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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.

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, CDs, DVDs, videocassettes, computer games 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. An individual corporation within the mass media is referred to as a Media Institution.

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.

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 itself composed of large multinational corporations, and promotes those interests (see e.g., Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting; Noam Chomsky's "propaganda model"). This is countered by right-wingers with the term "MSM", the acronym implying that the majority of mass media sources are dominated by leftist powers which are furthering their own agenda.


During the 20th century, the growth of mass media was driven by technology that allowed the massive 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 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, independent media serve to educate the public/electorate about issues regarding government and corporate entities (see Mass media and public opinion). Some consider the concentration of media ownership to be a grave threat to democracy. (For examples of some American newspapers' history of jingoism and drumbeating for war, see yellow journalism.)


  • 1453: Johnannes Gutenberg prints the Bible, using his printing press, ushering in the Renaisance
  • 1825: Nicéphore Niépce takes the first permanent photograph
  • 1830: Telegraphy is independently developed in England and the United States.
  • 1876: First telephone call made by Alexander Graham Bell
  • 1878: Thomas Alva Edison patents the phonograph
  • 1890: First juke box in San Francisco's Palais Royal Saloon.
  • 1890: Telephone wires are installed in Manhattan.
  • 1896: Hollerith founds the Tabulating Machine Co. It will become IBM in 1924.
  • 1898: Loudspeaker is invented.
  • 1913: Edison transfers from cylinder recordings to more easily reproducible discs
  • 1915: Radiotelephone carries voice from Virginia to the Eiffel Tower
  • 1916: Tunable radios invented.
  • 1919: Short-wave radio is invented.
  • 1912: Queen Elizabeth starring Sarah Bernhardt is first feature-length movie.
  • 1912: Air mail begins
  • 1913: The portable phonograph is manufactured.
  • 1920: KDKA-AM in Pittsburg, United States, becoming the world's first commerical radio station.
  • 1922: BBC is formed and broadcasting to London.
  • 1924: KDKA created a short-wave radio transmitter.
  • 1925: BBC broadcasting to the majority of the UK.
  • 1926: NBC is formed
  • 1927: The Jazz Singer: The first motion picture with sounds debuts
  • 1927: Philo Taylor Farnsworth debuts the first electrionic television system
  • 1928: The Teletype was introduced.
  • 1933: Edwin Armstrong invents FM Radio
  • 1934: Half of the homes in the U.S. have radios.
  • 1935: First telephone call made around the world.
  • 1936: BBC opened world's first regular (then defined as at least 200 lines) high definition television service.
  • 1938: The War of the Worlds is broadcast on October 30th, causing mass hysteria.
  • 1939: Western Union introduces coast-to-coast fax service.
  • 1939: Regular electronic television broadcasts begin in the U.S.
  • 1939: The wire recorder is invented in the U.S.
  • 1940: The first commercial television station, WNBT (now WNBC-TV)/New York signs on the air
  • 1951: The first color televisions go on sale
  • 1959: Xerox makes the first copier
  • 1957: Sputnik is launched and sends back signals from near earth orbit
  • 1960: Echo I, a U.S. balloon in orbit, reflects radio signals to Earth.
  • 1962: Telstar satellite transmits an image across the Atlantic.
  • 1963: Audio cassette is invented in the Netherlands.
  • 1963: Martin Luther King gives "I have a dream" speech.
  • 1965: Vietnam War becomes first war to be televised.
  • 1967: Newspapers, magazines start to digitize production.
  • 1970s: Darpanet, progenitor to the internet developed
  • 1971: Intel debuts the microprocessor
  • 1980: CNN launches
  • 1980: New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones put news database online.
  • 1981: The laptop computer is introduced by Tandy.
  • 1983: Cellular phones begin to appear
  • 1984: Apple Macintosh is introduced.
  • 1985: Pay-per-view channels open for business.
  • 1995: With the launch of internet friendly Windows 95, the internet explodes


Mass media can be used for various purposes:


Electronic media and print media include:

  • Broadcasting, in the narrow sense, for radio and television.
  • Various types of discs or tape. In the 20th century, these were mainly used for music. Video and computer uses followed.
  • Motion pictures and Film, most often used for entertainment, but also for documentaries.
  • Internet, which has many uses and presents both opportunities and challenges. Blogs are unique to the Internet.
  • Publishing, in the narrow sense, meaning on paper, mainly via books, magazines, and newspapers.
  • Computer Games, which have developed into a mass form of media since devices such as the PlayStation 2 , Xbox, and the Gamecube broadened their use.

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" 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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