In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Community Structure Approach

  • Introduction
  • Core Texts
  • Key Journals
  • Key Contributions to Community Structure Conceptualizations
  • Health and Risk
  • Methodological & Theoretical Innovations

Communication Community Structure Approach
John C. Pollock
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0110


Any annotated bibliography on community structure scholarship must pay homage to an early US founder of both sociology and communication studies disciplines, the University of Chicago’s Robert Park, who in The Immigrant Press and its Control (Park 1922, cited under Core Texts) argued that scholars should pay attention not only to the impact of media on public opinion, but also to the impact of public opinion on media. Although most scholars working in the community structure tradition turn from the traditional perspective of examining the impact of media on society to a reverse perspective of exploring the impact of society on media, all appear convinced that reporting on critical social and political issues mirrors “macro” constructs (such as community characteristics) more closely than “micro” constructs, such as psychological differences among journalists or newsroom organizational differences. Several features of community structure scholarship deserve special attention. First, very few books have been written on community structure theory and empirics. Second, a considerable amount of community structure scholarship has been generated by relatively few scholars and their graduate student progeny at the universities of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Washington State, with additional contributions from the universities of Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio State. As a result, many names repeat themselves in any annotated bibliography, not because of omissions, but rather because most active scholars are deeply committed and productive. Third, a noticeable shift has occurred in the community structure field, from an initial emphasis on media functioning within a broader social system as a mechanism of “social control” reinforcing the interests of elites as social system “guard dogs,” to a view of media functioning as an agent of “social change,” reinforcing community “ties,” participation, and civic engagement, often interacting with vibrant volunteer efforts organized collectively under the umbrella concept “social capital.” Although substantial numbers of researchers traditionally explored community structure at the “institutional” level, focusing on the pluralism or diversity of institutions and organizations, many modern scholars drill into demographic and aggregate indicators to inquire how much media are shaped by the interests of emerging groups, whether African Americans, Latinos, or “vulnerable” groups generally (e.g., those with a significant percentage unemployed or below the poverty level), or “protest” groups such as activists for gay rights. Today’s community structure scholars also pursue myriad methodologies and statistical techniques, reaching beyond a few cities to nationwide, even cross-national, samples of newspapers, creating sophisticated indices measuring “structure” (including, for example, a “gay market index”) as well as multiple media channels, including modern, new media public affairs place blogging.

Core Texts

Building on such classic works of structural sociology as the works of Emile Durkheim, Tönnies 2002, and in the United States, Park 1922 and Janowitz 1952 (both of which are written by scholars at the University of Chicago), the first modern book on what the authors called “structural pluralism,” Community Conflict and the Press, was co-authored by field pioneers Phillip Tichenor, George Donohue, and Clarice Olien at the University of Minnesota (Tichenor, et al. 1980). Moving beyond more traditional psychological and organizational explanations for press behavior, the book focused on “macro” perspectives, proposing that, compared to less complex, less differentiated (smaller) communities, highly differentiated, more pluralist (large) communities are more likely to manifest a wide range of political and social media perspectives. In addition, the authors articulated media systems as imbedded in larger social systems, functioning primarily as a mechanism of “social control” for the larger social system. Stamm 1985 is a book called Newspaper Use and Community Ties: Toward a Dynamic Theory, which traces mutual relationships linking “community ties” (encompassing various kinds of community longevity, membership, and participation) and higher levels of newspaper circulation and readership. Demers and Viswanath 1999, edited by former graduate students of the Minnesota pioneers, is called Mass Media, Social Control, and Social Change: A Macrosocial Perspective, and it collects the work of accomplished community structure scholars, opening discussion of opportunities for media to reflect not simply social control, but also social change. One of the latest books updating community structure scholarship, Pollock 2007, employed modern US Census and newspaper databases to launch the first nationwide community structure studies comparing multiple large metropolitan areas. Previous studies had focused mostly on one state, Minnesota, or only a few counties or cities. In addition, Pollock expanded substantially the range of critical events and critical issues explored by community structure scholars, ranging from stem cell research, capital punishment, and a patient’s bill of rights to gun control, oil drilling in the Arctic, trying juveniles as adults, AIDS, and gay rights. In Australia, Forde, et al. 2009 explores the impact of community radio and television on ethnic and indigenous empowerment and active citizenship. Finally, the most recent book on community structure scholarship, Pollock 2013, collects the work of leading scholars to explore a vast range of community characteristics and to emphasize the role of social inequality as a driver of media coverage “mirroring” the interests of the most “vulnerable” populations.

  • Demers, David P., and Kasisomayajula Viswanath, eds. 1999. Mass media, social control, and social change: A macrosocial perspective. Ames: Iowa State Univ. Press.

    An update of the original material of Tichenor, et al. 1980 with elaborate theoretical buttressing and multiple new directions for structural pluralism research. Journalism is positioned as a significant bellwether not simply of social control, but also of social change. At the time the volume was published, it offered an unusual, innovative scholarly perspective on connections between structural characteristics and media alignment with social change.

  • Forde, Susan, Michael Meadows, and Kerrie Foxwell. 2009. Developing dialogues: Indigenous and ethnic community broadcasting in Australia. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    This is one of the most comprehensive studies yet undertaken about the collapse of producer/audience boundaries in ethnic and indigenous community broadcasting. Using their original research on multiple audiences in Australia, the authors find that community radio and television everywhere offer significant benefits to indigenous and ethnic audiences, advancing their empowerment at various levels, facilitating an active citizenry, and promoting democracy. This was also published by Intellect Books.

  • Janowitz, Morris. 1952. The community press in an urban setting. Chicago and Glencoe, IL: The Free Press.

    In this book, Janowitz pioneered the concept that press coverage (in eighty-two different community newspapers in the Chicago area) could be an “index” of the social structure and values of distinct communities. To confirm his impressions, Janowitz employed multiple methodologies, including content analysis, readership surveys of samples of community readers, focused interviews with selected journalists and community leaders, and collections of historical and contemporary documents.

  • Park, Robert. 1922. The immigrant press and its control. New York: Harper.

    As the famous cofounder of both American sociology and communication studies, Park exhorted scholars to study not only the impact of media on society, but also the impact of society (specifically, public opinion) on media, especially newspapers. Park illuminated the interaction of immigrant/ethnic newspapers and their relatively intact communities, determined to integrate recent immigrants into full US “citizenship.”

  • Pollock, John C. 2007. Tilted mirrors: Media alignment with political and social change—A community structure approach. Hampton Press Communication Series. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton.

    The book finds that inequality in cities significantly drives critical event coverage. Special contributions: nationwide samples of major cities and identification of key patterns, such as “buffer” (privilege linked to favorable human rights claims coverage); “violated buffer” (privilege and unfavorable coverage of biological threats or threats to a cherished way of life); “vulnerability” (coverage mirroring economic disadvantages); and “stakeholders” (coverage reflecting interest group concerns).

  • Pollock, John C., ed. 2013. Media and social inequality: Innovations in community structure research. New York: Routledge.

    This innovative book differs from previous community structure volumes in two ways. First, contributions explore a far wider range of community characteristics: creative methodologies, modern archives, and databases that facilitate larger, more diverse samples; multilevel and longitudinal analyses; composite measures of both “content” and editorial judgment; new technologies; and social network analysis. Second, a traditional emphasis on media as instruments of political and social “control” is replaced by media as potential mirrors of social “change,” exploring “bottom-up” measures of “vulnerability,” “concentrated disadvantage,” and “ethnic diversity/pluralism.”

  • Stamm, Keith R. 1985. Newspaper use and community ties: Toward a dynamic theory. Communication and Information Science. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

    Combining urban theory and journalist narratives, this text explores both how newspapers encourage a “sense of community,” as well as the reverse, how the level and variety of local community ties (today often supplanted by a similar collective term “social capital”) can improve newspaper circulation and readership.

  • Tichenor, Phillip J., George Donohue, and Clarice Olien. 1980. Community conflict and the press. People and Communication 8. Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE.

    This classic text setting forth basic assumptions and principles of “structural pluralism” uses measures of variation in county– or city-level characteristics in Minnesota, confirming that larger metropolitan communities, manifesting more “structural pluralism,” are associated with a greater variety of media perspectives. Journalism is linked to the level of “social differentiation,” with more “differentiated,” larger metropolitan areas more likely to manifest reporting accommodating social/political change.

  • Tönnies, Ferdinand. 2002. Community and society. Translated by Charles P. Loomis. Mineola, NY: Dover.

    A founder of modern sociology, Tönnies elaborated the dichotomous concepts of “Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft” (roughly, “community” and “society”) in this book, first published in 1887. In an association of “Gemeinschaft,” individuals meld self-interest and overarching group interests in a “unity of will,” with “family” as an excellent example of loyalty, shared mores, and norms. In an association of “Gesellschaft,” by contrast, the larger group never supersedes individual self-interest, with “business” as the classic model of shared, impersonal work for agreed-upon goals.

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