Mass media

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Mass media are means of communication for distributing content to the public , media for communication with a large number of people. The mass media include both the classic printed media (now specifically called print media , e.g. newspapers , magazines , posters , leaflets ) and electronic media (e.g. radio and online services ). The social function of the mass media consists in the fulfillment of information and entertainment needs and, according to Niklas Luhmann, in the creation of a social memory , which consists in “that one can assume certain reality assumptions as known in every communication without specifically introducing and justifying them in the communication to have to."

The Media Studies is the scientific , which deals with the history and influence of the mass media. With the actors, structures and performance of journalism is dealing journalism as a branch of communication science . Overall, the scientific consideration and occupation with mass media is thus distributed in an interdisciplinary manner in the area of ​​tension between the humanities as well as the social and cultural sciences , whereby the respective theoretical background of the different areas of application must also be taken into account (e.g. economics for the economic part and Sports science for the sports part).

Households in Germany spent an average of 39 euros per month on mass media (excluding books) in 2016. Of this, 42 percent went to the radio license, 33% to newspapers and magazines, 20% to pay TV and 6% for digital media. This does not include the expenses for the transmission paths, for example Internet access and cable connection.


A well-known definition reads: "The mass media are means of communication that convey content to an indefinite number of people through technical reproduction and distribution by means of writing, images or sound and thus pass it on publicly to an anonymous, spatially dispersed audience."

Mass communication is made possible by mass media . Mass communication happens publicly, which means that in principle everyone has access to the offers of the mass media. In this sense, the social science definition of mass media includes:

Gerhard Maletzke defines five decisive factors for mass communication: “By mass communication we mean that form of communication in which statements are made publicly (i.e. without a limited and personally defined audience ) indirectly through technical means of dissemination (media) (i.e. with spatial, temporal or spatiotemporal distance between the Communication partners) and unilaterally (i.e. without changing roles between the person making the statement and the recipient) to a dispersed audience . "

This definition includes e.g. B. theater events as mass communication, because the audience is not sufficiently distributed ( dispersed ). It should also be borne in mind that mass media have become complex social institutions that are influenced in their design by politics, law and economics. Without this dimension, a meaningful international comparison of media and media systems is hardly possible.

However, while this point of criticism can be maintained as controversial, since the classical mass media were and continue to be influenced in their design "by politics, law and economy", so that this character does not necessarily have to be seen in contradiction to Maletzke's definition, see Kunczik and Zipfel the weak point in the lack of compatibility with the technical development that has taken place over the past decades:

“These criteria are suitable for describing mass communication through media such as press, radio and television. For the so-called 'new media', however, this definition is no longer adequate, since v. a. interactive services also have components of interpersonal communication. "

Building on this, Ulrich Saxer developed a definition in 1998 that tries to capture media not only as technical artefacts, but also in their social dimension. "Media are complex institutionalized systems around organized communication channels of specific capabilities" and are characterized by five more or less pronounced characteristics:

  1. Media represent technical communication channels that can transport different sign systems - visual (e.g. newspapers), auditory (e.g. radio) and audiovisual (e.g. television) - with different capacities.
  2. Media have to organize themselves in order to be able to use their respective media technology effectively.
  3. Media communication results from production, provision and reception processes and thus forms a complex system of media.
  4. Media can be both functional and dysfunctional. They are problem-solving and problem-creating at the same time in cultural, economic, political and social terms.
  5. Media are institutionalized.

The philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer points out that, according to Aristotle, a city should not become larger than the voice of a stentor can reach every citizen at the same time. In the present the mass media are supposed to take on this role and are able to do so, but they lack the substantial voice of such a stentor, the “great cultural forces”.

In 2005, Irene Neverla published another definition. According to this, mass media are “institutionalized contexts of action that make use of complex communication channels and techniques and, in organizational forms based on the division of labor, according to certain rules and routines for society, provide meaningful functions for public communication.” Another approach comes from Roger Blum . He understands mass media as "journalistic media, media of public communication that play a role in society."

The role of technology

Harry Pross divides media into groups depending on their production and reception conditions:

  • Primary media are means of elementary human contact without a device, they do not need any aids for production and reception.
  • Secondary media require devices to be produced, but not to be perceived.
  • Tertiary media require devices on the part of the producer as well as on the part of the consumer.

Quaternary media can be supplemented , which require devices on both sides, but which are not exclusively used for mass media communication or dissemination of messages. The Internet is z. B. a medium that requires the user to make active decisions about consumption to a different extent and in some cases allows direct feedback from the user to the provider. This results in quick and spontaneous changes in the assignment due to the changing modes of use: The change between tertiary properties and quaternary properties is something new that needs to be added to this structure. Digitization enables the integration and mixing of the first three media levels in the fourth. Quaternary media offer a close connection between mass media properties (tertiary media), but allow a quick change at any time between individual and group approach or communication, but always under conditions that depend on devices on both sides of the communication.

The technicality of a medium alone does not define it as a mass medium; rather, this medium must be integrated into the social process of mass communication. For example, a book that is not produced for the market but intended for a private group of recipients is technically produced as a print medium, but it does not function as a mass medium. The same applies to radio technology , if it is used in coastal radio , or to television technology as part of video surveillance .


Media history in the general sense describes the historical development of the means of communication . It primarily focuses on mass media such as press, radio and television. The term “media” did not establish itself until the 1960s. The word was transferred from the English term "mass media", which came up in the 1920s.

There are many different approaches to media history. In addition to influencing factors and characteristic features, there are also a number of basic problems that make writing a media story difficult. Media are diverse and inherently complex. In addition, their characteristics are nationally specific and the media development is highly different. In Germany, it was Klaus Merten , Knut Hickethier and Werner Faulstich who primarily dealt with media history as a science .


Compared to individual communication, mass communication associated with mass media is characterized by a lack of selection of recipients, i. In other words , the recipients are not specified in advance, they are spatially dispersed (in contrast to the "presence audience ", e.g. for a play, a lecture or a concert) and their number is in principle unlimited. In addition to the spatial distance, for example during live broadcasts on radio and television, there is often a time separation between communicator and recipient, for example when reading a newspaper or watching a TV program that has already been recorded. This dispersed audience is not a permanent social entity; the recipients or groups of recipients are anonymous, unstructured, disorganized and inhomogeneous (people from different social classes , with different attitudes, lifestyles and interests). In this context, the term “mass” indicates the indefinitely large number of people to whom statements are communicated without addressing them personally - in contrast to the sociological term “mass” in its mass psychological or culture-critical dimension.

In contrast, the Internet does not always function as a mass medium, as individual communication is also possible here (e.g. via e-mails ).

System-theoretical classification

In The Reality of the Mass Media , Niklas Luhmann regards mass media as a social subsystem of society that does not transmit, reflect or multiply information about how the world is , but instead constructs its own reality. The mass media system produces and reproduces itself ( autopoiesis ) by communicating in a continuous circular activity . It refers to itself and can be connected to other systems: it is operationally closed and cognitively open. The structural coupling takes place via themes . Advertising is linked to the economic system, entertainment to art, and reporting to the political system. All operations are carried out within the system using the binary distinction between information and non-information. System- typical selectors determine what is evaluated as information and produce daily events:

  1. Discontinuity : information has to be new, repetition is undesirable.
  2. Tension : Conflicts are preferred and create a need for information.
  3. Numbers : "Qualifications can [...] generate insubstantial aha effects and at the same time more information for those who know their way around."
  4. Local reference : “That a dog has bitten a postman can only be reported in the closest local area. In the more distant area a whole pack of dogs must have mauled the postman, and that too would not be reported in Berlin if it happened in Bombay. "
  5. Violations of social norms : “In the media portrayal, norm violations often take on the character of scandals. This increases the response, enlivens the scene and excludes the possible expression of understanding and apology in the event of norm violations. In the case of scandals, how one speaks about the scandal can become another scandal. More than in any other way, the mass media can generate a feeling of mutual concern and indignation through such reports of norm violations and scandals. "
  6. Morality : Violations of norms are particularly interesting if they can be provided with moral evaluations.
  7. Acting persons : "With reference to actions and persons, the system of mass media creates important ambiguities , and this in close connection with everyday communication."
  8. Topicality and recursiveness : "The requirement of topicality leads to the concentration of reports on individual cases [...]. The requirement of recursiveness means that later reports will refer to the events. "
  9. Expressing opinions : "A considerable part of the material for the press, radio and television comes from the fact that the media are reflected in themselves and treat this in turn as an event."

See also


  • Werner Früh: Conveying reality through the mass media. The permanent transformation of reality. Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen 1994. ISBN 3-531-12641-5 .
  • Herbert Kapfer : Art in the mass medium, introspective. In: Herbert Kapfer / Barbara Schäfer / Katarina Agathos (eds.): Intermediality and open form. Radio play and media art on Bayerischer Rundfunk. Belleville, Munich 2006, pp. 10-23. ISBN 3-936298-47-5 .
  • Niklas Luhmann : The reality of the mass media. Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen 1995. ISBN 3-531-42841-1 .
  • Gerhard Maletzke: An overview of communication science: basics, problems, perspectives . Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen 1998. ISBN 3-531-13284-9 .
  • Ulrich Saxer: Media Society: Understandings and Misunderstandings. In: Ulrich Sarcinelli (ed.): Political communication and democracy in the media society. Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen 1998, pp. 52-73.
  • Arne Scheuermann: media rhetoric. In: Gert Ueding (Hrsg.): Historical dictionary of rhetoric . WBG, Darmstadt 1992 ff., Volume 10 (2011), Col. 649-659.
  • Barbara Thomaß: Media systems in international comparison . UVK, Constance 2007.
  • Almut Todorov, Mirko-A. Kahre, Carmen Reck: mass communication. In: Gert Ueding (Hrsg.): Historical dictionary of rhetoric . WBG, Darmstadt 1992ff., Volume 5 (2001), Col. 961-990.
  • Harald Wenzel: The adventure of communication. Real-time mass media and the space of action of the ultra-modern. Velbrück Wissenschaft, Weilerswist 2001, ISBN 3-934730-19-1 .
  • Jürgen Wilke : Media genres. In: European History Online . ed. from the Institute for European History (Mainz) , November 4, 2011.

Web links

Commons : Mass media  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: mass medium  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Luhmann, Niklas: The reality of the mass media. Opladen 1996, p. 120
  2. Markus Brauck, Hauke ​​Goos, Isabell Hülsen , Alexander Kühn: image disturbance . In: Der Spiegel . No. 41 , 2017, p. 10–16 ( online - October 7, 2017 ).
  3. a b c cf. Roland Burkart : Communication Science. Böhlau Verlag , Vienna / Cologne / Weimar 2002, pp. 169–172.
  4. a b See Siegfried J. Schmidt, Guido Zurstiege: Orientation Communication Studies. What she can do, what she wants. Rowohlt TB, Reinbek near Hamburg 2000, p. 175.
  5. Cf. Stephan Habscheid: The Internet - a mass medium? In: Torsten Siever, Peter Schlobinsi, Jens Runkehl (ed.): Linguistics. Impulses & tendencies. Language and communication on the Internet. Verlag Walter de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2005, p. 51.
  6. Gerhard Maletzke: Psychology of mass communication. In: Ders .: An overview of communication science: basics, problems, perspectives. Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen 1998, p. 45 f.
  7. Michael Kunczik, Astrid Zipfel: Publizistik. A study manual. Böhlau, Cologne / Weimar / Vienna 2001, ISBN 3-412-11899-0 , p. 50.
  8. Cf. Barbara Thomaß: Media systems in international comparison . UVK, Konstanz 2007, ISBN 978-3-8252-2831-6 , p. 16.
  9. Cf. Ulrich Saxer: Mediengesellschaft: Understandings and misunderstandings. In: Ulrich Sarcinelli (ed.): Political communication and democracy in the media society . Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen 1998, p. 54.
  10. Gadamer tells the story of philosophy 2/6 (2000) [1] from min. 0:52 on Youtube
  11. ^ Siegfried Weischenberg, Hans J. Kleinsteuber & Bernhard Pörksen: Handbook of Journalism and Media. UVK, 2014, pp. 206-210
  12. Roger Blum: Loudspeakers & Opponents. An Approach to Comparing Media Systems Halem, 2014
  13. Florian Meißner: Cultures of disaster reporting 1st edition. Springer VS, p. 15
  14. ^ Harry Pross: Journalism: Theses for a basic colloquium. Luchterhand, Neuwied 1970, p. 129.
  15. Cf. Jakob F. Dittmar: Fundamentals of media studies. Verlag der TU Berlin, Berlin 2009, p.?.
  16. See Erhard Schreiber: Repetitorium Kommunikationwissenschaft. 3. Edition. Öhlschläger Verlag, Munich 1990, p. 134.
  17. Cf. Frank Bösch: Media History. Historical introduction. Campus Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 2011, p. 9f.
  18. cf. University. Hall
  19. Cf. Gerhard Maletzke: Psychology of mass communication. Hans Bredow Institute, Hamburg 1963, p. 21f.
  20. Luhmann, Niklas: The reality of the mass media. Opladen 1996
  21. Luhmann, Niklas: The reality of the mass media. Opladen 1996, pp. 58-69
  22. The preceding terms in the following list items highlighted in italics are for the sake of clarity and are not headings set by Luhmann.