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What Does Media Mean?

Media, the plural of medium, broadly describes all channels of communication, including everything from printed paper to digital data. Media comprises news, art, educational content, and any form of information that can reach or influence people, including television, radio, books, magazines, and the internet.


Mass media refers to the news and information that reaches a large number of people, while local media, e.g., newspapers, and regional television/radio stations, serves the needs of the communities or urban areas in which they are located.

The Importance of Understanding Media in Today’s World

Media plays a key role in people’s everyday lives as it helps educate them and enables them to keep track of the day-to-day news, both local and global. Media is the best platform for people to get information about what’s happening worldwide and down the street.

By analyzing the information they receive, people can develop their own opinions about various concepts and topics, while (in the best of all worlds) respecting the opinions of people who don’t agree with them. The media is also extremely important in terms of education, as it helps children and teenagers develop critical thinking by teaching them to consider more than one point of view. The media also acts as a watchdog, investigating and reporting on government misconduct.

In his book, “Understanding Media: Extensions of Man” published in 1964, Marshall McLuhan, who was a media theorist at the University of Toronto, coined the phrase “the medium is the message.” The concept behind the phrase is that the way society sends and receives information is more important than the actual information. In other words, McLuhan’s premise is that the form of the message, i.e., visual, print, musical, etc., influences how society perceives that message.

The Evolution of Media Through History

Early Forms of Media

Media has existed in various forms for thousands of years. In fact, cave paintings are the most well-known primitive forms of media. Humans first created cave paintings around 62,000 B.C.E. The paintings typically depicted animals. Although the purpose of these cave paintings is unclear, one theory is that humans used these depictions to send messages to others as to what animals were safe to eat without using words.

And ancient Egyptians used hieroglyphs, a mix of picture and sound symbols, to communicate stories. These people used Egyptian hieroglyphic script as a writing system to represent their language. Experts believe that the ancient Egyptians created hieroglyphs as a way to accurately and reliably document and communicate information connected with religion and government.

Storytelling then shifted to oral tradition, a form of communication where knowledge, art, ideas, and cultural information were transmitted from one generation to another by word of mouth. This could happen through speech, including folktales, poetry, or prose, or through song, including chants or ballads. This made it possible for different cultures to transmit history, literature, law, and other knowledge orally across generations. Eventually, these stories and songs were written down and published.

While the transition from oral to written communication likely overlapped, historians have suggested that the oldest surviving written work in the Greek language that stemmed from oral tradition is “The Iliad” by Homer.

The Invention of the Printing Press

The next breakthrough in the history of communication is mass printing, a process that made it easier for people to get their news and other information and also increased literacy.

Until Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 15th century, individuals wrote every book by hand, and, as such, each copy was unique. Gutenberg’s printing press, however, enabled print media to be mass-produced.

The printing press increased the speed of communication and, consequently, the spread of knowledge as it took significantly less time to produce 50 printed books than it took to produce 50 handwritten books. And by the 1930s, many printing presses could produce 3,000 pages every 60 minutes.

Before the printing press, only the upper classes were really able to access books. However, since mass-producing books made them less expensive, the middle classes were also able to access and enjoy them. This led to an increase in public literacy.

Evolution of Mass Media

The Adoption of Newspapers

The Oxford Gazette was founded in Oxford, England in 1665 as a government newsbook and is recognized as the first English newspaper. It was moved to London in 1666 and renamed the London Gazette. The Gazette was printed on both sides of a single sheet of paper. However, the Gazette was not printed and sold to the general public, rather it was sent to subscribers by mail. Britain’s first daily newspaper was The Daily Courant, published in 1702. The Halifax Gazette, published in 1752, was Canada’s first newspaper.

The first multi-page newspaper published monthly in British colonial America was titled “Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick.” it was published Boston in 1690. This publication focused on news, such as the Western Expedition against Canada, and events, such as the Native Americans establishing a day of Thanksgiving.

James Franklin, Benjamin Franklin’s older brother, published America’s first independent newspaper, The New-England Courant, in 1721. The country’s first daily newspaper, The Pennsylvania Packet and Daily Advertiser, was launched in 1784.

Newspapers became much more common in the late 19th century, and at the beginning of the 20th century, newspapers were read in nearly every American home. And without competition from radio and television, newspapers were very successful.

The Radio Takes Off

In 1895, Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi successfully used radio waves to send a message via Morse Code over a distance of one kilometer. In 1897, Marconi received a patent in England for his “wireless telegraph” machine (later known as the radio).

In the years leading up to World War I, a number of communications companies began advancing Marconi’s invention so they could transmit more than just Morse Code. By 1914, Reginald Fessenden, a Canadian inventor, developed a machine that could sustain a radio wave and was powerful enough to broadcast music and voices over thousands of miles.

The first radio news program to hit the airwaves occurred in Detroit, Michigan in 1920. Then concerts and sporting events were publicly broadcast. However, not very many people had access to radios at that time. The first mobile two-way radio that could transmit and receive radio waves was invented in Australia in 1923.

There were more than 500 radio stations broadcasting news, sports, variety shows, music, and everything in between by the middle of the 1920s. And by the 1930s, most homes in Europe and the US had radios. But not long after World War II ended, television overtook the radio as the most important electronic mass medium in the world.

The Move to Television

The precursor to today’s television began in the 1920s when Russian Vladimir Zworykin developed the kinescope, a device that recorded images on motion picture film. Then in 1926, John Logie Baird demonstrated a television system to the public in London. Two years later, television sets were first commercially produced in the US and shown to the public in September 1928. However, it wasn’t until 1938 that black and white electronic television sets were commercially available in the US.

In the late 1940s, as black and white televisions made their way into more American homes, manufacturers were refining their color television sets. Also in the 1940s, US television stations first broadcast professional sports and the ABC television network was formed. Meet the Press, which debuted in 1947, went on to become television’s longest-running show.

NBC’s Today show debuted in 1952, revolutionizing the idea of morning television. I Love Lucy launched in 1951 and Elvis Presley made his network television debut on a program called Stage Show in 1956.

In 1960, politics took center stage with the split-screen televised presidential debate between Richard M. Nixon and John F. Kennedy. Then just a few years later, in November 1963, the assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas forever changed the way breaking news was covered. Earlier in 1963, news coverage of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech influenced the federal government to take more actions to bring about racial equality. And by watching man walk on the moon at the end of the decade, people’s thinking about what was possible also changed forever.

In 1970, the Public Broadcasting Service was launched, creating a market for nonprofit educational programming. And in 1972, cable television station HBO burst onto the scene, offering original programming, including movies and live sports, such as boxing. In 1977, the first VHS-based VCR was rolled out in the US.

In December 1980, during a Monday Night Football broadcast Howell Cosell announced the murder of John Lennon, the first of several times when national news was announced during professional sporting events. Other examples include NBC switching from an NBA finals game to broadcast the O.J. Simpson slow speed car chase in 1994 and ESPN announcing news of the death of Osama bin Laden during a national televised baseball game.

In the 1990s, sitcom television, such as Frasier, Seinfeld, and Friends, were huge hits. On the other hand, the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona were not quite as successful. Also in this decade, manufacturers rolled out TIVO and DVR technology, which eventually made VCRs obsolete.

TV viewers were mad for Reality TV in the 2000s and they tuned into such shows as American Idol, The Amazing Race, and Survivor. In 2007, Netflix began offering a streaming option for its TV shows and movies. And flatscreen TVs begin to replace the larger, cathode-ray tube TVs.

In the 2010s and 2020s, streaming services became even more popular. In fact, HBO and NBC, among other stations, developed monthly subscription services. More households in the US had smart TVs, enabling television viewers to browse through YouTube, stream music, and watch their favorite shows on one device. And now numerous TVs include such services as Hulu and Netflix.

The Digital Revolution

Sometimes called the Third Industrial Revolution, the digital revolution, refers to the move from mechanical and analog electronic devices to digital technology. The era started to emerge in the 1980s and continues today. The digital revolution, which was the beginning of the Information Age, started with one fundamental concept: the internet.

The Internet

The invention of the internet and the World Wide Web in the 1960s and 1970s and their subsequent commercialization transformed information sharing and international communication. Although people use the terms internet and World Wide Web interchangeably, they are not really the same. The internet refers to the global communication system, including hardware and infrastructure, while the web is one of the services communicated over the internet. The Internet allows the transfer of data, information, and communication worldwide, connecting organizations, devices, and people in a decentralized and distributed manner.

Social Media

Social media includes sites, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Snapchat, which let their users interact with each other via text, videos, and pictures. These social media sites enable individuals to leave comments and “likes” to create conversations around a variety of topics, including news, sports, politics, and users’ day-to-day lives. In addition, businesses use social media for internal communications as well as marketing. Social media has significantly influenced the way individuals interact with one another, and it has played a major role in the move to a digital world.

Streaming Services

Over the past decade, streaming services have changed the way people watch television shows and movies and listen to music. No more taking a trip to the local video store or waiting an entire week to see the next episode of a favorite television program as on-demand subscription streaming services now allow consumers to stream video and audio anytime day or night from wherever they are on any internet-connected device.

The Differences Between Traditional Media and New Media

Today when people think of the world of media, they think of online channels as it has become the easiest way to connect with others and share messages. While people still use traditional media for information sharing, the way they get their media has changed, and it will continue to evolve with the development of new technologies.

Traditional media comprises print media and broadcast media while new media consists of digital media, social media, multimedia, and user-generated content.

Traditional media is well-established and reaches larger audiences than new media, and it is usually more credible than new media, as people consider it more trustworthy and less biased than new media. However, it costs a lot to produce and distribute traditional media. In addition, it’s not easy for traditional media to target specific users.

New media, on the other hand, is more affordable, easier to produce and distribute, and more accessible, as individuals can access it from any location on any device with an internet connection. New media engages users more than traditional media because it encourages them to actively participate and interact with each other. Yet new media is often viewed as less credible than traditional media because anyone can create and distribute it.

Other differences between traditional and new media include:

  • How it’s produced: Although traditional media is generally produced by large media organizations, new media is usually produced by small groups.
  • How it’s distributed: While traditional media is distributed via such channels as radio, television, and print media, new media is generally distributed online.
  • How it’s consumed: Typically, individuals consume traditional media passively, while they most often consume new media actively.
  • How it’s accessed: Generally, people access traditional media through broadcast or print, they usually access new media via digital channels.

The Impact of Media on Society

In all its forms, media can help people better themselves by changing the way they think about any number of issues, helping them engage with other people in other countries, and encouraging them to be more open and accepting of other cultures.

By educating people about different cultures and emphasizing the positive qualities of those cultures, the media plays a key role in helping individuals better understand different global cultures so they can avoid falling victim to prejudice and stereotyping. And the media enables people to exchange positive cultural values and ideas with individuals in different societies.

Impact of Digital Media on Society

Digital media gives people a voice, encourages civic participation, and helps create communities.

For years, traditional media has played a central role in informing people about important news and a variety of other subjects, such as sports, fashion, health, etc., With the advent of digital media, more people than ever are able to access that information and even interact with others about subjects of interest.

Moreover, digital media enables individuals to better explore their civic responsibilities as they can easily access information about various issues, allowing them to make more informed decisions. Also, people can use digital media to respond in real-time as events are happening, helping to expose injustice or crime, for example.

Additionally, thanks to digital media, communities no longer have to consist of groups of people who are linked geographically, rather communities can comprise individuals with similar interests no matter where in the world they live.

Another advantage of digital media is that it increases the pool of talent for employers as digital media has made remote working possible. Workers can do any number of jobs from any location and at any time as a result of high-speed internet, video and audio technology, digital data, better messaging, and online collaboration tools, such as Slack, Trello, and Asana.

Digital media has also made it easier for people to get an education or learn new skills as they no longer have to attend physical institutions. People of all ages can participate in learning remotely on any device from their homes or anywhere else as long as they can connect to the internet. Digital media has also changed how people learn. For example, individuals with different backgrounds but similar interests can collaborate in virtual classrooms and teachers can now reach significantly more students.

Despite the benefits digital media has afforded society, there are some downsides, such as spreading inappropriate content and false information. That’s why it’s important for people to verify the information they’re receiving online as well as protect children from content that’s not appropriate for them.

Influence of Media on Mental Health

Every day, the average individual consumes some form of media, including digital media, social media, television, radio, movies, and print media. However, people may not understand how much media influences their lives.

The media people engage with provides information about numerous subjects, such as mental health as well as the behaviors of people with mental health issues. But how the media portrays mental health is often biased, causing the public to think negatively about it, which can have a harmful effect on the feelings, thoughts, and actions of individuals who suffer from mental health problems. The reason these portrayals are negative is that they’re generally based on stereotypes rather than facts — stereotypes that are often exaggerated for entertainment’s sake.

The media often suggests that people suffering from mental health issues look and behave differently than the general public. For example, according to the media, they are often prone to violence, they’re dirty and unkempt, they exhibit extreme symptoms, and they’re not likely to recover from their problems.

And all too often, the media portrays less common mental health issues, such as schizophrenia, more than it portrays common mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression. So it seems that the media, whose job is to represent the public, isn’t really depicting the mental health issues that are the most common but the sensational problems that are more popular for the purposes of entertainment.

This just increases the stigma of mental health and could prevent individuals from seeking help, cause people to lose confidence in their recoveries, and further isolate them. The way media portrays mental health can also have a negative effect on peoples’ relationships with friends and families, making them feel like outsiders because they’re not “normal.”

The bottom line is that when mass media portrays a false image of mental health, it can affect individuals with mental health issues as well as how others view them.

The Relationship Between Media and Politics

The influence of the media on public opinion can have political repercussions. That’s because in democratic societies, the media plays a critical part in helping to shape the opinions of the public and influencing the results of political races. For example, the way the media cover the campaigns of candidates can influence voters’ opinions of those candidates and what they stand for, which can influence the outcomes of elections.

In the US, modern political life is dominated by the cozy relationship between politicians and the media. News outlets, particularly those that run programming 24/7, have to fill all those hours and interviews with politicians are an inexpensive way to do that, and, as such, politicians depend on the media to help preserve their images. However, media outlets and political reporters sometimes are biased toward a particular agenda or political party. And while this may be entirely legal, it still causes some concern among the public.

Media and Communication

The media today reflects society’s beliefs and values, facilitates education and the spread of knowledge, and can contribute to a cultural revolution. Through their reporting, editorial choices, and advertising practices, the media can have an effect on public opinion and perceptions about issues, such as politics, race, gender, culture, and more. In addition to influencing the general public, the media influences many prominent figures in American politics, business, entertainment, and other fields.

The media’s influence on public opinion can have a positive effect on society. For example, media coverage of the environment has caused people to become more aware of environmental issues, including climate change, and spurred them to advocate for changes. Likewise, media coverage of police-involved shootings and racial injustice has increased awareness of these issues as well as a call for change.

But media can also have a negative effect on society. For example, reporting that is sensationalized can distort people’s perceptions of reality, causing fear, anxiety, and even public panic. This can be especially troublesome during crises, such as terrorist attacks, pandemics, or natural disasters, as the media’s coverage of these events can worsen these situations and harm people and entire communities.

A powerful communication tool, social media has had a major effect on how people communicate and has become a vital part of their day-to-day lives. In addition, social media has taken over the business market, the advertising sector, and the education industry. This digital transformation is the result of such applications as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

And social media has brought increased awareness to people in one part of the world about what’s happening in other regions. For example, thanks to the reach of social media, people worldwide were able to learn about the 2022 fires in the Amazon rainforest via their news feeds.

In addition, businesses are creating brand awareness by promoting their products and running advertisements on social media platforms, which allow these companies to reach consumers no matter where they live.

Understanding Media Ethics and Regulation

How do reporters decide what news stories to write each day? How do they determine when to print top-secret government information? The answers to these questions are guided by journalistic ethics, the common values that steer journalists and editors to act with integrity and look for the truth.

Journalistic ethics describe the obligations that journalists, editors, and others in the industry should adhere to so that they perform their work conscientiously. The majority of news organizations have their own written codes of ethics as do professional journalistic groups and organizations, such as the Online News Association and the Society of Professional Journalists. Professional journalists or news organizations that don’t meet these ethical standards will lose credibility.

Several key ethical standards appear across global news organizations, calling on reporters “to seek the truth, act in the public interest, and minimize harm.”

Media Bias and the Importance of Objectivity

Media bias pertains to journalists’ and news organizations’ biases or perceived biases. Media bias typically refers to widespread bias that affects the standard of journalism, rather than the bias of one journalist or the bias in one news article. Media bias can affect what events editors decide to cover and the stories they decide to publish, the perspective from which reporters write those stories as well as the language they use.

In most countries, media bias means favoring conservative or liberal politics. And in some countries, media bias totally reflects the standards of their governing bodies, as in North Korea. As such, media bias is effectively propaganda.

A lot of media consists of unconscious bias, which happens when journalists may not have access to all the facts to write stories so that they are fair to all parties. However, some media comprises explicit bias, where journalists and/or news organizations purposely try to portray individuals, groups, or events in a certain light, either for political reasons or to make money.

Media Literacy and the Importance of Critical Thinking Skills

Media literacy can help people identify various types of media, understand their messages, contribute to public discussion, and make sound decisions, for example when they elect their leaders. Individuals who are media literate can adopt critical thinking skills to interpret media messages and images to determine if they’re accurate or credible. There are a number of ways people can interpret what they read and see in the media based on such factors as their background knowledge and personal experiences.

Media literacy enables people to recognize biases in the media and understand how those biases might affect the way they perceive certain events or issues. For example, a conservative media news site might use emotional language to make people feel negatively toward immigrants coming into their country, while a progressive news organization might emphasize how poverty affects minority communities. If people are able to recognize these biases, they can make informed decisions about how to respond rationally to topics that are sometimes sensitive.

Media Regulation Around the Globe

Media regulation is a controversial and sensitive topic in all liberal democracies. Mass media regulations are enforced by law, rules, or procedures, which are in place to protect media freedom and the freedom of expression while protecting the public interest.

Mass media regulation targets the press, radio, and television and may also include cable, satellite, storage, distribution technology, recorded music, the internet, mobile phones, etc. However, there is no one standard or model for regulating internet content globally. Rather, each modern democracy has its own specific concerns and therefore regulates media as it sees fit.

For example, in the United States, which regards the First Amendment of the US Constitution as sacrosanct, the government does draw the line at what media organizations can say or show on various platforms. The Federal Communications Commission, which regulates broadcast television, imposes certain restraints and obligations on broadcasters, such as not allowing nudity and not permitting commercial content in children’s television programming.

And in the United Kingdom, The Office of Communication manages and regulates communication services, such as broadband and mobile networks. The Office of Communication also regulates television and radio broadcasts to ensure the public is not exposed to offensive and inappropriate content.

The Future of the Media

As the future unfolds, the media industry will increasingly leverage digital platforms for news, entertainment, and business as most people receive and share information via digital channels. And the future of digital media will continue to evolve to meet consumer demands and expectations. In addition, the increase in the use of next-generation technologies, such as virtual reality and augmented reality, mobile video, and data analytics, will influence the future of digital media.

The Role of Artificial Intelligence and Automation

All stakeholders in the media industry, including those in radio, television, and print media, understand the importance of digital strategies and how these strategies can help increase revenue.

However, digital transformation is not an easy proposition; rather, it requires an innovative approach, such as implementing artificial intelligence (AI) and automation. For instance, by automating news production using AI, broadcasters can boost viewership while reducing costs.

The role of AI in enhancing efficiency and increasing revenue will benefit the media industry in the future as more organizations understand what AI can do to improve operations, better the consumer experience, and deliver value.

Potential Challenges and Opportunities

Looking toward the future, though, some media companies will have to face certain challenges. For example, as traditional revenue streams, such as print advertising, dry up, media companies will have to identify new ways to make money from their content.

And with the increase in fake news and misinformation, media companies will have to once again build and maintain trust with their audiences by ensuring that their content is balanced, accurate, and trustworthy, while also battling against this misinformation and fake news.

Media companies today collect and use data about consumers to target those users with personalized content. However, many users worry about how businesses use their data. Consequently, media organizations have to balance the need to collect and use customer data with protecting customer privacy.

However, there are also opportunities for media companies in the future. As long as they protect the privacy of their customers’ personal information, they can use that data to offer personalized recommendations to them. This helps media companies boost engagement, increase loyalty, and make money from their content.

Media companies can also collaborate with other media companies, social media platforms, and influencers to reach new audiences by developing new forms of content. Additionally, media companies that put their money into research and development and are willing to test out new platforms and formats, will likely be more successful than those that don’t invest in new technologies.

The future presents challenges and opportunities for media companies. However, to thrive in this new era of media, these organizations must adapt to ever-changing consumer preferences and advances in technology, while also maintaining the trust of their users and identifying new ways to make money from their content.


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Linda Rosencrance
Technology journalist
Linda Rosencrance
Technology journalist

Linda Rosencrance is a freelance writer and editor based in the Boston area, with expertise ranging from AI and machine learning to cybersecurity and DevOps. She has been covering IT topics since 1999 as an investigative reporter working for several newspapers in the Boston metro area. Before joining Techopedia in 2022, her articles have appeared in TechTarget,, TechBeacon, IoT World Today, Computerworld, CIO magazine, and many other publications. She also writes white papers, case studies, ebooks, and blog posts for many corporate clients, interviewing key players, including CIOs, CISOs, and other C-suite execs.