The Mediated World: A New Approach to Mass Communication and Culture

A new textbook from Rowman & Littlefield that engages students in a discussion of media studies, history,  concepts, and practices.

 

The Mediated World: A Preface

We write and teach under the shadow of a staggering truth: almost every fact we convey can be looked up online. Given that, it is useful to ask: what should we omit? And what value can a textbook add to the lives of wired students? With these questions in mind, I have tried to eliminate many names and dates that often clutter mass communication textbooks. In their place I have inserted concepts and stories, and a focus on identity, media literacy, and how media evolve over time.

 

This book, while keeping a similar table of contents as standard textbooks, offers a new approach: 

 

First, it is more conceptual than the others. Part of my aim is to stay rooted in history, and that gives the book a timeless quality, even though many examples come from the 2010s.

 

Second, the book is not a cheerleader for industry; it takes a critical, analytical approach. It doesn’t bash industry, but it does use sociology, anthropology, history, and psychology in ways that some other textbooks do not. Although it is not negative about the various media fields—TV, advertising, and public relations, to name three—it does provide a critical lens to both criticize and appreciate them.

 

Third, many mass communication textbooks focus on mainstream media; I do too, but I spend a lot of time talking about how minority groups vie to be heard and seen.  

 

Fourth, young people today are engulfed by media forces that are more persistent than those faced by their parents and grandparents.  This book addresses those forces and seeks to educate readers in what is broadly called “media literacy.” But because today’s readers are surrounded by media from the time they wake to the time they fall asleep every day, this book addresses this issue in a personal way. This all gives the book an intimate feel, something that the many facts and figures of the internet can’t provide.    

The book’s organization

Each chapter provides historical context, narrative anecdotes, and broader societal implications of different mediums and forms of communication. It also links classic communication theories – such as uses and gratifications, agenda setting, and cultivation theory – with applications of these theories to real life. Core theories, facts, and studies are explained further by using examples from current journalism, historical documents, and various contemporary media, such as TV shows and social media platforms.

 

The first two chapters (Chapter 1 and Chapter 2) lay the groundwork for students to actively consider the ubiquity and importance of media in society and in their own lives. Next, the book covers the development of and the science behind two fundamental forms of communication that underpin mass media: orality (Chapter 3) and literacy (Chapter 4). The next chapter describes the evolution of printing and the development of the mass public and mass private (Chapter 5). The following seven chapters each focus on a particular mass medium or channel: newspapers (Chapter 6), magazines (Chapter 7), the telegraph (Chapter 8), music/radio (Chapter 9), photography (Chapter 10), movies (Chapter 11), and TV (Chapter 12). The next two chapters delve into the fields of advertising (Chapter 13) and public relations (Chapter 14), followed by a discussion of media law and ethics (Chapter 15) and the media’s role in agenda setting and politics (Chapter 16). Chapter 17 is devoted to an in-depth discussion of new media, even though digital media and technologies are fully intertwined into the content of the whole book. Finally, the last chapter (Chapter 18) looks to the future, prompting students to imagine a world where technological advances, such as virtual reality (VR), fundamentally change how humans communicate and tell stories.

 

The book has many features that allow students to engage with the content on a deeper level and that also help teachers easily incorporate this textbook into their curriculums, through providing opportunities for discussion and assessment. Each chapter starts with key learning objectives and ends with a summary that helps students identify what is most important and synthesize the main points. Discussion questions at the end of each chapter can be used to stimulate classroom conversation and can also be used as essay prompts for students to think critically about the material and to apply it beyond the classroom. Marginal glossary entries provide definitions of key terms in the text and can be used as part of assessment of factual knowledge acquisition. “Application” sidebars suggest practical activities for students beyond the core text, to illustrate the concepts or to delve deeper into a topic, and can be used as assignments. “Now and then” sidebars allow students to understand societal developments over time and the role of media in society throughout history. “Reflection sidebars” ask students to think critically about their own media use and more broadly to consider the relationship between media and society. The book can be used in order from beginning to end throughout a semester (some chapters are shorter and work well together, and so can easily be assigned together for one week), but instructors can also use the chapters as stand-alone in-depth texts on a particular topic.

Finally, I should say this is a textbook that offers a new approach to an evolving topic.  If you would like to contact me with questions or suggestions for future editions, please use the contact form or email themediatedworld@gmail.com.