Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Katz and Knowledge Gap Effects

In Elihu Katz’s article “On Conceptualizing Media Effects,” he strategically outlines a number of terms and concepts crucial to understanding the world of media, including uses and gratifications, information diffusion, limited effects and powerful effects of media, and agenda setting, among others.  However, one section in particular struck my interest: “VIII. KNOWLEDGE GAP EFFECTS.”  Katz elaborates on this concept which is related to the topic of powerful effects of media.  Knowledge gap effects refer to the idea that there is an increasing correlation between knowledge and social class, meaning that this knowledge gap is growing, with the help of information provided by media.  As Katz mentioned, “research shows that the relative gain of the better educated will outstrip the improvement of the lesser educated, and thus increase the correlation.  This result, of course, is well explained by the working of selectivity at the individual level, but its disintegrating results can be seen only at the level of the community or the society. (p.127)”  

One interesting point brought up by Katz after examining European research is that media “discrimination” may in fact be deliberate, with the purpose of cornering the lower classes and excluding them from participating in politics.  Katz offers two explanations as to why such a knowledge gap may exist.  The first, and more “dominant” reason is that lower classes may not have the same “frame of reference” or background that may allow individuals of higher socioeconomic standing to thoroughly absorb and retain information.   Members of the lower class may have a more difficult time retaining information and may also have narrower range of interest according to Katz.  Additionally, studies have shown that individuals who are already fairly well-informed will maintain this level of knowledgeableness by seeking out more information.  The second explanation “blames the encoding not the decoding (p.127),” meaning that information provided by the mass media are catered to the middle classes; as a consequence, information becomes irrelevant to lower classes. 

This piece on knowledge gap effects comes to a close with the optimistic view of the existing possibility for this gap to lessen, or even close.  Katz takes on a slightly Marxist perspective, as he describes the positive impact that conflict may have by sparking conversation, which then may create frames of reference, which thus allow for greater equality regarding the “absorption of information across boundaries of class, education, and age. (p.128)”   

Sidenote: Katz also reflects on the effects of media violence on children in section "VII: SOCIALIZATION: THE VIOLENCE STUDIES."  I thought this cartoon was appropriate, as the powerful effects of media may sometimes be overly exaggerated. 


  1. I love the cartoon you posted here! And I definitely agree that the powerful effects of media are sometimes overly exaggerated. I thought it was interesting when Katz argued that media may be catered to the middle class, and so information provided by the mass media becomes irrelevant to the lower class. Is this because the people producing this information also comes from the middle class? Moreover, in order to gather a large enough audience, the mass media will try its best to provide information relevant to its main audience, which will be dominated by the middle class, people who can afford to consume media.

  2. Good way to focus in on a detail in the Katz, Saige. In some respects, the idea that the media may actually be deliberate in its attempts to block out those of lower SES shouldn't be too surprising... as Vivian points out, advertisers would naturally want to target audiences with more disposable income, and remember narrowcasting? Of course, the idea still seems abhorrent because of our ideal of a democratic and egalitarian media system that serves everyone equally, like a public service (and here again is that tension between media as informer and media as entertainment).