From the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed, we are bombarded by messages from hundreds of media sources. The man on the ad tells us the deodorant he uses will help you smell like an Irish spring, the people on the latest reality TV show present their version of an ideal lifestyle, and the news anchor tells us the top story of the day involves a squirrel and a jet ski.
Messages like the ones above can have a very obvious impact on individuals, their behaviour, and the culture they’re a part of, while the impacts of other messages are less apparent. This begs the question: how aware are we of media’s influence on us, and are we able to scrutinize the messages aimed at us to discern their intent? Stanley J. Baran’s Introduction to Mass Communication: Media Literacy and Culture, 8th Edition takes a comprehensive look at media and mass communication, and how we can learn to effectively comprehend images and messages targeted at us, the consumers.
Baran does a good job unburdening the reader with weighty concepts and theories. That’s not to say there aren’t a lot of key terms in the book, because there are many. He makes it easy for the reader to conceptualize everything he presents by using plenty of real world examples that young people will find interesting and relevant to them (i.e., the rise of Apple products, pirating music, product placement in movies like The Social Network, and the rise of shock jocks on the radio). This makes the text more engaging, and the information easy to retain.
The book takes the large, messy and convoluted world that is media, mass communication and our relationship to the media, and lays it out in a clean, methodical fashion. The author groups his deep dive into this world into four chapters: 1) Laying the Groundwork, 2) Media, Media Industries, and Media Audiences, 3) Strategic Communication Industries, and 4) Mass-Mediated Culture in the Information Age.
The book begins by introducing the reader to the key concepts and terms that continually pop up in the book, then looks at the history and influence of the most pervasive media industries (film, Internet, TV, PR, advertising, etc.), and finally, it explores the social responsibility of the media.
The section of the book that looks at the dominant media industries is a very intriguing part of the book. The chapter on the Internet, in particular, is equal parts interesting and concerning. As I previously mentioned, the author takes a holistic approach to the content in his book. That approach is used in an effective way in the chapter on the Internet, as he tasks the reader to confront the good, the bad, and the ugly of the World Wide Web. The chapter invokes many mixed thoughts and feelings about this technology that has such a strong influence on our lives.
Needless to say, there is a lot to digest in the book. Although there is a lot of content (to the point where it could seem daunting), the text is neatly divided into easily digestible chapters, and the reader always knows what to take away from each section, with each chapter having learning objectives and a detailed review section.
The thoroughness of the review section is very helpful, as it helps the reader memorize important information. It covers the key terms, provides review questions and review points that sum up all the important information succinctly, and features thought-provoking discussion questions that make the reader apply what they learned using critical thinking.
Author Stanley Baran is able to take a dizzying amount of information and present it in a clear and concise fashion, making it easy to both retain important information and use it to interrogate the world of media and mass communication.
Why this is good for students
Students will enjoy using Introduction to Mass Communication: Media Literacy and Culture, 8th Edition because it covers a world that they are steeped in every day. With the amount of time they spend on the Internet, social media, television, etc., and as key media targets, students will enjoy learning how to scrutinize ubiquitous messages and images.
Furthermore, the text does a great job relating its concepts to people, places and events that young people are familiar with. Many examples are from events that students have witnessed in their lifetime, which they will feel more connected to, and they will have already formed an opinion on them.
Why this is good for teachers
For anyone introducing students to media and mass communication, Introduction to Mass Communication: Media Literacy and Culture 8th Edition is the perfect teaching resource. The textbook takes a holistic look at media and mass communication – no stone is left unturned. The book reduces the need for supplementary materials considerably, if not completely.
Teachers will also appreciate how far the book goes to foster discussion and critical thinking. Along with the numerous discussion questions, there are plenty of opportunities for the reader to apply their media literacy skills in the real world (i.e. any of Donald Trump’s campaign literature).