Mass media

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A panel in the Newseum in Washington, DC shows the September 12 headlines in the U.S. and around the world

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.


Early wooden printing press, 1520.

The history of mass media can be traced back to the days when dramas were performed in various ancient cultures. This was the first time when a form of media was "broadcast" to a wider audience. The first dated printed book known is the Diamond Sutra, printed in China in 868 C.E., although it is clear that books were printed earlier. Movable clay type was invented in 1041 in China. However, due to the slow spread of literacy to the masses in China, and the relatively high cost of paper there, the earliest printed mass-medium was probably European popular prints from about 1400. Although these were produced in huge numbers, very few early examples survive, and even most known to be printed before about 1600 have not survived. The term "mass media" was coined with the creation of print media, which is notable for being the first example of mass media, as we use the term today. This form of media started in Europe in the Middle Ages.

Johannes Gutenberg's invention of the printing press allowed the mass production of books to sweep the nation. He printed the first book, a Latin Bible, on a printing press with movable type in 1453. The invention of the printing press gave rise to some of the first forms of mass communication, by enabling the publication of books and newspapers on a scale much larger than was previously possible. The invention also transformed the way the world received printed materials, although books remained too expensive to be called a mass-medium for at least a century after that.

Newspapers developed in the seventeenth century, with the first published weekly in Germany from 1609, but they took until the nineteenth century to reach a mass-audience directly. The first high-circulation newspapers arose in London in the early 1800s, such as The Times, and were made possible by the invention of high-speed rotary steam printing presses, and railroads which allowed large-scale distribution over wide geographical areas. The increase in circulation, however, led to a decline in feedback and interactivity from the readership, making newspapers a more one-way medium.[2][3]

The phrase "the media" began to be used in the 1920s. The notion of "mass media" was generally restricted to print media up until the post-Second World War, when radio, television, and video were introduced. The audio-visual facilities became very popular, because they provided both information and entertainment, because the color and sound engaged the viewers/listeners, and because it was easier for the general public to passively watch TV or listen to the radio than to actively read.

During the twentieth century, the growth of mass media was driven by technology, including that which allowed much duplication of material. Physical duplication technologies such as printing, record pressing, and film duplication allowed the duplication of books, newspapers. and movies at low prices to huge audiences. Radio and television allowed the electronic duplication of information for the first time. Mass media had the economics of linear replication: a single work could make money. Vast fortunes were to be made in mass media.

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.

By the early twenty-first century the Internet had become the most popular mass medium. Information has become readily available through websites, and easily accessible through search engines. One can do many activities at the same time, such as playing games, listening to music, and social networking, irrespective of location. Whilst other forms of mass media are restricted in the type of information they can offer, the internet comprises a large percentage of the sum of human knowledge. Mass media includes the internet, mobile phones, blogs, podcasts, and RSS feeds. Unfortunately, the ready availability of information on the internet and the ease with which anyone can disseminate information, particularly through social media, led to a revival of yellow journalism in the form of fake news.


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.


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).

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. 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.

As a counter to the monopoly on mass media, social media has become a large contributor to the communication of information to the public. This changes the paradigm from mass media to interpersonal communication.[4] As a result, control over the content, such as authenticating the source, is lost and the integrity of the message becomes questionable. As it becomes progressively harder to decipher what is true and what is not, fake news can become a means to influence society.

The responsibility of the media is great, influencing the direction of society in ways as serious as whether there will be peace or war:

When the media sparks discussion based on noble and virtuous values, it can become a standard-bearer for world peace. But when the media deceives people with irresponsible, misleading and incendiary information, it becomes a tool for the destruction of world peace.[5]


  1. Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (Pantheon, 2002, ISBN 0375714499).
  2. Alan Wells and Ernest A. Hakanen (eds.), Mass Media and Society (Praeger, 1997, ISBN 978-1567502886).
  3. Corey Ross, Media and the Making of Modern Germany: Mass Communications, Society, and Politics from the Empire to the Third Reich (Oxford University Press, 2010, ISBN 978-0199583867).
  4. Graeme Turner, Re-Inventing the Media (Routledge, 2015, ISBN 978-1138020702).
  5. Sun Myung Moon, Chambumo Gyeong (FFWPU, 2014).

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Curran, James, and Michael Gurevitch. Mass Media and Society. A Hodder Arnold Publication, 2000. ISBN 0340732016
  • Herman, Edward S., and Noam Chomsky. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. Pantheon, 2002. ISBN 0375714499
  • Rodman, George. Mass Media In A Changing World. McGraw-Hill, 2006. ISBN 0073256323
  • Ross, Corey. Media and the Making of Modern Germany: Mass Communications, Society, and Politics from the Empire to the Third Reich. Oxford University Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0199583867
  • Stovall, James Glen. Writing for the Mass Media, 6th Edition. Allyn & Bacon, 2005. ISBN 0205449727
  • Thompson, J. The Media and Modernity. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995. ISBN 0804726795
  • Turner, Graeme. Re-Inventing the Media. Routledge, 2015. ISBN 978-1138020702
  • Wells, Alan, and Ernest A. Hakanen (eds.). Mass Media and Society. Praeger, 1997. ISBN 978-1567502886

External links

All links retrieved November 7, 2022.


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