Glossary of Media Terminology

Media Studies Glossary


Anchorage – how meaning is fixed, as in how a caption fixes the meaning of a picture

Archetype – A universal type or model of character that is found in many different texts, e.g. ingenue, anti-hero, wise old woman, hero-as-lover, hero-as-warrior, shadow trickster, mentor, loyal friend, temptress

Audience – viewers, listeners and readers of a media text. A lot of media studies is concerned with how audience use texts and the effects a text may have on them. Also identified in demographic  socio-economic categories.

Binary Opposites – the way opposites are used to create interest in media texts, such as good/bad, coward/hero, youth/age, black/white. By Barthes and Levi-Strauss who also noticed another important feature of these ‘binary opposites’: that one side of the binary pair is always seen by a particular society or culture as more valued over the other.

Catharsis – the idea that violent and and sexual content in media texts serves the function of releasing ‘pent up’ tension aggression/desire in audiences.

Censorship – Control over the content of a media text – sometimes by the government, but usually by a regulatory body like the British Board of Film censors.

CGI – Computer Generated Imagary, Refers to the (usually) 3-D effects that enhance all kinds of still and moving images, from text effects, to digital snow or fire, to the generation of entire landscapes

Code – a sign or convention through which the media communicates meaning to us because we have learned to read it. Technical codes – all to do with the way a text is technically constructed – camera angles, framing, typography, lighting etc. Visual codes – codes that are decoded on a mainly connotational level – things that draw on our experience and understanding of other media texts, this includes Iconography – which is concerned with the use of visual images and how they trigger the audiences expectations of a particular genre, such as a knife in slasher horror films.

Consumer – purchaser, listener, viewer or reader of media products.

Context – time, place or mindset in which we consume media products.

Conventions – the widely recognised way of doing things in particular genre.

Convergence – The way in which technologies and institutions come together in order to create something new. Cinema is the result of the convergence of photography, moving pictures (the kinetoscope, zoetrope etc), and sound. The iPad represents the convergence of books, TV, maps, the internet and the mobile phone.

Demographics – Factual characteristics of a population sample, e.g. age, gender, race, nationality, income, disability, education

Denotation – the everyday or common sense meaning of a sign. Connotation – the secondary meaning that a sign carries in addition to it’s everyday meaning.

Diegetic Sound – Sound whose source is visible on the screen Non Diegetic sound – Sound effects, music or narration which is added afterwards

Enigma – A question in a text that is not immediately answered and creates interest for the audience – a puzzle that the audience has to solve.

Feminism – the struggle by women to obtain equal rights in society

Gaze – the idea that the way we look at something, and the way somebody looks at you, is structured by the way we view the world. Feminist Laura Mulvey suggests that looking involves power, specifically the look of men at women, implying that men have power over women.

Genre – the type or category of a media text, according to its form, style and content.

Hegemony – Traditionally this describes the predominance of one social class over another, in media terms this is how the controllers of the media may on the one hand use the media to pursue their own political interest, but on the other hand the media is a place where people who are critical of the establishment can air their views.

Hypodermic Needle Theory – the idea that the media can ‘inject’ ideas and messages straight into the passive audience. This passive audience is immediately affected by these messages. Used in advertising and propoganda, led to moral panics about effect of violent video and computer games.

Ideology – A set of ideas or beliefs which are held to be acceptable by the creators of the media text, maybe in line with those of the dominant ruling social groups in society, or alternative ideologies such as feminist ideology.

Indexical sign – a sign which has a direct relationship with something it signifies, such as smoke signifies fire.

Image – a visual representation of something.

Institutions – The organisations which produce and control media texts such as the BBC, AOL Time Warner, News International.

Intertextuality – the idea that within popular culture producers borrow other texts to create interest to the audience who like to share the ‘in’ joke. Used a lot in the Simpsons.

Media language – the means by which the media communicates to us and the forms and conventions by which it does so.

Media Platform – nothing to do with trains, this refers to the different ways that media content is delivered, mainly via TV, laptop, tablet, smartphone, cinema, video/computer game, printed page etc. for instance the BBC delivers content via TV, laptop and mobile device, and also through printed publications. Most media organisations deliver  their content via a multitude of platforms.

Media product – a text that has been designed to be consumed by an audience. E.G a film, radio show, newspaper etc.

Media text – see above. N.B Text usually means a piece of writing

Mise en Scene – literally ‘what’s in the shot’ everything that appears on the screen in a single frame and how this helps the audience to decode what’s going on.

Mode of Address – The way a media product ‘speaks’ to it’s audience. In order to communicate, a producer of any text must make some assumptions about an intended audience; reflections of such assumptions may be discerned in the text (advertisements offer particularly clear examples of this).

Montage – putting together of visual images to form a sequence. Made famous by Russian film maker Eisenstein in his famous film Battleship Potemkin.

Moral Panic – is the intensity of feeling stirred up by the media  about an issue that appears to threaten the social order, such as against Muslims after 9/11, or against immigrants, or against ‘video nasties’  following the Jamie Bulger murder.

Multi-media – computer technology that allows text, sound, graphic and video images to be combined into one programme.

Myth – a complex idea by Roland Barthes that myth is a second order signifying system ie when a sign becomes the signifier of a new sign (2nd years only this one!)

Narrative code – The way a story is put together within a text, traditionally equilibrium- disequilibrium, new equilibrium, but some text are fractured or non liner, eg Pulp Fiction.

News values – factors that influence whether a story will be picked for coverage.

Non-verbal communication – communication between people other than by speech.

Ownership – who produces and distributes the media texts – and whose interest it is.

Patriarchy – The structural, systematic and historical domination and exploitation of women.

Popular Culture – the study of cultural artefacts of the mass media such as cinema, TV, advertising.

Post Modernism – Anything that challenges the traditional way of doing things, rejecting boundaries between high and low forms of art, rejecting rigid genre distinctions, emphasizing pastiche, parody, intertextuality, irony, and playfulness. Postmodernism favours reflexivity and self-consciousness, fragmentation and discontinuity (especially in narrative structures), ambiguity, simultaneity, and an emphasis on the destructured, decentered, dehumanized subjects! This is tricky!

Preferred Reading – the interpretation of a media product that was intended by the maker or which is dictated by the ideology of the society in which it is viewed. Oppositional Reading – an interpretation of a text by a reader whose social position puts them into direct conflict with its preferred reading. Negotiated Reading – the ‘compromise’ that is reached between the preferred reading offered by a text and the reader’s own assumptions and interpretations

Propaganda – the way ruling classes use the mass media to control or alter the attitudes of others.

Reader – a member of the audience, someone who is actively responding to the text.

Regulation – bodies whose job it is to see that media texts are not seen by the wrong audience (eg British Board of Film Censors) or are fair and honest (EG Advertising Standards Association)

Representation – The way in which the media ‘re-presents’ the world around us in the form of signs and codes for audiences to read.

SFX – special effects or devices to create visual illusions.

Shot – single image taken by a camera.

Sign – a word or image that is used to represent an object or idea.

Signifier/Signified – the ‘thing’ that conveys the meaning, and the meaning conveyed. EG a red rose is a signifier, the signified is love (or the Labour Party!)

Sound Effects – additional sounds other than dialogue or music, designed to add realism or atmosphere.

Stereotype – representation of people or groups of people by a few characteristics eg hoodies, blondes

Still – static image.

Sub-genre – a genre within a genre.

Two Step Flow theory – the idea that ideas flow from mass media to opinion leaders, and from them to a wider population.

Uses and Gratifications – ideas about how people use the media and what gratification they get from it. It assumes that members of the audience are not passive but take an active role in interpreting and integrating media into their own lives.


16 Responses to Glossary of Media Terminology

  1. rachel says:

    were going to party hard!

  2. leeman says:

    good list but here are some more words that could be included; Hammerking, cliff hangers, demographics, iconography , juxtraposition and then theorists theorys
    otheriwise good work

  3. josh says:

    good stuff

  4. Thankyou- this has helped me enourmosly in most areas of my Media Studies. I am doing Media Studies for GCSE and have favourited this page and refer to it the majority of our lessons.

  5. says:

    this saved my life!

  6. etisbewtihs says:

    i dont think you’re a airline company. why do you do dis to me gooby. Gooby plz

  7. ashley brain says:

    brilliant, really helpful

  8. Isaac Newton says:

    jk gr8 m8, sick m8 r8 it 8/8

  9. 9/11 was lol says:

    dis is sik sun u hav hlped me lot thnx ❤ u tuch me lik savile did

  10. JONO says:

    Fab list, Ta for sharing

  11. leo the chines says:

    thank you so much i got a A* in my exam at school

  12. Taylor says:

    My – Mainstream
    Nan- Negates
    Is –ideology
    So- stereotype
    Because- Binary opposition
    She -subverts
    Does -diegetic
    Good- Gaze
    Desert –denotations

    an acronym to remember some of the good ones

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