Key Readings in Media Today: Mass Communication in Contexts

Brooke Erin Duffy and Joseph Turow (eds),
Key Readings in Media Today: Mass Communication in Contexts.
London: Routledge, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-415-99205-3
Au$45.00 (pb)
(Review copy supplied by Palgrave MacMillan

For students new to the world of media studies, searching for books that elucidate the many different facets of a rapidly changing media environment can often be an arduous task. And the reason is obvious: where does one begin? Should the journey commence with the works of established authors? Or would it be a wiser decision to start with a specific media field? While either choice presents its own set of rewards, a key question still remains: how does one pinpoint the “right” book to get a head start on understanding media in the 21st century?

Here, Key Readings in Media Today: Mass Communication in Contexts stands out as a valuable resource to help students answer this research dilemma. By drawing together “classic studies of mass communication with contemporary research on media, technology and culture”, Key Readings in Media Today succeeds admirably in providing the reader with valuable insights on each of the major media industries: book, newspaper, magazine, sound recording/radio, motion picture, television, digital media, advertising and public relations.

To better walk students through each media industry, the book is divided into five sections: (1) Understanding the Nature of Mass Media; (2) The Print Media; (3) The Electronic Media; (4) The Digital Media; and (5) Advertising and Public Relation. Yet these dividers are by no means definite, as many of the essays often “build upon previous sections” to showcase media’s increasingly convergent nature. This emphasis on media convergence is one of the most outstanding features of the volume, as it drives home the changes that are taking place, not only to the medium itself, but also, how different media is produced and consumed today. For instance, Eric Klinenberg’s essay titled “Convergence: News Production in a Digital Age” highlights how a 24/7 news culture and digital technologies are transforming today’s print newsroom – both in terms of the actual news cycle, as well as journalistic practices and norms. More specifically, he discusses how news(paper) organisations have adapted and evolved following the growing saturation of digitalisation and virtuality. Similarly, in “The Long Tail”, Chris Anderson considers how the Internet has opened up new business opportunities for media companies like Amazon, iTunes and NetFlix to reap profits, while at the same time, provide new spaces for creators and advertisers to upload material. Whereas an average Barnes & Noble may carry up to 130,000 titles, by overcoming the limitations of geography and scale, Amazon can offer twice as many books to potential customers.

In addition to covering many popular media topics and areas, including policy and ownership, another plus-point for Key Readings in Media Today is the inclusion of discussions of popular culture, a subject matter that is often wrongly stigmatised as “low-brow” or “unimportant”. Steven Johnson for instance, details how video games may “actually be good for you”, while Matthew P. McAllister, Ian Gordon and Mark Jancovich explore the tensions between comic books artists and Hollywood. The handbook also considers the field of advertising and public relations, two media professions often marginalised for falling outside the theoretical framework of media studies. To ensure students achieve a more diverse and in-depth understanding of the dynamic media landscape, the editors have invited a good mix of voices from academia and the media industry to contribute to the volume, and this combination of critical analysis and insider’s perspective has allowed Key Readings in Media Today to further stand out from other similarly themed media handbooks. Another student-friendly feature is the inclusion of discussion questions at the end of each chapter. As the editors explained, it is hoped this addition can help “spark” further discussions, and at the same time, encourage the reader to think more critically about the mass media and what the future of media might look like.

There are certainly many good reasons to pick up Key Readings in Media Today, as it has done exceedingly well in accounting for the many challenges that the media is facing today. Yet despite its positive attributes, the volume does however, fall short in delivering a diverse and global perspective. For example, in discussing the issue of media ownership and good governance, authors like Ben Bagdikian and Robert McChesney have drawn exclusively from American case studies, while Philip Napoli addresses the issue of American broadcasting to pinpoint the many facets of diversity. The cover of the book also lends support to this American-centrism, as it depicts a montage of four popular US icons: a Virgin billboard, the front page of USA Today’s online edition, an Apple iPhone and a Nintendo Wii console and remote control. While not disputing the fact that America often leads in new media technologies and innovation, and also, that a large majority of the world’s biggest media conglomerates are based in the United States (notable examples include AOL-Time Warner, Walt Disney and Viacom), as citizens living in an increasingly globalised environment, it is pivotal that close attention be paid to the transformations that are taking place in other regions like Africa and Asia. The media landscape is undergoing rapid transformations, and as students standing on the edge of these changes, it is crucial that we do not lose sight of how media affects, and is affected by, people and ideas from different parts of the world. The media may have been American, as author Jeremy Tunstall famously proposed way back in 1977, but with China and India on the rise, even Tunstall himself has come to acknowledge that more correctly, the media were American.

Gin Chee Tong.
Melbourne University, Australia.

Works Cited

Tunsall, Jeremy (1977) The Media Are American: Anglo-American Media in the World. London: Constable.
—— (2008) The Media Were American: U.S. Mass Media in Decline. New York: Oxford University Press.

Created on: Thursday, 10 December 2009

About the Author

Gin Chee Tong

About the Author

Gin Chee Tong

Gin Chee Tong is a PhD candidate in the Media and Communications Program, School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne (Australia). Her current research investigates the role of print media and the Internet in the (re)construction of national identities, and focuses specifically on the Malaysian Chinese minority community as a case study.View all posts by Gin Chee Tong →