Media content analysis is the deconstruction of pieces of media with tendency towards either quantitative or qualitative research methods. Quantitative research methods within Media Content Analysis point to a far more structured and consequently restricted form of gathering information from clips of media. Qualitative methods involve a viewing of the clip and then unstructured open discussions and debate on the themes and effects of the clip. Media content analysis was introduced as a systematic method to study mass media by Harold Lasswell (1927), initially to study propaganda.


Today it helps you define and understand your media profile by evaluating issues, messages, advocates, critics, media and journalists by giving qualitative ratings to print, broadcast and online coverage and recommending PR action and response.


What are the advantages of media content analysis?


Media content analysis benefits research using combined methods. Some parts of the mass media may provide sociologists with useful data to see how society reacts to the media and how companies use the media to promote consumerism. Media content analysis can be used to analyse the ideologies of those who produce them and how they try to spread this ideology. Media content analysis looks directly at communication via texts or transcripts, and hence gets at the central aspect of social interaction. It can allow for both quantitative and qualitative operations. MCA can also provide valuable historical/cultural insights over time through analysis of texts. Media content analysis allows a closeness to the text which can alternate between specific categories and relationships and also statistically analyses the coded form of the text. It can be used to interpret texts for purposes such as the development of expert systems (since knowledge and rules can both be coded in terms of explicit statements about the relationships among concepts). Media content analysis is an unobtrusive means of analysing interactions and it provides an insight into complex models of human thought and language use. When done well, is considered as a relatively “exact” research method (based on hard facts, as opposed to Discourse Analysis).


What are the disadvantages of media content analysis?


Media content analysis relies heavily upon researcher interpretation. Mass media analysis may also not correspond to the interpretation of other researchers as it is about how you operationalise the information acquired. There is an assumption that the audience is simply a passive consumer of the message given out by mass media, and that there is no attempt made to examine how they actually interpret the text if this is the format mass media is presented in. Media content analysis may produce a distorted image of society. This may mislead the public or adversely affect the socialisation of children. Media content analysis can be extremely time consuming and is subject to increased error (particularly when relational analysis is used to attain a higher level of interpretation). Media content analysis is often devoid of a theoretical base, or attempts too liberally to draw meaningful inferences about the relationships and impacts implied in a study. It is inherently reductive (particularly when dealing with complex texts) tends too often to simply consist of word counts. Media content analysis often disregards the background in which something has been produced.


When looking at media content analysis it helps to think of questions such as the ones below as they get you thinking ‘what is the subliminal message in the media?’ and ‘how is this influencing how I think?’


How do children’s TV programs portray violence, racial or gender differences?


How prevalent is X on certain types of programmes if X equals sex, violence, homosexuality, smoking, drug or alcohol use?


What types of news stories are prevalent in the evening news, on the front page, on magazine covers?


What percentage of (TV or newspaper) news is … crime, accidents, promotional, human interest?


How do commercials differ between different types of programming?


To what extent do different (magazines, TV shows) reflect the target market of advertisers?


What categories or subject matter are prevalent among… bestselling books, hit movies or music, popular video games?


Marxists might think that media content analysis allows us to see how the media controls us to further enslave us to keep us from questioning what is going on; that the media is used to distract us from the bigger issues of the day; that mass media is a social constraint; that the media alienates people from society making them feel inadequate and that “the media is chewing gum for the brain.” (Marcuse)


A Functionalist may view mass media analysis as instilling norms and values that society can relate to; that it helps promotes businesses and meritocracy and that it shows how well society is functioning and helps to keep you feel motivated.

Courtesy of Lee Bryant, Director of Sixth Form, Anglo-European School, Ingatestone, Essex