Theorists of communication

David Berlo (1929-1996)

By Mouza Al Mehairi

The theorist David Kenneth Berlo was born in 1929 and died in 1996. Berlo got his doctorate in journalism in 1956 from the University of Illinois. Berlo founded the department of Communications at Michigan State University. Served as its chair from 1958-1971. He then left the communication department in Michigan state university to be the president of Illinois state university. Served for 20 months only from 1971-1973, reason of leaving the president was because of accusations that he used unauthorized funds to complete the new presidential house.

Berlo was known from his adapted theory, which is the SMCR. His theory is an adaptation of the Shannon-Weaver Model, which is basically the information source, transmitter, channel, receiver and destination. The Shannon-Weaver model is considered to be the mother of all models. Berlo’s theory SMCR (The Source-Message-Channel-Receiver) Model of the communication process expands on their model.

By source, Berlo means that all human communication starts by source, source has to be expressed by message, source can be by how the communication skill is, attitudes, knowledge or culture. From source to message it travels by encoding the message, which is the content, element of the message or the code. From message to channel to send the message, channel can either be hearing, seeing, touching or smelling or tasting. From channel to receiver, the message gets decoded; the receiver can decode it by the culture, by communication skills, by knowledge and so on.

Berlo’s theory is based on the surroundings of the communication process. He believed that communication is a cultural exchange. In his model, communication can be interfered with by noise that distracts receiver of the message that is being sent.

Edward Bernays (1891-1995)

By Fatema Al Khateeb

“In Public Relations, just as in law, you don’t —nobody knows who the lawyer of most people is, and that lawyer may do more than the brain of the man who is theoretically doing it… And I think it should be that way because nobody knows who my doctor is. I mean, except my friends. And he may be the basis of my living.” – Edward L. Bernays

Edward Louis Bernays, born on November 22, 1891, was an Austrian-American pioneer in the field of Public Relations and Propaganda. In the early 1900s Bernays was seen as the architect of modern propaganda and today known as “the father of public relations”.

His career started when he found a fateful marriage between theories of mass psychology and schemes of corporate and political persuasion. In 1917, during the First World War, Bernays served the U.S. Committee of Public Information by packaging and selling the war to the public as one that would “Make the World Safe for Democracy”.

In 1928, Bernays published his well-known and influential book Propaganda. In Propaganda (1928), Bernays argued that the manipulation of public opinion was a necessary part of democracy.

Did you know?

  • Edward Bernays was the double nephew of Sigmund Freud.
  • At age 28, Bernays opened the first PR firm.
  • In 1929 Bernays initiated and led the “Torches of Freedom” public relations campaign which equated smoking with women’s rights.
  • To Bernays, PR was about fashioning and projecting credible rendition of reality itself.
  • On March 9, 1995 Bernays died at age 103.

[Reference: PR, A Social History of Spin by Stuart Ewen (1996)]

Noam Chomsky (1928-)

By Fatema Al Jawder

“If we don’t believe in the freedom of press for the people we despise, then we don’t believe in it at all.” — Chomsky

This theorist was born in Philadelphia, POa., on 7 December 1928. He has dazzled the whole world with his work, although some governments would rather he stay silent on politics and governance. He is an American linguist, philosopher, journalist, logician, cognitive scientist political commentator and activist, and the author of more than 100 books.

Noam was very curious person, and the early events that he encountered at the beginning of his life shaped part of his later path. The great depression also influenced him a lot. Although he came from a middle class, he could see the injustice going on, he witnessed security officers beat women strikers outside of a textile plant.

Chomsky was raised with a younger brother, David. His mother, Elsie Chomsky, and his father William were both Russian Jewish immigrants. Elsie though was an active in the radical politics of the 1930s. While his father was a respected professor of Hebrew at Gratz College, an institution for teacher’s training. His works and life where truly affected by the paths that his parents took.

Even when Chomsky got married, linguistics where attending the ceremony! Carol Schatz, the woman Chomsky married in 1949, whom he had known since they were both kids, was actually an educational specialist in the field of language acquisition in children. They were married for 59 years, and had three children.

Chomsky Attended the University of Pennsylvania for both his under and postgraduate degrees. Yet, he executed some of his research and writing at Harvard University. He has received several honorary degrees.

In 1979, Chomsky co-authored a two-volume The Political Economy of Human Rights, comparing U.S. media reactions to the Cambodian genocide and the Indonesian genocide in East Timor. The argument was that the U.S. media ignored the East Timorian situation and focused on the Cambodian one, because the earlier was a U.S. ally while the latter is an enemy.

Some of Chomsky books & essays related to media & communications:

  • Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (with Edward Herman).
  • Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda.
  • The journalist from Mars (a talk given in New York January 23, 2002, from the media control book)

One linguistic theory that Chomsky had was the (LAD), language Acquisition Device, which is the instinctive mental capacity which enables an infant to acquire and produce language. Yet he later abandoned it to embrace the Universal Grammar theory. This theory suggests that linguistic ability manifests itself without being taught and that there are properties that all natural human languages share.

John Dewey (1859-1952)

By Mohammed Madouh

John Dewey was a psychologist and a philosopher born in 1859 was one of the greatest characters in the communication and journalism world whose ideas have been influential and part of the reforming movement in communication theory. Dewey was famous and well known among communication and journalist since he is the one defined in depth many theories in communication including social theory, aesthetics and ethics.

Dewey studied in the University of Chicago in 1894 where he dedicated his believes into pragmatic philosophy resulting in publishing four major essays under the studies of logical theories, social progress, human nature and conduct and finally theory inquiry.

Dewey’s work reflected his believes in democracy, politics and communication and journalism, his famous quote which is considered visible front view in the University of Michigan “Democracy the one ultimate, ethical ideal of humanity are the minds synonymous”.

His ideas have been exceptionally considered as a spring of inspiration, some might say the birth of communication and journalism of democracy, his main believe that communication creates a well formed citizens and those who participate actively with public life contribute to well build community and constitutes the idea of democracy.

George Gerbner (1919-2005)

By Roudha Abdulbasit

George Gerbner lived during a time of turbulence. He was a Hungarian who was forced to flee to Cuba to escape conscription into the pro-Nazi Hungarian army. From Cuba, he traveled to the U.S. where he studied journalism at the University of California in Berkeley, and then worked as a writer and editor of The San Francisco Chronicle. He was later permitted to join the U.S. Army to work in the office of strategic command, and then in the secret intelligence group. Upon the Germans’ defeat, he helped arrest pro-Nazi Hungarian Prime Minister to be tried as a war criminal (George Gerbner Archive, n.d.).

Once he was back in the U.S, he obtained both his master’s degree and Ph. D. from the University of California. Gerbner explained that he studied communications when it barely existed because he believed that it’s where all the action lies. Finally, he joined the University of Pennsylvania as the dean of Annenberg School for Communication and turned it into a “national leader in communication research” (George Gerbner Archive, n.d.).

Gerbner’s studies revolved around the cause and prevention of violence, which became the longest running research on the effects of television; it is named The Cultural Indicators Project. He was also the president of the Cultural Environment Movement; an association that aimed to change media policies and practices (Signorielli, 2005).

Gerbner is also the father of the Cultivation Theory. It suggests that mass media shapes the social reality of the viewers, which then translates into their culture through nurturing norms and attitudes that are already there (University of Twente, n.d.). He stated that viewers learn their cultural identity through “conglomerates who have something to sell,” instead of the usual social interactions with peers and institutions. He devised this as the Mean World Syndrome, in which the media encourages a mindset centered on violence (Associated Press, 2006).

Stuart Hall (1932-2014)

By Sahar Farhat

Stuart Hall, a cultural theorist, was born in Jamaica in 1932 and who took the first opportunity to flee to Britain, in 1951, by getting a scholarship opportunity at the University of Oxford, where he completed his MA and started his PhD Program, which he later abandoned to focus on his political work, as there were several big political events taking place. Even though a cultural theorist himself, Hall was very much interested in politics and political debate. In Jamaica he was active in the emerging anti colonial politics and, after quitting his Ph.D., he founded the “New Left Review” in 1960, a leftist publication.

In 1964, Hall married Catherine Hall, a feminist professor teaching modern history at the University College London. That same year, his career had a major tipping point as he joined the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University as a fellow researcher to later become the director in 1968.

In the early 1970s his media interests started and, three years later, in 1973, Hall wrote an influential article on “The Encoding / Decoding Model of Communication”, which I believe was a major contribution to communication theory.

In 1979, he was appointed professor of Sociology at the Open University and retired in 1997. He died in 2014 from kidney problems.

Harold D. Lasswell (1902-1978)

By Amnah Alkaabi

Harold D. Lasswell was born on 13 February 1902 in Donnellson, Illinois, a small town in the Midwest of the United States. His father was a Presbyterian minister, and his mother was a school teacher.

When he was at the high school, he was known as a genius. Lasswell was editor of his high school newspaper. For his success he received a scholarship to the prestigious University of Chicago when he was only 16 years old .

He was a well organized student who loved to study and research. When he became interested in a subject, he could retain huge amount of information and understand much of the data and categorize them in an orderly manner.

He was always lonely and this maybe because of his older brother death when he was 5 years old. He never got married and did not have children. He devoted his entire life to his work and research.

Lasswell received his doctoral degree from the University of Chicago in 1926. He wrote a book called Propaganda Technique in the World War. The scholar created a significant model of communication: Who says What to Whom with What effect. He was one of the most influential political scientists and communication theorists of his time.

 Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann (1916-2010)

By Mariam Al Mheiri

In an attempt to explain public opinion, the German scientist Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann introduced the theory of spiral of silence. It all started when she wondered why the Germans supported political positions that led to national disaster under the Nazis in the 1930s-1940s.

The spiral of silence, refers to the tendency of people to remain silent when they feel that their views are in opposition to the majority view. The model is based on three premises 1) people have a sixth-sense which allows them to know the prevailing public opinion, even without access to polls, 2) people have a fear of isolation and know what behaviors will increase their probability of being socially isolated, and 3) people are reticent to express their minority views, primarily out of isolation fear. Neumann suggested that the closer a person believes the opinion held is similar to the prevailing public opinion, the more they are vocal about their opinion in public.

However, if public sentiment changes, the person will recognize that the opinion is less in favor and will be less willing to express that opinion publicly. As the perceived distance between public opinion and a person’s personal opinion grows, the more unlikely the person is to express their opinion, as shown in the model below.

The media plays a role in the spiral of silence. As it accelerate the muting of the minority and work simultaneously with majority public opinion. Last but not least, the theory has been criticized for ambiguity and methodological weakness but the idea has persisted.

Everett Rogers (1931-2004)

By Mohammed Al Neyadi

Everett Rogers was born in 6 March 1931 at Pinehurst Farm in Carroll, Iowa. He was professor and chair of the department of communication and journalism at the University of New Mexico. His wife was Dr. Corinne Shefner-Rogers and they had two sons, David Rogers and Everett King. He went to Iowa State University where he studied a degree in agriculture. He then went to Korea where he served in war for two years and returned back to Iowa State  to study for a Ph.D. in sociology and statistics in 1952.

Everett Rogers wrote a book called Diffusion of Innovations, which was published in 1962.

His research and work became widely accepted in communications and technology adoption studies and also found its way into a variety of other social science studies. He was capable of relating his communications research to practical health problems such as family planning, cancer prevention, hygiene and drunk driving. In 1990s, he turned his attention to the field of entertainment education where he came up with a radio drama designed to improve public health in Tanzania. Later in 1995, after the Korean War, he moved to the University of New Mexico, where he was distinguished professor emeritus at UNM.

Rogers suffered from kidney disease and retired from UNM in the summer of 2004 and died just few months later.

 Pamela J. Shoemaker (1950-)

By Muwadda AlMarri

Pamela J. Shoemaker teaches at the Samuel Irving Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. Dr. Shoemaker served as the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications in 1995-1996 and has served on the editorial boards of several major journals in the mass communications field. She was previously the director of the School of Journalism at Ohio State and earlier was on the faculty of the University of Texas. Shoemaker holds a master of science in communication and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Ohio University.

Shoemaker is the author of Gatekeeping (Sage, 1991), Mediating the Message: Theories of Influences on Mass Media Content (with Stephen D. Reese, Longman Publishers, 1996) and News Around the World: Practitioners, Content, and the Public (with A. Cohen, 2006).

Shoemaker’s major contribution to communication theory and research is gatekeeping. She explained how making choices in many contexts and how choices shape the perceptive worlds in which we all live. According to Shoemaker and Tim Vos, gatekeeping is the “process of culling and crafting countless bits of information into the limited number of messages that reach people everyday, and it is the center of the media’s role in modern public life. This process determines not only which information is selected, but also what the content and nature of the messages, such as news, will be.”


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