Mass Communication

Learning Objectives


10.1  Describe the differences between interpersonal and mass communication.

10.2  Discuss the relationship between culture, communication, and mass media.

10.3  Identify the characteristics of media consumers.

10.4  Identify the characteristics of media industries.

10.5  Describe several theories associated with mass communication.




The impact of media is massive, and yet we often underestimate its magnitude and take for granted the influence that media have over our daily lives. This chapter moves away from various forms of interpersonal communication to focus on mass communication and the pervasive role it plays in our culture.



  • Activity: A Story about Media as Culture’s Storytellers

Visit The Mean World Syndrome—Media as Storytellers (Extra Feature) at If the link doesn’t work, search either that title or George Gerbner and Cultivation Theory. Once there you’ll find a short video featuring Dr. Gerbner himself who offers an entertaining and persuasive presentation, not on Cultivation itself, but on the underlying philosophy that brought him to develop that influential theory. Then journal how you think he got from media as cultural storytellers to his development of Cultivation Theory.

  • Activity: Journal a Day of Media Consumption

Beginning with the moment you wake up, note every encounter with media content that you have. Be sure to record the location of the consumption, the duration of the encounter, and the medium. Also record your interpersonal interactions, but here you can just note time. Put down your journal when you finally shut down for the night. The next day evaluate what you’ve learned. Do you have a particularly favorite medium, or are you platform agnostic? What is your mass communication to interpersonal communication ratio? How often do you consume media as you engage others interpersonally? How frequently do you multitask? No doubt the information in your journal will suggest many other issues on which you can reflect.

  • Activity: Go Without Your Smartphone (or Tablet) for 5 Hours.

We dare you. Journal the experience of no access to your smartphone for any 5 hours in the day in which you are awake. You may even want to make this a Survivor-like competition with friends. Reflect on what you learned.


1. Your text identified 5 characteristics of today’s mass media. Name and describe each one and explain how it shapes the relationship between media and their audiences.


Sample answer: Concentration of ownership, the ownership of many different media companies by a small number of conglomerates has dramatically reduced the diversity of media sources available to consumers. Hyper-commercialization, the increasing amount of commercial content appearing in the media, means that audiences must suffer through more advertising than ever before. Audience fragmentation means that audiences are becoming more segmented (less “mass”). As a result, media content is increasingly specialized to reach those fragments. Globalization is when media companies operate globally. This means that content is just as likely to be created with a distant audience in mind as it is a local one. Finally, convergence, the erosion of distinction between media, has dramatically altered how we interact with media and their content. We can access just about any type of content on a variety of devices.


2. Your text identified 3 characteristics of today’s media consumers. Name and describe each one and explain how it shapes the relationship between those audiences and the media industries.


Sample answer: Today’s media consumers are platform agnostics; they are neutral about the medium through which they access their content. They place more importance on the content than on the technology through which it is delivered. They present a challenge for media businesses who, like other businesses, want repeat customers loyal to their specific methods of delivery. Media consumers are also media multitaskers. They rarely use one medium at a time. This poses a dilemma for advertisers who struggle to get their marketing campaigns noticed by a cognitively fragmented, possibly inattentive audience. Finally, media addiction, over-attachment to media, is also a characteristic of many media consumers. Some critics believe that media, especially social media, can develop into an addiction, but others believe the word “addiction” is used much too casually in this instance. Still, many contemporary media consumers have a difficult time in the absence of their technologies.  

Go to the Source

Baran, S. J., and D. K. Davis. (2020). Mass Communication Theory: Foundations, Ferment, and Future. Boston: Cengage.

Gerbner, G., L. Gross, M. Jackson-Beeck, S. Jeffries-Fox, and N. Signorielli. (1978). “Cultural Indicators: Violence Profile No. 9.” Journal of Communication, 28: 176–206.

Gilmor, D. (2004). We the Media—Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly.

McChesney, R. W. (1997). Corporate Media and the Threat to Democracy. New York: Seven Stories Press.

Potter, W. J. (2012). Media Effects. Los Angeles: Sage.

Schudson, M. (2011). The Sociology of News. New York: Norton.


The NCTA is the industry association for the cable and telecommunications industries. This site offers a wealth of interesting data and other information on the industries themselves and their programming.

The ESA is the industry association for the video game industry. This site offers a wealth of interesting data and other information on gaming, including several pages devoted to the issue of game ratings and the relationship between gaming and aggression.

The RTDNA is the world’s largest professional organization exclusively serving the electronic news profession. Its members include local and network news executives, news directors, producers, reporters, digital news professionals, and educators and students. The RTDNA works to protect the rights of electronic journalists in the courts and legislatures throughout the country, promotes ethical standards in the industry, provides members with training and education, and honors outstanding work in the profession. This site offers interesting links to a host of electronic journalism issues plus a robust job site.

The NAB is the professional trade association of U. S. radio and television broadcasters. It works to advance the interests of its members with the federal government; to improve the quality and profitability of broadcasting; to encourage content and technology innovation; and to highlight the important and unique ways stations serve their communities.

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