Mass media usually are thought of as sources of news and entertainment. They also carry messages of persuasion. Important, though often overlooked, is how mass messages bind people into communities, even into nations.
Mass media are pervasive in modern life. Every morning millions of Americans wake up to clock radios. Political candidates spend most of their campaign dollars on television ads to woo voters. The United States economy depends on advertising to create mass markets. American children see unprecedented numbers of commercial messages a year. Through the mass media we learn almost everything we know beyond our immediate surroundings. What would we know of Baghdad or Tikrit or the Super Bowl if it were not for newspapers, television and other mass Medias? (Miller).
The mass media bind communities together by giving messages that become a shared experience. In the United States, a rural newspaper editor scrambling to get an issue out may not be thinking about how his work creates a common identity among readers, but it does. The town newspaper is something everyone in town has in common. A shared knowledge and a shared experience are created by mass media, and thus they create the base for a community.
The same phenomenon occurs on a national level. News coverage of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon bound Americans in a nationwide grieving process. Coverage of the death of Princess Diana prompted a global dialogue on celebrity coverage. Stories of misdeeds help us figure out what we as a society regards as inexcusable. The news coverage of the impeachment of President Clinton did this. Mass media is essential for the ongoing process of society identifying its values. The importance of mass media in binding people into nationhood is clear in every revolution and coup-d’etat around the world. The leaders try to take over the national media right away as an essential vehicle to unify the population behind their cause and silence the opposition. When the U.S. invaded Baghdad in 2003, a priority was to get the television back on the air.
The trend of conglomeration in media poses a problem for society. Conglomeration affects the diversity of messages offered by the mass media. Conglomerates are trying to buy control or market domination not just in one medium but in all the media. The aim is to control the entire process from an original manuscript or new series to its use in as many forms as possible. A magazine article owned by a company becomes a book owned by the company. The book becomes a television program owned by the company which then becomes a movie owned by the company. It is shown in theaters owned by the company and the movie soundtrack is issued on a record label owned by the company, featuring the vocalist on the cover of one of the company’s magazines (Bagdikian). Understanding this, it is clear that the company will be less than enthusiastic about outside ideas and production that it does not own or control.
One of the negative affects of conglomeration occurs when a parent company looks to its subsidiaries only to enrich conglomerate coffers as quickly as possible and by any means possible, regardless of the quality of products that are produced. Management of diverse conglomerates tends to take an “easy-way-out” approach that deemphasizes content. Many of these conglomerates focus on profits alone. This mind set leads to decline in quality product.
“The Man” forces subsidiaries to cut costs to increase profits, a trend that severely impacts the quality of the media message. Fewer people to do more work is the new formula for business success. At newspapers, a reporter’s story used to pass through several hands- editor, copy editor, headline writer, typesetter, and proofreader. At every stage the story could be improved. In today’s streamlined newsrooms, proof readers have been replaced by spell check software. The jobs of reporter and the typesetter have been consolidated. In many newsrooms, so have the jobs of copy editors and headline writers. This trend in media directly affects people in their everyday life, costing some their jobs.
Mass Medias also create rituals around which people structure their lives. This is one of many ways that the media contribute to social stability. Northwest Airlines pilots flying over the Dakotas in the 1950’s could tell when the late night news was over on WCCO, the powerful Minneapolis radio station. They could see the lights at ranches and towns all across the Dakotas going off as people, having heard the news, went to bed. The 10 o’clock WCCO news has become a ritual (Curran).
These are just a small look at how media influences society. The relationship between the two is parasitic. As long as society has a need for information and entertainment, the media will be there to provide it.
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