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What is Mass Media?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Mass media is media that is intended for a large audience. It may take the form of broadcast media, as in the case of television and radio, or print media, like newspapers and magazines. Internet media can also attain mass media status, and many media outlets maintain a web presence to take advantage of the ready availability of Internet in many regions of the world. Some people also refer to it as the “mainstream media,” referencing the fact that it tends to stick to prominent stories which will be of interest to a general audience, sometimes ignoring controversial breaking news. Many people around the world rely on this form of media for news and entertainment, and globally, it is a huge industry.

Usually, mass media aims to reach a very large market, such as the entire population of a country. By contrast, local media covers a much smaller population and area, focusing on regional news of interest, while specialty media is provided for particular demographic groups. Some local media outlets that cover state or provincial news may rise to prominence thanks to their investigative journalism, and to the clout that their particular regions have in national politics. The Guardian, formerly known as the Manchester Guardian, for example, is a nationally-respected paper in England that started as a regional daily.

One of the biggest criticisms of the mass media is that it is too topical. When a media outlet is forced to cover national and international news, it cannot address numerous interesting local stories because these stories are not of interest to very many viewers. For example, the residents of a community might view their fight against development as critical, but the story would only attract the attention of a wider audience if the fight became controversial or if precedents of some form were set.

People often think of mass media as the news, but it also includes entertainment like television shows, books, and films. It may also be educational in nature, as in the instance of public broadcasting stations that provide educational programming to a national audience. Political communications including propaganda are also frequently distributed through the media, as are public service announcements and emergency alerts.

While elitists may be tempted to sneer at the mass media, referring to it as the “opiate of the masses,” it is a critical part of human societies. Understanding mass media is usually key to understanding a population and culture, which is why the field of media studies is so huge. Watching, reading, and interacting with a nation's media can provide clues into how people think, especially if a diverse assortment of sources are viewed.

SmartCapitalMind is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a SmartCapitalMind researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By nextcorrea — On Dec 15, 2012

It is interesting that the article mentions that mass media is often criticized for being too topical. I had never thought of it that way, but I think that is a fair and important criticism. These major newspapers and TV channels have to select the content that will appeal to the largest number of people. Rarely is this the same as the content that is most consequential or relevant. The requirement to entertain diminishes the product.

By tigers88 — On Dec 14, 2012

How does the whole concept of memes fit into mass media? They are well known and have a strong influence on the culture, but they are ground up creations and there is no way to predict which one will grab people's attention.

I think there are some really interesting PhD theses waiting to be written about the rapid evolution of internet culture over the second half of the first decade of the 21st century.

By clippers — On Dec 14, 2012
I saw some stats recently about how quickly the US media has consolidated itself over the last few decades. It used to be that there were dozens of media outlets, but now many of them, in all formats, are controlled by a very few companies.

By Ana1234 — On Nov 30, 2012

@anon270277: Mass media is a term for any kind of media (as in television, radio, print, etc. Both news and entertainment. So, a Lady Gaga music video, a Stephen King novel and the BBC news could all be called mass media) that is intended for a wide market. Generally at least national, or international.

The press is the term for journalists and other people in the business of making and presenting news. They may or may not make mass media (some of them, for example, will be making local news, or very niche articles, not intended for a country-wide audience). Hope that helps.

By pastanaga — On Nov 30, 2012

@Fa5t3r: The internet has had a big impact on how this works, I think. On the one hand, it's much easier to get hold of information that can refute what we get shown by mass media (which I just want to point out isn't always bad.)

On the other hand, people don't really tend to want to do much more than justify their own opinions most of the time. Which is what they end up doing online, rather than really seeking the "truth."

And television, in particular, is becoming more and more niche-oriented, because of how many choices the average person has now. They don't have to watch the so-called liberal or conservative mass media if they don't want to. They can watch whatever they want online.

I'm really interested in how this wider choice in "mass media" will affect the way people relate to information. Will we all become more moderate, since it's easier to get information on extreme points of view (and how wrong they usually are) or will we become more extreme, since it's easier to reinforce your own beliefs now?

By anon306444 — On Nov 29, 2012

Does mass media shape American values?

By Fa5t3r — On Nov 29, 2012

@anon93831 - Mass media has a lot of influence. Unfortunately, people tend to trust it, perhaps because they think that if something is broadcast to so many people, it must be true. But, sometimes it is not true, and sometimes it is, but is slanted towards a particular interest.

For example, news reports often show the opinions of members of the public they asked to speak. If they only talk to affluent looking people, they are taking a biased sample, but all the people at home see is three people in a row, angry over the news item.

The problem is that since this potential misinformation comes to everyone at the same time, people then reinforce it to each other. If your friend also comments on what's happening on the news, it makes you think it must be true, because you trust your friend. Mass media and public opinion are very difficult to untangle.

By anon297135 — On Oct 15, 2012

How does mass media affect people mentally?

By anon270277 — On May 22, 2012

Can you please tell me what is the difference between the mass media and the press?

By anon264826 — On Apr 30, 2012

What is mass media and how is it used in our lives?

By anon180256 — On May 26, 2011

what opportunity do mass media have in society's moral shaping?

By anon113805 — On Sep 26, 2010

can you please tell me what is the role of media in the world of business?

By anon93831 — On Jul 06, 2010

how does the mass media influence the people in society?

By anon75873 — On Apr 08, 2010

what is the scope of mass media?

By anon75603 — On Apr 07, 2010

It captures their young minds. young children should be exposed to things like general knowledge, movies suitable for their age but mostly children today are exposed to a number of unwanted things which are not meant for their young minds.

i wouldn't consider children of today to be innocent but i would say that most if them do not understand and interpret things in the right way. It's hard to step children from being exposed to the evil of mass media so parents must make time to explain out these things to them.

By anon70287 — On Mar 13, 2010

can you say what is the present condition of mass media among people?

By anon64243 — On Feb 06, 2010

i want to know the impact of mass media on children.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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