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Basics and Summation of the Mass Media

Updated on October 20, 2017
Crystal Gordon profile image

Eloquent. Aesthetic. Starter. Magnetic. Spiritual. Strong. Determined. Ambitious. Freethinking. Leader. Confident. Adventurous. Managerial.

Definition of the Mass Media

Interpersonal communications directed to a vast audience. The term, mass media, derives from the term "mass" meaning large clump, shapeless piece of matter…


Mass media is an agent of socialization, which has profound impact on all members of society (e.g., children and adults) because it manages the flow of ideas, images, and information.

It plays an entertainment role for society via larger-scale organizations that use various means to communicate to large numbers of people.

Besides entertainment, the mass media also functions as a gauge for ourselves and the world.

For instance, the mass media:

  1. Provides access to information or events
  2. Raises public awareness of services and/or products
  3. Introduces other lifestyles and cultures
  4. Debates viewpoints on societal issues
  5. Allows living vicariously

This agent of socialization has been well-conceived and thoroughly embedded into the daily lives of virtually everyone on planet earth.

Since the 1950s, there have been expeditious advances in electronic communication technology, which has resulted in widespread access to multiple forms of mass communication.

What is Mass Media?

History of American Newspapers

Freedom's Journal was the first African American owned and operated newspaper in the United States.
Freedom's Journal was the first African American owned and operated newspaper in the United States. | Source

Ida B. Wells-Barnett

Historical journalism figure and anti-lynching fighter.
Historical journalism figure and anti-lynching fighter. | Source

Background on Mass Media and Innovation

Old Media refers to outlets such as books, film, magazines, newspaper, radio, and TV.

Information provided from the mass media industry via old media outlets could hinder the capacity for critical judgment from its recipients.

This is due to the fact that old media outlets involve a limited number of people who can communicate to a greater number of other people.

Also, old media lacks the effective means of response, which further illustrates it one-way process.

New Media refers to outlets such as DTR, DTV, electronic gaming, MP3 players, smartphones, and the Internet.

These outlets now allow for two-way communication, in addition to the one-way method.

In terms of innovation, new media also has the ability to manipulate and store extensive amounts of information.

Today, an overabundance of information comes instantaneously and often goes viral simultaneously due to this new media technology, as well as globalization.

Theoretical Perspectives on the Mass Media

The mass media is a gargantuan influence on all lives, attitudes and behaviors, which is important to understand because it constitutes a larger focus of everyone’s leisure time compared to any other social institution.

A functionalist approach demonstrates how the mass media fills necessary duties, which are to provide the citizens with current events, entertainment, and socialization.

For example, from a structural functional perspective, the mass media now illustrates integration (i.e., it reflects varied opinions by integrating human society, bringing groups together, contributing to collective consciousness, etc.).

There are five functional approaches the mass media serves users:

  1. surveillance (i.e., it provides news and information)
  2. correlation (i.e., it presents the information to the public after it's been selected, interpreted, and criticized)
  3. transmission
  4. entertainment
  5. mobilization

Functionalists such as T. Parsons argued that the mass media plays a vital role in the integration/adaptation of society.

  • It gathers and disseminates information (i.e., the mass media is "the town crier").
  • It socializes people into the on-going social order.
  • It transmits basic norms, cultural heritage and values.
  • Also, it provides enjoyment and entertainment-stress management (e.g., vegging out in front of the TV for hours).
  • It reinforces shared ideals, justice, democracy, respect for the law amidst freedom and individualism.
  • It provides social integration, surveillance, reproduces a moral order

From a conflict perspective, social psychologists have been attentive to the effects of the media on human behavior and have specifically focused on the effects of TV, which has become the dominant form of mass media communication on a global scale.

Social workers and other helping professionals have been particularly concerned with the TV form of mass media, in that it provides ample models of antisocial behavior (e.g. aggression) rather than prosocial (i.e, voluntary behavior intended to benefit another).

The antisocial models are also often depicted without presenting a positive resolution within the programming (i.e., merely personal solutions shown).

Theoretical Perspectives on Media and Technology

TV commercials can carry significant cultural currency. For some, the ads during the Super Bowl are more water cooler-worthy than the game itself.
TV commercials can carry significant cultural currency. For some, the ads during the Super Bowl are more water cooler-worthy than the game itself. | Source

Criticisms of the Mass Media

The mass media has received many criticisms in the past.

Consider the following:

  1. It has been historically controlled by White, middle-class and upper-class men, who have presented their worldviews and that has been argued to result in the control of cultural meanings, which in turn benefits elite individuals, in addition to silence dissident viewpoints.
  2. In regards to TV “reality shows”, it has been a concern that some viewers have difficulty keeping firmly in mind what has truly occurred on screen and what was tagged for viewers’ entertainment.
  3. Negative portrayals of vulnerable populations is another criticism of mass media (e.g., stereotypes about the African, immigrant, or LGBT communities).
  4. The framing of gender in the mass media is also a criticism, for instance, perpetual celebrity weight loss stories set standards of beauty (e.g., “thinspiration” and “rapidly shrinking” hollywood stars), which may have a negative effect on younger and older people alike (e.g., “fat bashing”, anorexia, etc.).

Television standardizes children’s minds and stereotypes their imaginations.

— Gomberg, 1964

Television viewing was referred to as, “The Unmaking of the American child".

— Urie Bronfrenbrennar, 1962

Evaluating Mass Media Sources

Mass Media is directed towards large audiences. It is public, the content is open to all audiences are made up of people living under different conditions in widely different cultures...
Mass Media is directed towards large audiences. It is public, the content is open to all audiences are made up of people living under different conditions in widely different cultures... | Source

NBC and Brian Williams: An Unethical Epic Media Fail

The Ethics Scandal Is No Longer About Brian Williams. It’s About NBC, And Journalism
The Ethics Scandal Is No Longer About Brian Williams. It’s About NBC, And Journalism | Source

Controversy in the Mass Media

What is the responsibility of the mass media in communicating controversial issues (e.g., Aids, gun control, etc.) to the general public?

A short example list of controversial issues specific to media is as follows:

  • Selectivity (e.g., unbalanced coverage, street crime vs suite crime)
  • Censorship (e.g., access, availability, filters and ratings)
  • Vicarious Trauma (e.g., viewing real or animated violence)
  • Gender Role Portrayal (e.g., traditional stereotype perpetuation)
  • Privacy Concerns (e.g. confidentiality on the "information superhighway")
  • Normalization of Racism (e.g. Blaxploitation)

From a journalistic perspective, the responsibility of the news media is to be ethical and report the facts.

The journalist is supposed to be truthful, fair-minded and especially decent because decency is a necessary ingredient of change.

But, in recent years the investigative journalists have succumb to the temptation of sleazy topics (e.g., latest celebrity plastic surgery) and sensationalism (e.g., viral videos from social media of various critters).

It appears many journalists have stopped taking the issues and people seriously (e.g., TMZ).

In journalism, you should never broadcast serious investigations regarding policy, criminal justice, drugs, police brutality, domestic violence, etcetera and make a mockery of it because that would constitute propaganda.

Quick Question

Do You Trust The Mass Media?

See results

The news media are an important source of information about health and medical therapies, and there is widespread interest in the quality of reporting. Previous studies have identified inaccurate coverage of published scientific papers, overstatement of adverse effects or risks, and evidence of sensationalism. The media can also have a positive public health role, as they did in communicating simple warnings about the connection between Reye's syndrome and the use of aspirin in children...

— Moynihan et al. (1999) "Coverage by the News Media of the Benefits and Risks of Medications"

Influence and Implications

Recently, there has been a concerted effort on the part of the established media to prevent the general public from adequately understanding certain controversy (e.g., racial tensions, animal and human rights, agricultural and environmental Issues, etc.).

This has been done in order to prevent people from becoming fully aware of the magnitude of these issues because that might have the effect of pulling even larger numbers of people into campaigns for justice.

From boycotts to protests to picket lines to sit-ins, Americans have indicated to the world on numerous occasions that people mostly hate injustice on a collective level here.

Also, with the explosion of communication and globalization via social media, it is more indicative than ever that people want to be informed about issues worldwide (e.g., terrorism, natural disasters, disease outbreaks, etc).

Many people depend on news media platforms for accurate, up-to-date stories and unbiased information on what constitutes injustice.

It is crucial then to hold the mass media accountable, especially the news media, for their stories that they choose to tell about matters of vital public interest.

In the end, lives literally depend on it.

© 2017 Crystal Gordon


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    • profile image

      S Maree 

      14 months ago

      You are spot on!

      Never have I felt such a need for altruistic, reliable & truthful coverage of the news until this last year -- when I decided to venture into the cyber world.

      Vietnam was the catalyst that began my cynical outlook on the world & what media reported on it. Followed by Watergate, it was a shattering experience for my teenage years. Since then, I've seldom taken any opinion reported in the news at face value.

      Due to disabilities the last few years I to turned to electronics to find intellectual outlets and BAM! I was not ready! Learning to deal with the world-wide-web (APTLY named, I might add!) for me was like taking a trigonometery

      exam after completing multiplication tables!

      The proliferation of junk that presses for attention is staggering! Despite firewalls & filters the crud seeps through. Careless mistakes in typing have laid unsavory, and frankly, dangerous websites at my fingertips. Thank God no children use my computer!

      Because of this, the main media sources MUST hold themselves to strict codes of ethics, truthfulness & conduct! Until some kind of web enforcement occurs, we need places to go where we know we'll get unbiased, thoughtful, & carefully presented information.

      No more grandstanding by talking heads, no more toadying, and certainly, no cash under the table! Plain straight talk without an agenda. Just well-documented facts without frills. News.

      And stop sensationalizing every tragedy, wringing every drop of pathos possible until a new disaster occurs! What a sorry world we are in to need this macabre ploy to keep our attention. They encourage dangerous people to play one-upmanship games for media attention. They also desensitize us to the pleasures of peaceful, mundane, everyday living!

      Our attention has been turned into fragile balloons that they want to keep airborne. News sources fight with each other to be able to maintain control of our balloons. God forbid one comes to rest on the ground. Get it! Get it! Keep it up for our team! Don't let the other teams steal it! And do they care if one pops?

      Thank you, Ms. Gordon! Your work says everything my ranting couldn't!


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