Roles In Media

Pattern number within this pattern set: 
Davis Foulger
Oswego State University

What are the generic roles (generic patterns of participation) in network and computer-based human communication media (systems of communication). Note that the pattern at issue here is not the roles of media, but participant roles in media.


This problem applies to all communication media (systems of communication) that enable people to interact with each other, whether in the network context or the general (including face-to-face, human mediated, paper-analog-based, electrical, and broadcast) media contexts. It is of particular interest for establishing generic design patterns across media, including patterns associated with operational and support workflows, and opportunities for computer and networked human mediation in support of media instances operated by individuals, teams, and small and medium sized organizations. Not all roles occur in all media. Indeed, there are patterns of association of specific association of roles with specific generic media types. Because virtually all communication, networked or otherwise, occurs within the context of media (systems of communication), this pattern is rated as high in invariance.


An understanding of the communication process must take account of both the language that communicators use to construct and understand messages and the media they use to deliver and receive them. Existing contextual theories of communication contribute to our understanding of these elements, but ignore the substantial commonality that exists in interpersonal, live presentational, small group, organizational, static presentaitional, correspondence, publication, broadcast, and other communication contexts. The roles that are associated with our use of media provide one of these commonalities.

This appears to be relatively unexplored ground. See Foulger (2001).

It can be argued that the question of generic roles was one of the first areas for which assumptions were made in forming the modern field of communication. Shannon's model of the communication process includes two such generic roles (sender and receiver). Almost all introductory textbooks in the field of communication make reference to this and other related models, including the interactive, transactive, and gated models of communication. All of these models make reference to variants of the sender and receiver role. One makes reference to a third role, the gatekeeper. These roles are presented as being common to all (or in the case of the third role, many) media, but are assumed to be self-evident. They are rarely discussed in any detail.

Texts associated with "mass" communication frequently make reference to specific roles in specific media, often within the context of career possibilities or a "typical" organization chart (e.g. directors, writers, and camera operators in motion pictures; producers, talent, and recording engineers in music recording; editors, correspondents, and rewrite desks in newspapers; program directors, news reporters, and engineers in radio). Little or no attention is paid to the similarities between these roles across these different media. A similar pattern can be observed in discussions of interpersonal media. Although there are discussions of roles within specific interpersonal contexts (including McLean's 1957 categorization of roles in groups, Brody's (1991) taxonomy of stakeholders in organizational environments, various organizational communication network roles), no attention is paid to the similarities between these roles in different media (managers, account executives, and secretaries in business correspondence; chairpersons, meeting participants, and recording secretaries in committee meetings; judges, witnesses, and court stenographers in judicial proceedings).

The increasingly complex communication media environment set up by networked computers increases the value of understanding the generic roles associated with media. Education of communication professionals, for instance, is generally isolated to a few key media (e.g. journalism, radio broadcasting, television broadcasting). The range of media is exploding, however. It is not reasonable to expect that we can have professional education that targets each network medium. Role commonalities and media design patterns provide a way of creating generalized programs that train people to work in a variety of related media. The design of media and implementation of media instances are another place where the generic role patterns may be important. Can we really afford to rediscover the lessons of older media in newer media because we haven't learned the generic problems and solutions associated with related roles and workflows in other media?


At least nineteen generic roles can be identified that are associated, in various combinations, with different media. These include:

Creators: sender/creators of messages

Consumers: receiver/audiences of messages

Selector/Gatekeepers: content selectors who make decisions about what content will flow through the medium

Publishers/Producers: organizers of media instances who enable the creation, production, and distribution of messages.

Directors: organisers of content and content producers who guide a variety of people in other roles through the process of producing messages and performances

Performers: senders of messages who perform or recreate messages that have been created by others.

Transcriber/Recorders: recorders of messages who, through the action of transcription/recording, enable messages to be preserved over time, distributed multiple times, and/or transmitted across space.

Content Editors: content intermediaries who seek to "improve" messages within, in general, the scope of an editorial guideline.

Advertisers: supporters of message production whose "return" on investment is the addition of promotional content that accompanies the message or performance.

Content Integrators: content intermediaries who organize a variety of messages into an integrated "performance".

Reproducers: Content intermediaties who reproduce messages that have been created by others.

Distributor/Carriers: Content intermediaties who transport, transmit, and/or deliver messages that have been created by others.

Retailers: Content or service intermedaries who provide access to either message content or the medium in exchange for a fee.

Representative/Advocates: Intermediaries who act on behalf of other participants (agents, lawyers, etc).

Regulators: Content or service intermediaries who attempt to regulate the content within a medium.

Critics: Creators of messages (often within a different medium) who critique content within a medium.

Investors: Individuals or organization that finance the creation, performance, packaging, distribution of messages or the operation of a medium, generally with an expectation of a direct financial return on the investment.

Financial Management: Individuals who track and/or manage financial and other resources associated within a media instance or production.

Production Support: Others who act in support of a media instance or production. Other generic roles may be hidden within this general category.

This pattern explores the nature of these patterns and the relationship of the various roles to various computer and network-based media.

Pattern status: