Synthesizing a Working Definition of “Mass†Media

W. James Potter


Media scholars as well as the public frequently use the terms “mass communication†and “mass mediaâ€,but the meaning of these terms is often ambiguous. While it is assumed that everyone knowswhat these terms mean, the few scholars who attempt to define these terms struggle to capture theessence of their meaning without including elements that are faulty, and this task is becoming evenmore difficult in the new media environment. We are left with the troubling question: What are the“mass†media? This review constructs an answer to this question in a four step process. The first stepfeatures a critical analysis of the literature to identify definitional elements used by scholars. Thesedefinitional elements are subjected to four screens that evaluate their utility in a second step. Thethird step adds elements missing from the literature so as to make the eventual definition more usefulin the new media environment. Finally, the fourth step features the construction of a working definitionof “mass†media.

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