Chapter 1 -- Mass Media

 Chapter 1

Opening the Umbrella of Mass Communication


uman communication has been around in varying forms since the early Neanderthals 150,000 years ago.  While Neanderthals and their predecessors Cro-Magnon (90,000 years ago) lacked complex speaking abilities, they certainly communicated in other ways – most likely through nonverbal symbols and gestures.


Eventually, our human predecessors evolved into speaking humans and finally to the communication and information giants we are today.  Humans of the 21st Century have the knowledge and ability to not only access information, but even create, disseminate and respond to communication with a speed and ease previously unimagined.  Still, the models depicting Neanderthal communication remain similar to those in the Information Age.  According to media expert William Jawitz, in every communication, the process is interactive with each person in the communication process constantly shifting between sender and receiver roles.

Communicating Messages

All communication takes place in a similar fashion.  It doesn’t matter if the communication is non-verbal, verbal, information processing, digital or even non-human.  The basic communication model consists of:

  • Stimulus – a thought, event or issue that provokes a sender to create a message.
  • Sender – the person who decides to initiate a message of specific meaning.
  • Encoder – a device or interpretation that helps send the message.
  • Message – the complex information the sender wishes to provide the receiver.
  • Decoder – a device or interpretation that discerns the message for the receiver.
  • Receiver – the person to whom the message is intended. The receiver perceives the incoming message, then is influenced in some way by the message.
  • Feedback – the response the receiver sends back to the sender.
  • Noise – any outside distraction that curtails the message’s content, comprehension or delivery.


Communication, therefore, is a cycle of stimulus sparking the sending and receiving of messages.  It is important to note all communication follows this pattern whether the message is being communicated between two people, five computers, a speaker and large audience or over a large communication encoder such as the internet or television.









Noise: A communication barrier that may cause a breakdown or difficulty.






Hatten Communication Model

There are three main types of human communication that follow this model:

  1. Interpersonal communication
  2. Public speaking
  3. Mass communications


Interpersonal communication

Communication at its most intimate is called interpersonal communication.  This type of communication occurs within a very small group of individuals.  Interpersonal communication can be between two people or a very small group. 


Interpersonal communication is rooted deeply in message and feedback.  Often body language and non-verbal signals are easier to interpret in this intimate setting and participants are often the sender and receiver.  Participants in interpersonal communication are very active.


Journalists and other members of the mass media often need strong interpersonal skills to deal with a variety of people, moods, personalities and situations.  Good interpersonal skills are essential to a good journalist or member of the media.


(Note: interpersonal communication should not be confused with intrapersonal communication.  Intrapersonal communication refers to communication an individual has within his/herself. It is sometimes called “soul-searching,” “personal inner dialogue,” or “talking to oneself.”)
Public speaking

Many people have had the opportunity to deliver a speech in their lives.  Whether this speech to a group of people occurred in high school, college, professional or other settings, it surely was met with some trepidation and planning.  Public speaking refers to those speeches or communications that occur with the sender sending out a message to a large, but present, audience. 


Public speaking may take many forms, such as informative, humorous, dramatic, debate, performance, opinion or teaching.  The key with public speaking is the sender can interpret and adjust to the audience based upon any condition including feedback.


  • The president giving a speech in front of the House of Representatives is public speaking. 
  • A teacher teaching the Pythagorean Theorem to a group of ninth graders is public speaking.
  • A woman talking into a bullhorn at a protest or strike is public speaking.
  • A comedian delivering a routine to theatre patrons is public speaking.
  • The public address announcer at the Minnesota Vikings game is public speaking.


Public speaking is similar to interpersonal communication in that feedback is immediate for the sender. It is different because public speakers must decide to only take in some feedback and put up with other “noise” that comes from a larger audience.


Mass Communications

The term mass communications is self-descriptive.  Mass means a lot … as in a lot of people. Mass is short for “massive,” which is in reference to the audience (receivers) of a message.  Communications means we are referring to messages we are conveying.  Any form of Mass Communications involves sending a message to an extremely massive group of humans.  


This is no easy task.


Consider the scene for many philosophers, politicians and religious leaders of any time prior to the early 20th Century.  The way for these people to get immediate messages to a large audience almost always was done with a public speech.  Audiences needed to have close proximity to the speaker to understand and limit “noise.”  A speaker with a microphone standing before a crowd of 500,000 (much  as Martin Luther King Jr. did in his famous March on Washington speech “I Have A Dream”) is still sensing real and immediate feedback from his/her audience, so the speech remains in the public speaking realm even though 500,000 people may indeed seem massive to us.  The difference lies in the feedback.


Mass communications is different from public speaking and interpersonal communication in three major ways:

  1. lack of any form of intimacy with an audience;
  2. it is not face-to-face;
  3. feedback is delayed;
  4. encoders and decoders are requirements of mass communications due to the nature of having large audiences.


Mass communications takes on several forms because necessary to the idea, a delivery method (encoder) must be applied to help reach such a large audience.



Why study mass communications?

Much of what we know or do in America today is based on mass communications.  Jawitz says it clearly plays a large role in everyone’s life in the world.  Evidence to this truth is all around us.  We live in a world of surrounded by information on every level.  Common knowledge we as a society derive most likely comes from some form of mass media.  We all know the United States declared independence from British rule on July 4, 1776.  We know Brad Pitt is an actor and Christina Aguilera is a pop singer.  We know the World Trade Center collapsed after airplanes slammed into them on September 11, 2001.  We know George W. Bush is President of the United States.  We know global warming is an environmental issue.  We know gas prices fluctuate on a daily basis.  We know High School Musical is a popular pre-teen and teen video phenomenon. We know Albert Einstein was a famous scientist.  We know Jiffy is a brand of peanut butter.  We know the planet Mars has a reddish glow.  We know Lincoln is the capital of Nebraska.  We know Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel.


We know these things even though most of us have never met these people face-to-face nor attended these events in person.  We know them to be true and as a part of our reality.

Plus, we know so much more information. 


Society garners this knowledge primarily because our perceptions have been crafted from varying forms of mass media.  We watch television, listen to music, watch movies and films, surf the internet, read books, newspapers and magazines and listen to radios and iPods.


With mass communication so important and prevalent in our lives, it makes sense each of us understand the roles, techniques, theories, patterns, styles and conventions associated with it.


Boston University’s Melvin L. DeFleur and Fordham University’s Everette E. Dennis wrote in their book Understanding Mass Media that six stages must go into analyzing a definition of something as large and ambiguous as mass communication.  Their definition of mass communication is:


A process in which professional communicators design and use media to disseminate messages widely, rapidly, and continuously to arouse intended meanings in large, diverse, and selectively attending audiences in attempts to influence them in a variety of ways. (22)


In short, the main things that are unique to mass communication in relation to other communication formats are these two differences:


  • Mass communication depends on the use of mechanical, electronic or technological media;
  • Mass communication addresses a large, diverse audience that has a time delay in feedback.






Mass Media

Mass media are the delivery vehicle for mass communications to work properly.  Media is the plural of the word medium, which means to deliver or make a connection between two things.  Media come in numerous shapes and sizes and seem to be ever-changing in today’s technology rich world.


History of mass media

Guglielmo Marconi, inventor of radio

The beginnings of mass media trace back to such primitive beginnings as the development of an alphabet, hieroglyphics, smoke signals and jungle drums.  The spark that is considered the birth of the information era of mass communications came in the mid-1400s when German goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press.  Prior to Gutenberg’s press, books and other publications were hand printed on media such as parchment and scrolls. The effect of Gutenberg’s invention quickly and radically changed the world.  Gutenberg’s first publication was his version of the Christian text the Bible.  Soon, Christianity spread as people could own their own Bibles and many illiterate people found the need to read for both entertainment and business ventures. 


In the 1800s newspapers and magazines made their way into the mainstream, finally at an affordable price for common folks.


The invention of photography by Great Britain’s William Talbot in 1835 added a new element to mass media – actual accurate pictures.  A few years later, the telegraph (Samuel B. Morse’s invention) popped onto the scene and the barriers of distance in information sending began to fall aside.  Thomas Edison’s inventions of the telephone (in 1875) and phonograph (1877) allowed for both voice to be carried live across wires and recorded on records to listen to over and over again.  Edison, whom many could call the facilitator of mass communication acceleration, struck again in 1896 when his first personal motion picture machine (the kinetoscope) was produced.  The same year (1896), two French brothers, Auguste and Louis Lumiere invented a manner to project motion pictures on a larger screen for several people to view at once.  It was at this time the term “movies” appeared in reference to slang for moving pictures. 


Further development in mass media quickly followed:


  • In 1922, Pittsburgh’s KDKA became the first free over-the-air station to broadcast using technology developed by German scientist Heinrich Hertz (a sender and receiver proving the existence of radio waves) and Italian youngster Guglielmo Marconi (wireless telegraph); 
  • In 1927 sound could accompany movies;
  • Magnetic tape recording technology as well as color photographs came about in 1930;
  • 1935 – color movies;
  • Paperback books originated in 1939;
  • Television broadcasts premiered in 1940 after the New York World’s Fair; and,
  • 1962 satellite communications became possible.


Other important origination dates include: first computer (1940), portable transistor radios (1954), color TV (1960), photocopiers (1960), cable television (1965), video cassette recorders (1972), fax machines (1973), home computers (1977), personal steros like the Walkman (1979), home printers (1980), CDs, camcorders and cell phones (1983), and digital photography (1990).


Digital Information Age

The researchers at the PEW Internet and American Life Project based in Washington, D.C. estimate that mass media are in our midst almost non-stop today.  It is estimated that Americans spend nearly one-third their lives swimming in a form of mass communications.


The internet and cable and satellite television stations, as well as portable and affordable cell phones, have made information gathering nearly real-time all the time.  Information is barraging us from many media and in different ways.  Though overwhelming to think about, the results have been progressively positive in the overall humankind brain.


James Appleberry, president emeritus of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, explains the growth of information and a need to know mentality by members of our society by pointing out exponential possibilities of the digital information age:


“The sum total of humankind’s knowledge doubled from 1750 to 1900.  It doubled again from 1900 to 1950.  Again, from 1960-65.  It has been estimated that the sum total of humankind’s knowledge has doubled at least every five years since then.  Further projected, that by the year 2020 knowledge will double every 73 days.”


Given Appleberry’s prediction, being savvy in an information-rich media world is essential.




The Mass Media Umbrella















Comic books




PA systems








Mp3 player





Motion pictures


T-shirts, hats, flags