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The Rise and Fall of Mass Communication

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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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Chapter Seven Media Balkanization Theory: Axioms and Implications

CHAPTER SEVEN

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Media BalkanizationTheory: Axioms andImplications

This book has traversed quite a bit of ground, showing that population growth and advances in communication technology have shifted dramatically since the peak of mass communication, shown in Chapter 1. However, we explain in Chapter 2, as content sources proliferated over the last decade or so (especially on the Internet and social media) the once mass audience became balkanized into smaller and often heterogeneous niche audiences. These audience fragments consume different constellations of media sources and, therefore, acquire different information and develop different attitudes because rhetoric is epistemic. The way human beings process information (the primacy of affect, congruency bias, disconfirmation bias) leads these balkanized audiences to have different world views: varying beliefs and values, and concomitantly conflicting attitudes, contrasting ideologies, different voting behavior. The repeated refrain of “fake news” leads some voters to reject disconfirming information when they do encounter it. Chapter 3 then applied some of the same principles of balkanization to entertainment media, highlighting how the different constellations play out in regard to the music we listen to, the books we read, the scripted programs and movies that we watch, and well beyond. Chapters 4, 5, and 6 then unfurled the ramifications of this balkanization, ranging from what has been added (customization, in Chapter 4), what has been redefined (cultural barometers, in Chapter 5), and what has been lost (watercooler moments, in Chapter 6).

In this final chapter, we discuss several observations about the balkanization of the mass...

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