Mass media is a distinctive element of today’s society. Together, the different elements are a product of societal change, forced regulations, rising living standards, and technological modernization. Mass media includes mediums such as magazines, television, internet, radio, cinema, video games, and cellular telephones. The ability to mass communicate with these devices has had such a massive impact that Denis McQuail describes that “the mass media has primary and crucial importance for the integration of the diverse secular worlds of modern men into coherence and unity” (32). There is no doubt among theorists that media is influencing society, but there are different theories that suggest that it may be society influencing media, not media influencing society. This essay shall look at newspapers’ past and present, and how they will continue to affect the world we live in.
In the early 1950s after WWII, American communication made deep inroads into Europe, and words like “mass”, “effects”, and “functions” organized research on both sides of the Atlantic (Curran 407). Almost a decade later, some of the biggest research took place in 1959, when Elihu Katz argued that people need to concentrate less on what the media do to people and more on what people do with media (McQuail 71). Dennis McQuail sides with Katz, in believing that peoples contact with media is of utmost importance, stating, “media is helping in enabling people to bring about a more satisfying relationship between themselves and the people around them” (71).
The views are across the board, pointing in both directions, but research continues even today as to what extent life is changing because of emerging technologies. Not only the substance of what is being communicated is important, but just as vital is the process. Technological innovations have assisted in supplying content for our media forms, and also the circuits and motherboards of how they are made are affecting the ways which society operates. Both aspects have a hand in the creation of the world we live in today, and should be realized when reading this essay.
Mass media first appeared on the scene as newspapers. The newspaper was the first medium of communication with a genuinely mass character. U.S newspaper firms had slow growth until the 1800s. It was in the 1830s that the population concentration in cities and the spread of mass literacy provided a market for mass press (Wells 7). The news could finally be spread on paper, rather than word of mouth. The entire world was suddenly in-the-know about what was happening around them. Newspapers made the transition from the realm of the educated, to serving a wide range of people from this time thought the Civil War (Grant, Meadows 8). The development of advertising, telegraph, and improved production methods have assisted newspapers in reaching a worldwide audience, and eventually being the main source of news for years to come.
To this day 97% of towns have only one newspaper to choose from for local news (Wells 7). This idea of newspaper monopolies is discouraging to the market, because only one view is being seen on the issue. No single company is at fault though, because starting a newspaper or radio station these days requires far more investment and risk then in previous years. Despite other forms of news, the newspapers industry is still growing today. In 2002, there were over 10,000 newspaper firms in the United States, and over half the country reading a newspaper daily (Grant, Meadows 9).
The future of newspapers looks to be heading toward the digital world, against many wishes of traditional newspaper readers. Flexibility from digital methods has increased newspapers’ ability to deliver zoned editions that reduce unprofitable readership in areas far away from print facilities (Grant, Meadows 10). By the end of the 20th century, over two-thirds of U.S. newspapers maintained websites that offered classified advertising (Grant, Meadows 10). According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the majority of the population prefers to purchase the printed edition rather than viewing the electronic edition (Grant, Meadows 11). This may change though, because digital news is rather new, and websites such as cnn.com can be updated on the hour informing viewers of up-to-the minute news, instead of waiting for the next days edition to receive that same news.
McQuail, Denis. Towards a Sociology of Mass Communication. London. MacMillian Publishers Limited, 1968
Curran, James, Gurevitich, Michael, Woolacott, Janet. Mass Communication and
Society. 1st ed. London: Edward Arnold Publishers, 1979
Katz, Elihu, Szecsko, Tamas. Mass Media and Social Change. London: Sage.1981
Wells, Alan. Mass Media and Society. Palo Alto, National Press Books. 1972
Grant, August and Jennifer Meadows. Communication Technology Update. Oxford: Focal Press, 2004.