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.
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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.