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The Historical Path of the Media

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Media is the way in which mass communication and information is spread to the public, and in today’s society, it is spread through broadcasting, journalism, the internet, and so much more. However, the ways of mass communication have changed over the past 150 years. Media is ever-changing and evolving to fit the status quo of society, and it has been since its beginning.

Media does many different things for us as humans. For one, it fulfills us with entertainment. It is used as a platform for ideas, imagery, and can be used as a way of escaping the everyday world. We can also obtain information and education through the vast sources of media. Today, we see weekly newspapers and news on television being broadcasted daily, all of which bringing us forms of entertainment and information.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, one of the main ways that news and media was spread was through the newspaper. In the mid to late 19th century, papers like The New York Times, The London Daily Mail, and The New York Tribune were being printed throughout the United States. At this time, 3,000 weekly papers and 400 daily papers were available for the American public. At this time, the newspaper was one of the biggest sources of media.

In 1896, The London Daily was launched as a national paper, started by Alfred Harmsworth. This paper was priced very low, making it easily available for most of the nation. In 1919, Joseph Patterson started the first American tabloid known as the New York Daily News which covered topics about sex and sensationalism. During the early 20th century, American newspapers reached an all time high. Over 2,000 daily papers and over 14,000 weekly papers were printed. However, they declined slowly after this peak while circulation still rose.

During the 1920s and 1930s, competition between papers began to bring new ideas to the companies. Comic strips, crossword puzzles, and other activities were put into these papers to increase interest and sale. Due to the increase of newspapers, large corporations and chains began to buy and take control over large chains. In the second half of the 20th century, readers began to grow tired and dissatisfied with the newspapers, most notably the young readers. This dissatisfaction lead to a ‘diverse underground, or alternative’, press.

In 1955, the Village Voice began publishing in New York City. This new press sought new approaches to the media world to appeal to the younger readers by adding trade, ethnic, and religious ideas to their papers. This appealed to a different type of the American population and gave them a new interest in the newspaper.

Another big step in the history of media was the invention of the radio. Guglielmo Marconi was the first person to prove that a radio could be used for communication. In Italy in 1895, he sent and received the first recorded radio signal. Marconi also sent the first wireless signal across the English Channel as well, which marked the first message sent and received by a radio telegraph. This allowed for communication across long distances possible.

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Soon, early in the 20th century, the radio rose to an explosive fame. Radios were cheaper than telephones and very easily available in the 1920s. The radio allowed for a large number of individuals to listen to the same event or speaker at one time. Calvin Coolidge gave his pre election speech and it reached over 20 million people through radio broadcasting. The radio also brought a huge boom for advertisers who had a large number of listeners at their feet. A 20th century advertising consultant claimed that radios were “a glorious opportunity for the advertising man to spread his sales propaganda” because of “a countless audience, sympathetic, pleasure seeking, enthusiastic, curious, interested, approachable in the privacy of their homes”.

One huge thing about the radio was that it was free. Radio shows and broadcasters made money by selling various amounts of air time to advertisers. By the end of the 1920s, some advertisers paid over $100,000 in air time advertisements alone.

Post World War II in the United States brought an era of prosperity, which then led to a new groundbreaking platform of media we use to this day: television. About 17,000 televisions found homes in the United States in 1946. However, in only 7 years, two-thirds of the American homes had at least one television set. Broadcasted television and news quickly became the leading media platform.

In 1963, a poll taken across the nation showed that more people relied on their home television to receive news than newspapers. The broadcasted news through radio and television had such a grip on American society that newspaper companies adapted to overcome the lack of interest in their companies. Print media was durable and could be used at any time, and once an American purchased a newspaper or magazine, they could read it at their leisure.

The publication of media took an extreme change with the invention of cable television. In the very beginning of television, viewers had only a few programs to choose from. However, cable television allowed for a large variety of channel choices tailored to your interests. In 1975, 93% of all television viewing was controlled by three main networks. From the beginning of television to around the mid 1990s, television viewing was dominated by these three big networks. By 2004, this number dropped to 28.4% due to the invention of cable television. In February of 1996, the United States Government passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which was “an attempt to foster competition by deregulating the industry… that actually resulted in many mergers and buyouts that left most of the control of the broadcast spectrum in the hands of a few large corporations”. The Federal Communications Commission soon loosened regulations even more, and in 2003, they allowed for a single company to own 45% of a single market.

Today, media is seen and used through many different platforms. Newspapers are still being used to this day, and radio shows broadcast news all across the country. However, there is a relatively new form of media that has gripped the nation in an explosive fashion: social media. According to a study done by, one out of every five American adults claim to get their news through social media. In 2017, the amount of Americans who obtained their news through social media was about the same as the amount of Americans who obtained their news from newspapers and radio news.

Media plays several key roles in our society, including entertaining the public along with providing a platform of imagination. Media, if used correctly, can inform and educate its viewers and help serve the public through means of discussion and evaluating important issues and topics. Based on the evolution of media throughout history, as time goes on, media evolves to fit the needs of society.

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The Historical Path of the Media. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 29, 2023, from
“The Historical Path of the Media.” Edubirdie, 25 Aug. 2022,
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The Historical Path of the Media [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Aug 25 [cited 2023 May 29]. Available from:
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