  • Data from countries that are home to more than 98% of the world’s population
  • US Daily tracking and World Poll data to compare responses
  • Library has access to raw Gallup data
ReferenceUSA
  • Business data by name, industry, location, or a combination
  • Closed and historical business data
  • Longitude and latitude available for locations, ready for mapping
SimplyAnalytics
  • US demographic, business, marketing data
  • web interface for making maps, reports, and to cross-compare data between geographic locations
  • Data is downloadable
HathiTrust
  • Humanities data
  • Digital Library with 16.7 million volumes
  • Provides tools for text mining
JSTOR Data for Research
  • provides datasets from JSTOR researchers
  • Define and submit desired dataset to be automatically processed
  • Metadata, n-grams, and word counts for most content in JSTOR
  • No cost to researchers, includes data up to 25,000 requests
Digital Collections as Data
guides.lib.uh.edu/data
 
UH Library
digital.lib.uh.edu
site hosts digitized materials from special collections
 
Big 10 Academic Alliance
geo.btaa.org
 
Types of data:
  • cultural heritage
  • geospatial data
  • bibliographic data
  • text and images
Getting library metadata
How to access?
  • Ask UH librarian
  • Download from site
  • Find external libraries that offer metadata downloads and metadata profiles
OAI-PMH
Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting
www.openarchives.org/oai
 
Digital Public Library of America
http://dp.la/
 
Always Already Computational- Collections as Data
collectionsasdata.github.io
 
Audiovisual Archives as Data
 
Archives of digitized films and videos
  • UH’s A/V Repository: av.lib.uh.edu
  • Kentuckyoralhistory.org
Netherlands Institute of Sound and Vision
  • FAIRview
    granular
  • MediaNow
    semantic search of media
  • MediaDNA
    media fingerprinting and tracking
    goal of media citation tracking

Debates in Media Effects Literature

The biggest take away from the contemporary scholarship is that Media Effects seems to be having its “Expanding Field” moment (a term I know from art history; see Krauss, 1979). Shit’s getting complicated, and things can’t be adequately explained without venturing into the theoretical frameworks of other disciplines or redefining some of the field’s foundational terms.

Following up the criticism from Holbert et al. to not toss the baby out with the bathwater, my instinct is to think that the discrepancies between Media Effects models that can describe effects and uses in earlier periods and the ones needed to describe today’s as requiring some overarching model or theory that can adequately explain effects from both periods. However, I don’t know if that’s possible, already happening, or within the scope of media effects study. The human ecological factors that audiences feel likely have confounding influences on media use, as the differences in early Modern (1890-1930) and late Modern (1930-1960) periods show — media use that was most informed and guided by social, political, and economic factors like urbanization and mass migration (Chaffee & Metzger, p. 367).

A second, counter-perspective also comes to mind. To continue the parallel that Neumann draws between Media Effects models and the Heliocentric and Geocentric astronomical models, the Geocentric Model didn’t cease being useful for navigation, timekeeping, or for telling you where in the sky to point a telescope. It is important to note that a model doesn’t need to represent truth to be useful; it simply must have its limitations qualified. Maps and diagrams are another perfect example of this. Michael Beirut has a great video lecture (“The genius of the London Tube Map”) that explains how a geographically accurate map of London’s Underground train system was challenging to read and understand, but when they trialed a map which was abstracted from geography, it was instantly successful and quickly became the world standard for public transit maps.

Between this mess of mixed notions that I have, I think the key to evaluating any model is its simplicity and utility.

I think that there is a certain amount of alarmism around media fragmentation. While, yes, new technology is creating the infrastructure for extreme selectivity and individualized media use, there must be a finite ability for a population to create desirable, gratifying media content with diminishing quality and gratification for audiences and diminishing revenue and resources for creators as the audience narrows. Eventually, this media and audience fragmentation will equalize; though it may be at different levels depending on the nature of the platform. For example, I have a lower tolerance for low-quality YouTube videos than I do for low-quality links and discussion on Reddit. It takes more effort to evaluate the quality of a video (being a linear, durational medium), while Reddit’s text comments take minimal effort to skim and skip over. But in both platforms, I regularly reach the limits of the desirable content, and either become less-selective or move onto other things. The only thing which concerns me are echo-chambers and Eli Pariser’s Filter Bubbles, and not because they might completely isolate but because they might legitimize fringe ideas and largely seem to be passive, unintentional consequences of algorithms. Being driven by algorithms optimizing for clickthroughs and ad revenue, filter bubbles have the power to make us more extreme versions of ourselves in strange and unexpected ways.

Literature reviewed
Bennett, W. Lance, and Shanto Iyengar. 2008. “A New Era of Minimal Effects? The Changing Foundations of Political Communication.” Journal of Communication 58 (4): 707 – 31. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1460-2466.2008.00410.x.
— —  — . 2010. “The Shifting Foundations of Political Communication: Responding to a Defense of the Media Effects Paradigm.” Journal of Communication 60 (1): 35 – 39. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1460-2466.2009.01471.x.
Chaffee, Steven H., and Miriam J. Metzger. 2001. “The End of Mass Communication?” Mass Communication and Society 4 (4): 365 – 79. https://doi.org/10.1207/S15327825MCS0404_3.
Holbert, R. Lance, R. Kelly Garrett, and Laurel S. Gleason. 2010. “A New Era of Minimal Effects? A Response to Bennett and Iyengar.” Journal of Communication 60 (1): 15 – 34. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1460-2466.2009.01470.x.
Neuman, W. Russell. 2018. “The Paradox of the Paradigm: An Important Gap in Media Effects Research.” Journal of Communication 68 (2): 369 – 79. https://doi.org/10.1093/joc/jqx022.

On media selectivity and the Uses-and-Gratifications perspective

The thing that immediately stood out to me about Rubin’s discussion of Uses and Gratifications was the language. Uses and gratifications …what? Is it a perspective? Approach? Theory? It frequently goes unqualified, which seemed to be a deliberate affectation. I looked into it, and there seems to be some criticism or debate around the precise terminology, and this paper may be attempting to stay out of it. Apparently, U&G originally received criticism for being called a theory while not qualifying as one.

These are the types of things that I tend to notice when practicing “active reading,” where I approach a text as a conversation with the author (parasocial). I note questions and tangential thoughts that come to mind as I’m reading. Overall, this increases my engagement with a text, improves my recall and comprehension, and I find that it permits me to be more critical — in contrast to Kim & Rubin (1997) who classify skeptical responses as reducing comprehension. This is an area where I’m active by choice and utility, but my TV viewing has become active out of necessity and format.

I’m both a cord-cutter and a huge nerd, which I think makes me acutely aware of media selectivity, the intentions behind my media use, and desires that I pursue through that media use. I love science fiction (for its reality exploration) and educational television (value reinforcement; learning is fun) to the exclusion of most other types of TV content. Knowing that, it’s probably easy to see why I cut cable.

For me, primetime television was replaced, many years ago, with educational YouTube videos because they better met my cognitive and affective desires. With what happened to TLC, Discovery Channel and the History Channel, an entire genre was increasingly absent from cable TV; I missed it and resented its departure. I sought out educational content as much I could, selectively exposing myself content like Nova and Cosmos. When the last blocks of WW2 programming gave over to the History Channel’s paranormal and pawn shop crazes, I almost entirely ceased using television and video media for passive, ritualized, and diversionary viewing. Once YouTube dominated my use of the video medium, I had to be a much more active viewer. Partly because the content is short and I have to pick what to watch next, and partly because I have to fight to keep the algorithm trained to my preferences (avoidance: list videos and conspiracy theories).

The industry is finally catching up with this. I’m a big Star Trek fan, so I am watching Star Trek Discovery. Being the show that launched CBS’s online-only platform, it requires even more intent (and money) to watch. However, it provides me with fresh (affective) involvement in a fandom from my childhood. Involvement that doesn’t end with the episode itself; I also have to participate in the fan discussions (behavior involvement) over the course of days and weeks, because I enjoy the fan-created critical essays that dissect each moment, reference, and context as much as the show itself.

Literature reviewed
Knobloch-Westerwick, Silvia. 2015. “Building Blocks of the Selective Exposure Paradigm.” In Choice and Preference in Media Use: Advances in Selective Exposure Theory and Research, 3 – 24. New York: Routledge.
Oliver, B., and K. M. Krakowiak. 2009. “Individual Differences in Media Effects.” In Media Effects: Advances in Theory and Research, edited by Jennings Bryant and Mary Beth Oliver, 3rd ed, 517 – 31. Communication Series. Communication Theory and Methodology. New York: Routledge.
Riles, Julius Matthew, Andrew Pilny, and David Tewksbury. 2018. “Media Fragmentation in the Context of Bounded Social Networks: How Far Can It Go?” New Media & Society 20 (4): 1415 – 32. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444817696242.
Rubin, A. M. 2009. “Uses-and-Gratifications Perspective of Media Effects.” In Media Effects: Advances in Theory and Research, edited by Jennings Bryant and Mary Beth Oliver, 3rd ed, 165 – 84. Communication Series. Communication Theory and Methodology. New York: Routledge.

How to study Mass Media: thoughts and responses to Media Effects literature

While I initially took issue with Potter’s definition of Mass Media, I see the need for the distinction that he makes between modes of mass media and the senders themselves. But, his framework raised questions in me on how to consider and qualify “viral media” — those messages (typically) made by individuals which achieve extremely pervasive exposure across societies for an extremely brief period. Are such messages exerting an influence and what types? Is there a meaningful distinction between viral messages and forms of mass media with short exposure? How do “fake news” or disinformation campaigns factor in, and do they work within or further complicate the existing models of media effects?

Greenberg and Salwen pose a question in a similar vein; is accessing internet databases a form of mass communication? Setting aside the issues Wilbur Schramm had with academia’s narrow focus, it seems that mass communication is worth studying separately from interpersonal communication because of emergent attributes and consequences unique to those forms. For my current understanding of the field, this notion points to a more fundamental definition than the one Potter provides. Valkenburg and Peter fill this gap. What makes mass communication effects distinct from interpersonal communication are the complex interactions between indirect effects and conditions that can accrue over time, reinforcing or negating each other, and spreading across a population.

The number of models and ways of conceptualizing media effects that are in and alluded to in these readings suggest that there is a “wickedness” to media effects. Wicked, as in Wicked Problems, is a term used to describe issues that are complexly interconnected, inherently human, and (because of that humanness) difficult to describe and define. Valkenburg and Peter reinforce this idea with their focus on conditional and indirect media effects. Their DSMM article does the best job of qualifying the challenges of media effect studies, and they layout a path for further research that they hope can lead to some predictive capacity that links specific media content with specific media effects.

Perhaps because of a dispositional susceptibility, I was the most engaged with Potter’s discussion of the physiological effects of media because several overlaps in areas of my work, studies, and personal life. And as an ADHD person, I often have to use sensory noise to control an overactive orienting reflex. Within design, this relates to my studies of gestalt theory, kinesthetic (body) empathy, and sensory toys/affectations.

The four arousal responses miss something that I think is necessary to fully describe the physiological effects of media. He slightly hits on it with his example of a fight/flight response, but we can vicariously experience more than just triggers for that reflex. Distinct from generalized arousal, which treats the brain like a black box and seems to be more of a catchall for the mechanisms lacking an explanatory process, I argue that we also have an empathetic arousal — that is, the activation of “mirror neurons” in response to events happening to others (usually living creatures, but not necessarily). This empathetic response allows you to feel a facsimile of another’s internal state, like the pain of a scraped knee or the love behind a proposal. It would provide explanatory power for why there is audience backlash when a favorite character is written out of a show. It explains for me why I felt dissonant with the TV show Last Man on Earth, which had character-driven stories in socially awkward situations that were genuinely hard to watch, but which also elicited endearment through vignettes on the human condition. Though this is conjecture on my part, an empathetic reaction may also be responsible for some of the principals of gestalt theory, allowing us to interpret things like implied motion from static arrangements.

Potter’s brief on Brain Processing is in dire need of an update; the vast majority of its cited material is two or more decades out of touch. We have better ways of conceptualizing brain activity than brain waves, the Left/Right Brain theory carries a lot of baggage, and the connection between media exposure and ADD (now called ADHD) is entirely fallacious. Describing brain functioning in terms of contemporary computer-use and using analogies from neural-networks may be more useful (which is a realistic expectation for something published in 2012).

Literature reviewed
Greenberg, Bradley S., and Michael B. Salwen. 2009. “Mass Communication Theory and Research: Concepts and Models.” In An Integrated Approach to Communication Theory and Research, edited by Don W. Stacks and Michael Brian Salwen, 2nd ed, 61 – 74. Communication Series. Communication Theory and Methodology. New York: Routledge.
Potter, W. James. 2011. “Conceptualizing Mass Media Effect.” Journal of Communication 61 (5): 896 – 915. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1460-2466.2011.01586.x.
— —  — . 2012. “Types of Mass Media Effects on Individuals.” In Media Effects, 85 – 106. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Valkenburg, Patti M., and Jochen Peter. 2013. “The Differential Susceptibility to Media Effects Model.” Journal of Communication 63 (2): 221 – 43. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcom.12024.

Review: Andres Serrana, Torture

Andres Serrana, Torture (2017)
Station Contemporary Art Museum
Houston, TX
June – November 19, 2017

Serrana’s Torture is socially responsible and responsive artwork that, one may hope, can provoke people into being civically engaged. Serrana’s work depicts the victims and places of torture through enormous photographs. He presents them alongside its history and cultural contexts in Christian theology, Medieval Europe, WWII, and its contemporaneous use under the guise of “enhanced interrogation.”

I recognized the journalistic overtones to Serrana’s exhibit immediately, and decided just as quickly to call my wife and tell her to come to the gallery. We walked around the gallery separately, then again together. Her first question was why I asked her to come. She was upset by the topic; Serrana’s photographs are presented at such an extreme scale that their impact is inescapable. But the show was meant to be upsetting, and that was the reason I asked her to join me. We gawked, and with nervous smiles, we tried not to cry. Even in the photographs of empty rooms, Serrana makes us feel a portion of the pain of those who went through those places and may never have justice. He gives us glimpses of context through politics and place, and a distinct lack of all context but the emotional and physical abuse in suffered by those in his portraits. We decompressed on a long walk, deciding that it was worth seeing and seeing together. My wife and I are both steeped in journalism — her, still an active participant in the profession while I use it to direct and resolve my art and critical studies.

Telling upsetting stories, especially as Serrana has, isn’t just a necessary discomfort for us. It is an ethical responsibility. Serrana is a journalist in the truest sense. He isn’t taking advantage of the excitement of a crime story, or participating in the media circus around a tragedy, his photography forces us to empathize with people who have had atrocities meted out against them. To reflect and understand a portion of their experiences. To look at its context, pseudo-justification and contrast in war and in religion.

And this is upsetting. But it is also worth being upset.