Mass Media Evolution and the Missing Factor of Economy

Scott Schroeder

More so than the discussions surrounding competing media theories and attempts to standardize definitions, I found the ostensible omission of economic prosperity as a contributing factor in the evolution of media and its influence on both encoders and decoders to be particularly interesting. In his book ‘McQuail’s Mass Communication Theory,’ Denis McQuail acknowledges mass media’s rise as “a new social phenomenon and a key feature of the emerging modern world that was being built on the foundations of industrialism and popular democracy.” However, I do not believe the causal relationships between economic prosperity with cognitive development, the development of physical infrastructure, or the influence on media perspectives were ever adequately addressed.

Times of great prosperity are often accompanied by times of great innovation. When members of a society are prospering economically, their focus on earning to provide and maintain essential elements of life can shift more toward the creative influences of art, science, and innovation. This enables cognitive thought processes to become less internal, and stimulate external interests and curiosities. This intellectual curiosity amongst the common people was a driving force in the expansion of the telegraph to serve not just the Federal Government and U.S. Post Office, but to service a market for a population who desired to experience the world outside their own bubbles.

The nation’s economic health has provided the fertile soil which mass media has blossomed from over the past several decades in America. The economy provides the means of industrialization as well as the commercial marketing vehicle which enables concepts and mediums to reach millions to billions of people. These factors created the link between conceptual ideas and putting mass media into action. In the country’s early years, it did not have the financial capacity generated by prosperous commercial entities to promote and materialize innovation like today. This is why Morse’s telegraph was essentially grounded for six years until Morse received a $30,000 appropriation from Congress.

Within the American press media, the condition of the economy can also influence the professional code between hegemonic-dominant positions and negotiated-corporate positions. When the economy is doing extremely well, television newscasters may bias their reporting in favor of political elites, or the hegemons in power who are in charge of governing. In the face of poor economic times, television newscasters may revise their professional code to more negotiated-corporate positions in attempts to better connect with a television audience which may be disenchanted with the political hegemons.

The fact that America has dominated in the field of mass media innovation is not on happenstance. Much of it has to do with the political freedoms enjoyed by Americans as well as the unique and diverse culture of the country. However, financial capacity and economic prosperity have played vital roles not only in the areas of material development and commercial marketing, but also in the areas of fostering cognitive creativity and influencing the opinions and perspectives which get transmitted.