A representation is a constructed media text. Representations can take many forms, including: radio segments, newspaper articles, photographs, films, television programs, television news segments. While some media texts – like television news and documentary films – may seem realistic, we have to remember that this is not the same as experiencing it ourselves. At best, the media can only represent reality. What we see on our television screens and on the front page of our daily newspapers is someone else’s interpretation of events, ideas and people. Someone has constructed these texts.
WHAT IS A CODE?
In Media Studies, the word ‘code’ refers to any system of signs that are used to communicate meaning. When you think about the real world, we are surrounded by signs: traffic lights, written language, mathematics, clothing, body language.
WHAT IS A CONVENTION?
Conventions are well-established ways of constructing texts
Consider the front page of a newspaper. The name of the newspaper will feature prominently at the top of the page. Beneath this, we have a number of articles. It is a convention of newspapers that the most important news is placed on the front page. Indeed, the most important articles appear closer to the top of the page than the less important stories. Headlines are another convention of newspapers which tell readers what the article is about. Hard news articles which appear on the cover of newspapers are usually written in in a particular style, often known as an inverted pyramid which features all of the important information first. The important aspects of a story – who, what, when, where, why – are usually included in the lead or introductory paragraph. Photographs will usually be accompanied by a caption to explain their significance.
Here is a good definition to help solidify your understanding of the concept: “As a type of film or television develops, filmmakers and directors find certain techniques that become useful or effective in creating texts. These techniques get used again and again, and eventually they are associated with and are used to define certain types of texts. The techniques then become known as conventions.”
In this segment, Charlie Brooker points out the conventions of television news. Conventions often lend themselves to parody because, although we have a deep understanding of how media texts are organised, we often don’t think consciously about the conventions of media texts.
CONSTRUCTION OF MEDIA TEXTS
All media texts are constructed. As they’re being constructed, important decisions are made about how the subject will be represented. Consider a photograph. When you take a photograph, you make a number of important decisions about how the subject will be represented, including: lighting, camera angle, shot size, visual composition, colour, posture and facial expression of the subject.
All of these decisions influence the way people will read to the photograph.
Although this is a simple example, all media texts go through this process of construction. As a result, media texts often reflect the views and values of those who create them and the society in which they were created.
Representations and values
Because representations are created by people who exist in a society and culture, they invariably reflect the values and attitudes of those who create them. This diagram illustrates the factors that can influence the media we create and consume:
- Culture. First, we’re all part of a culture. These values and beliefs influence the representations we create.
- Government. Governments legislate and regulate the media, putting constraints on what audiences and institutions can create.
- Regulation. Regulatory bodies – whether industry bodies such as Ad Standards or government bodies such as the Classification Board – also influence what we see, hear and read in the media.
- Institutions. Whether they’re commercial, government, community or independent, media organisations influence the nature of representations in the texts that they create.
- Audiences. We increasingly create and communicate our own representations. Media theorist Axel Bruns calls this new type of creator/audience hybrid ‘produsers’. Our spending influences the texts and representations that media organisations create. So too the flak directed at media organisations who might produce representations that upset or offend.
- Technology. Technology also influences the nature of representations that we see.