Functions of Media – Media and Cultural Studies (2024)


Learning Objectives

  1. Identify four roles the media perform in our society.

Why do media play such an important role in our lives and our culture? With reflection, we can see that media fulfill several basic roles.

One obvious role isentertainment. Media can act as a springboard for our imaginations, a source of fantasy, and an outlet for escapism. In the 19th century, Victorian readers, disillusioned by the grimness of the Industrial Revolution, found themselves drawn into books that offered fantastic worlds of fairies and other unreal beings. In the first decade of the 21st century, American television viewers could relax at the end of a day by watching singers, both wonderful and terrible, compete to be idols or watch two football teams do battle. Media entertain and distract us in the midst of busy and hard lives.

Media can also provideinformationandeducation. Information can come in many forms, and often blurs the line with entertainment. Today, newspapers and news-oriented television and radio programs make available stories from across the globe, allowing readers or viewers in London to have access to voices and videos from Baghdad, Tokyo, or Buenos Aires. Books and magazines provide a more in-depth look at a wide range of subjects. Online encyclopedias have articles on topics from presidential nicknames to child prodigies to tongue-twisters in various languages. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has posted free lecture notes, exams, and audio and video recordings of classes on its OpenCourseWare website, allowing anyone with an Internet connection access to world-class professors.

Another useful aspect of media is its ability to act as apublic forumfor the discussion of important issues. In newspapers or other periodicals, letters to the editor allow readers to respond to journalists, or voice their opinions on the issues of the day. These letters have been an important part of U.S. newspapers even when the nation was a British colony, and they have served as a means of public discourse ever since. Blogs, discussion boards, and online comments are modern forums. Indeed, the Internet can be seen as a fundamentally democratic medium that allows people who can get online the ability to put their voices out there—though whether anyone will hear is another question.

Media can also serve tomonitor government, business, and other institutions. Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novelThe Jungleexposed the miserable conditions in the turn-of-the-century meatpacking industry. In the early 1970s,Washington Postreporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncovered evidence of the Watergate break-in and subsequent cover-up, which eventually led to the resignation of then-president Richard Nixon. Online journalists today try to uphold the “watchdog” role of the media.

Thinking more deeply, we can recognize that certain media are better at certain roles. Media have characteristics that influence how we use them. While some forms of mass media are better suited to entertainment, others make more sense as a venue for spreading information. For example, in terms of print media, books are durable and able to contain lots of information, but are relatively slow and expensive to produce. In contrast, newspapers are comparatively cheaper and quicker to create, making them a better medium for the quick turnover of daily news. Television provides vastly more visual information than radio, and is more dynamic than a static printed page; it can also be used to broadcast live events to a nationwide audience, as in the annual State of the Union addresses given by the U.S. president. However, it is also a one-way medium—that is, it allows for very little direct person-to-person communication. In contrast, the Internet encourages public discussion of issues and allows nearly everyone who wants a voice to have one. However, the Internet is also largely unmoderated and uncurated. Users may have to wade through thousands of inane comments or misinformed amateur opinions in order to find quality information.

As mentioned earlier in this book, the 1960s media theorist Marshall McLuhan took these ideas one step further, with the phrase“the medium is the message.”McLuhan emphasized that each medium delivers information in a different way and that content is fundamentally shaped by that medium. For example, although television news has the advantage of offering video and live coverage, making a story come vividly alive, it is also a faster-paced medium. That means stories get reported in different ways than print. A story told on television will often be more visual, have less information, and be able to offer less history and context than the same story covered in a monthly magazine. This feature of media technology leads to interesting arguments. For example, some people claim that television presents “dumbed down” information. Others disagree.

We do not have to cast value judgments but can affirm: People who get the majority of their news from a particular medium will have a particular view of the world shaped not just by thecontentof what they watch but also by itsmedium. Or, as computer scientist Alan Kay put it, “Each medium has a special way of representing ideas that emphasize particular ways of thinking and de-emphasize others.” [1]The Internet has made this discussion even richer because it seems to hold all other media within it—print, radio, film, television and more. If indeed the medium is the message, the Internet provides us with an extremely interesting message to consider.

Key Takeaways

  • Media fulfill several roles in culture, including the following:

    • Entertaining and providing an outlet for the imagination
    • Educating and informing
    • Serving as a public forum for the discussion of important issues
    • Acting as a watchdog for government, business, and other institutions

[1] Alan Kay, “The Infobahn is Not the Answer,”Wired, May 1994.

This chapter is adapted from Chapter 1 of Understanding Media and Culture: An Introduction to Mass Communication by The Saylor Foundation.

Functions of Media – Media and Cultural Studies (2024)


Functions of Media – Media and Cultural Studies? ›

The Media and Cultural Studies (MCS) program emphasizes the study of media in their historical, economic, social, and political context. We examine the cultural forms created and disseminated by media industries and the ways in which they resonate in everyday life, on the individual, national, and global level.

What is the role of media in cultural studies? ›

The Media and Cultural Studies (MCS) program emphasizes the study of media in their historical, economic, social, and political context. We examine the cultural forms created and disseminated by media industries and the ways in which they resonate in everyday life, on the individual, national, and global level.

What are the 4 main functions of the media? ›

Mass media has four functions: surveillance, correlation, cultural transmission, and entertainment. The surveillance aspect, as originally explained by Laswell, has changed over the years because we can get interactive news online instead of only relying on television news or reading a newspaper.

What is the cultural function of mass media? ›

Cultural Transmission and Influencing Societal Norms

The media serve as transmitters of cultural messages, letting the masses understand what are considered acceptable forms of behavior.

What is the cultural studies approach to media? ›

The major analytical approaches in cultural studies research today are textual analysis, audience studies, and political economy studies. Before Newcomb's work, textual analysis generally focused only on "important" or highly regarded works of art-debates, films, poems, and books.

How could media help to promote cultural understanding? ›

Mass media plays a key role in preserving cultural heritage by promoting awareness of traditional values and practices, highlighting the importance of unique customs and beliefs, preserving knowledge and experiences for future generations, providing access to a diverse range of cultural expressions, reinforcing a sense ...

What is the role of cultural studies? ›

The Cultural Studies major helps you understand the complexity of everyday life and the way that habits, texts, objects and beliefs are socially patterned and laden with values and meaning. It will provide you with a range of tools to analyse how cultural practices and meanings are produced, circulated and exchanged.

What is the most important function of media? ›

Answer and Explanation: The most important function of the media is to disseminate news to the masses concerning vital occurrences or important information. In modern times, the rate at which news can be spread is markedly more expeditious than previous periods in history.

What are the three primary functions of the media? ›

Lasswell in 1948 listed three key media functions: a surveillance function, a consensus (or correlation) function, and a socialization (or transmission) function. Most commentators add a fourth function: entertainment.

What are the 7 basic functions of mass media? ›

The Media and its Function
  • Information. Sending and sharing of information is the major function of media. ...
  • Education. Media provides education and information. ...
  • Entertainment. The other important function of media is the entertainment. ...
  • Persuasion. ...
  • Surveillance. ...
  • Interpretation. ...
  • Linkage. ...
  • Socialization.
Jul 2, 2018

How do media influence culture? ›

Media influences culture and society by allowing for a very rapid exchange of ideas. Cultures share concepts with one another far more readily than in the premodern period; it is difficult to overstate the importance of this rapid cultural sharing on cultural development.

What is mass culture in media and cultural studies? ›

Mass culture is produced by companies in order to make a profit and is deliberately designed to be simplistic so that it appeals to the lowest common denominator. Examples of mass culture include any mass produced cultural product such as The Lone Ranger (from the 1950s) and 'I'm a Celebrity' (contemporary society).

What is the meaning of media and culture? ›

According to Altheide and Snow, media culture means that within a culture, the media increasingly influences other institutions (e.g. politics, religion, sports), which become constructed alongside a media logic. Since the 1950s, television has been the main medium for molding public opinion.

Why do we do media and cultural studies? ›

Analyze the poetics, politics, and production of media. By viewing systems of power through traditional and non-traditional frameworks, you will learn how to critique media and cultural artifacts and produce your own original work.

What is the main idea of cultural studies? ›

Cultural Studies is an interdisciplinary field, drawing on theories and practices from a range of humanities and social sciences disciplines, that seeks to investigate the central role played by culture in the organization and distribution of power locally and globally.

How to do media and culture studies? ›

How to Do Media and Cultural Studies
  1. Shows students how to identify a topic and create a research question.
  2. Guides them through the research process, from getting started through to writing-up.
  3. Explores a range a case studies, showing how methods have been applied by others.
Dec 13, 2020

What is the role of media in cultural identity? ›

Through news, documentaries, and educational programs, the media convey knowledge about culture and national identity. People can learn about history, traditions, art, and other cultural elements through the media. The mass media can influence people's lifestyles by displaying certain cultural trends.

What is the importance of media in culturing? ›

Culture media is of fundamental importance for most microbiological tests: to obtain pure cultures, to grow and count microbial cells, and to cultivate and select microorganisms.

What is the role of the media in global culture? ›

The media have an important impact on cultural globalization in two mutually interdependent ways: Firstly, the media provide an extensive transnational transmission of cultural products and, secondly, they contribute to the formation of communicative networks and social structures.

What is the role of social media in culture? ›

Social media connect people across space and time and allowing them to find like-minded communities and participate creatively in public life as never before. Moreover, social media promote the interconnectedness and interdependence of our culturally diverse world.

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