Media Research Paper Topics

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Media Research Paper TopicsSee our list of media research paper topics. Media refers to the tools that humans have used throughout history to communicate about a shared reality. The most common reference is to the modern technologies that facilitate communication across space, time, and collectives.

Three main concepts of media inform communication research. The first is Harold D. Lasswell’s paradigm – “who says what, in which channel, to whom, with what effect” – which approaches media as neutral conduits of information. The second conception is the mathematical theory of communication by Claude Shannon that emphasizes technical aspects of communication systems. The third concept represents humanistic perspectives on media as cultural carriers of meaning. In this last respect, Roman Jakobson has made an important distinction between channels or contacts (concrete entities such as books, newspapers, or the internet) and codes (forms of expression such as speech, writing, music, or images).

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Much media and communication research is characterized by efforts at integrating these concepts theoretically as well as analytically. Studies commonly identify three aspects of any medium: Media are physical materials in a particular social shape that enable communication. Such materials are the vehicles of modalities – language, music, moving images, etc. Finally, media are institutions through which individuals and collectives can reflect upon themselves and the rest of society.

Digital media have stimulated renewed interest in the relationship between technologically mediated communication and face-to-face communication, and in the reshaping – remediation (Bolter & Grusin 1999) – of older media. One may distinguish between media of three degrees (Jensen 2010). Media of the first degree are humans – biologically based and culturally shaped resources of communication. Media of the second degree are mass media – from the printing press to television. Media of the third degree are digital media that recombine all previous media on single platforms.

Media Economics Research Paper Topics

Media economics is the study of economic theories and concepts applied to the media industries. Media economics is diverse and includes such topics as policy and ownership, market concentration, performance of firms, and political economy of the media. Media research paper topics related to media economics include:

  • Antitrust Regulation
  • Audience Commodity
  • Brands
  • Circulation
  • Commercialization of the Media
  • Commodification of the Media
  • Competition in Media Systems
  • Concentration in Media Systems
  • Consolidation of Media Markets
  • Consumers in Media Markets
  • Cost and Revenue Structures in the Media
  • Cross-Media Marketing
  • Distribution
  • Diversification of Media Markets
  • Economics of Advertising
  • Economies of Scale in Media Markets
  • Globalization of the Media
  • Labor in the Media
  • Labor Unions in the Media
  • Markets of the Media
  • Media Conglomerates
  • Media Corporations, Forms of
  • Media Management
  • Media Marketing
  • Mergers
  • Ownership in the Media
  • Piracy
  • Political Economy of the Media
  • Privatization of the Media
  • Public Goods

The Development of Media Economics

The origins of media economics began with the study of economics. The classical school of economics centered on the interplay of economic forces, operation of markets, and the cost of production. The classical school would later be challenged by ‘marginalist’ economics and Marxism. The marginalists introduced demand and supply, and consumer utility. Marxism identified labor as the source of production. Marxism rejected the capitalist system and the exploitation of the working class.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, neoclassical economics was introduced, differed by its use of analytical tools and mathematics to examine market behavior and price. Later the development of macroeconomics shifted the focus to aggregate economics, encompassing the entire range of market activity. Economic theories are constantly changing and evolving. By the 1970s new approaches included monetarist theories, which re-emphasized growth in the money supply; and rational expectations, which argues that the market’s ability to anticipate government policy actions limits their effectiveness.

As the study of economics evolved, scholars began to investigate different markets and industries. Media economics emerged during the 1950s. The media industries featured all of the elements necessary for studying the economic process. Content providers represented suppliers, with consumers and advertisers forming the demand side of the market. Regulatory agencies (e.g., Federal Communications Commission (FCC)) in the US, the Federal Trade Commission, and other entities) affected macroeconomic market conditions, while the relationship among suppliers in various industries created microeconomic market conditions.

Concentration of ownership emerged as a critical topic as it impacts both regulatory and social policy. Other studies examined media competition, consumer expenditures, barriers to entry for new firms, advertiser/ownership demand, and consumer utility.

Theoretical Dimensions and Methods

Media economics utilizes many theoretical approaches: microeconomic theories, macroeconomic theories, and political economy of the media. Microeconomic studies center on specific industry and market conditions. Macroeconomic studies take a broader focus, examining such topics as labor, capital markets, and gross domestic product. Political economy emerged as a critical response to positivist approaches.

The industrial organization (IO) model offers a systematic means of analyzing a market. The model consists of market structure, conduct, and performance. The model is also called the SCP model. The model posits that if the structure of a market is known, it helps explain the likely conduct and performance among firms. Each area can be further analyzed by considering specific variables within each part of the SCP model. Critics contend that the IO model does not capture the nuances associated with new technologies. However, the model remains a key theory in microeconomics.

The theory of the firm examines the most common types of market structure: monopoly, oligopoly, monopolistic competition, and perfect competition. Defining market structure is complicated due to consolidation across the media industries. Media concentration is examined in one of two ways. Researchers gather data on firm/ industry revenues to measure concentration by applying tools such as concentration ratios. Another method tracks concentration of ownership among the media industries. Research has shown there are a limited number of firms which control media markets. Globalization has contributed to media concentration. Competition studies draw upon niche theory, which originated in the field of biology. These studies consider competition within an industry or across industries. Indices are used to measure the breadth, overlap, and superiority of one competitor over another. Finally, macroeconomic analysis in media economics includes policy and regulatory analysis, labor and employment trends, and advertising revenues and expenditures at the national level.

Media economics embraces different methods. Many include trend studies, financial analysis, econometrics, and case studies. Trend studies are used to compare data over time for topics such as concentration and performance. Financial analysis utilizes different types of financial statements and ratios to measure performance of firms and industries. Econometric analysis uses statistical models to address its research questions. Case studies embrace different methodologies as well as data. Case studies in media economics research tend to be very targeted examinations.

Critics of media economics research contend research is too descriptive in nature, and that methodological approaches are limited. There are also concerns researchers would study only major companies, and not pay sufficient attention to new media enterprises.

Future Directions for the Study of Media Economics

There are a number of steps researchers need to address to further develop media economics. In terms of research, media economics must address how to define a media market given the convergence and consolidation across the media industries. Most media companies are now multimedia enterprises, generating content across a variety of platforms.

In addition to refining key concepts, media economics research must also expand into new arenas. Among the areas where new understanding and investigation are required are social media, and mobile markets. Media economics scholars should consider new inquiries that draw upon multiple methods of investigation. The interplay of regulation, technology, and social policy presents new opportunities for scholars to generate new theories. Scholars need to examine variables that describe evolving market structures. Improvements in methodological tools are needed to complement expansion in research and theory. New measures are needed to assess within-industry concentration and competition.

Media economics helps to understand the activities and functions of media companies as economic institutions. Media economics research continues to evolve as it analyzes and evaluates the complex and changing world in which the media industries operate.


  1. Albarran, A. B. (2010a). The media economy. London: Routledge.
  2. Albarran, A. B. (2010b). The transformation of the media and communication industries. Pamplona: EUNSA.
  3. Albarran, A. B., Chan-Olmsted, S. M., & Wirth, M. O. (2006). Handbook of media management and economics. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  4. Croteau, D. & Hoynes, W. (2006). The business of media: Corporate media and the public interest, 2nd edn. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge.
  5. Dimmick, J. W. (2003). Media competition and coexistence: The theory of the niche. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  6. Gershon, R. A. (2013). Telecommunications and business strategy, 2nd edn. London: Routledge.
  7. Napoli, P. M. (2003). Audience economics. New York: Columbia University Press.
  8. Noam, E. M. (2009). Media ownership and concentration in America. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  9. Picard, R. G. (2011). The economics and financing of media firms, 2nd edn. New York: Fordham University Press.

Media Effects Research Paper Topics

Mass media can produce a broad spectrum of effects – on knowledge, attitudes, emotions, social behavior, reputation of people covered by the media, etc. Effects may be the consequences of media use, but also a result of interactions with people who have used the media. Explanations are usually based on two types of theories. Learning-theory approaches address the correct reproduction of information. Therefore, divergences between beliefs and information provided by media are considered learning deficits that may also be interpreted as a lack of media effects. Cognitive-theory approaches address the processing of information triggered by media reports. Beliefs and opinions are not regarded as copies of media presentation but indicate the type of information processing. Media research paper topics related to media effects include:

  • Agenda-Setting Effects
  • Albert Bandura
  • Appraisal Theory
  • Carl I. Hovland
  • Catharsis Theory
  • Cognitive Availability
  • Credibility Effects
  • Cumulative Media Effects
  • Desensitization
  • Diffusion of Information and Innovation
  • Direct and Indirect Media Effects
  • Effects of Entertainment
  • Effects of Exemplification and Exemplars
  • Effects of Nonverbal Signals
  • Effects of Sex and Pornography as Media Content
  • Effects of Violence as Media Content
  • Elaborated Models of Media Effects
  • Elihu Katz
  • Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann
  • Emotional Arousal Theory
  • Excitation Transfer Theory
  • Fear Induction through Media Content
  • Framing Effects
  • Frustration Aggression Theory
  • George Gerbner
  • History of Media Effects
  • Intercultural Media Effects
  • Knowledge Gap Effects
  • Latitude of Acceptance
  • Leon Festinger
  • Linear and Nonlinear Models of Causal Analysis
  • Mainstreaming
  • Media Effects Duration
  • Media Effects on Attitudes, Values, and Beliefs
  • Media Effects on Emotions
  • Media Effects on Public Opinion
  • Media Effects on Social Behavior
  • Media Effects on Social Capital
  • Media System Dependency Theory
  • Mediating Factors
  • Mediatization of Society
  • Observational Learning
  • Opinion Leader
  • Order of Presentation
  • Persuasion
  • Physical Effects of Media Content
  • Priming Theory
  • Reciprocal Effects
  • Schemas and Media Effects
  • Secondary Victimization
  • Sleeper Effect
  • Social Judgment Theory
  • Steven H. Chaffee
  • Stimulus–Response Model
  • Strength of Media Effects
  • Structure of Message Effects
  • Trap Effect
  • Two-Step Flow of Communication

Effects on Reality Perception

Media coverage of current affairs has an influence on the public’s assessment of the significance of social problems and the urgency for solving those problems. Comparison of all issues on the media’s agenda with the population’s agenda over a short period of time, as well as comparison of the development of media coverage on single issues with the development of the population’s beliefs over a longer period of time, may indicate media effects.

The media – and above all TV – are also an important factor in cultural and political socialization. Through both information and entertainment TV conveys ideas of the state of society in which people live. The more frequently and intensely people watch TV, the stronger the influence of its presentation of reality.

Individuals generally have good judgment concerning the relative frequency of causes of death, but they typically overestimate the occurrence of rare fatalities and underestimate the occurrence of frequent causes of death. The concept of availability heuristic explains how this is related to media coverage.

Effects on Social Perception

People tend to overestimate negative media effects (perceptual hypothesis) on other people and take action (behavioral hypothesis) to prevent these negative effects. In addition, a general correlation between presumed media effects and behavior is assumed. The perceptional hypothesis has been often tested and confirmed. The behavioral hypothesis has seldom been tested and if so, subjects have been uninvolved bystanders instead of decision makers who are protagonists of media messages (Sun et al. 2009).

As ‘social beings’ people depend on the society of others. Therefore, they constantly monitor their environment in order to avoid social isolation. They draw on their interactions with other people and personal observation as well as media presentations. Each of these resources can incidentally stimulate correct or incorrect ideas about the distribution of opinions. People who consider themselves in the minority tend to withhold their opinions in public. In the process, the presumed majority opinion is artificially inflated, which in turn increases the pressure on the actual or alleged minority.

Cognitive and Emotional Effects

Citizen assessments about politicians and voting intentions are based in part on beliefs about politicians’ competence. Repeated coverage of issues sensitizes recipients to some issues and makes solutions to the issues seem especially urgent. Thus, the presumed ability of politicians to deal with the issues becomes more significant, contributing to a positive or negative image of them. Accordingly priming effects are based on agenda-setting effects.

Framing theory is based on the assumption that media recipients do not take up individual pieces of information independently of one another and derive meaning from them, but interpret them consistently according to a predetermined frame (or schema). Frame-induced information processing can be controlled by media reports that present events from a certain perspective (Entman 1991).

In the 1940s it was already known that there was a positive correlation between education and the use of information presented by the media. As consequence, in the course of time existing differences in the distribution of information can increase.

Descriptions of events trigger predictable emotional reactions. If the damage is attributed to uncontrollable natural forces, the event evokes sadness; if it is attributed to a person acting in a controlled way, it evokes anger. The extent of reactions is enforced or diminished by the interaction of emotions and cognitions. Appraisal theory combines elements of attribution theory and emotional arousal theory (Nerb & Spada 2001).

Axioms of Media-Effects Research

Most studies in the effects of mass media are based on three, mostly unspoken, axioms. The first is ‘events happen, media cover.’ According to this axiom, current events on which the media report happen independently of the media. This is doubtful because a number of events on which the media report are the result of previous coverage. Some events would happen without media coverage, but their character is modified by media coverage (mediated events). Some events happen only in order to generate media coverage (staged or pseudoevents).

The second assumption is ‘no effect without change.’ The axiom holds true only under two conditions. First, if the media did not support the existing beliefs, opinions, and behaviors of its audience, these characteristics and attributes would still exist. Second, beliefs, opinions, and behaviors have developed independently from previous media use. There is evidence that the mass media have at least partly established the information and opinions which are already held and used to interpret news on current events.

The third axiom is: ‘no effect without contact.’ This axiom is only acceptable if at least one of two conditions is fulfilled: first, existing attitudes largely prevent the reception of dissonant information; second, dissonant information will be reinterpreted according to existing attitudes. As far as conveyors or opinion leaders pass on information and opinion from the mass media unchanged, their effects have to be attributed to the media. Therefore, opinion leaders and other interlocutors do not necessarily restrain the influence of media reports, but rather extend them to those who lack direct contact with media coverage.


  1. Bennett, W. L. & Iyengar, S. (2008). A new era of minimal effects? The changing foundations of political communication. Journal of Communication, 58, 707–731.
  2. Bryant, J. & Zillmann, D. (2002). Media effects: Advances in theory and research, 2nd edn. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  3. Entman, R. M. (1991). Framing U.S. coverage of international news: Contrasts in narratives of the KAL and Iran air incidents. Journal of Communication, 41(2), 6–27.
  4. Nerb, J. & Spada, H. (2001). Evaluation of environmental problems: A coherence model of cognition and emotion. Cognition & Emotion, 15(4) 521–551.
  5. Perloff, R. M. (2003). The dynamics of persuasion: Communication and attitudes in the twenty-first century, 2nd edn. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  6. Sun, Y., Pan, Z., & Shen, L. (2009). Understanding the third-person perception: Evidence from a metaanalysis. Journal of Communication, 58, 280–300.

Media History Research Paper Topics

Media history as a concept in its own right possesses a relatively recent lineage. In the early decades of the twentieth century, when references to ‘the media’ – newspapers, magazines, cinema, radio, and the like – were entering popular parlance, university academics tended to be rather skeptical about whether these institutions were important enough to warrant scholarly attention. Traditional historians, in particular, were inclined to be dismissive. Matters would gradually improve over the course of the century, but even today, media history continues to occupy a contested terrain between the principal disciplines informing its development, namely media studies (broadly inclusive of communication, cultural, and journalism studies) and history. Media research paper topics related to media history include:

  • Academy Awards
  • Antecedents of Newspaper
  • BBC
  • Cable Television
  • Civil Rights Movement and the Media
  • Coffee Houses as Public Sphere
  • Collective Memory and the Media
  • Electronic Mail
  • Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
  • Fleet Street
  • Fourth Estate
  • Freedom of Communication
  • Graffiti
  • Historic Key Events and the Media
  • History of Advertising
  • History of Censorship
  • History of Cinematography
  • History of Citizen Journalism
  • History of Digital Media
  • History of Documentary Film
  • History of Elections and Media
  • History of Magazine
  • History of News Agencies
  • History of News Magazine
  • History of Newspaper
  • History of Postal Service
  • History of Printing
  • History of Public Broadcasting
  • History of Sports and the Media
  • History of Telegraph
  • History of Violence and the Media
  • Illustrated Newspapers
  • Literary Journalism
  • Music Videos
  • Newscast
  • Newscast, 24-Hour
  • Newsreel
  • Nineteenth-Century Journalism
  • Paperback Fiction
  • Penny Press
  • Propaganda in World War II
  • Radical Media
  • Radio Networks
  • Radio Technology
  • Satellite Television
  • Social History of Radio
  • Social History of Television
  • Television Networks
  • Television Technology
  • Underground Press
  • Virtual Reality
  • Watergate Scandal
  • Women’s Movement and the Media

Early conceptions of media history frequently accorded the commercial press a central role in promoting social change, one especially worthy of close scrutiny. These days much of this research tends to be criticized for being celebratory, however, even romanticizing the press as the pre-eminent catalyst for advancing the cause of freedom in the face of fierce government opposition. In order to overcome the limitations of this ‘Whig interpretation,’ as it has been described, media historians have begun to diversify their sources and methods. For some this has entailed looking beyond the views of the powerful and privileged so as to recover and interpret the experiences of those typically marginalized – on the basis of class, gender, ethnicity or sexuality – where the making of media history is concerned.

Serious reservations have been expressed by some historians about the very legitimacy of media history as a proper academic subject when it encompasses ostensibly trivial, ephemeral media items (advertisements, comics, graffiti, soap operas, paperback fiction, music videos, computer games, and the like) within its purview. Others have challenged this perspective, insisting that such value judgments be avoided so as to engage with the whole spectrum of emergent media in all of their complexity.

Defining Media History

Depending on how one chooses to define ‘the media,’ a case can be made that media history properly begins in the earliest days of human social life and communication. For researchers interested in the emergence of media in oral or pre-literate communities thousands of years ago, for example, the insights of archaeologists and anthropologists have proven invaluable. The advent of reading and writing is of particular significance, enabling the dissemination of news or information at a distance, and thereby helping to sustain a shared sense of social order. Studies have examined the emergence and use of various media facilitating communication, ranging from pictographs written on clay tablets, to papyrus, paper, and eventually the movable type of the printing press (Briggs and Burke 2010).

For many media historians, it is the connection between emergent media of communication and the creation of democratic society that is particularly fascinating. In this context, Anderson’s (1983) analysis of the rise of print as commodity in western Europe illuminates the emergence of nationality – “the personal and cultural feeling of belonging to a nation” – toward the end of the eighteenth century. He singles out for attention in this regard the fictional novel and the newspaper, arguing that the corresponding print languages helped to engender national consciousness in important ways.

Complementing this line of inquiry into how print enriched the ability of people to relate to themselves and to others in new ways have been efforts to understand how these media shaped the formation of public opinion. Here researchers have found the notion of a public sphere, as theorized by Jürgen Habermas (1989), to be useful, especially when investigating how spaces for public discussion and debate were initiated and sustained. Habermas identifies a range of institutions facilitating this process, with special attention devoted to coffee houses and the newspaper press (Mulhmann 2008).

Related studies have elucidated the ways in which various media forms and practices helped to give shape to new kinds of public sociability. Such studies include examinations of advertising, art, music, street literature, exhibitions in museums and galleries, as well as reading and language societies, lending libraries, and the postal system, among other concerns. Historiographies continue to rehearse contrary views on the extent to which the normative ideals of a public sphere have been realized in actual terms, a debate that continues to percolate. Nevertheless, there is general agreement that a consideration of the relative freedoms espoused by these ideals throw into sharp relief many of the factors that have acted to constrain public discussion over time.

Researching Media History

For media historians, the rationale for their craft is often expressed as a commitment to interdisciplinarity so as to situate the evolution of media forms, practices, institutions, and audiences within broader processes of societal change. Compounding this challenge, however, is the recognition that media processes can be ephemeral, and thereby elusive in conceptual and methodological terms. Often their very normality, that is, the extent to which they are simply taken for granted as a part of everyday life, means efforts to de-normalize them require considerable effort.

Media historians, it follows, must strive to be sufficiently self-reflexive about their chosen strategies when gathering source material and interpreting evidence, especially where questions related to ‘effects’ or causation are being addressed. Pertinent in this regard is the status of electronic media, for example, which may pose particular problems for the historian seeking to establish relations of significance. Not only are the actual texts under scrutiny – e.g., an early radio play or television broadcast – unlikely to be amenable to more traditional, print-based methods, but issues with regard to such logistical considerations as access, physical artifacts (microphones, receiver sets, and the like), and format-compatibility (changes in formats can make playback difficult) may surface.

The advent of digital technologies is already engendering similar types of issues for media historians. Scholarship increasingly entails finding alternative ways to manage, interpret, and preserve the extensive array of materials available across different storage systems. The sheer volume and range of these materials, coupled with continuing innovation in hardware and software (the obsolescence of technology rendering some types of data difficult to retrieve), can make for challenging decisions about how to maintain libraries, archives, databases, and other repositories of information. New questions are being posed in this regard by electronic records, including items such as electronic mail, voicemail messages, word-processing documents, Internet websites, message boards, blogs, Facebook accounts, Tweets and the like, all of which are highly perishable.

Precisely how media history research will evolve invites thoughtful consideration. Current efforts to build on the foundations set down by the press histories of the nineteenth century are making progress in enriching these traditions, while also pursuing new directions that recast familiar assumptions – sometimes in unexpected ways. The types of criticisms of ‘standard’ media history identified by Carey, namely that its arguments were based on “nothing more than speculation, conjecture, anecdotal evidence, and ideological ax grinding” (and where conclusions were not “theoretically or empirically grounded; none was supported by systematic research”), no longer aptly characterize the field (1996, 15–16). Indeed, it is reasonable to suggest that there is every indication media history will continue to develop in ever more methodologically rigorous – and intellectually exciting – directions.


  1. Anderson, B. (1983). Imagined communities. London: Verso.
  2. Briggs, A. & Burke, P. (2010). A social history of the media, 3rd edn, Cambridge: Polity.
  3. Carey, J. W. (1996). The Chicago School and the history of mass communication research. Repr. in James Carey: A critical reader (eds. E. S. Munson & C. A. Warren). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 14–33.
  4. Habermas, J. (1989). The structural transformation of the public sphere. Cambridge: MIT Press.
  5. Mulhmann, G. (2008). A political history of journalism. Cambridge: Polity.

Media and Perceptions of Reality Research Paper Topics

Perceptions of reality, or social reality, can be conceptualized as an individual’s conception of the world (Hawkins & Pingree 1982). What intrigues many social scientists is the exploration of the specifics of these perceptions and the ways in which they are developed. Social perception has been considered from both individual- and social-level perspectives.

The individual-level conception of social reality – or, as McLeod and Chaffee (1972) refer to it, social reality – suggests that others exist in one’s mind as imaginations, and it is only in these imaginations that others have an effect on the individual. The perspective of social reality defines the social system as the unit of analysis. These scholars focus on understanding commonly held perceptions shared in society. They often base their exploration on individuals’ perceptions of what others think, or whether an individual believes that an opinion or attitude is shared by others. Because the media, in particular, provide individuals with indirect representations of reality, communication scholars have been particularly interested in how individuals develop cognitions of social reality based upon their use of and attention to the media. Media research paper topics related to perceptions of reality include:

  • Behavioral Norms Perception through the Media
  • Body Images in the Media Climate of Opinion
  • Computer Games and Reality Perception
  • Cultivation Effects
  • Disowning Projection
  • Entertainment Content and Reality Perception
  • Extra-Media Data
  • False Consensus
  • False Uniqueness
  • Hostile Media Phenomenon
  • Media and Perceptions of Reality
  • Media Campaigns and Perceptions of Reality
  • Media Content and Social Networks
  • Media Content in Interpersonal Communication
  • Media Messages and Family Communication
  • Perceived Realism as a Decision Process
  • Perceived Reality as a Communication Process
  • Perceived Reality as a Social Process
  • Perceived Reality Meta-Analyses
  • Pluralistic Ignorance
  • Pluralistic Ignorance and Ideological Biases
  • Social Perception
  • Social Perception and Impersonal Impact
  • Social Perception and Unrealistic Optimism
  • Socialization by the Media
  • Spiral of Silence
  • Stereotyping and the Media
  • Third-Person Effects
  • Video Malaise

General Perception Effects

Several phenomena describing perceptions (and misperceptions) of social reality have been outlined in the literature. The term pluralistic ignorance is often used as an umbrella to describe all misperceptions of others’ opinions. Research in this area is primarily concerned with the factors that lead to individuals being more or less accurate about reality, focusing on the discrepancy between individual perceptions and actual reality.

Consensus occurs when homogeneous opinions exist across a group of individuals. Some research has suggested that an overestimate of consensus occurs when individuals perceive greater consensus on their own opinion than exists in reality. In this way, overestimation of consensus is ‘absolute’ because it is objectively false. The concept of false consensus describes the tendency to see one’s own behaviors and opinions as normal and those of others as deviant or inappropriate, which results in exaggerating the prominence of one’s own opinions.

Social projection is generally defined as the psychological phenomenon that drives several other inaccurate perceptions, including the silent majority or false idiosyncrasy effect, which occurs when some individuals support a position on an issue vocally and prominently, while those opposed to the issue – even if they are in the majority – remain silent. The disowning projection refers to the tendency toward attributing selfish motives, evil intent, or ignorance to others and denying these characteristics of oneself. The looking-glass perception occurs when people see others as holding the same view as they themselves hold.

Media-Specific Perception Effects

Another group of theories focuses on individuals’ perceptions about media content or its influence on others. The third-person effect predicts that individuals exposed to a persuasive message will perceive greater effects on others than on themselves (Davison 1981). Impersonal influence describes the influence derived from anonymous others’ attitudes, experiences, and beliefs. From this perspective, media do not need to be universally consonant or even personally persuasive in order to impact individuals’ perceptions of media influence (Mutz 1998).

The hostile media phenomenon suggests that partisans see news media coverage of controversial events as portraying a biased slant, even in news coverage that most nonpartisans label as unbiased (Vallone et al. 1985). An underlying assumption of this phenomenon is that media coverage is essentially unbiased. The persuasive press inference hypothesis draws from the hostile media phenomenon and third-person effect and places the effects into one process, i.e., people overestimate the impact of news coverage on public opinion and because of this misperception, estimates of public opinion are inaccurate (Gunther 1998).

Causal Mechanisms for Social-Reality Perceptions and Misperceptions

Some research on perceptions of social reality has emphasized mass media as the primary causal mechanism explaining perceptions of social reality. Because few people have direct personal experience with politics, mediated information has the ability to influence individuals’ perceptions of social reality at the collective level. That is, media enhance the salience of social-level judgments, in addition to influencing perceptions of public opinion.

First, spiral of silence theory suggests that because the climate of opinion is always vacillating, individuals are “scanning” their social environment for cues of what constitutes majority and minority opinion (Noelle-Neumann 1993). The media are one such source, but often present biased viewpoints. As a result of this individuals perceive a majority perspective, and this perception either promotes or prevents them from speaking out (see Schulz and Roessler 2012).

Second, cultivation implies that, over time, people are influenced by the content on television so that their perceptions of reality come to reflect those presented on television. This theory also purports that media content displays distorted estimates of social reality, e.g., the rates of crime and violence which in turn lead to the overestimation of personal risks (Shrum & Bischak 2001).

Effects of social reality perceptions can also be attributed to other causal mechanisms in three broader categories: individual, individual–other, and social explanations.

Individual explanations include cognitions and motivations. One possible mechanism in this category of cognitive explanations is the accessibility bias, or the tendency to derive estimates of others’ views based upon that information that is most accessible in one’s memory. The third-person effect also is explained by cognitive ‘errors.’ The actor– observer attributional error occurs when individuals underestimate the extent to which others account for situational factors, and overestimate their own attention to these factors. Motivational explanations can also be applied to those theories that claim media as the primary causal mechanism. For instance, Noelle-Neumann cites fear of isolation, or a motivation not to be in the minority, as a driving force behind the spiral of silence.

Social harmony and public expression mechanisms belong in the category of individual–other explanations. Because conflict is not palatable to many people, there may exist motivations to see others’ positions on issues as more like their own in order to avoid argument or dissonance (social harmony). Misperceptions of social reality at the individual–other level also can arise from either intentional or unintentional misrepresentation of one’s opinions in public. The differential interpretation hypothesis describes a conscious decision to publicly misrepresent one’s opinion, while the differential encoding hypothesis suggests that some individuals suffer from an “illusion of transparency,” mistakenly believing that their own and others’ opinions are accurately expressed publicly (Prentice and Miller 1993).

The social explanations are based upon what McLeod and Chaffee (1972) referred to as social reality, wherein a context or situation serves as the causal mechanism underlying perceptions of social reality. For instance, if an issue is particularly divisive, individuals are prone to the false consensus effect because they see one side as more similar to themselves and the other side as deviant or uncommon.


  1. Davison, W. P. (1981). The third-person effect in communication. Public Opinion Quarterly, 47, 1–15.
  2. Eveland, W. P., Jr. (2002). The impact of news and entertainment media on perceptions of social reality. In J. P. Dillard & M. Pfau (eds.), The persuasion handbook: Developments in theory and practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, pp. 691–727.
  3. Glynn, C. J., Ostman, R. E., & McDonald, D. G. (1995). Opinions, perception, and social reality. In T. L. Glasser & C. T. Salmon (eds.), Public opinion and the communication of consent. New York: Guilford, pp. 249–277.
  4. Gunther, A. C. (1998). The persuasive press inference: Effects of mass media on perceived public opinion. Communication Research, 25(5), 486–504.
  5. Hawkins, R. P. & Pingree, S. (1982). Television’s influence on social reality. In L. B. D. Pearl & J. Lazar (eds.), Television and behavior: Ten years of scientific progress and implications for the eighties. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, pp. 224–247.
  6. McLeod, J. M. & Chaffee, S. R. (1972). The construction of social reality. In J. T. Tedeschi (ed.), The social influence processes. Chicago, IL: Aldine-Atherton, pp. 50–99.
  7. Mutz, D. C. (1998). Impersonal influence: How perceptions of mass collectives affect political attitudes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  8. Noelle-Neumann, E. (1993). The spiral of silence: Public opinion, our social skin. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
  9. Prentice, D. A. & Miller, D. T. (1993). Pluralistic ignorance and alcohol use on campus: Some consequences of misperceiving the social norm. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 64(2), 243–256.
  10. Schulz, A. & Roessler, P. (2012). The spiral of silence and the Internet: Selection of online content and the perception of the public opinion climate in computer- mediated communication environments. International Journal of Public Opinion Research, 24(3), 346–367.
  11. Shrum, L. J. & Bischak, V. D. (2001). Mainstreaming, resonance, and impersonal impact: Testing moderators of the cultivation effect for estimates of crime risk. Human Communication Research, 27(2), 187–215.
  12. Vallone, R. P., Ross, L., & Lepper, M. R. (1985). The hostile media phenomenon: Biased perceptions and perceptions of media bias in coverage of the Beirut massacre. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 49(3), 577–585.

Media Production and Content Research Paper Topics

Research in the sub-field of media production and content seeks to describe and explain the symbolic world of the media with reference to a variety of contributing societal, institutional, organizational, and normative factors. It draws boundaries around a large and diverse body of research efforts, predominantly social science, but also including more interpretive cultural analysis. Media research paper topics related to media production and content include:

  • Accountability of the Media
  • Accountability of the News
  • Accuracy
  • Balance
  • Bias in the News
  • Commentary
  • Commercialization Impact on Media Content
  • Conflict as Media Content
  • Consonance of Media Content
  • Construction of Reality through the News
  • Credibility of Content
  • Crime Reporting
  • Editorial
  • Endorsement
  • Ethics of Media Content
  • Fairness Doctrine
  • Fictional Media Content
  • Framing of the News
  • Infotainment
  • Instrumental Actualization
  • Internet
  • Internet News
  • Local News
  • Magazine
  • Media Performance
  • Morality and Taste in Media Content
  • Narrative News Story
  • Negativity
  • Neutrality
  • News
  • News
  • News Factors
  • News Production and Technology
  • News Values
  • Newspaper
  • Objectivity in Reporting
  • Plurality
  • Quality of the News
  • Quality Press
  • Radio
  • Radio News
  • Reality and Media Reality
  • Scandalization in the News
  • Sensationalism
  • Separation of News and Comments
  • Soap Operas
  • Soft News
  • Sound Bites
  • Stereotypes
  • Synchronization of the News
  • Tabloid Press
  • Tabloidization
  • Television
  • Television
  • Truth and Media Content
  • Violence as Media Content

Scope of the Research Area

If much of the communication field has concerned itself with the effects of media, and the process by which they are produced, this more recently emerging area has treated the media map of the world itself as problematic, something to be understood and predicted through an awareness of underlying forces. These forces provide the context of ‘media production,’ which is examined for its systematic ties to ‘content’ – particularly news and information. Given the multitude of factors influencing the media, this conceptual framework has led the field of communication to devote the same sustained research to the creation, control, and shape of the mediated environment as it has to the effects on audiences of that environment. The objects of study in this area, however, have undergone profound changes, particularly with communication technology, making it more problematic to identify ‘the media,’ ‘the profession,’ and the site of ‘production.’

This research area is often broadly referred to as ‘media sociology’ (reviewed in Berkowitz 1997). Certainly, many of the participant observation ethnographies of newsrooms and other media are so labeled, particularly given their use of traditional sociological fieldwork methods (e.g., Tuchman 1978; Gans 1979). The technology of distributed online production makes identifying the ‘sites’ where news is produced more difficult now, but the ethnography approach continues to be used. The area also encompasses studies of individual media workers, and how their personal traits affect their decisions (e.g., Weaver & Wilnat 2012). Many media critics lodge the blame for press bias squarely with individual journalists, or find fault with the entertainment industry because of ‘out-of-touch Hollywood producers, but important explanations for these communication products lie in structural bias, beyond individual prejudice. Although media organizations – including those supported by the state – employ many creative professionals, the work of those individuals is routinized and structured to yield a predictable product. Even the ‘news’ must be controlled, anticipated, and packaged to allow the organization to manage its task effectively: in Tuchman’s (1978) phrase, “routinizing the unexpected.”

Beginning in the 1950s Warren Breed (1955) and David Manning White (1950) were among the first scholars to examine the influences on content directly, with their examinations of social control in the newsroom and the story selections of an editor, described as the news ‘gatekeeper’. Reese and Ballinger (2001) observed that the gatekeepers in these studies were deemed representatives of the larger culture, and news policies were assumed to help identify as news those events of interest to the community – rendering the production and control issues unthreatening to the public interest and, as a result, of less interest to researchers. Eventually, however, these questions returned to the fore.

The hierarchy of influences model describes the multiple levels of influences – individual, routines, organizational, extra-media (social institutional), and ideological (socio system) – that impinge on media simultaneously and suggests how influence at one level may interact with that at another (Shoemaker & Reese 2014). Within the realm of newsmaking, for example, the individual- level bias of particular journalists may affect their reporting, but journalists of a particular leaning often self-select an organization because of its pre-existing policies, history, and organizational culture (routines). The news organization and its employees, in turn, must function within other institutional relationships and ideological boundaries set by the larger society. Thus, the individual functions within a web of constraints.

The compelling point of departure for this subfield is the idea that media content provides a map of the world that differs from the way that world really is, making the research task one of explaining those discrepancies. Media representations can be tied to objects in the real world, but viewed another way media content is fundamentally a ‘construction,’ and, as such, can never find its analog in some external benchmark, a ‘mirror’ of reality. This perspective directs research to understanding the construction process. Journalists, for example, ‘see’ things because their ‘news net’ is set up to allow them to be seen.

Research Findings

Given the wide variation among media round the world, generalizations about production and content must be made with caution. Now that more comparative research has begun to emerge, it is easier to distinguish between those practices common across countries and those peculiar to one or the other. Certainly, changes in technology have had widespread cross-national effects, blurring craft distinctions in the convergence of media forms.

Although broad generalizations can be made, there are also important differences across the various media. These more organizational issues involve the technological imperatives, audience considerations, economic and other dictates, as well as the regulatory environment that they all face. Each medium, whether radio, television, newspapers, or magazines, has its own unique problems to solve in providing a product to a reader, viewer, or listener. The highest level of the hierarchy of influences model, the ideological or social system, considers how the media function within a society by virtue of there being a certain kind of system – which necessarily binds them to the prevailing social order usually associated with nation-states.

Research Methods

These considerations often require a more interpretive analysis, which considers how the media reinforce the definitions of the powerful and linked to media production practices that support them. A macro level of analysis directs attention to cross-national comparisons of media production, where important patterns can be found. Shoemaker and Cohen (2006) find that news has a number of common patterns across nations, even if these are filtered through specific national cultures.

Global changes in media ownership, new ways of carrying out gatekeeping across national boundaries, and emerging shared norms of professionalism all give greater emphasis to this perspective. So, under the continuing processes of globalization, this area of research faces the challenge of identifying the universal aspects of media and social representation, the enduring particularities of individual national contexts, and the increasing interactions between these levels.


  1. Berkowitz, D. (1997). Social meanings of news. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  2. Breed, W. (1955). Social control in the newsroom: A functional analysis. Social Forces, 33, 326–355.
  3. Gans, H. (1979). Deciding what’s news. New York: Pantheon.
  4. Reese, S. & Ballinger, J. (2001). The roots of a sociology of news: Remembering Mr Gates and social control in the newsroom. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 78(4), 641–658.
  5. Shoemaker, P. & Cohen, A. (2006). News around the world. London: Routledge.
  6. Shoemaker, P. & Reese, S. (2014). Mediating the message in the 21st Century: A media sociology perspective. London: Routledge.
  7. Tuchman, G. (1978). Making news. New York: Free Press.
  8. Weaver, D. & Wilnat, L. (2012). The global journalist in the 21st century. London: Routledge.
  9. White, D. (1950). The “gatekeeper”: A case study in the selection of news. Journalism Quarterly, 27, 383–396.

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