Free «A Critique of Uses and Gratifications Theory» Essay

A Critique of Uses and Gratifications Theory

Through a Case Study of Forbes Magazine

Uses and gratifications theory attaches a considerable significance to the active role of the audience in making decisions and defining goals during consumption of media products. In most cases, the media are not only a source of news, but also entertainment. They allow a person to dispose of the need to learn something or help to escape from the reality into the world of illusion and fantasy. The media also give the masses the access to one or another social group. The connection of the media use with a character trait and personality can interact with the causes that lead people to consume some forms of media products. Discussion of specific publications or television programs may help in explaining the psychological motives of individual human actions. Looking through the case study of Forbes Magazine, it is easy to retrace the uses and gratifications theory and detect in what way it works.

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Uses and gratifications theory considers the motives and behavior of the media consumers, which is how and why they use the media. An approach of this theory predominantly relies on the examination of gratifications, which play a vital role not only in attracting, but also holding the audience’s attention. Thus, specific kinds of media are being chosen in accordance with an appropriate content that can satisfy the viewer’s social and psychological needs (Ruggiero, 2000). Thus, this theory is based on several key hypotheses. They are an active audience and satisfaction of specific needs. The scientists exploring the field of mass communication have developed several models designed to explain the principles of use and impact of the media. However, certain hypotheses and principles of the media have been criticized. The most significant criticism is that the results of research are excessively individualized; it is difficult to generalize them, it is necessary to synthesize various studies and eliminate differences in the definition of key terms, inaccuracy and inconsistency of some hypotheses. According to these different approaches to this theory, it is easy to see the strong and weak sides of it. In order to prove the uses and gratifications theory and answer the main questions, which begin with “how” and “why”, the articles of Forbes magazine were used.

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The report is based on the case study research, because it is a valuable research instrument. Case study results relate directly to the common reader’s everyday experience and facilitate the understanding of complex real-life situations (Soy, 1997). There is a list of advantages in using case studies. First, the analysis of the data often takes place within the context of its implementation. Second, quantitative and qualitative analyses of the data depend on various approaches such as intrinsic, collective or instrumental ones. Third, the thorough qualitative results of various case studies allow exploring or even describing the data in the real-life environment. Furthermore, such approach contributes vastly towards explaining the difficulties of real life situations that can be omitted during experimental or survey research (Zainal, 2007). Despite these advantages, some scholars criticize this research method. There are three types of arguments against the case study research: lack of rigor, lack of generalization and a massive amount of documentation. In spite of all disadvantages of this research method, it is appropriate for this report not only because of data presentation in very publicly accessible ways, but also due to an opportunity of making a content analysis in the study.

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In order to carry out a content analysis, it is necessary to prepare a suitable material. Thus, the source of the study is publications of Forbes magazine. In accordance with the uses and gratifications theory, the process of using the media and their influence is caused by many factors. Attention of the media consumers to the content of media information is determined by their purposes and satisfaction of their needs. The impact of these publications on the thoughts, emotions, and behavior of the audience depends on the behavioral intentions of the latter and the degree of interest in the content of media information. Therefore, having interviewed 20 people concerning the article “Why people love sports” of March 2013 edition, such a result was received: 21% of people decided to read it in order to waste their time, 35% of them were interested in it because of their positive attitude to sport, the rest decided to develop this theme and imagine themselves in this situation. Certainly, everything also depends on interests of people. A person, who goes in for sports and tries to have both mind and body in excellent shape and free from disease and pain, would be interested in this article. The next article, on which the study was based, is “Three truths for highly-paid experts” of March 2013 edition. Twenty people of different ages were asked concerning this article. People between the age of 15 and 30 answered that the idea of this article is brilliant and decided to try such a way of earning money, but people of over 30 told that it was not a serious article. Thus, the phrase, “It’s time to monetize what you know on-line” (Burchard, 2013, p. 34), can be interpreted in a different way. Some of them even decided to use such a service; they suggested that it would be useful for people, who were single. In order to continue this research, the articles of February 2013 edition were also studied. The article “Grace hears the balance beam calling” is the only one that attracted the attention of all reviewed people, nobody remained unconcerned after reading the words “but at this moment, she’s fighting cancer” (Founder, 2013, p. 67). This is an article where social factors can be involved. Social situation  gives rise  to certain  values, namely the  affirmation  and reinforcement,  which  are  facilitated  by  the consumption of congruent media materials (Katz, Blumler & Gurevitch, 1973-1974, p. 517). Then, the next heading was “Colorado Mountain Estate”. The reaction was different, 18% of people decided to imagine their vacation, 25% of them set a goal to earn money and visit this place, 15% read it in order to waste their time, and the others were irritated because of lack of money on such a vacation. Thus, the studies allow one to understand the principles of individual media use and consequences of it. On the basis of received data of the content analysis, it has become clear that the media consumers have the following motives: training, habit, sociability, relaxation and leisure activity. 

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According to other researches, it is difficult to affirm that the results of this study are fully correct. Rubin made a review of the critical literature on the uses and gratifications theory and highlighted a number of key hypotheses. It has excessively individualized approach. The emphasis on individual differences leads to the fact that research results are difficult to apply to all media consumers or to the society in general. Meanwhile, audience can select appropriate media or content that is interesting for them in an unintentional way, there is a substantial degree of rationality in this choice (Chandler, 1994). In recent years, however, the reliability of the results of repeated studies contributed to the generalization of data. In order to compare the received study with the results of other analyses, it is necessary to address the study conducted by Ebersole (2000), who explored the ways, in which some students perceive the WWW, as well as the impacts of their opinions and attitudes on their use of this medium with an educational purpose. According to Ebersole (2000), there were several studies conducted that focus on the uses and gratifications approach, when studying the Internet. In his study, Charney emphasized that students use  the Internet in order to be informed, entertainment, as well as be able to communicate with others (as cited in Ebersole, 2000). According to Kaye, the study of WWW usage by college students allowed distinguishing 6 categories, namely  information, communication, entertainment, escape and even passing the time (as cited in Ebersole, 2000). Since the focus on the use of the media can also be described as either ritualized or instrumental, where the ritualized use refers to the habitual consumption of media information to fill the free time or a distraction from problems, while instrumental use means active and purposeful usage of the media. When comparing these two studies, it becomes clear that they involve both instrumental and ritualized use, since people, who were interviewed, used the media for different goals and had their own motives. According to the percentage ratio of these studies, people use the media in order to entertain, receive personal information, obtain knowledge and waste time. However, this comparison is questionable because of distinctive parameters of each study. It is a disputable question whether the comparison of these studies is accurate, because these studies were conducted in different conditions, the groups of people were also different in these studies, and the material, on which the researches were based, was also different. According to the uses and gratifications theory, the differences between members of the audience cause the individual use of media information and individual response to it. In addition, members of the audience have different levels of activity (in the use of media or involvement in them), and the activity and motives of media information choice of individual members of the audience can vary. Thus, the results of these studies are difficult to apply to all media consumers and society in general.

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The media play a key role in forming the public consciousness. According to the uses and gratification theory, the audience is the customer of the information that he or she is interested in. People select the information in the media according to their psychological characteristics and goals, such as increasing of educational level in certain areas, entertainment, overcoming of loneliness, escape from reality and others. Although media consumers can use the media for a variety of reasons, for entertainment or educational information, but this information is always used or selected to meet the needs and demands of the audience. Therefore, people can use the media not only as a source of entertainment or information, but also for many other purposes. Relying on the facts of studies, the uses and gratifications theory can have future perspectives, since it is the theory that can help everyone to answer why and how people use the media.

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