History and Future of Mass Media: An Integrated Perspective

Global Media Will Grow But Become Less Powerful, New Book Predicts WSU Professor Argues that Mainstream Mass Media Are Losing Power to Specialized Media and Internet
“Many global mass media corporations will continue to grow in the 21st century but will become less powerful in relative terms than their predecessors, an American media sociologist predicts in a new book.

“Although global media corporations will grow and reach more people, paradoxically their ability to control the information and entertainment marketplaces will decline,” David Demers, associate professor of communication at Washington State University, writes in the History and Future of Mass Media, which was published by Hampton Press Inc. this week. “In metaphorical terms, the pie and its slices are getting larger, but each slice is proportionately smaller than the slice in the previous pie … In comparative terms, no single company or program will be able to dominate the global market to the degree that the state-run or private television broadcast networks did in Western countries during the 1950s and 1960s.”

“Demers’ predictions are based on his sociological theory of media growth which posits that increasing demand for specialized information will fuel the growth of specialized media and constrain the growth of any single mass media outlet. To back up his theory, Demers cites historical and empirical research which shows that market shares of most major print and broadcast media decline as social systems become more economically and socially complex. He also cites the historical research of British media scholar Jeremy Tunstall, whose most recent book, The Media Were American, provides evidence that Western global media are losing their impact because of the growth of indigenous and national mass media outlets in many non-Western countries.”

“Demers concedes that global media will continue to be powerful and will continue to rake in the lion’s share of advertising revenues. ‘However,’ he writes, ‘specialized media services will continue to grow and expand because they will provide services that cannot be easily or profitably offered by global media organizations. Larger companies prefer large, undifferentiated audiences that offer the highest level of profit. But convergence of technologies will make it more difficult for them to control the market.’ ”

“An overarching thesis of the book is that increasing economic and social complexity leads to a breakdown in centralized power and authority and stimulates growth of representative democracies. The printing press and, later, mass media news organizations played a key role in facilitating the decentralization of political power (i.e., diluting the power of monarchs and aristocrats). But now, Demers argues, the mass media themselves are losing some of their power to mediate information and knowledge in society.”

” ‘Contrary to the predictions of the neo-Marxists, the Internet and the World Wide Web (or whatever we call those technologies in the future) will continue to help decentralize control over information,” Demers writes. “[A] great deal of evidence is piling up showing that the news media are losing some of their power to the Internet, which enables individuals to circumvent the media in the search for news, information and knowledge. Some of the mass media’s power also will be checked by bloggers, who, serving as a self-anointed Fifth Estate, will continue to watch over abuse of power in the media themselves.’ ”

“In the 380-page book, Demers doesn’t predict that mass media are doomed. Rather, he argues that some of their power is being diluted by the increasing number of choices that people have for news, information and entertainment. Mainstream mass media will continue to play a powerful role in people’s lives for many decades to come, and they will continue to support powerful elites, institutions and values.”

“But contrary to the views of many critics, Demers argues that mass media often produce content that helps the poor and disadvantaged groups. He predicts that diversity in the marketplace of ideas — especially ideas critical of powerful people and institutions — will continue to grow and serve as a catalyst for social change as mass media systems become more complex. In fact, he argues that large-scale corporate media played the lead role in facilitating many social changes during the 20th century and will continue to do so into the 21st”.

” ‘Critics of corporate and global media organizations have made many predictions and claims that growth in size of the media organizations is leading to less diversity and greater homogeneity in the news, information and entertainment programming people consume,” he writes. “Although case studies of certain media organizations and media industries (e.g., newspaper industry) may support such claims, when national or global media systems are examined, their predictions do not hold up very well. The trend clearly has been toward an increase in the number and variety of media outlets, as well as an increase in the diversity of content and programming they produce’.”

“Douglas Underwood, an associate professor of communication at the University of Washington who reviewed the book, says Demers “offers here a refreshing counterpoint to the tide of scholarly opinion that blames the growth and power of media corporations for all that is wrong with mass media content today. Although Demers takes issue with the conclusions of many media scholars – including some of my own – I find his arguments to be important in the way they challenge the ‘group think’ that often dominates scholarly discussion of the … way the news is covered and portrayed. Demers has been waging for many years a nearly one-man campaign against the … neo-Marxist tilt of much media scholarship and backing it up with his own research that finds … corporate media development to be positive in facilitating social change.’ ”


“David Demers is associate professor of communication at Washington State University, where he teaches courses in media history, theory and research. His research on corporate media structure has won five national awards. He is author of 13 books and more than 125 scholarly and professional articles. He can be reached at ddemers@wsu.edu

History and Future of Mass Media: An Integrated Perspective / By David Demers / 380 pages / 6 x 9 format / Copyright 2007 / Includes CIP Data, Illustrations, References and Index / ISBN: 978-1-57273-807-2 (paper) $36.95 / ISBN: 978-1-57273-806-5 (cloth) $85.00
Published by Hampton Press Inc., Cresskill, New Jersey www.hamptonpress.com

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