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The Rise and Fall of Mass Communication


William L. Benoit and Andrew C. Billings

Mass communication theories were largely built when we had mass media audiences. The number of television, print, film or other forms of media audiences were largely finite, concentrating people on many of the same core content offerings, whether that be the nightly news or a popular television show. What happens when those audiences splinter? The Rise and Fall of Mass Communication surveys the aftermath of exactly that, noting that very few modern media products have audiences above 1–2% of the population at any one time. Advancing a new media balkanization theory, Benoit and Billings neither lament nor embrace the new media landscape, opting instead to pinpoint how we must consider mass communication theories and applications in an era of ubiquitous choice.
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Inspiration struck at a Red Lobster. As Bill had recently moved nearby to Andy, we met for lunch to catch up. When turning thoughts to research, Bill mentioned that he felt one article he was inspired to write pertained to the decline of what we always thought of as mass communication. It was not the death of media, we both agreed, but it was a new era in which one had to reconsider what a “mass” audience was. Andy replied that he was studying similar principles in entertainment media, noting the relative lack of watercooler programs except for a Bachelor episode or key awards show. We discovered that we were both intrigued by the same principles: niches, customization, narrowcasting and what we eventually advance here: media balkanization theory. We also realized that if we connected all of these principles of news and entertainment, we did not merely have a journal article on our hands but, rather, a book project. That vision became The Rise and Fall of Mass Communication.

Bill would like to thank his wife, Pam Benoit, and their daughter, Jen Benoit-Bryan, for their support and inspiration. He would also like to thank Andy for his help and work on our book. Andy wishes to thank his wife, Angela, and his two sons, Nathan and Noah, who frequently were the sounding board for new book ideas and examples. He also wishes to thank Bill for being a terrific writing partner.

The Rise and...

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