Media Studies - glossary of standard terminology

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A number of specialist terms are used in Media Studies and Journalism unit and achievement standards. The following definitions of recurring terms are provided to assist teachers:


is: "...unscripted footage, recorded reality where we see and hear real people, not actors, doing real things. Actuality is action and interaction unfolding before the camera, without rehearsal and without a script - TV news or documentary footage for example, of protestors marching on city hall in a political story, or video of a music teacher rehearsing a school band in a story about education..."


can mean simply to break something down into its parts and show how the parts relate to each other to make the whole. It goes beyond identifying and explaining to a detailed examination that could include wider implications, issues and/or ramifications. Analysis addresses the 'So what?' and 'What if?' questions.

Analyse perceptively

means to analyse and show some personal insight or ability to draw individual conclusion based on the students' own observations or analysis, rather than simple re-packaging and presentation of previously taught material.

The angle

in journalism is the approach or focus of a story. In film and video work, angle refers to camera position relative to the subject. A high angle shot looks down on the subject; a low angle shot looks up.

Audio bites

are short, selected passages (usually vox pops or interview comments) edited out from longer recordings and used in audio production, e.g. to create stings, stabs, promos for radio shows, commercials or news packages.

Back-cut questions

are re-shot questions posed by the interviewer, during a one-camera shoot with the camera framed on the interview subject. The questions are then re-shot after the interview with the camera framed on the interviewer, and inserted in editing. See also noddies, below.

Background visuals

refer to what is in the shot behind the subject or interviewer.


means ensuring that significant differing viewpoints are presented, or the opportunity offered.

A brief

is the set of requirements and instructions of the client / teacher for a media product, production process or assessment activity.


is a package of short news summaries on broadcast radio.

A caption

is the text used to describe a picture.


in the audio context means without unwanted audio (e.g. wind noise or other background distractions), dead air (blank gaps in the audio), clipping (overload from input levels and/or gain set too high) or other distortion (e.g. proximity overload on microphones, etc).

Codes and Conventions

are used in conjunction and definitions sometimes overlap.

  • Codes are systems of signs, which create meaning. Codes can be divided into two categories - technical and symbolic.
  • Technical codes are all the ways in which equipment is used to tell the story in a media text, for example the camera work in a film.
  • Symbolic codes show what is beneath the surface of what we see. For example, a character's actions show you how the character is feeling.
  • Some codes fit both categories - music for example, is both technical and symbolic.
  • Conventions are the generally accepted ways of doing something. There are general conventions in any medium, such as the use of interviewee quotes in a print article, but conventions are also genre specific. (ref. Media Studies TKI Community)

Compare and contrast

means to identify similarities and differences and draw some conclusions about the reasons for/effects of the differences/similarities


means to support by adding further material, information or clarification.


means deliberately framed, positioned in the frame or shot, angled and/or posed.


means the events or circumstances leading up to or surrounding something: the political / economic / social / cultural / religious / textual / narrative etc setting in which something occurs, or which provoke it.


is the main text of a story, article or web page, etc.

Critical path

means the predicted longest time that the project will take to complete, based on time/deadline projections of key elements of the planning and production work (e.g. significant technology changes).


means trimming unnecessary extra material from the borders of a photo or other still or moving image to concentrate the reader's attention on the main subject.


are shots of something different but related to the story (e.g. in news, actuality of something the interview subject is talking about) inserted into a sequence to provide visual variety, illustrate the story, compress time or indicate relationships.


means to evaluate the pros and cons (arguments for and against; advantages and disadvantages; positives and negatives) of a topic.


means to identify , and give details of what (i.e. both what the event / scene / technique / action is, what happens etc) and what effect(s) it has (e.g. the way(s) in which the use of an element of film language affects the text) and provide at least one specific example, i.e. to present a full and detailed picture of important characteristics, qualities and effect(s) generated (e.g. on a media text, sequence, scene, paragraph etc).


should be taken to mean : state or describe exactly the nature, scope, or meaning of a term or practice; make clear.

Diegetic ; non-diegetic

are terms most often used in discussion of sound and sound effect elements in film.


Diegetic sound is on- or off-screen sound that belongs to the scene, naturally (e.g. car radio music, a stereo playing in a lounge scene, bird song, traffic, wind etc).


Non-diegetic sound is music or other audio that is not natural to the scene and is added (or 'normal' sound is enhanced by the use of effects) to add meaning /impact to a scene.


means to talk or write about a topic in detail, taking into account different opinions or ideas.

Dominant feature

is one clear object, action or person that is the largest and most eye-catching element of a still or moving image. Also called dominant visual image (DVI).


means to improve, make more effective.


means to account for something / to provide reasons, i.e. how and why .


means to investigate [the interrelationship], identify and describe key aspects (including any issues if relevant) and draw some possible conclusions.


means the ways a group or culture is represented, e.g. different versions of New Zealand identity.


means that stories should not denigrate, make unproven assertions or unfairly represent a person or an issue.

Five Ws and H

are the primary questions a news story answers: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?

Media forms

means media texts.


means 'type' or 'class'. Media genres appear within a medium (film, television, print, multimedia, web etc), such as: horror/documentary (film), situation comedy/reality TV (television), talkback/breakfast show (radio), hard news/profile feature article (print), wiki/blog (web). Genres change all the time. Some media texts blur genre boundaries by combining conventions from different genres.


are titles (Dr, Mr, Ms, Professor, Prime Minister etc).


means name, with at least one supporting example.


are a requirement of analysis and mean: conclusions that can be drawn from something, even though they are not explicitly stated; wider and/or future effects; likely consequences or ramifications (for the industry / medium / creators of a media text etc, its audience(s) and/or wider society) of something (e.g. significant technology changes).


is an indication of a consistent mood, tone and point of the product being supported coherently by all aspects (e.g. film: camera operation, mise en scène, costume, script, on-screen performance(s), music/sfx, titling, voiceovers, editing etc; print: design, layout - columns, white space, fonts, reading lines etc, copy, illustrations etc).

Interview grabs

are very short sequences / footage (7-10 seconds is the modern norm in news) that enable the audience to hear the news directly from the people involved, instead of reporters.

Interview subject

is a person who is interviewed.

Intro ; outro

refer to the open and close of a story or sequence.


means to identify, process and reference relevant data, and draw supported conclusions.


are 'concerns' or ramifications/implications. Issues are important topics for debate or discussion.


means a clear rationale that supports the approval of a concept / treatment for production, in terms of a supplied brief.

Key creatives

are people / roles involved in the creative process of a media product, who have significant influence on the final product.

Media product

means any complete media item created using appropriate media technology, e.g. news story, magazine/newspaper, movie trailer, radio show etc.

Mise en scène

means 'what's put in the scene'. In film, the term refers to the elements of a shot (set, props, actors, use of colour and light) and the way these elements are positioned, composed or choreographed.


means the process of translating mise en scène into shots, and the relationship between the two. The main parameters are: camera position and movement, shot size and duration, editing pace, depth of focus

Narrative conventions

can be taken to mean techniques of conveying and developing narrative (story) in a media text, i.e. how the story is told.

New Zealand identity

means any aspect of New Zealand identity , e.g. people (e.g. Kiwi beer-drinking blokes), the country (e.g. clean, green, pure); the values (e.g. laid back, friendly, rugby-mad) etc.

News angle

of a story is the particular focus of the story (e.g. the threat to public safety of a chemical spill; the grief of the family of a murder victim).

News event

is something newsworthy that happens, e.g. terrorist attack, disaster, major crime etc.


can be summed up as, 'Who cares and why?' The main considerations are: timeliness; proximity; exceptional quality; number/scale; prominence; conflict; controversy; consequence/possible future effect; human interest/pathos; shock value.


are back-cut shots of interviewer responses (smiles, nods, frowns, etc) to subject answers, inserted into interviews as cutaways to provide visual variety and create the impression of a seamless two-camera shoot. (See also Back-cut questions)


organisations are usually created by an industry (e.g. ASA, Press Council, CAAANZ etc), are not funded by government but by members, and cannot impose legal penalties.

Ongoing issues

have been active for a considerable time and may be still unresolved.

Organisation and controls

means all facets of how a media industry or business is structured (roles, hierarchy, decision-making paths, ownership etc) and the forces that exercise control over them.


means to decide on or arrange things in advance.

Planning schedules

should include most aspects of organisation (locations, equipment bookings, crew and cast responsibilities, critical points, deadlines etc).


means whether a plan/concept is achievable. Practicability includes safety.

Pressure groups

are groups within society that have a specific agenda, often to do with one sector of society, and continually try to exert pressure on the government and/or media etc to change behaviour or policy and/or penalties to conform to their specific view/values.


is a feature article that gives a description of a person, especially a public or significant figure that provides sufficient personal and professional information to give a snapshot insight into who they are (their background, personality and character), what they do, what motivates them and what is special or extraordinary about them.


what a story, media product or technique is trying to achieve.


refers to the ease of comprehension and entertainment / enjoyment factor in a piece of writing.


means acknowledging the source of all material used in responses.


means the way in which a group or issue is presented to an audience. It is a selective version of reality and not necessarily accurate or complete.


means what people in specific media industry positions do, i.e. what they contribute to the creative process and how they interact with other roles.


means the written text of an audio or film item. It includes both dialogue and key instructions (e.g. sound effects cues, character actions, camera movements). In multimedia and web design, it is an automated series of instructions carried out in a specific order (macro).


means changing the size of an image to fit the required space, without perspective distortion.


(journalism) means a working title or brief story subject heading, written by the journalist at the head of a story to identify it, and later replaced (by a sub-editor at the layout stage) with an appropriate headline.

Station format (radio)

the specific on-air style, programme and content scheduling, etc used to meet the requirements of a target audience, and type of station (talkback, music/entertainment, sport, magazine/community station etc).is

Statutory bodies

are formed by Acts of Parliament, are (mostly) funded by government and can impose legal penalties as determined by government statutes.


means a widely held but fixed and over-simplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing (see also representation).

A style guide

is a publication's in-house guide for journalists/employees to use and includes details of the style of grammar, spelling, capitalisation etc that the publication has decided are its 'brand', and which must be adhered to by all published materials.

Tape recorder

any means of recording clear audio, e.g. minidisc, dictaphone, laptop with microphone, VOIP, recording studio etc.

Target audience

(TA) is the specific group in society for which the media product is designed, and to which a media product should appeal.


means to give an outline or follow the path of something in brief detail, e.g. flow diagram.

Two shots

have two people in the frame, e.g. both subject and interviewer or two subjects.

Variant reading

can be taken to mean any justified alternative reading that is substantially different from, or contradictory to the most obvious or commonly accepted one.


means in moving image: camera shots / footage / actuality.

Vox pops

are brief opinions from randomly selected members of the public about an issue of current interest: usually in response to one closed (Y/N) question, supported by a ?Why?' follow up


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