We have a tendency to use these terms interchangeably; as though they are the same things — but they’re not!  They are very different things, and we need to understand that difference.

As usual, a quick look at the dictionary will help:

Definition of mass medium

  1. :a medium of communication(as newspapers, radio, or television) that is designed to reach the mass of the people —usually used in plural

Definition of press

  1. 7a:  the gathering and publishing or broadcasting of news:journalismb:  newspapers, periodicals, and often radio and television news broadcastingc:news reporters, publishers, and broadcastersd:  comment or notice in newspapers and periodicals <is getting a good press>

[Note: I have used ‘mass media,’ as this is generally what we think of when we say ‘media,’ and I narrowed the definition of ‘the press’ to the one shown as this is also the general understanding of ‘the media’ — at least when used in the current context.]

OK, so what do the definitions tell us?  Well, they tell us that the purpose of the ‘mass media’ and ‘the press’ are not necessarily the same:

The purpose of ‘Mass Media’ is to communicate with a large number of people, while the purpose of ‘The Press’ is to communicate the news.

The definitions also tell us that:

‘Mass Media’ contains ‘The Press,’ but ‘The Press’ is only a part of ‘Mass Media.’

So, what does this give us?  It tells us that:

‘Mass Media’ contains ‘The Press,’ but it is not ‘The Press.’  It is a group of ways to communicate with a large number of people.  Whereas ‘The Press’ is only a part of the ‘Mass Media’ and, therefore, ‘The Press’ is not the ‘Mass Media,’ though it can be a form of ‘Mass media.’  Furthermore, where ‘Mass media’ may have many different agendas, ‘The Press’ is only supposed to have one agenda: to report the news.

Now, why is any of this important?  The answer is simple:

If we can be convinced that ‘Mass Media’ and ‘The Press’ are the same things, then we can be convinced that propaganda is news.  In other words, they can spin and lie and you will accept it as ‘news.’  It is called equivocation, and it is a fallacy, a mistake in logic.

Your television program is ‘Mass Media,’ but do you believe “Family Guy” or “The Big Bang Theory” are news?  Your radio program is a form of ‘Mass Media,’ but do you think music is news?  Face Book is ‘Mass media,’ but do you think pictures of someone’s dinner, or a cute cat are news?

At the same time, MSNBC and the New York Times are ‘Mass Media,’ but they have such a clear bias in the information they present, can you really call their content, news?  The Rush Limbaugh show is the same way: can you call Rush’s commentary, news?  The news is supposed to be a reporting of facts.  Therefore, any time a clear bias is present, you have something less than news on your hands.

But what about a blog?  It is a form of ‘Mass media,’ but can it also be ‘The Press?’  Well, at the time of this nation’s founding, ‘The Press’ was usually a small paper or pamphlet produced by a private individual.  Benjamin Franklin produced such a pamphlet?  And these small sources did their best to present the facts, and to argue according to reason.  What’s more, they admitted to their biases, making them known to their readers so that their readers could evaluate their content for themselves.  Does MSNBC admit to having a bias?  Limbaugh at least does that much, but would we still call them news?  What about a blog that admitted its bias and then tried to present the facts of an event as clearly and completely as possible?  Would that blog be ‘the Press?’  Yes, it would be, because it would be the modern equivalent of a Colonial pamphlet.  But MSNBC would not be considered ‘The Press,’ though it is ‘Mass media.’

Now, none of this means that the different voices involved are any more or less legitimate than any other.  This is not the point of my post.  No, the point of this post is to make it clear that ‘Mass Media’ and ‘The Press’ are two different things, and are supposed to have two different purposes.  These purposes can overlap at times but, in general, they are not the same, nor should they be.  They have different functions for a reason.  The important thing for us to keep in mind is that they are different for a reason, and to remember what those differences are supposed to be.  That way, it will be a little more difficult for others to deceive or manipulate us by telling us that what we hear on MSNBC or the Limbaugh show is news (i.e. ‘just the facts’) because they are ‘The Press,’ or ‘the media.’  Such claims simply are not true, but they depend on us not knowing the difference so that we might accept the deceptions that follow.



2 responses to “KEY CONCEPTS: ‘THE PRESS’ vs ‘THE MEDIA’

  1. Just so you know, I’ve learned much from your blog(s) consider you Franklin’esk. Thanks.

    • Wow! Thanks, that is high praise. Unfortunately, I do not think I deserve it. But I am glad that I have done something that helped you. That makes this whole blog worth the effort 🙂

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