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Studying Mass Communication Today and in the Past

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A Brief History of the Study of Mass Communication

Today’s Mass Communication scholars can, to some degree, trace their academic lineage to Walter Lippman and John Dewey, particularly through the famed “Lippman-Dewey” debate(s) of the 1920s and 30s that considered the role of journalism as a form of mass communication and its impact on their preferred version of democracy. At least initially, Lippman favored a journalistic approach that placed intellectual elites as the true – and better equipped – stewards of democracy, so news reporting ought to be written for these intellectuals. While Lippman saw experts as more capable of maintaining the promise of democracy, Dewey, on the other hand, advocated for journalists to write for common, everyday citizens as these citizens are democracy’s foundation.

While Lippman later wrote of the dangers of his approach, Dewey did agree that mass media and culture were becoming too much for the average citizen to comprehend. Instead of looking to experts to sift through the mess of mass culture, Dewey hoped that through communication Americans could band together to form a “Great Community,” an inclusive group comprised of various local and co-publics that were educated and civically engaged.

Almost a century has passed since Lippman and Dewey discussed and debated the nature of democracy and mass media’s impact, and even with the passage of time and the profound advancement in telecommunication technology, the core tenets of their philosophies continue to influence our perspectives on mass media and communication. Indeed, building off Lippman and Dewey, the study of Mass Communication took further shape following the Second World War. Like with the developing study of Persuasion in Communication Studies, Mass Communication researchers began to study propaganda, its effects, and the uses of mass media in spreading and combatting propaganda.

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Studying Mass Communication Today

Today, Mass Communication continues to grow. As evidenced by the number of Mass Communication programs offered by universities across the country and around the world, as well as the increasing number of employers needing skilled professionals in this realm of research and practice, Mass Communication is as every bit part of our society as the technologies that make it possible. The field of Mass Communication, it seems, is synonymous with progress and modernity.

Within Communication Studies, Mass Communication is perhaps more important than ever. An example of its import is in the study of “fake news.” The recent onslaught of fake news and its socio-political consequences here in America and around the world is a communicative phenomenon ripe for Mass Communication scholars to examine. Indeed, studying fake news is not only relevant as it is occurring at this moment in time, it is crucial, as some scholars contend, to the survival of Western liberal democracy. Here, the echoes of Dewey and Lippman reverberate.

As new mass media technologies continue to develop, so too will our conceptions of Mass Communication. If the 21st Century has taught us anything thus far, it is that Mass Communication is indeed woven into the fabric of modern society, its presence, for better or for worse, integral to our survival and well-being.

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Studying Mass Communication Today and in the Past. (2022, September 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved January 31, 2023, from
“Studying Mass Communication Today and in the Past.” Edubirdie, 15 Sept. 2022,
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Studying Mass Communication Today and in the Past [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 15 [cited 2023 Jan 31]. Available from:
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