Are there still mass media? The easy and immediate answer would be an absolute yes. However, the difficulty comes from substantiating the answer.
For the purposes of this paper, mass media will be defined using Boeren’s (1994: 122-123) classification of media. According to him, mass media refers to “all media that enable one to disseminate ideas to large audiences through technological/electronic means”. Included here are printed medium of communication (books, newspapers, magazines, posters, etc.), recordings, radio, television, film, cassette, video programs, and the most recent information-carrying technology—the internet. Mass media here was also differentiated by Boeren from other channels of communication.
These are media generated by the human body (verbal language, facial expressions, body decorations and the likes), objects or substances used in transient communication (Morse code, horn signals, perfume, etc.), objects or substances used to deposit and express ideas (architecture, ornaments, paintings, etc.), and complex media that refers to rituals and the performing arts such as songs, puppet shows, theater and the likes.
To support the answer posed above, there is mass media and it is here to stay. This is on the basis of, first, mass media play an important role in a democratic society wherein “the welfare of an entire nation depends on the knowledge and good judgment of the majority of individuals” (English & Hach 1968: 259). In support of this, the University of Washington (2000), in its article “What is the role of the media in the United States?” stated that media support democracy.
This is done in a way wherein the media serve as a significant source of information. Through the information (and competing ideas) circulated by the media, people are then able to govern themselves or able to make their own decisions. Furthermore, mass media provide the general public “with the information it needs to function as a democracy” (Stay 1999). With this, it could be said that being a model country where its citizens enjoy democratic space, the United States of America will always consider media outlets as key structures or institutions for maintaining democracy in its ideal state.
Second, there is a need to examine the role of mass media in a society. If those roles are still satisfied, then, it could be well validated that there is still mass media. For this paper, the roles of the media outlined by Voelker, F. and Voelker, L. (1978) were referred to. These are Informers or providers of information, Entertainers or providers of pleasure and enjoyment, and Persuaders or could be referred to as shapers of perception/public opinion and behavior.
Mass Media as Informers
News source for Americans has evolved over the past decades. Americans used to rely largely on print medium (mainly newspapers). Then the radio innovated how the public get their news from black and white printed paper. Then came television. And since then, it could be said that television has been the number one source of news compared to newspapers and radios.
That TV is the primary source of news for Americans should not come as a surprise. In its study, the Arizona State University gave some data showing that TV sets are a fixture in American households (Arizona State University, n.d.). Data shows that 98.3% of households have TV sets, 65% have cable TV, TV sets are turned on for an average of 7 hours each day and that an average American spends 2.5 hours a day in front of TV. Aside from this access, news on TV is more available around the clock wherein we have early morning shows, noon newscasts, late night news and news breaks in between regular TV programs. In addition, TV is viewed as a source for international and national news while newspapers as source of local information.
Meanwhile, with the advent of the internet, it is not yet defined whether this new technology has overtaken TV as the primary source of news. But data shows that over 2.5 million Americans are watching less TV this year compared in 2006 (Bauder c.2006). This decline has not been attributed to the internet replacing TV as a source of information (or other TV programs) but one of the factors being speculated upon is that more shows are either being downloaded or streamed.
Mass Media as Persuaders
With scores of discussion debating over the effects of media content, the point that mass media shapes individual or collective perception and behavior could not be disregarded.
Gans (n.d.:236) stated that news, as an example of media content, “does not limit itself to reality judgments; it also contains values or preference statements.” With this, Gans forwarded that underlying the news lies “a picture of nation and society as it ought to be.”
For example, a protest march pictured as a disruption to public order, would be considered more news worthy and placed in headline news. On the other hand, a family murder that claimed three victims is less news worthy would be placed in local news. The way how news stories are prioritized and presented in turn shapes the public’s perception on what social disorder is.
On a different note, Klapper (1967:331-333) believes that mass media mainly strengthen the views the audience have. One factor leading to this situation is that generally, people lean to (watch, listen, read) materials that advocate the same views that they have. Similarly, people tend to ignore materials that are conflicting or opposing to their own judgment.
Aside from the reinforcement power of mass media, Klapper also believes that the media is effective in creating opinion on new issues. He explained that when an individual has no predisposition on an issue, that individual would be vulnerable to adapt an opinion presented by any mass medium. That created opinion would be easy to reinforce and then hard to change.
Now we go to the media as shapers of behavior. Some of the critics about media content pertain to their effects on the behavior of target audience particularly on issues such as violence, alcoholism and the likes.
A research study by Atkin, Hocking and Block (1981:280-289) was used to support the idea that mass media indeed affect the behavior of its target audience. They used a correlational survey design to determine if advertising of alcoholic beverages such as beer, wine and liquor encourage non-drinkers to drink and encourage moderate drinkers to drink more. The questionnaires were distributed to 665 students from seventh to twelfth grades in the states of Michigan, California, New York, and Georgia.
Over-all results of the study showed that the relationship between exposure to advertisements and liquor is strongly positive. Also, non-drinkers immensely exposed to alcohol ads expressed intentions of drinking when they get older. The difference between those who intended to drink and the opposite is a significant 26%.
Mass Media as Entertainers
Apart from its functions as providers of information and shapers of perception and behavior, there is no doubt that mass media also largely function as entertainers. Americans turn to different forms of mass media to enjoy, to relax or to simply spend leisure time. The expansion of leisure time in the twentieth century according to De Fleur and Dennis gave way to Americans’ “growing interest in various forms of recreation and entertainment: (1981:212).
This could be attributed to reasons why most commercial TV shows (75%) are made for entertainment while the remaining 25% accounts for the news and public affairs, educational and cultural programs and religious programs. They also classified entertainment programs that Americans watch such as dramas, situation comedies, variety and talk shows, personality and game shows, soap operas, children’s programs, movies, specials, sports and special events, and docudramas (1981:190-196).
Aside from TV programs, it is also worth noting the movies or motion pictures as channels for entertainment. As early as the 1920s, Jowett (1976, quoted in De Fleur & Dennis 1981:212) stated that the movies “had become the largest and most widespread commercial entertainment form the world had ever known”. By that time onwards, the movies have become a multi-billion dollar industry. Of course, the business would not have been that successful if it had not been for the millions of audience patronizing them.
Meanwhile, the print media was never behind when it comes to its role as entertainers. Newspapers and especially magazines make space for materials that offer amusement to the audience.
And to complete the package, there is the internet, which makes available online versions of print materials, music, music videos, TV shows, and movies on the World Wide Web. Of course, the internet also offers other types of entertainment that are not offered by the aforementioned mass media such as online games, social networking and others.
So are there still mass media? Definitely. To conclude different channels of communication—mainly print media, TV, radio, and the internet—are still prevalent today. The roles or functions of mass media in American society are satisfied because the public has a need for them.
Americans are hungry for news and information. They continue to seek information, which consciously or unconsciously reinforce their views on various issues. In addition, Americans continue to turn to mass media as a source of entertainment.
No mass medium has been obsolete since it was introduced decades ago. Mass media technology continues to be sophisticated and in the near future, we might be introduced to new channels of communication. Bottomline is, mass media provide distinct social needs of the Americans and that is why these channels of communication are here to stay, up until the next century or even forever.
List of References
Boeren, A. (1994) In Other Words… The Cultural Dimension of Communication for Development. The Hague: Centre for the Study of Education in Developing Countries (CESO)
English, E. & Hach, C. (1968) Scholastic Journalism. 4th ed. Iowa: The Iowa State University
Stay, B. L. (ed.) (1999) Opposing Viewpoints: Mass Media [online] available
Gans, H. J. (n.d.) ‘The messages behind the news’ In Media in Society: Readings in Mass Communication. ed. by Deming, C. J. & Becker, S. L. Illinois: Scott, Foresman and Company: 243
Arizona State University (n.d.) Mass Media & Society: A Sociological Perspective on Media [online] available from < http://www.public.asu.edu/~zeyno217/365/notes1.html> [17 November 2007]
Klapper, J. T. (1967) ‘Basic Research in Persuasion and Motivation’ In Mass Media: Forces in our Society. 3rd ed. ed. by Voelker, F. H. & Voelker, L. A. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.: 331-333
Atkin, C., Hocking, J. & Block, M. (1981) ‘Teenage Drinking: Does Advertising Make a Difference?’ In Media in Society: Readings in Mass Communication. ed. by Deming, C. J. & Becker, S. L. Illinois: Scott, Foresman and Company: 280-289
De Fleur, M. L. & Dennis, E. E. (1981) Understanding Mass Communication. USA: Houghton Mifflin Company
Bauder, D. (c.2007) Data Says 2.5 Million Less Watching TV. [online] available from <http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=D8P0F6RG0&show_article=1> [17 November 2007]
Pember, D. R. (1987) Mass Media in America. Science Research Associates, Inc.