Media of the United States

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The media of the United States consists of several different types of communications media: television, radio, cinema, newspapers, magazines, and Internet-based Web sites. The U.S. also has a strong music industry.

Much of the media is controlled by large for-profit corporations who reap revenue from advertising, subscriptions, and sale of copyrighted material.

American media conglomerates tend to be leading global players, generating large profits as well as criticism in many parts of the world. Further deregulation and convergence are under way, leading to mega-mergers, further concentration of media ownership, and the emergence of multinational media conglomerates.

Some people allege that the success of such companies may be due to certain policies of the American federal government, though it may be just as likely that the media field is prone to natural monopolies.



Main article: Television in the United States

Television in the United States is regulated, along with radio, by the Federal Communications Commission. There are several thousand local stations, of which many belong to the seven nationwide commercial broadcast networks. Traditionally, there were three: NBC, ABC, and CBS. The four newer networks are Fox, UPN, the WB, and PAX. There is also a nonprofit public television network, PBS, which is partially subsidized by the federal government.

Besides the "free" over-the-air television networks, there are also many networks which can be received on a television only after arranging for a subscription to a cable or satellite service. Examples include HBO and CNN.

The FCC is currently orchestrating a difficult nationwide transition from the old analog television standard, NTSC (often mocked as "Never The Same Color"), to the new digital standard, ATSC.

Although Americans normally enjoy the broadest free speech rights in the world, restrictions on the content of broadcast media have been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. The usual justifications are the scarcity of usable electromagnetic spectrum and the fact that unlike with books or magazines, it is difficult to provide advance warning of the nature of program content (if someone tunes in during the middle of the program).


Main article: Radio in the United States

American radio broadcasts in two bands: FM and AM. Some stations are only talk radio--featuring interviews and discussions--while music radio stations broadcast one particular type of music: Top 40, hip-hop, country, etc. Radio broadcast companies have become increasingly consolidated in recent years. National Public Radio is the nation's primary public radio network, but most radio stations are commercial and profit-oriented.

Talk radio as a political medium has also exploded in popularity during the 1990s, due to the 1987 repeal of the FCC Fairness Doctrine, which meant that stations no longer had to "balance" their day by programming alternative points of view. Many also attribute this to the success of radio personality Rush Limbaugh.

The FCC has recently approved a transition to digital radio technology which allows both FM and AM stations to "piggyback" digital data on top of their existing analog broadcasts. When the transition is complete at some point in the far future, the analog broadcasts will be replaced with true high-quality digital broadcasts. See IBOC and HD Radio.

Motion Pictures

Main article: Cinema of the United States

In the 20th century, the motion picture industry rose to become one of the most successful and powerful industries in the U.S. Along with other intellectual property industries, its relative importance to the American economy has strengthened as the importance of manufacturing and agriculture have decreased (due to globalization).

The high quality of American cinema has led to its widespread distribution throughout the world, which in turn has exposed much of the world to American culture. Of course, many other countries, notably France, have become dissatisfied with the dominance of American cinema and have sought to promote their own native talent.


Main article: Newspapers in the United States

Newspapers have declined in their influence and penetration into American households over the years. The U.S. does not have a national paper per se, although the influential dailies New York Times and the Wall Street Journal are sold in most U.S. cities. The Times has a moderate-left stance, while the Journal is moderate-right and is strongly pro-business.

Although the Times' primary audience has always been the people of New York City, the New York Times has gradually become the dominant national "newspaper of record." Apart from its daily nationwide distribution, the term means that back issues are archived on microfilm by every decent-sized public library in the nation, and the Times' articles are often cited by both historians and judges as evidence that a major historical event occurred on a certain date. The Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal are also newspapers of record to a lesser extent. Although USA Today has tried to establish itself as a national paper, it has been widely derided by the academic world as the "McPaper" and is not subscribed to (let alone archived) by most libraries.

Apart from the newspapers just mentioned, all major metropolitan areas have their own local newspapers. Typically, a metropolitan area will support at most one or two major newspapers, with many smaller publications targeted towards particular audiences. Although the cost of publishing has increased over the years, the price of newspapers has generally remained low, forcing newspapers to rely more on advertising revenue and on articles provided by a major wire service, such as the Associated Press or Reuters, for their national and world coverage.

With a very few exceptions, all the newspapers in the U.S. are privately owned, either by large chains such as Gannett or Knight Ridder, which own dozens or even hundreds of newspapers; by small chains that own a handful of papers; or in a situation that is increasingly rare, by individuals or families.

Most general-purpose newspapers are either being printed one time a week, usually on Thursday or Friday, or are printed daily. Weekly newspapers tend to have much smaller circulation and are more prevalent in rural communities or small towns. Major cities often have "alternative weeklies" to complement the mainstream daily paper(s), for example, New York City's Village Voice or Los Angeles' L.A. Weekly, to name two of the most well-known. Major cities may also support a local business journal, trade papers relating to local industries and papers for local ethnic and social groups.

Probably due to competition from other media, the number of daily newspapers in the U.S. has declined over the past half-century, according to Editor & Publisher, the trade journal of American newspapers. In particular, the number of evening newspapers has fallen by almost one-half since 1970, while the number of morning editions and Sunday editions has grown.

For comparison, in 1950, there were 1,772 daily papers (and 1,450--or about 70 percent--of them were evening papers) while in 2000, there were 1,480 daily papers (and 766--or about half--of them were evening papers.)

Daily newspaper circulation is also slowly declining in America, partly due to the near-demise of two-newspaper towns, as the weaker newspapers in most cities have folded:

196058.8 million
197062.1 million
1980 62.2 million
1990 62.3 million
2000 55.8 million

The primary source of newspaper income is advertising--in the form of "classifieds" or inserted advertising circulars--rather than circulation income. However, since the late 1990s, this revenue source has been directly challenged by Web sites like eBay (for sales of secondhand items), (jobs), and Craigslist (everything).

The largest newspapers (by circulation) in the United States are USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.

See also: List of newspapers in the United States


Thanks to the huge size of the English-speaking North American media market, the United States has a large magazine industry with hundreds of magazines serving almost every interest, as can be determined by glancing at any newsstand in any large American city. Most magazines are owned by one of the large media conglomerates or by one of their smaller regional brethren.

The U.S. has three leading weekly newsmagazines: Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report. Time and Newsweek are center-left while U.S. News tends to be center-right, although all three (in theory, at least) strive to provide objective news reporting and limit personal bias to the opinion pages. Time is well-known for naming a "person of the year" each year, while U.S. News publishes annual ratings of American colleges and universities.

The U.S. also has over a dozen major political magazines (the exact number is debatable, of course), serving every part of the political spectrum from left to right.

Finally, besides the hundreds of specialized magazines that serve the diverse interests and hobbies of the American people, there are also dozens of magazines published by professional organizations for their members, such as Communications of the ACM (for computer science specialists) and the ABA Journal (for lawyers).

See also: List of United States magazines


The Internet has provided a means for newspapers and other media organisations to deliver news and, significantly, the means to look up old news. Some organisations only make limited amounts of their output available for free, and charge for access to the rest. Other organisations allow their archives to be freely browsed. It is possible that the latter type obtain more influence, as they are true to the spirit of freedom of information by virtue of making it free. Anyone who has followed external links, say, from Wikipedia, only to be confronted with a pay to view banner, might attest that the reputations of organisations that charge is not enhanced by their charging policy, particularly when the same information is available from sources that don't charge.

The Internet, by means of making available such constantly growing news archives, is, in effect, writing our history as it happens, at a level of detail never before known. While proprietary archives are slowly exposed to the public after many decades, organisations that maintain immediately-updating resources have more control over what will be remembered by the general public in the near future.

See also


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