Media Representation


A representation is a constructed media text. Representations can take many forms, including: radio segments, newspaper articles, photographs, films, television programs, television news segments. While some media texts – like television news and documentary films – may seem realistic, we have to remember that this is not the same as experiencing it ourselves. At best, the media can only represent reality. What we see on our television screens and on the front page of our daily newspapers is someone else’s interpretation of events, ideas and people. Someone has constructed these texts.

Understanding representation is all about understanding the that are made when it comes to portraying something or someone in a mass media text. It's impossible to portray every aspect of an individual in a photograph, or even in a feature film, so certain features of their personality and appearance get highlighted, and are often enhanced, when it comes to constructing the representation that the audience will see. When representing a person, media texts often focus on their:

  • Age

  • Gender

  • Race/Ethnicity

  • Financial Status

  • Job



In Media Studies, the word ‘code’ refers to any system of signs that are used to communicate meaning. When you think about the real world, we are surrounded by signs: traffic lights, written language, mathematics, clothing, body language.

In 2011, Hungry Jacks released a series of commercials for their Premium Chicken and Premium Beef burgers. What makes these commercials interesting is that the voice over articulates the visual codes being used in the commercial to make the food seem appetising. In visual media, codes—in this case lighting and slow motion—carry particular meanings for audiences.


Conventions are well-established ways of constructing texts

Consider the front page of a newspaper. The name of the newspaper will feature prominently at the top of the page. Beneath this, we have a number of articles. It is a convention of newspapers that the most important news is placed on the front page. Indeed, the most important articles appear closer to the top of the page than the less important stories. Headlines are another convention of newspapers which tell readers what the article is about. Hard news articles which appear on the cover of newspapers are usually written in in a particular style, often known as an inverted pyramid which features all of the important information first. The important aspects of a story – who, what, when, where, why – are usually included in the lead or introductory paragraph. Photographs will usually be accompanied by a caption to explain their significance.

Here is a good definition to help solidify your understanding of the concept: “As a type of film or television develops, filmmakers and directors find certain techniques that become useful or effective in creating texts. These techniques get used again and again, and eventually they are associated with and are used to define certain types of texts. The techniques then become known as conventions.”

In this segment, Charlie Brooker points out the conventions of television news. Conventions often lend themselves to parody because, although we have a deep understanding of how media texts are organised, we often don’t think consciously about the conventions of media texts.


All media texts are constructed. As they’re being constructed, important decisions are made about how the subject will be represented. Consider a photograph. When you take a photograph, you make a number of important decisions about how the subject will be represented, including: lighting, camera angle, shot size, visual composition, colour, posture and facial expression of the subject.

All of these decisions influence the way people will read to the photograph.

Although this is a simple example, all media texts go through this process of construction. As a result, media texts often reflect the views and values of those who create them and the society in which they were created.