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Lasswell's Model of Mass Communication

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Harold Lasswell's model of mass communication was designed to focus on the goals of media propaganda. In this lesson, you'll learn more about his model and the five components that make it up.

Media Messages

In 1967, in the midst of the Vietnam War, the now-defunct Washington Star newspaper ran a photo of an anti-war demonstrator placing a carnation in the barrel of a soldier's rifle. The photo, later dubbed ''Flower Power,'' was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize the same year. Half a decade later, people are still talking about the anti-war sentiment that populated most of the news during that period in history.

Twenty years before Vietnam, communications theorist Harold Lasswell developed a model of mass communication to study media propaganda using five questions: Who? Said What? In Which Channel? To Whom? With What Effect? Propaganda is biased information used to sway public perception in one way or the other. Using Lasswell's model in the instance of ''Flower Power,'' we could determine that the newspaper presented a message of anti-war beliefs through print media to the American public to sway opinion about the war movement.

Laswell's model of mass communication, one of the earliest communication models available, was built as an analytical tool for researching and analyzing mass communication and propaganda. The communication theorist believed that mass communication happens for three reasons:

  • Surveillance of the environment: News outlets observing and reporting on events happening in the world.
  • Correlation of components of society: The ways in which new outlets select and interpret the news.
  • Transmission of culture between generations: What viewers take away from the way the news is reported.

In short, Lasswell believed that the media, in the way it reported the news, had the ability to impact what its viewers believed about the stories. Using his model of mass communication, it would be simpler to identify who was distributing the message, what they were saying and to whom, and what the impact of that message might be. That leads us to the five components of the model.

Components of Lasswell's Model

The answers to five simple questions can help us understand the role propaganda can play in culture, according to Lasswell. They are:

Who?

The Who in Lasswell's model is the one creating the message and communicating it. This component of the model represents control analysis, or who has the control over the message being disseminated. It is helpful for identifying who is behind the news we receive. Researchers could observe the ideology of the company behind a newspaper or television station and what political allegiances it might have.

Said What?

The second question in Lasswell's model is Says What, as in what is the ''Who'' saying? Answering it involves content analysis of the message being delivered. Lasswell was particularly concerned with the ideas behind the message being presented to the audience. Researchers might look at how certain groups are portrayed in the media in this step, for instance.

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