GCSE Media Studies Key Terms

This page should act as a checklist for the important terms in GCSE Media Studies - a useful revision aid. These are all concepts and words that you need to understand, and you may be called upon to explain your understanding in an exam. You will find information in your textbooks or you can always ask your teacher to explain a word or a concept in more detail.

You can find topic-related glossaries elsewhere on Mediaknowall.

This list is just a starter to help all of you who have emailed me to request one. I will add to it and build on it as time goes by. Don't forget to use the Search This Site page to see what context these terms may be used in. You may also have a number of specialist terms associated with particular media forms that you have been studying e.g. newspapers. It will help you if you keep your own glossary, and note down new terms and their meanings as you come across them.

Got a question? Ask for help on the Facebook page.


Anchorage Fixing of meaning

eg the copy text anchors (ie fixes to one spot) the meaning of an image (for instance, a single rose, that could be used for an ad for anything from a dating agency to a funeral home) in a print advertisement

Antagonist The character whose function in a plot is to oppose the protagonist. In straightforward hero's journey plots (most action adventures), the antagonist can be referred to as the villain. However, in character drama, the antagonist might not be a "bad" character, just someone who stands between the protagonist and his/her goals.
Archetype A universal type or model of character that is found in many different texts, e.g. ingenue, anti-hero, wise old woman, hero-as-lover, hero-as-warrior, shadow trickster, mentor, loyal friend, temptress
Audience The recipients of a media text, or the people who are intended to read or watch or play or listen to it. A great deal of media studies work is concerned with the effects a text may have on an audience.
Binary Opposition The contrast between two mutually exclusive concepts or things that creates conflict and drives a narrative e.g. good/evil, day/night, male/female, presence/absence, old/young
Censorship Control over the content of a media text. Different media forms have different forms of censorship - sometimes from a government, but mainly from a regulatory agency, eg the British Board of Film Classification
CGI Computer Generated Imagery. Refers to the (usually) 3-D effects that enhance all kinds of still and moving images, from text effects, to digital snow or fire, to the generation of entire landscapes.
Code A system of signs which can be decoded to create meaning.

In media texts, we look at a range of different signs that can be loosely grouped into the following:

  • technical codes - all to do with the way a text is technically constructed - camera angles, framing, typography etc
  • verbal codes - everything to do with language -either written or spoken
  • symbolic codes - codes that can be decoded on a mainly connotational level - all the things which draw upon our experience and understanding of other media texts, our cultural frame of reference.

Way in which meaning is created —

  • Connote = meaning by association, the deeper meaning (e.g. red connotes anger, passion, love, danger)
Convention The widely recognised way of doing something - this has to do with content, style and form

eg the conventions of music video

  • they are the same length as the song (somewhere around 4 minutes, say)
  • they present the band, who look as though they are singing
  • they have lots of fast edits
Convergence The way in which technologies and institutions come together in order to create something new. Cinema is the result of the convergence of photography, moving pictures (the kinetoscope, zoetrope etc), and sound. The iPad represents the convergence of books, TV, maps, the internet and the mobile phone.
Demographic Factual characteristics of a population sample, e.g. age, gender, race, nationality, income, disability, education.

Way in which meaning is created —

  • Denote = literal or surface meaning e.g. red is the colour of a flower
Editorial In a newspaper, Editorial refers to the opinion pieces (sometimes known as 'leading articles') written by senior reporters. Editorial in a magazine refers to the feature content that reflects the ethos of the publication

A question that is not immediately answered and thus draws an audience into a text

eg. a body is discovered at the beginning of a tv detective drama. The killer's identity is an enigma. We watch to find out who the killer is.

Gatekeeping Quite an old-fashioned term to describe the way in which certain key personnel (news editors, newspaper owners mainly) have control over the information that is presented to audiences, and the way in which it is presented (the angle)
Genre A way of categorising a media text according to its form, style and content. This categorisation is useful for producers (who can utilise a genre's conventions) and audiences (who can utilise their expectations of the genre) alike
Globalisation Process by which different cultures worldwide have come to share the same media texts e.g. movies and pop music.
Ideology This is a complex concept - in its basic form it is a set of ideas or beliefs which are held to be acceptable by the creators of a media text. For example, a text might be described as having a feminist ideology, meaning it promotes the idea that women are the equal of men and should not be discriminated against on the grounds of gender.
Institution A formal organization (with its own set of rules and behaviours) that creates and distributes media texts
Intertextuality The influence that media texts have on each other. Sometimes this is the result of direct cross-references (e.g. music mash ups) or indirect (the way gossip news items regulate the way we view a star's performance)

The way in which a story, or sequence of events, is put together within a text. All media texts have some sort of narrative, from a single photographic image to a sports report to a feature film.

Narrative may be reduced to one simple equation which is

equilibrium - disequilibrium - new equilibrium

Neologism Newly-coined word or phrase made up to describe a new trend, idea or gadget e.g. hopium, agnotology
News Values Ways of categorising and assessing news stories to decide on their newsworthiness
Ownership An important issue in media studies - and a constantly changing one. Who produces and distributes the media texts we read?
POV (Point of View) A first-person camera shot that shows a scene from an individual character's viewpoint. Used to help the audience understand what is happening in a character's head e.g. a predator stalking his/her prey
Preferred Reading The meaning of a text which the producers intended. The opposite of 'preferred reading' is 'aberrant reading', such as when people deliberately interpret a text (the Bible is the source of a lot of mixed messages) to further their political agenda rather than the author's original intent
Protagonist The character who drives the narrative forward, through the choices they make and the actions they take
Realism The techniques by which a media text represents ideas and images that are held to have a true relationship with the actual world around us. Realism means different things in different texts - realism in animation (eg the movement of single hairs in computer animation) means something entirely different to realism in soap opera (eg the depiction of people eating breakfast and talking with their mouths full). it is important to assess how much a text strives for realism, how much audiences are expected to think it is realistic.
Representation The way in which the media "re-presents" the world around us in the form of signs and codes for audiences to read.
Self-Regulation When an institution (the Press, Advertising) appoints a group of individuals whose job is to deal with complaints about that institution
Signs & Signification Sign - a symbol which is understood to refer to something other than itself. This may be very simple - think of a "No Entry" road sign. it may get more complicated when reading media texts, where a sign might be the bright red coat that a character is wearing (which signals that they are dangerous)

Signification - the process of reading signs (see denotation and connotation)

Star A person who has become so famous, both for doing their job (actor, sport player) and appearing in many sorts of media, that their image is instantly recognisable as a sign, with a whole range of meanings or significations

eg - David Beckham's image represents a whole raft of meanings: England, football, wealth, Posh, success, fashion victim, expertise, sexuality etc...

Britney Spears is also a star but her image signifies physical fitness, blonde (+associated stereotypical characteristics), singing, dancing, sexuality, fashion etc...

A star's image becomes a readily recognised sign that is used in many different media forms - think of where you have seen pictures of Britney and Becks. Stars can use the fact that their image has meaning by allowing it to be used for advertising purposes.

Stereotype Stereotypes are negative (usually) representations of people that rely on preconceived ideas about the group that person is perceived as belonging to. It is assumed that an individual shares personal characteristics with other members of that group eg blondes are all stupid, accountants are all boring.

Although using stereotypes saves a lot of explanation within a text, it can be a very lazy method of characterisation. Stereotypes may be considered dangerous, as they encourage audiences to think large groups of people are all the same, and often have the same negative characteristics.

USP Unique Selling Point or Proposition. The attribute of a text or product that is highlighted as being new or unique in the marketing process, something that sets it apart from its competitors