Mass media

Mass media is a term denoting that section of the media specifically designed to reach a very large audience (typically at least as large as the whole population of a nation-state), today including not only radio and television, which tend to be limited to the local or national level, but also the Internet, which is global. It was coined in the 1920s, with the advent of nationwide radio networks, mass-circulation newspapers, and magazines, especially in the United States, although mass media was present centuries before the term became common. The mass media audience has been viewed by some as forming a "mass society" with special characteristics, notably atomization or lack of social connections, which render it especially susceptible to the influence of modern mass media techniques of persuasion such as advertising and propaganda. Mass media can be one of the hardest forms of media within which to decipher what is true and what is not. Given that mass media penetrates the whole of society, its reach and influence is immense. Therefore, the responsibility of those participating in this type of communication is also great, as the future direction of human society could well be guided by the mass media.


Etymology and usage

The term "mass media" is mainly used by academics and media professionals. When members of the general public refer to "the media" they are usually referring to the mass media, or to the news media, which is a section of the mass media.

Media (the plural of "medium") is a truncation of the term "media of communication," referring to those organized means of dissemination of fact, opinion, entertainment, and other information, such as newspapers, magazines, outdoor advertising, film, radio, television, the World Wide Web, books, CDs, DVDs, videocassettes, computer games, and other forms of publishing. Although writers currently differ in their preference for using "media" in the singular ("the media is…") or the plural ("the media are…"), the former will still incur criticism in some situations. Academic programs for the study of mass media are usually referred to as "mass communication" programs.

The term public media has a similar meaning: It is the sum of the public mass distributors of news and entertainment and other information: the newspapers, television and radio broadcasting, book publishers, and so on. More recently, the Internet, podcasting, blogging, and others have been added to this list. All of these public media sources have better informed the general public of what is going on in the world today. Some traditional public broadcasters are turning to these new areas to reach more people or reach people more quickly. These methods of communication reach a greater number of people faster than traditional oral communication. Such new media as podcasting and blogging give people an opportunity to express themselves in ways that can only be done with such technology.

Sometimes mass media (and the news media in particular) are referred to as the "corporate media." Other references include the "mainstream media." Technically, "mainstream media" includes outlets that are in harmony with the prevailing direction of influence in the culture at large. In the United States, usage of these terms often depends on the connotations the speaker wants to invoke. For example, the term "corporate media" is often used by media critics to imply that the mainstream media are themselves composed of large multinational corporations, and promote those interests.[1]


There are a number of uses for mass media including advocacy, enrichment, entertainment, journalism, and public service.

  • Advocacy can be used for both business and social concerns. This can include advertising, marketing, propaganda, public relations, and political communication.
  • Enrichment can take the form of education through literature for example. Entertainment is traditionally through performances of acting, music, and sports, along with light reading; since the late 1990s also through video and computer games.
  • Journalism involves the spread of news on a large scale.
  • Public service announcements are cases of state or non-governmental agencies reaching out to inform the public of a pressing event.

Though mass media do not have the same impact as the local environment on the formation of a person's attitudes, the impact may be significant. Mass media can focus the public's attention on certain personalities and issues, with the result that people subsequently form opinions about them.


Electronic media and print media include a variety of forms:

  • Audio recording, using various types of discs or tape. Originally used for music, video, and computer uses followed.
  • Broadcasting, in the narrow sense, for radio and television.
  • Film, most often used for entertainment, but also for documentaries.
  • Internet, which has many uses and presents both opportunities and challenges. Blogs and podcasts, such as news, music, pre-recorded speech, and video.
  • Publishing, in the narrow sense, meaning on paper, mainly via books, magazines, and newspapers.
  • Computer games, which developed into a mass form of media with personal devices allowing people to purchase games to play in their homes.

Audio recording and reproduction

Sound recording and reproduction is the electrical or mechanical re-creation and/or amplification of sound, often as music. This involves the use of audio equipment such as microphones, recording devices, and loudspeakers. From early beginnings with the invention of the phonograph using purely mechanical techniques, the field has advanced with the invention of electrical recording, the mass production of the gramophone record, and the tape recorder. The invention of the compact cassette in the 1960s, gave a major boost to the mass distribution of music recordings, and the invention of digital recording and the compact disc, in 1983, brought massive improvements in ruggedness and quality. Later developments in digital audio players made this medium even more popular.


Broadcasting is the distribution of sound and/or video signals (programs) to a number of recipients ("listeners" or "viewers") that belong to a large group. This group may be the public in general, or a relatively large audience within the public. Thus, an Internet channel may distribute text or music world-wide, while a public address system, in a workplace for example, may broadcast very limited ad hoc "soundbites" to a small population within its range. Broadcasting forms a very large segment of the mass media. The term "broadcast" was coined by early radio engineers from the midwestern United States.


Film is a term that encompasses motion pictures as individual projects, as well as the field in general. The origin of the name comes from the fact that photographic film (also called filmstock) was historically the primary medium for recording and displaying motion pictures. Many other terms exist—"motion pictures" (or just "pictures"), "the silver screen," "photoplays," "the cinema," "picture shows," "flicks"—and commonly "movies." Any film can become a worldwide attraction, especially with the addition of dubbing or subtitles that translate the dialogue into other languages.


The Internet can be briefly understood as "a network of networks." Specifically, it is the worldwide, publicly accessible network of interconnected computer networks that transmit data by "packet switching" using standard Internet Protocol (IP). It consists of millions of smaller domestic, academic, business, and governmental networks, which together carry various information and services, such as electronic mail, online chat, file transfer, and the interlinked pages and other documents of the World Wide Web.

Toward the end of the twentieth century, the advent of the World Wide Web marked the first era in which any individual could have a means of exposure on a scale comparable to that of mass media. For the first time, anyone with a web site could address a global audience. Although a vast amount of information, imagery, and commentary ("content") has been made available, it is often difficult to determine the authenticity and reliability of information contained in (in many cases, self-published) web pages. The invention of the Internet has also allowed breaking news stories to reach around the globe within minutes. This rapid growth of instantaneous, decentralized communication is changing mass media and its relationship to society.


Publishing is the industry concerned with the production of literature or information—the activity of making information available for public view. In some cases, authors may be their own publishers. Traditionally, the term refers to the distribution of printed works such as books, magazines, and newspapers. With the advent of digital information systems and the Internet, the scope of publishing has expanded to include websites, "blogs," and the like.

As a business, publishing includes the development, marketing, production, and distribution of

  • Newspapers—a publication containing news and information and advertising, usually printed on low-cost paper called newsprint. It may be general or special interest, most often published daily or weekly. The first printed newspapers were published in the seventeenth century, and the form has thrived even in the face of competition from technologies such as radio and television. Recent developments on the Internet are posing major threats to its business model, however. Paid circulation is declining in most countries, and advertising revenue, which makes up the bulk of a newspaper's income, is shifting from print to online; some commentators, nevertheless, point out that historically new media such as radio and television did not entirely supplant existing media.
  • Magazines—a periodical publication containing a variety of articles, generally financed by advertising and/or purchase by readers. Magazines are typically published weekly, biweekly, monthly, bimonthly, or quarterly, with a date on the cover that is in advance of the date it is actually published. They are often printed in color on coated paper, and are bound with a soft cover. Magazines fall into two broad categories: consumer magazines and business (or trade) magazines. In practice, magazines are a subset of periodicals, distinct from those periodicals produced by scientific, artistic, academic, or special interest publishers which are subscription-only, more expensive, narrowly limited in circulation, and often have little or no advertising.
Brockhaus Konversations-Lexikon, 1902.
  • Books—a collection of sheets of paper, parchment or other material with text written on them, bound together along one edge within covers. A book is also a literary work or a main division of such a work. A book produced in electronic format is known as an "e-book." In library and information science, a book is called a "monograph" to distinguish it from serial publications such as magazines, journals, or newspapers. Publishers may produce low-cost, pre-proof editions known as "galleys" or "bound proofs" for promotional purposes, such as generating reviews in advance of publication. Galleys are usually made as cheaply as possible, since they are not intended for sale.
  • Literary works
  • Musical works
  • Software—a program that enables a computer to perform a specific task (includes video and computer games). A software publisher is a publishing company in the software industry between the developer and the distributor. In some companies, two or all three of these roles may be combined (and indeed, may reside in a single person, especially in the case of shareware).


  • 1453: Johnannes Gutenberg prints the Bible, using his printing press, ushering in the Renaissance
  • 1825: Nicéphore Niépce takes the first permanent photograph
  • 1876: First telephone call made by Alexander Graham Bell
  • 1895: Cinematograph invented by Auguste and Louis Lumiere
  • 1898: Loudspeaker is invented
  • 1906: The Story of the Kelly Gang from Australia is world's first feature length film
  • 1909: RMS Republic, a palatial White Star passenger liner, uses the Marconi Wireless for a distress at sea. She had been in a collision. This is the first "breaking news" mass media event.
  • 1912: Air mail begins
  • 1913: The portable phonograph is manufactured.
  • 1915: Radiotelephone carries voice from Virginia to the Eiffel Tower
  • 1916: Tunable radios invented.
  • 1919: Short-wave radio is invented.
  • 1920: KDKA-AM in Pittsburgh, United States, becoming the world's first commercial radio station.
  • 1922: BBC is formed and broadcasting to London.
  • 1927: Philo Taylor Farnsworth debuts the first electronic television system
  • 1935: First telephone call made around the world.
  • 1938: The War of the Worlds is broadcast on October 30, led by Orson Welles, causing mass hysteria.
  • 1939: Regular electronic television broadcasts begin in the U.S.
  • 1951: The first color televisions go on sale
  • 1957: Sputnik is launched and sends back signals from near earth orbit
  • 1959: Xerox makes the first photocopier
  • 1962: Telstar satellite transmits an image across the Atlantic
  • 1963: Audio cassette is invented in the Netherlands
  • 1965: Vietnam War becomes first war to be televised
  • 1969: Man's first landing on the moon is broadcast to 600 million people around the globe
  • 1971: Intel introduces the microprocessor
  • 1976: JVC introduces VHS videotape—becomes the standard consumer format, beating Sony's BetaMax format, in the 1980s and 1990s
  • 1980: CNN launches first cable news network
  • 1983: Cellular phones begin to appear
  • 1984: Apple Macintosh is introduced
  • 1985: Pay-per-view channels open for business
  • 1993: CERN announces that the World Wide Web (WWW) will be free for anyone to use
  • 1996: First DVD players and discs are available in Japan
  • 1996: Optical fiber cable line stretches across the Pacific
  • 1997: From Kodak, the first point-and-shoot digital camera
  • 1998: First digital TV programs are broadcast in the U.S.
  • 2000: Congress passes the Children's Internet Protection Act
  • 2003: U.S. law bars telemarketers from calling those on the "Do not call" phone list
  • 2005: December 20—the U.S. Congress agreed that Standard NTSC analog TV broadcasts will cease in favor of all digital TV transmission nation-wide on February 17, 2009.
  • 2006: January 27—Western Union stopped delivering telegrams—ending a service in the United States that it began in 1851 [2]
  • 2007: Players for competing high definition DVD formats, HD DVD and BlueRay, become widely available in the U.S.

Influence of the mass media in Society

Through its various formats, the mass media can reach most people on earth. This is an incredible opportunity for communication and education among the peoples of the planet. As these technologies become cheaper, they are becoming ubiquitous and closing the technological divide that exists between the rich and poor. As the technology necessary for mass communication becomes cheaper and more widespread, the planet will indeed become smaller as news travels even faster among all people of the world.

The effects of the rise of mass media are not all positive. Many chaff at the fact that it is seemingly impossible to escape from the media, as isolation from all forms of communication is increasingly difficult in modern society. Mass media also poses the risk of concentration and whitewashing of media sources as corporations become larger to benefit from economies of scale.[3] This leads to fewer and fewer sources of content, which eliminates some of the diversity from local media production. Rupert Murdoch's ownership of many different broadcast outlets is one example of this threat.


  1. Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (Pantheon, 2002, ISBN 0375714499).
  2. The Media Management Group, TimeLine of Music and Media Technology. Retrieved January 23, 2007.
  3. New Humanist, Mass Media Criticism. Retrieved January 23, 2007.


  • Curran, James, and Michael Gurevitch. 2000. Mass Media and Society. A Hodder Arnold Publication. ISBN 0340732016.
  • Rodman, George. 2006. Mass Media In A Changing World. McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0073256323.
  • Stovall, James Glen. 2005. Writing for the Mass Media, 6th Edition. Allyn & Bacon. ISBN 0205449727.
  • Thompson, J. 1995. The Media and Modernity. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0804726795.


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