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What is the Mainstream Media?

Mary McMahon
Updated: May 17, 2024

The mainstream media is a collective journalistic entity that provides news and information to a large audience. This is in contrast with the alternative media, which reaches a much smaller and often more specific audience. Some people refer to it as the “mass media,” referencing the idea that it reaches the masses, and it is sometimes seen written as MSM. This is how most people around the world get the bulk of their news.

Mass communications have been around for a long time, as ample murals, statues, and carvings from Ancient Egypt, China, Greece, Mesoamerica, and Rome would indicate. The mainstream media really began to come into its own when more communication options opened up, however; the development of the printing press, for example, allowed newspapers to thrive, while the radio opened the airwaves to broadcasting. In the 21st century, electronic communications caused a media explosion. News can now reach people on computers, cell phones, handheld devices, the radio, and a variety of other mediums, expanding the reach of the media even further.

Because the mass media is aimed at a large target audience, the news it reports on is typically of general interest, and the reporting is often kept as neutral as possible. Some media sources may avoid reporting on controversial topics because they don't want to lose members of the audience, and because the mainstream media is often heavily influenced by governments and corporate stockholders. For this reason, some people speak disparagingly about the industry, arguing that issues of importance often do not reach the general public.

In most countries, the mainstream media is often associated with reliability and integrity, enforced by firm journalistic standards and the presence of editors and review boards that are supposed to ensure that the news is accurately reported. The media industry is also accused by some individuals of being extremely biased, however. The political leanings of major media companies may come out in the type of coverage it provides, and the choice to refrain from publicizing controversial stories may be viewed as a lapse of integrity. Social justice issues, for example, often don't receive the coverage that people who want to alert people to such issues feel that it should.

Some people also think that the media focuses too much on frivolous topics, like celebrity scandals, and non-news items, like stories about pets who can do tricks. Mass media also usually does not shy away from serious issues, however; in the Vietnam War, for example, honest and frank reporting about the war from mainstream outlets had a serious impact on public opinion, and the reporters have broken a number of important political scandals around the world.

People who are interested in smaller news sources and news that might cover issues that are regarded as on the fringe can take advantage of communications mediums like the Internet to find alternative publications. Reading a balance of mainstream and smaller alternative or independent publications can be very eye-opening.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a America Explained researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon956777 — On Jun 16, 2014

Google News is a great source because it aggregates stories so you can get multiple points of view. These different points of view are hard to come by these days, especially with the growing divide in the US.

By anon354730 — On Nov 11, 2013

mainstream media < alternate media in terms of reliability transparency..

By popcorn — On May 07, 2011

Can anyone recommend some good alternative news sources?

I would like to start reading a greater variety of news to see how they compare to one another.

By animegal — On May 06, 2011

I worked at a local newspaper for my high school internship and it was really amazing to see what even a small paper would refuse to print.

There wasn't a huge amount of advertising in the paper, but stories were considered carefully for content, as well as where they were placed.

For example, if we had a winter sale on fur coats, you certainly wouldn't see any articles protesting wearing animal products in that issue.

Can you think of any other examples of where the mainstream media has avoided discussing real issues to avoid ruffling the feathers of a sponsor?

By drtroubles — On May 05, 2011

The mainstream media does a good job of providing general information to the public on events that have happened, but I often get the feeling that they gloss over issues that could be highly controversial or avoid them altogether.

In the case of political scandals and big stories being broken, I think that reporting on these things has little to do with creating higher quality news, and more with jacking up their network ratings.

Advertisers and corporate sponsorship play such a huge part in what is allowed to air that it is hard to believe that one could consider a news station neutral. There is nothing that goes to air, except for live broadcasts, that don't have the heavy hand of an editor and advisory staff screening the material. Even with the live shoots, there is often a kill switch for the broadcast in the event something goes wrong.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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