City University, London.this article argues that critical approaches in media studies must begin looking beyond the mass media paradigm.1 Findings in several different research areas suggest that the concept of mass influence, enacted through the mass media, is of itself no longer adequate to explain the utility of communications in sustaining unequal power relations in society. Media effects research, while generally supporting a minimal effects model, remains inconclusive and strongly contested. Whether the media are influential or not, news content, according to many accounts, is becoming increasingly ‘dumbed down’ and apolitical. Media and audiences are becoming more fractured and dispersed with the arrival of new media. At the same time, there has been a decline in support for mass parties and national institutions as individuals look towards alternative forms of political activity. Put together, these trends suggest that traditional critical paradigms in media studies – those based purely on mass communications and influence – are no longer sufficient.
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