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Alfred de Grazia: Discovering National Elites





Whereas in the last section the vulnerability of individual influentials to the media was discussed, the subject here is the vulnerability of groups of elite to the media. Since one of the characteristics of the mass communications media is multiplicity of contacts with an audience, here is perhaps the more effective use. The mass media message is duplicated; it goes out in the same form to all recipients; it is very often in a permanent or semi permanent form.

At the same time, the very asset of multiplicity of contacts creates a basic problem: How to find media weapons which are concentrated enough to reach the target elite  –  or at least, how to eliminate the media which have such a broad circulation that most of the multiplicity of contacts is a waste, as far as reaching the targets is concerned?


XXVII-1. Finding elite media. Some general characteristics of what will be called "elite media" may be helpful. In the United States, the advertiser frequently speaks of "class" magazines. He means publications which go mainly to members of upper socio-economic groups which contain a large part of the total elite of the U.S.A. If he wishes to advertise a product which is merchantable only to persons of upper economic status, he will use a "class" publication with the knowledge that almost all of the readers of his advertising will be in a position to buy. Very definitely, he will not use a magazine with a mass audience, which will charge him for circulation which is of little or no value to him, since most of the readers will be in no position to buy.

The American magazine field provides another example. Whenever a magazine publisher discovers a group of people with a common interest, who are also in a position to desire a special class of products or services, he creates a new magazine for them and is usually successful. Some of these specialized publications may be elite around their profession, business activity, hobby or field of knowledge.

With the advent of televisions, the U.S. has seen the creation of "class" audiences even in the field of radio which has remained the medium most unspecialized (in a total sense), though even here there is a long history of creating programs to tie persons of similar interests together. Lately, there have arisen stations and programming practices which seek out an "elite" audience rather than a mass audience. Some stations have even discovered the possibility of operating on a subscription basis by presenting programs which an intellectual sub-elite is willing to pay for.

Distributors of movies have also developed means of serving a "class" audience, even though the film produced by Hollywood is designed for a mass audience. The distributors have set up in recent years theaters which offer diet of foreign movies, appealing to an intellectual sub-elite. The audience is small, but it is faithful, and the specialized theater exists by serving it.

While trends in the book industry have recently been in the reverse direction (especially with paper-back books creating a mass audience where none previously existed), in the book publishing field, the approach has very often been that of estimating whether a special group would be willing to pay for volume appealing to their interests. And the price of the finished book often serves as an indicator of the "eliteness" of the audience, the combination of willingness and ability to pay serving as signs of higher economic status and perhaps special knowledge or interest.

These examples should serve to give an American frame of reference, at least for the concept of elite media. The problem of finding elite media abroad will not be nearly as great as it is in the U.S. In general, the rest of the world has a relatively undeveloped media system, with not all nations having true mass newspapers, less having mass magazines or mass distribution of books. Radio does represent a mass medium almost everywhere, although there may be portions of the radio programming which are directed to an elite. In many nations this may mean that even the daily newspaper is an elite medium, at least of the intellectual elite if not of the prime influentials. The long range tendency is for this condition to change in the direction of the media structure of the U.S. and other nations with high literacy and sufficient wealth to support mass media. But, in spite of this trend, the existence of elite media within the total mass media structure can normally be expected.

XXVII-2. Relating size to influence. One of the dangers of media analysis is that "power of the press," for example, is so often equated with gross size. In his search, the operator may usually rule out size of total audience as an important factor. Actually, he may expect more often to find a significant correlation between small size and membership in the elite media group. A political scientist, C.J. Friedrich, discussing a number of small circulation American publications of influence said that they made up a group whose "influence and significance seems to be in inverse proportion to the number of its readers." (Constitutional Government and Democracy, 1950, p.527.)

To use American examples, the operator should be much more interested in the New York Herald - Tribune with only 300,000 subscribers than in the powerful New York News with its several million; in The Atlantic, rather than Look or Reader’s Digest. In England, he would be more interested in the Manchester Guardian than in theNews of the World, and even more so in the New Statesman and Nation. In Italy, he would pay less attention to Oggiand more to Candido, and II Mondo. In Japan shortly after the war, he might actually have reached more elite through one of the "gorotsuki shimbun" (racketeering blackmail sheets) than through Asahi.

Wherever possession of wealth is a characteristic of the elite, one may also use the most of the publication as a clue. Fortune’s price immediately indicates that it is a publication for an elite. In Italy, the higher cost per copy of Epoca is prima facie evidence that it is read by a higher economic and cultural group than the cheaper news weeklies. The high cost of special semi-confidential news services also tends to indicate that the service is restricted to an economic elite. The American Kiplinger letter is an example of this kind of publication, relatively high in cost and relatively restricted in circulation. Aid in determining the economic level of the audience is provided by the advertising in publications. Advertisements of costly luxury goods indicate one kind of elite audience; advertisements of costly industrial machinery indicate another.

XXVII-3. Privacy of circulation. Another clue is the existence of restrictions upon the circulation of the publication. Thus the Rotarian and Kiwanis magazine are elite publications in America, since they are restricted to members of service clubs which limit themselves to the business elite and sub-elite in their home communities. Many American trade or professional magazines are carefully controlled in circulation, to the extent that subscribers must possess certain characteristics, (such as being a member of the AMA or having passed professional examination in architecture) in order to purchase the magazine Vlast Sovietov designed for Soviet officials, is an organ of this kind, though this publication doesn’t have much use as a channel for U.S. messages. Another characteristic of the restricted clientele publication is that it will usually be more carefully edited, since its readers will be relatively more expert and more demanding. This screening of the content, of course, will make the publication more credible to the consumer, but will also pose added difficulty in moulding the operator’s intent and style to its columns.

XXVII-4. Determining political ties of media. A fairly obvious measure of elite status of a publication is its political affiliation. If power is concentrated in a single party, one need spend little time with the organs of the out-of-power groups. If there are several parties with power, the operator must know the organs most likely to reach the party elite most relevant to his mission. Thus, in Uruguay, if he seeks to reach the Catholic elite, he would be more effective in a publication going exclusively to the Catholic elite. In Italy, in 1953, he would communicate with more monarchist elite in Candido and with more leftist-liberal influentials through Il Mondo.

XXVII-5. Relating level of media to probable audience Another clue to elite status of a publication is the educational level of its content. American studies have clearly shown a hierarchy of difficulty in the written content of different publications, which serves as a kind of measure of the elite or non-elite status of the publication.

The work of Flesh is best known in this field. His measurements show that there is a tremendous difference in the "readability" of a confessional magazine, for example, and of a "quality" magazine such as Harpers. To the extent that intellectual attainment is a mark of the elite, it can be expected that the less readable publication, in Flesch’s terms, will be more elite publication.

XXVII-6. Relating language-choice to probable audience. Another kind of clue may exist, particularly in relatively "new" national statues which still have many cultural attachments to a former colonial power. The use of the language of the former colonial overlord may be a mark of the present ruling elite and may also mean that publications in that language are essentially in the elite group. The English-language The Times of India, for example, continues to be regarded as an influential paper. An historical example of a related type is provided by the aristocratic elite of the late Czarist Russia, who became exceedingly "frenchified" and who were more easily reached at that time through French books and publications than through publications in their own language. The possibility that a foreign group is powerful in its own right in an area also may make the foreign language publication a member of the elite media group.

On the other hand, strong nationalistic tendencies may also be present in "new" states, making use of media not in the national language a contra-norm activity and sometimes resulting in the elite particularly eschewing the practice. There are indications that such a condition exists in Israel. The Arab states also show some resistance to information sources identified with their former masters. A study of editors in five Arab states revealed that they had strong feelings that foreign-owned news agencies which serve them were actually propaganda agencies of the governments in which their headquarters were located, despite repeated assurances by the agencies that they were operating independently.

XXVII-7. Finding elite at special media events. If there are any physical gatherings of influentials into an audience, as for a film, this also may provide clues to the operator about elite media. Not only the public, but the private advance preview (especially in the U.S.) are attended by community influentials. If film previews are used in the target area, the operator may get information not only on media receptivity and channels, but also on the composition of the elite. Similarly, the advance distribution lists of books may offer clues as to both receptivity and composition. The operator who develops contacts with officials of a publishing house, for example, would get information on the "advance" distribution list, providing himself with an elite audience for an American book, and also learning more about the composition of general and specialized elites in the target.

XXVII-8. Radio program elites. Radio stands as the media best deserving the adjective "mass" and this is particularly true of radio abroad. Its inexpensiveness per person reached, the fact that it can reach illiterates, the simultaneousness of its communication  –  all work toward using it as an instrument to address the mass rather than the elite. However, as was remarked, there is a degree of specialization of programming which sometimes may mean that a particular audience is principally made up of influentials rather than mass. The B.B.C. "Third Programme" is one example, of course. There may also be programs that even though directed at the mass, may by their nature have a large percentage of the elite as listeners. It is very probable that in Mexico, members of the elite are numerous among the listeners to "La Hora Nacional" (the weekly "report to the people" of the Mexican government, carried on all stations.) The radio speech of a top influential, while it is aimed at a mass audience, will also be heard by many influentials. There are also some indications that radio messages aimed at the mass of a population have had an effect upon the elite of that population, since they will be the only groups who can violate with impunity the regulations which forbid listening. Goebbel’s diary remarked upon the effect of monitoring allied broadcasts upon members of his propaganda ministry, and individuals in Japan who studied radio broadcasts report similar effects. In the main, however, radio should probably be regarded by the operator as a shotgun with "so much spread" that can only reach the elite target by hitting a mass target.

XXVII-9. Reaching elite through mass media. While this discussion has "played down" the mass circulation newspaper as a potential channel to the elite, the operator should not totally ignore it. In the first place, its content is predominantly about the elite, their activities, their orders, their accomplishments. Studies of American newspapers of "mass appeal" show that the names mentioned are overwhelmingly those of individuals who are in the first or second levels of the power structure. Names of persons at the bottom of the power structure enter news columns most often when they figure in crime, accidents and disasters, and court actions. Since most foreign publications do not have the inclination  –  or the space  –  to handle such news, it is likely that the content will be even more heavily weighted with information about influentials. Studies of readership of American newspapers cited above also indicate that the upper socio-economic groups read more of the news which contains informatic group, influentials will be readers of the mass newspapers to a considerable extent.

The departmentalization of newspapers in America suggests another possible approach; i.e. to identify sections of the paper which are designed to appeal to the elite or sub-elite. While direct counterparts of the American gossip column, capital city "dope column," of "society chatter column" are not found in foreign newspapers, analagous sections may be located in some. Certainly many foreign papers are effective in reaching the intellectual elite with cultural sections which are far more developed than those of all but a few U.S. newspapers.

XXVII-10. Receptivity of special "gate-keepers of the media. Location of the elite media is a considerable task and a relatively unfruitful one, unless the operator knows how to get messages into the media, having located them. This is essentially a problem in assessing the vulnerabilities and receptivities of media influentials who will stand in the way of the operator or will actively aid him, depending upon their attitudes and the impression he makes upon them.

The first point to stress is that the operator should clearly perceive his relationship with media personnel: he wants something from them, i.e. he wants them to place his message in their medium in a form which will be to his own advantage. Almost all media personnel, no matter how naive, how lacking in financial resources, how limited their abilities, perceive this upon first contact with the message-bearer. It is their brief time of power. They have him at their mercy.

The American public relations man who is effective recognizes this and works to obscure this relationship by concentrating the attention of media personnel on what he can do for them. He creates such a strong picture in their minds of him as a useful, accurate, helpful, cooperative individual that the other relationships all but forgotten. The by-product of this is that eventually his messages go through unchallenged. While the operator will usually not have time to use this principle to its fullest extent, he will find that the placement of a message becomes a much simpler operation if he keeps this relationship in mind. If he spends some time discovering the needs and wants of the medium and its personnel, if he uses ingenuity in satisfying them, then his message will be transmitted in just the form he wishes.

XXVII-11. Content study by the "market" method. Somewhat the same information may be pointed up by recounting the advice invariably given to the beginning freelance writer in America. It is simply this: "Study the market." (I.e. Study the magazine or other medium to which you hope to sell and write an article or script which is slanted to fit that publication.) The failures among freelance writers are many and most of them failed in this simple assignment; the few who succeed are almost always experts in analyzing markets. Some are so experts that they can take the same material and sell it to one magazine after another, simply by reslanting it each time. The operator is in exactly this position; he has fundamentally one message and he must sell it over and over again. The way to do it is to slant it to fit the medium.

Additional advice here is really little more than elaboration of what has just been said. Consider the physical form of the medium; can it use pictorial material? Will it want articles ready to go to the printer? Or is it more receptive to story suggestions which will be developed by a staff member? Does it have deadlines? Does it operate considerably in advance of publication date? Does it have technical requirements? (As size of film for a television station or movie house, or kind of engraving for a magazine, or kind of mat for a newspaper). Is the editor or program director personally interested in some phase of the news? Or the arts? Or the theater? Or science? Or agriculture? Are the media personnel most impressed by the big name? (The ghost-written article may be the answer.) Is there a possibility of  –  to use a term from press agentry  –  "planting the message with a local journalist and letting it find its way into the media by this indirect but effective means?

XXVII-12. Role of freelancers. This last suggestion merits some additional consideration. If the media system of the target area depends to a large extent upon freelance journalists, it may be a particularly effective one. In some foreign areas, even newspapers are dependent upon freelancers to a considerable extent. If there is any receptivity for U.S.A. messages, the operator can often place the message with such a journalist with full expectation that it will be disseminated. Direct control of the message must be surrendered, although often the writer may be willing to have his copy checked "for accuracy" (rather than for anything suggesting "censorship"). This approach is widely used by American public relations men with magazine freelancers, and frequently pays dividends. One of the merits of this approach for the operator is that it puts the shoe on the other foot as far as the relationship between him and the message-carrier is concerned. The local journalist is now in the position of "wanting something." This may mean that the operator actually ends up with more control of the content of the message than if he delivered it directly to the medium.

XXVII-13. Sources of media intelligence. Directories of the press, radio, magazines, etc., if they exist, should be used, along with any of the considerable volume of United Nations material which may be available. (Such as Freedom of Information, U.N. Department of Social Affairs, 1950, Vol. I and II, which has a wealth of information on press law, journalistic codes of ethics, etc.) If specialized trade magazines designated for media personnel are published they also should be checked. Most larger states today have journalism programs in their universities, which will usually indicate the collection of publishing materials as well as the presence of specialists. An American publication regularly reports on foreign press and radio as well as providing a bibliography of foreign articles. However, its coverage is not very broad. A special problem is the availability of specialized publications of the types we have referred to. Many will not be sold in the customary channels but will be found in larger local libraries. Others will have to be obtained directly form influentials who are readers of them.

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