Reading the Media Part 1

Media forms and how audiences construct meanings

Key terms:

Semiotics
Encoding
Decoding
Open texts
Closed texts

Media texts are constructed using a complex series of codes, i.e. a system of signs, language or symbols which communicate various meanings. An audience can also decode the signs in order to 'read' or interpret (make sense of) them.

'Semiotics' is the media term for this 'reading' process.

Semiotics - the study of signs, sign systems and their meanings.

An image is made through a process. The maker of the image will DENOTE (show) something, but in addition, by selecting the framing process, the camera angle, the lighting effects, focus and so on, the image can be given a series of CONNOTATIONS (hidden meanings or associated meanings) which the audience will DECODE when viewing the image.

This means that media texts are POLYSEMIC (have lots of signals that can have many effects on the viewer). They can be 'interpreted' in different ways, depending on the situated culture of the audience.

Texts can be either OPEN or CLOSED.

An 'open' text can be interpreted or 'read' in many ways but a 'closed' text has a directed meaning - you respond the way the maker wants you to, in other words.

We all draw on shared codes to make sense of media output and sometimes we make a preferred reading as a result, especially if the text is anchored in some way or if the image has been cropped (made to look different by leaving out sections of the image and directing the viewer to see only the part the maker wants you to see.)

Anchorage is a process of including specific text alongside an image to direct the viewer to a preferred reading.

Newspapers and magazines are a useful source of analysing textual coding processes. You will find that there are three main types of code: technical, symbolic and written.

A fairly simple framework for code analysis follows:

Technical  Symbolic  Written
camera angle
lens choice
framing
shutter speed
depth of field
lighting & exposure 
juxtaposition 
 objects
 setting
 body language
 clothing
 colour
 headlines
  captions
  speech bubbles
  style



Try applying these criteria to a selection of family pictures, then have a go at analysing a newspaper or a magazine using the longer version of the framework below:

Take your own selection of newspaper front pages and analyse how and why the text has been put together as it has.

Start by looking at the technical codes:

 How is the page laid out - to what effect?

 What typefaces and fonts have been used? Why?

 What can be said about the size and quality of the photographs?

 Have they been cropped? If so, how and why? How do we know that cropping has taken place?

 How do the photographs relate to the rest of the stories and the front page?

 Why have these particular pictures been selected?

Next focus on the written codes:

How does the size of the headline (s) compare with the rest of the page?

What are the key words and what do they signify?

What conventions are being used?

To what extent does the copy meet the expectations set up by the headline(s)?

Is any information omitted from the copy?

How does the headline influence the way the reader will approach the story?

Does/do the caption(s) help anchor the meaning(s)?

Then think about the symbolic codes:

 What do the masthead and title of the newspaper signify?

How do they achieve this?
 Why are particular graphics used and what do they signify?

 What colours are used and what do they signify?

Are there any symbolic codes used in the pictures?

Finally consider the front page as a whole:

How does the overall layout help attract readers?

Is any particular impression or message given out by the overall 'look' of the front page?

How is this 'look' created?