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Harold Lasswell’s Narrative Model

2696 words (11 pages) Essay in Media

15/05/17 Media Reference this

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What is communication? According to G.G.Brown, it means the transfer of information to one person to another, whether or not it elicits confidence. But the information transferred must be understandable to the receiver.” Therefore, in order to communicate, one can use the medium as a channel to pass over a piece of information to another person but whether or not the message gets through perfectly, it will be entirely up to the individual’s interpretation. However, Lasswell’s model does not take the audience’s opinion into account. This is one of the many weaknesses of the 64-year-old model. Communication is basically to provide and find information, persuade the readers and express our emotions. A model can help create theories and indicate the relationships between the elements.

Lasswell came up with the model initially to answer five very important questions to ensure a smooth communication process which consists of who(Communicator), what(Message), which(Medium), whom(Receiver), and what effect(Effect).

Lasswell was inspired by the earliest mass communication model that the famous philosopher, Aristotle initiated and tried to improve the model by adding the channel as a medium to replace ‘occasion’ which was previously proposed by Aristotle. Aristotle mainly emphasized on the role of the audience in his model and public speaking rather than interpersonal communication. As for the occasion model, Aristotle suggested constructing speech for the different types of audiences at different occasion to obtain the response that are desired. The act of constructing the speech is done by the speaker. For every public speaking session, the speaker must be fully prepared by making sure he understands what the audiences’ interests are before speaking. What the speaker says should have some sort of an influence to the audience and try to convince the audience with his brilliant ideas.

Thus, Lasswell’s model concentrates more on verbal communication just like Aristotle’s model. The model involves a speaker who passes on information to an audience through the media such as radio, television, newspaper, magazines, music and many more to successfully deliver the message.

A model is usually used to explain the process of mass communication. As for Lasswell’s model, it is explained in words and not in diagrams.

Who: Communicator(Control analysis)

The first element of the model is control analysis which involves the communicator to control the messages that are being passed. This is usually the gatekeeper’s responsibility. In a way, a gatekeeper could be holding too much power as they can choose to hide information that could be important for the public to know but might not be helpful to their personal cause. Only what the media choose to publish is known to the public, thus making it unfair for the other party especially during elections where only those who possess greater political influence can benefit from. This principle is quite similar to the agenda setting theory. No matter how bias the situation may seem, gatekeeping is actually a very necessary tool to both the public and media. With crucial information that the media has, they would be able to educate the public so they would not be ignorant towards their surroundings and starts to be more aware about the current worldwide issues.

The media would only broadcast what they think is newsworthy and interesting to attract more readers. Therefore, they tend to neglect the audience’s safety and rights to all information. Even so, there are still many factors to be put into consideration before making a decision about what to publish, the gatekeepers actually go through a lot of trouble researching about the owner of the newspaper company, their goals, the effect they would have to face for posting about certain issues, their political commitments and many more. The communicators might seem irresponsible and selfish with their business decisions but that is just the way certain gatekeepers work.

Says what: Message(Content analysis)

The message is the subject of the content analysis. It could be a piece of news about the recent natural disaster in Japan or even gossips about whether or not Britney Spears is pregnant. Lasswell was particularly worried about what the mass media’s response towards the message that was portrayed by the media. This led to the introduction to a new study called content research. Questions of representation were usually asked, it is especially to make sure the women, and the blacks were properly represented on television or tabloids. Other than that, Lasswell studied the role of society in the movies closely for collecting statistics purposes. In Lasswell’s research would involve calculating the number of occasions of a specific representation and evaluate the results with an objective measure like an official statistics to obtain accurate results. The formula can also be applied to our everyday life and improve our interpersonal skills without having to consciously think too much about our messages. From the clothes you wear to how you smell, your appearance can tell people a lot about your personality, taste in music and messages about you. All these analysis would be useful to the media to construct a message accordingly. The media must also be very careful with the content of the message so that the public would not be offended or angry.

In which channel: Medium(Media analysis)

The third element would be the medium that is also known as the media analysis. In media analysis, there can be more than one channel to pass on a message. These channels are researched in media analysis. Lasswell introduced an efficient way to study the mass media known as media content analysis(1927). It was previously introduced to study propaganda but it started being used to study the roles of communication that was becoming more and more prominent in movies during the 1920s and 1930s. Media content analysis then grew to be the main research method in social sciences and mass communication studies with the appearance of television in the 1950s(Barton 2012). It is also used to research about representations of racism, women and violence in movies, television programmes, newspapers and magazines.

To whom: Receiver(Audience analysis)

As the media’s responsibility is to construct and influence the audiences, the receiver plays a very important role in Lasswell’s model. The first theory about the media and audiences is called the stimulus-response(SR) that was originated from behaviourism. The audience are perceived to be fickle-minded, easily influenced and needs to be protected. The vulnerability image of the audience that was created limits their use of media and content. This is a result of the communicator and medium’s doing and not the other way around. Lasswell often pay attention to the media, their content and audience and the effects of the media on the audience(Nielson, 2004 )

Lasswell considered his audience to be the passive type that does not like to interact with others, and not likely to give in to the pressure just to fit into society.

The second theory is functionalism that was originated from media sociology. Functionalism is the opposite of the stimulus-response theory as the audience are believed to be independent and capable of making their own decisions. The audiences here are of mixed culture and democratic so they are more laid-back about media content and use. In functionalism, in order to fulfil their sociological and psychological needs, they use media content. The relationship between the media and the audience are closely related as the media affects the audience’s behaviour. This theory explains how important the mass media is to the society. It brings order, stability, change, culture and values and many more. Without functionalism, the society would not know how to behave or speak appropriately.

With what effect(Effect analysis)

According to Lasswell, there must be an effect at the end of every communication process. This is because then this will determine on whether or not the communicator was able to change or motivate the audience’s attitude. The audience’s reaction to the news would determine how successful the communication process was. The more believable the source is, the more likely it will influence the audience.

The way the model works

In 1948, Lasswell introduced an interpretation of the media on a macro-sociological level. Functionalism in media sociology explains social practices and institutions in terms of the needs of society and individuals. Specializations that carry on certain functions are : 1) The surveillance of the environment; 2) the correlation of the parts of society in responding to the environment; 3) the transmission of the social heritage from one generation to the next. The mass media do not just supply facts and data, they provide information on the ultimate meaning and significance of events. They act to confer legitimacy to advocacy groups and leaders of social movements, whose success is dependant on attaining wide mainstream attention. The media serves as a catalyst to accelerate issues onto public agenda.

Lasswell theorized that society and the media were dependant on each other. He said that society used media as a surveillance tool to monitor salient information around their environment. Surveillance of the environment is the collection and distribution of information by the media. This function is easily seen on news programs and newspapers. For example, As mass media report illegal actions going in the society, it awakes the awareness of people. Also, the information is distributed to everyone in the society, stimulating equalitarianism. However, it has side effects. Reporting the international events of certain countries may endanger the political stability of these countries and may even stimulate over-tension among society.

Lasswell states that “When the stimuli receiving and disseminating patterns operate smoothly, the several parts of the animal act in concert in reference to the enviroment (‘feeding’, ‘fleeing’, ‘attacking’)”. Correlation of parts of society refers to the interpretive or analytical activities of the media. It functions to interpret issues and give solutions to the public, which solutions eventually affects the formation of the public’s attitudes. Columns, editorial articles, criticisms and explanations are examples. The correlation function differentiates itself from surveillance function by presenting subjectivity while the Surveillance Function supposedly maintains objectivity. Correlation function acts during editing process, deciding ‘what kind of news to choose’, ‘which news to grant more importance’, and ‘where to emphasize’. The side effects of this function is that it can announce news without fairness. The newspapers may exclude important social problems. This brings limited interpretation of information and blocks the development of social revolution. This also drops the individuals’ ability of self-interpreting and self-criticizing.

Transmission of the social heritage refers to the ability of the media to communicate values, norms, and styles across time and between groups. It is the function that spreads the common norms and values among the public. This action is called socialization, which is helpful for the unification of a country. As citizens are being touched with common norms and new cultural traditions of others, they can grow social adaptation abilities. The function is also effective as an educational tool by providing valuable information to the mass, or as a regulation tool by preventing the exposure of information on crime suspects. People who arrive in foreign countries can get familiar with the new culture by this function. However, getting only the structured forms of information and the uniformed cultures may lowered cultural variability and human creativity.

Pros and cons

Pros:

As for the benefits of the narrative model, it is said to be a very straightforward and simple model to understand that can be applied to many communication theories. Lasswell was one of the first few who came up with the concept and it is still being used up till today.

Cons:

The model only assumes that there would be an effect at the end but does not worry about whether the effect is good or bad. What the audience think about the message was not taken into account so the improvement of the communication process can be non-existent. Its strengths and weaknesses are also due to it being a linear model. As easy as it looks, it does not allow for a two-way communication where the speaker can get an immediate feedback. The audience can lose interest pretty quickly if they have to pay attention to the speaker for a very long time especially if the speaker has a monotone voice and is talking about a boring topic. Those who has a very short attention span and is not a good listener would face that kind of problem.

Other than that, Lasswell did not think about the surroundings where the audience might be facing. For instance, audience that listens to the radio for daily news can face external distractions in the car such as thunder, sound of the car horn, or the sound from the car engine. These are noises that need to be addressed in order to obtain the accurate statistics of people who gave a desired response. There are also cases of those who might have a neutral stand on current issues, thus not producing an effect. A lot of assumptions are made without verifying the results first that the results obtained might not be very reliable. Therefore the model is not very realistic as it does not fully represent the physical reality.

Application in real life

According to Lasswell, there are usually three types of communicators in each society, the first type are those who are involved in politics such as the foreign media and diplomats while those who compare the states’ reactions to the society are called journalists. The last type of communicator are called the educators, these are the people that pass on information from the older generation to the younger generation(Lasswell 1948).

Targeting a group makes it easier for the media to specialize through advertising. It saves them money and time to figure what the latest trend is through surveys in order to maximise their profits. With the advancement of technology nowadays, there are more satellite broadcast and Internet channels available unlike during Lasswell’s time where there were only a few types of media channels like television and radio. The public can easily obtain information that may seem limited on television from the Internet so it is now harder for the gatekeeper to enforce the agenda setting theory on the public and manipulate the audience’s mind. This is because the group of audiences have become more separated due to their personal preference to the type of media they choose to pay attention to. The killings at the Batman premier in Colorado can be used as an example for the narrative model. The communicator would be the media, the message would be the information about the number of people who died during the shooting, the medium would be Huffington Post(online newspaper), the receiver would be the public and lastly the effect would be feelings of shock by the people about the incident.

Lasswell’s narrative model is one of the earliest forms of communication models and also the simplest. Lasswell’s model could also be applied to all manner of other forms of communication, from telephone calls to web conversations, etc. It serves as the basis of the development of future communication models. A lot of improvements can be made to this model. Firstly, it should take into account the way audiences may perceive and interpret the message that is being relayed to them, it should also take into account the difference in circumstances that the communication is taking place, and whether or not the message reaches the receiver at all, why would the audience want to seek out that particular information? It should also make references to concepts like context, “noise” (whether the message is received accurately and clearly and can be fully interpreted by the receiver), purpose and feedback.

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