The word media is the plural of medium, which comes from the Latin medius for middle (Media, 2001). There are three senses of the word media. The first is as an “intervening or intermediate agency or substance”, the second is a “conscious technical sense, as in the distinction between print and sound and vision as media”, and, lastly, “the specialized capitalist sense” in which a newspaper or broadcasting service that already exists is seen as a medium for something else- as in advertising (Williams, 1983, p. 203). Overtime, all three of these senses seem to have converged and formed the way that people currently think about media (Williams, 1983, p. 203).

The word media is currently used to refer to mass media, "the main means of mass communication, such as television, radio, and newspapers" (Mass media, 2000). The term mass media came about in the 1920s and finally made a distinction between face-to-face and mass communication (Peters, 1999). Although the term mass communication and mass media are used interchangeably, they are different concepts. Mass media refers to “technological tools, or channels, used to transmit the messages of mass communication” while mass communication means “a society-wide communication process to a large, mixed audience” (Hanson, 2010, p.11). One way to define mass media is as “the intersection of mass communication, culture, and technology” (Giles, 2003, p. 7). Mass media include print media such as books, magazines, newspapers, and electronic media such as audio, television, movies, and the Internet (Hanson, 2010).

Media Theories

Theories and views of media have changed over time. From the 1900s to the 1930s media was seen as very powerful (McQuail, 2002). This was called the hypodermic needle model (Price & Feldman, 2009). According to this view, the media could directly persuade and inject ideas to a passive audience (Price & Feldman, 2009). The hypodermic theory marked the beginning of modern media research (Gitlin, 2001). This view was reinforced during WWI because of the use of war propaganda until later when the media was studied more scientifically with surveys and experiments (McQuail, 2002).

From the 1930s to the 1960s, media was found not to be all powerful, rather intervening effects occurred (McQuail, 2002). The media was found to operate within social and cultural contexts, etc. (McQuail, 2002). This time period was a marked contrast to the hypodermic needle model. According to scholars, learning information from media sources did not lead directly to attitude change, and attitude change didn’t lead directly to behavior change (McQuail, 2002). In short, people began to doubt the effects of media.

One of the most famous media scholars of the twentieth century is Marshall McLuhan. McLuhan (1964) took a different view than other scholars of his time, asserting that it was not the medium, but the way that people used a new medium that gave it it’s meaning. He is famous for saying “the medium is the message” (Giles, 2003, p. 6). The definition of media, according to McLuhan is ever changing because each new medium shapes society in a different way (Giles, 2003). People give meaning to media through their use. McLuhan was important in the field of communication because he, along with a few others, opened the door for scholars to take a more critical look at media (McChesney, 2007).

In the 1970s, there was a new paradigm shift with Noelle-Neumann's (1973) proclamation about "the return of powerful mass media" and Gerbner's cultivation theory (Scheufele & Tewksbury, 2007, p.10). Although the two scholars had opposed political views, both thought that mass media storongly influenced audiences (Scheufele & Tewksbury, 2007). Media research began to view media as a bit stronger once again, but took a much more nuanced view of media than the hypodermic needle model. Scholars began to take a closer look at the cognitive, affective, and behavioral effects of media (McQuail, 2002). Often media research now focuses on individual responses and reactions to media, media campaigns that are intended to be informational or persuasive, or collective reactions to media, like socialization, cultural change, event outcomes etc. (McQuail, 2002).

Current Research Methodology

Media has, in recent years , become a pervasive cultural preoccupation in the United States. A person can choose between hundreds of channels at a time or instantly access a webpage. This helps explains why, in the field of communication and throughout other disciplines, media is widely studied. Researchers study media in many different ways including historically, media policies, and the effects of media, to name a few.
There has been concern that researchers are focused too much on effects rather than the processes behind those effects (Nabi & Oliver, 2009). Media effects research has more recently focused on how social constraints and audience interpretations can serve as mediators (Bryant & Zillmann, 2009). Researchers have begun to focus more on the process of effects (like attention to medium or comprehension) rather than just the end result (Bryant & Zillmann, 2009). Recent research has focused on the cumulative effect of media where the effects of exposures can build on each other and surface in the long-term (Bryant & Zillmann, 2009).

New Media

In the late 20th century, the term new media has emerged. According to Oxford English Dictionary, the term new media refers to “new means of mass communication” and “specifically, electronic means such as the Internet, CD-ROMs, etc.” (New media, 2003). Lev Manovich’s (2003) widely cited definition of new media with 8 propositions is as follows: New media are distinct from cyberculture that refers to Internet-related social phenomena (1). New media use computer technology for distribution and exhibition (2), and consist of digital data manipulated by software (3). New media exist where older conventions of data representation and conventions of software merge (4), and they are the aesthetics that appears when every new modern media and communication technology first emerges (5). New media execute algorithms faster than manual techniques or other technologies (6). They are meta-media (“modernist Avant-Garde”) in that they change ways of how to access and manipulate information (7). Finally, new media articulate the similarity between post-WWII art and modern computer technology in that both can be executed by human (8) (Manovich, 2003, p. 16-23).

The internet is blurring lines and forcing a re-conception of media (Giles, 2003). Future studies of the internet and how it is changing media and the way that people use media will be important. Although the media is no longer thought to inject ideas directly to a audience, there is still much research attempting to determine how powerful the media actually is. Due to the ongoing creation of new forms of media, there is no doubt that the scholarly study of media will be ever-changing and evolving.

Moderate revision by Jiyoung Chae, August, 2012

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