Mass media

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For other uses of the word media, see media (disambiguation).

Mass media is a term used to denote, as a class, that section of the media specifically conceived and designed to reach a very large audience (typically at least as large as the whole population of a nation state). It was coined in the 1920s with the advent of nationwide radio networks and of mass-circulation newspapers and magazines. The mass-media audience has been viewed by some commentators 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 such as advertising and propaganda. It is also gaining popularity in the blogosphere when referring to the mainstream media.

Usage note: 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.


Etymology and usage

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, cinema films, radio, television, the World Wide Web, billboards, books, Compact discs, DVDs, videocassettes, and other forms of publishing. Although writers currently change 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. (Please see data for a similar example.) Academic programs for the study of mass media are usually referred to as mass communication programs.


During the 20th century, the advent of mass media was driven by technology that allowed the massive duplication of material at a low price. 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. Television and radio allowed the electronic duplication of content for the first time.

Mass media had the economics of linear replication: a single work could make money proportional to the number of copies sold, and as volumes went up, units costs went down, increasing profit margins further. Vast fortunes were to be made in mass media.

In a democratic society, an independent media serves to educate the public/electorate about issues regarding government and corporate entities (see Mass media and public opinion). Some consider concentration of media ownership to be the single greatest threat to democracy.

Corporate and mainstream outlets

Sometimes mass media (and the news media in particular) is referred to as the "corporate media". Other references include the "mainstream media" (MSM). 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. The term "corporate media" is often used by leftist media critics to imply that the mainstream media is manipulated by large multinational corporations. This is countered by right-leaning authors with the term "MSM", the acronym implying that the majority of mass media sources is dominated by leftist powers which are furthering their own agenda (see Conspiracy theory, Media bias in the United States).



Electronic media and print media include:

The Internet and mass media

Toward the end of the 20th 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 can address a global audience, although serving to high levels of web traffic is still relatively expensive. It is possible that the rise of peer-to-peer technologies may have begun the process of making the cost of bandwidth manageable. Although a vast amount of information, imagery, and commentary (i.e. "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 often deemed likely to change mass media and its relationship to society.

Cross media

"Cross-media" means the idea of distributing the same message through different media channels. A similar idea is expressed in the news industry as "convergence". Many authors understand cross-media publishing to be the ability to publish in both print and on the web without manual conversion effort. An increasing number of wireless devices with mutually incompatible data and screen formats make it even more difficult to achieve the objective “create once, publish many”.

Contrast with non-mass media

Non-mass or "personal" media (point-to-point and person-to-person communication) include:

See also

External links

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