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.