Definition of Mass Media

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The Mass
Media

Defining
the Mass
Media

Defining the
Mass Media

The focus of this opening
section is an examination
of different explanations
of the relationship
between ownership and
control of the mass media
and, in order to do this,
we need to begin by
thinking about how the
mass media can be
defined.

Breaking down the concept of a ‘mass media’ into its
constituent parts...
A medium is a ‘channel of communication’ - a means
through which people send and receive information. The
printed word, for example, is a medium; when we read a
newspaper or magazine, something is communicated to us
in some way. Similarly, electronic forms of communication television, telephones, film and such like - are media (the plural of medium). Mass, as you probably realise, means
‘many’ and what we are interested in here is how and why different forms of media are used to transmit to – and be
received by – large numbers of people (the audience).

Observations

Mass media, therefore, refer to channels of communication
that involve transmitting information in some way, shape or
form to large numbers of people (although the question of
exactly how many a “large number” has to be to qualify as a “mass” is something that’s generally left undefined - it’s one of those things that we know when we see it...).
A mass medium (such as television) is generally classified as ‘one-to-many’ communication - ‘one’ person (such as the author of a book, the creators of a television programme or a film director), communicates to many people (the audience) “at the same time” in a way that is largely impersonal; that is, the communication is one-way, in the sense that those communicating a message to an audience don’t receive simultaneous feedback from that audience (you can shout at a politician on the television but they can’t hear you...). Dutton et al (1998) suggest that, traditionally (an

important qualification that will be developed further in a
moment), the mass media has been differentiated from
other types of communication (such as interpersonal
communication that occurs on a one-to-one basis) in
terms of four essential characteristics:
1. Distance: Communication between those who send
and receive messages (media-speak for information) is:
ü impersonal,
ü lacks immediacy and is
ü one way (from the producer/creator of the
information to the consumer / audience).
When I watch a film, for example, no matter how
emotionally involved I become in the action, I can’t
directly affect what’s unfolding on the screen.
2. Technology: Mass communication requires a
vehicle, such as a television receiver, a method of
printing and so forth, that allows messages to be sent
and received.
3. Scale: One feature of a mass medium, as we’ve
noted, is it involves simultaneous communication with
many people; for example, as I sit in my living room
watching Chelsea play Manchester United on TV, the

1

same behaviour is being reproduced in thousands of
other living rooms, not just across the country but also, in this instance, across the globe.
4. Commodity: An interesting feature of mass
communication is that it comes at a price. I can watch
football on TV, for example, if I can afford a television, a license fee (to watch BBC or ITV) or a subscription to
something like Sky Sports if it’s on satellite or cable.

We no-longer live in a
society where it's possible
to make a clear and
obvious distinction between
those (mass) media that
simply involve one-to-many
communication and those
(non-mass) media that
merely involve one-to-one
communication.

Explanations

Although the definition we've just put forward serves the
not unhelpful purpose of introducing the basic idea of a
mass medium, its usefulness as a definition for our
current purpose is somewhat limited - mainly because, as
you may have noticed, while it's reasonably easy to use
this definition to identify a range of mass media...
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