On a fundamental level, mass communication is the process of disseminating information to a large audience. Mass communication can be broken down into categories like journalism, advertising, marketing, public relations, and political communication.
Of course, there is a huge amount of crossover between all of these areas because each is a single component of our massive communication complex. Professionals in these categories all make use of print/written communication, and visual media (graphic design, video, photography) to accomplish the goals defined by their profession and their role within their organization. In order to disseminate the information, once the product is created, professionals make use of a variety of platforms including print, radio, website, social media, television, and online video platforms.
Mass communication is a large umbrella, and most organizations engage in all of its facets simultaneously. In this article we will take a look at the major genres of mass communication, and break down the role each plays in our society.
Journalism comes in many forms. Newspapers, network television, cable news, radio, YouTube news channels, and even on social media you can find both reporters and amateur citizen journalists documenting events on the ground as they happen. But when most people think of journalism they think of the big news outlets like the New York Times, CNN, The Washington Post, and other major papers and television networks. Journalism, as an ideal, is a profession dedicated to keeping people up to date on important information and events from around the world.
Good journalism is fact-based, well-sourced, and firmly paints an accurate picture of the world in which we live. However, there are some fundamental tensions in modern society that make it challenging to engage in true journalism. Most major news outlets are for-profit organizations. This means they are incentivised to focus on stories that will grasp the audience’s attention, and to present those stories in the most enticing, attention-grabbing ways. Major news organizations have to compete with lots of independent online startups that specialize in creating headlines that sacrifice accuracy for the sake of generating interest.
Modern journalists have it tough. In an era in which we have more information available to us than anyone could possibly consume, how do you make stories with important, relevant information stand out? And how do you accomplish this in a way that is ethical, and presents information accurately? It’s not easy. Some even say that professional journalism is dying out. And sadly, this is somewhat supported by job statistics for reporters, correspondents, and broadcast news analysts.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, reporters, correspondents, and broadcast news analysts have a median pay of $46,270 per year. The highest paid 10% in the field earn over $117,170 per year. The industry is experiencing significant decline. The job market for these professions is expected to shrink by 11% between 2019 and 2029.
Many journalists are striking out on their own, starting their own YouTube channels and social media companies, trying to capture the attention of various markets. While in a some ways this is a positive development, such operations typically operate on a shoestring budget and don’t have the resources to fund investigative journalism projects that help to keep companies and politicians honest. The future of journalism is in flux. The profession may look incredibly different ten years from now. But it’s still one of the most important institutions in a free society, and one of the most important, if not profitable, areas of mass media.
Advertising, Marketing, and Public Relations
When people think of marketing and advertising the first thing that comes to mind might be perfumed ads in a magazine, billboards, or television commercials. But this is another field that has undergone incredible evolutions in the age of social media. These days you might feel like almost everything you see online is some form of marketing, and for the most part, you’re right. Here are some quotes by marketing industry gurus that demonstrate the all encompassing nature of marketing and digital marketing.
- The best marketing doesn’t feel like marketing. -Tom Fishburne
- Content is fire. Social media is gasoline. -Jay Baer
- The attention economy is not growing, which means we have to grab the attention that someone else has today. -Brent Leary
Modern marketing is about engagement. The most direct way this is done is when companies engage with their customers and potential customers through social media. Often through storytelling. Even today’s television and magazine ads may prioritize design that hopes to go viral online. As the Internet allows more and more people with niche interests to come together and form communities, digital marketing is becoming more and more about engaging those niche communities in ways that appeal to them. This is leading to incredibly fast innovations in marketing.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, median pay for marketing managers is $135,900 per year. Social media specialists fall under the umbrella of public relations specialists. According to the BLS they can expect a median annual wage of $56,770.
Political communication combines many aspects of both marketing and journalism. Like journalism, you must find ways to communicate about high-stakes issues that tend to be incredibly complex and make them digestible for and interesting to the average person. Like marketing you must also persuade people to see things your way in order to garner their support, whether financial or at the ballot box. Politicians employ public relations and marketing experts to work with policy analysts and other professionals to help turn political policies into compelling issues that capture the minds of the voting public. These professionals then work with speech writers to craft the overall message of the politician based on their policy initiatives.
Where it gets complicated is determining how best to communicate that message through the various social media platforms. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and other social media platforms all have a variety of restrictions in how they are used. Audiences have different expectations for content on each of the platforms. What works on Twitter may not work on TikTok. But with the crossover, what works on TikTok may be shared on Twitter. Mass communication professionals must take into account not only how they create content for specific platforms. While Facebook allows for highly targeted ads, you can’t assume that the ads designed for one demographic won’t be shared and ridiculed in online spaces. It’s an incredibly complex endeavor.
Political communication requires politicians and their teams to interact with every single major communication platform in every way. They create ads for the internet and television, newspapers, and magazines. Politicians often have political social media accounts where they interact with their base and the public at large. Everything they say and do is analyzed and critiqued both by their supporters and their opposition. Any small misstep can turn them into the laughingstock of the nation. It’s high-pressure, high-stakes work. We already listed the salaries of marketing and public relations experts above, and they can expect to make similar money in politics.
Mass communication is a broad field that interacts with every level of society. Whether you’re reporting on current events, advocating for a politician, or selling your company’s latest innovative product, you’re competing with everyone else, doing the same thing, all at once, over the most comprehensive information network in the history of the world. Mass media is all-encompassing. And people look to it to provide them with context and meaning.
Never before have people had the ability to so easily reach the minds of millions of people. And never before have there been so many ways of doing so effectively. For all the powerful means of communication our mass media platforms provide, they are, essentially, neutral. The effect they have on our society as a whole comes down to how they are used. They can be used to make peoples’ lives better or worse. To humanize people, or dehumanize them.
With so many competing concerns and interests at play, it’s difficult to tell whether mass media will have a good or bad effect on society at large over time. It seems like every year brings new ways to engage with people. Innovation keeps mass communication professionals scrambling, constantly striving to learn how to best use new technologies and adapt to the latest ways people consume information. One thing is for sure. Mass communication will never be boring. It promises to be an exciting field full of highs and lows; challenges and triumphs for anyone who works in it.