Development of the Mass Media & Journalism in the United States: History & Timeline

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  • 0:01 Mass Media
  • 2:04 Print Media
  • 4:12 Broadcast Media
  • 7:00 Internet & Social Media
  • 8:42 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley is an attorney. She has taught and written various introductory law courses.

The mass media includes print media, broadcast media, social media and other types of communication. This lesson explores the development of the mass media in the United States and its role in the American political process.

The Mass Media

Did you read the newspaper this morning? Maybe you watched a morning news show, or listened to news updates broadcast from your favorite radio station. Or, if you're like me, you take regular work breaks to skim headlines on the Internet and look at news updates on your Twitter feed.

Each of these methods represents the use of mass media. Mass media consists of any means of communication intended to reach a general, public audience. Note that mass media is widely used to reference the entire public communications industry, including:

  • Newspapers
  • Magazines
  • Flyers
  • Billboards
  • Automated telemarketing
  • Radio broadcasts
  • Television broadcasts
  • Internet articles
  • Social media posts

Studies show that mass media indirectly influences commerce, culture and politics. In terms of politics, mass media allows the public to see and hear candidates early in, and throughout, an election process. The media also highlights particular political issues and social problems for the audience. These days, most politicians engage the mass media for self-promotion purposes. This includes things like:

  • Broadcasting their political advertisements
  • Making television interviews and appearances
  • Publishing their articles and essays
  • Exchanging information through social media

Mass media is, therefore, a valuable commodity. In the United States, corporations control most mass media. However, in countries such as China and Russia, the national government controls the mass media. This is known as state media. Let's take a closer look at a few of the more popular types of mass media.

The Print Media

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the print media was the most dominant form of media. Print media is made up of books, newspapers, newsletters and magazines. It's any communication intended for the general public that's lightweight, portable and printed on paper. Print media in the United States essentially began with The Federalist Papers, which were published and distributed to promote the ratification of the Constitution. For nearly 200 years, newspapers were politically run. But by the mid-19th century, print media had evolved.

The evolution was due to several factors, including the invention of the telegraph. The telegraph allowed newspapers to receive a steady stream of news dispatches from all over the world. New steam-powered printing presses allowed for higher supplies, while growing literacy rates led to higher demand. As a result, more independent newspapers joined the growing print media field and some newspapers soon reached circulations in the millions.

By the latter half of the 19th century, competition led to yellow journalism. This is journalism that exploits, distorts or exaggerates in order to attract readers. Widespread support for the Spanish-American War can be attributed to yellow journalism. President McKinley wanted to avoid a war, but sensationalized articles portrayed him as weak and encouraged the war in order to give Cubans independence.

Magazine circulation increased during this time as well, leading to our nation's first investigative journalism. Muckrakers were a group of journalists who exposed injustices and political corruption in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In fact, the muckraking tactics of two young Washington Post reporters exposed the Watergate scandal of the 1970s, and muckraking is common today.

The Broadcast Media

This brings us to the broadcast media. Broadcast media includes radio, television and Internet. It's any audio and/or video communication intended for the general public. By the end of the 19th century, radio was invented, but only used as a two-way communication system in industrial and military settings. In the 1920s, several manufacturers decided to mass-produce radio receivers for sale to the general public. As an incentive for people to buy radios, these same manufacturers created radio stations. That's why, for example, General Electric owns NBC.

Franklin Roosevelt was the first president to regularly use radio addresses. He broadcast a series of 'fireside chats' between 1933 and 1944 in order to discuss various political issues, such as the banking crisis. Throughout World War II, radio was the main source of up-to-the-minute news information.

Then came television. Though invented in the 1920s, television wasn't marketed to the public until the late 1940s. It quickly grew to be a popular source of news and information. By 1952, the Democratic and Republican national conventions were televised. That same year, Dwight Eisenhower effectively used the first political ads in his successful presidential bid.

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