Review of Communication Research

MASS COMMUNICATION                                                                                                 

Title & Author

Synthesizing a Working Definition of "Mass" Media

Potter, W. James

University of California, Santa Barbara, CA, USA

Highlights

• A clear conceptualization of a focal phenomenon is essential to the development of a scholarly field.

• Scholars have largely ignored the task of constructing a definition of “mass media” or “mass communication.”

• The few scholars who have attempted defining these terms have struggled with faulty definitional elements.

• The task of conceptualizing “mass” media has become even more important – and difficult – in the new media environment.

• The cutting edge question: Is it useful to make a distinction between “mass” media and non-“mass” media?

• This review presents an argument for why it is important to make a distinction between “mass” and non-“mass” media.

• A definition of “mass” media is synthesized by using a systematic four step process.

• The definition of “mass” media resulting from this process of synthesis is: The sender is a complex organization that uses standardized practices to disseminate messages while actively promoting itself in order to attract as many audience members as possible, then conditioning those audience members for habitual repeated exposures. Audiences members are widely dispersed geographically, are aware of the public character of what they are seeing or hearing, and encounter messages in a variety of exposure states but most often in a state of automaticity. Channels of message dissemination are technological devices that can make messages public, extend the availability of messages in time and space, and can reach audiences within a relatively short time.

• Because “mass” media is conceptualized as a special set of media scholarship, “mass” media research requires special designs and analyses.

Abstract

Media scholars as well as the public frequently use the terms “mass communication” and “mass media,” but the meaning of these terms is often ambiguous. While it is assumed that everyone knows what these terms mean, the few scholars who attempt to define these terms struggle to capture the essence of their meaning without including elements that are faulty, and this task is becoming even more difficult in the new media environment. We are left with the troubling question: What are the “mass” media? This review constructs an answer to this question in a four step process. The first step features a critical analysis of the literature to identify definitional elements used by scholars. These definitional elements are subjected to four screens that evaluate their utility in a second step. The third step adds elements missing from the literature so as to make the eventual definition more useful in the new media environment. Finally, the fourth step features the construction of a working definition of “mass” media.

Content

CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF CONCEPTUALIZATIONS

Conceptualization of Receivers

Conceptualization of Channels of Transmission

Conceptualization of Senders

THE PROBLEM

Definitional Quandary

New Media Environment

Technological convergence.

Interactivity.

Information saturation.

Shift in marketing perspective.

EVALUATION OF DEFINITIONAL ELEMENTS

Too General

Too Specific

Faulty Elements

Fuzzy Elements

ADDING ELEMENTS

Audience Size

Sender Strategy

Audience Experience

ASSEMBLING DEFINITIONAL ELEMENTS

CONCLUSION

REFERENCES

APPENDIX

COPYRIGHT AND REPOSITORIES

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Synthesizing a Working Definition of “Mass” Media

W. James Potter

 

Keywords: Mass media, mass communication, conceptualization, definition, lineation theory, critical analysis

 

W. James
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How to cite

Potter, W. J. (2013). Synthesizing a Working Definition of “Mass” Media. Review of Communication Research, 1(1), 1-30. doi: 10.12840/issn.2255-4165_2013_01.01_001

Keywords

Mass Media, Mass Communication, Conceptualization, Definition, Lineation Theory, Critical Analysis

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