Media studies used to get a bad rap in certain circles. Some considered it less academically rigorous or less relevant than more established subjects. However, this couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, media studies is arguably one of the most important subjects of the modern era, producing revolutionary new ideas that continue to change the way we look at the world and ourselves. These include Marshall McLuhan's assertion that the 'Medium is the Message'. McLuhan said the way we receive messages is more important than the actual content. More recently, the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard coined the term hyperreality, a complex idea suggesting modern consciousness is constructed via a complex web of media signs that refer to each other rather than objective reality, leading to an inability in people to distinguish reality from a simulation of reality, especially in technologically advanced postmodern societies
Today, similar debates are going on about how new social media platforms impact the quality of social discourse, our relationships with other people, and important values like freedom of speech. Moreover, the rise of alternative platforms and independent media has led to debates about what defines an authoritative, or objective, news service. In a sense, it's become almost impossible to understand the world we live in without understanding the media we consume. Former Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore summed this up in a recent Twitter thread. After seeing a post deriding Media Studies, she tweeted, "So stupid. Media Studies is the study of texts and their relationship to power, ownership, identity, audience /viewers, etc. What right now could be more important?"
A medium for progress
If you're motivated by making the world a better and fairer place, then a media career is an excellent place to start. It's also one of the best ways to ensure sure your voice or the voices of others are heard. This year, a group of activists wrote, produced, and released a five-series podcast based on how the Australian Media represents Aboriginal people. Amy Thomas, a research assistant at the University of Technology Sydney, helped produce the podcast. She wrote, "It should be a given for mainstream media outlets to place Aboriginal journalists at the center of any attempt to tell Black stories. That, on its own, however, is not enough. Australia's media landscape requires a transformation that needs to go much deeper. By understanding how the mainstream media has failed, we can also see the pathways to telling the Black stories that can change Australia's future."
Social media is a new frontier for activism
A survey by The Observer found almost 80% of students engage in political activism through social media. What's more, this figure spikes following high-profile events, such as the recent death of George Floyd. For some, this kind of online activism is ineffective or even counter-productive. "It fosters behaviors of virtue signaling, groupthink, toxicity, cancel culture, and ephemeral activism," writes one student.
However, Anirban Baishya, communication and media studies professor at Fordham University, sees things a little differently. He believes online activism complements real-world action, stating social media can be a catalyst for actual change. "Performativity isn't necessarily a bad thing," Baishya said. "Even demonstrations are performative, in the sense that political sloganeering is a form of performance. Social media is pervasive, and people can think of it as annoying. But because of this pervasiveness itself, it's rife with political potential." For example, social media campaigns played a central role in the Arab Spring uprisings. It has also broadcast evidence of election frauds across the world and brought issues like abuse of power, racism, and sexual harassment to the forefront of national conversations.
Fighting fake news
Technology is a double-edged sword. For example, the internet has helped widen public discourse, but it's also created a space for bad actors to exploit for political, ideological, or financial gain. Studies by the Pew Research Centre have shown how these disinformation campaigns can erode trust in established news sources, and undermine the core functions of a democratic society. Researchers call this 'truth decay', and counteracting it without imposing on civil liberties is a huge challenge.
Some media companies are already employing independent fact-checkers to verify or disprove certain narratives. However, this raises another potential problem. In this recent article The Psychology of Fact-Checking, Professor of Development Psychology Stephen J. Ceci discusses selective perception; the process where individuals perceive based on their particular frame of reference. It suggests fact-checkers are prone to the same ideological biases as everybody else. Plus, who fact-checks the fact-checkers, and how independent are these independent fact-checking organizations and charities? These are big questions, but they're ones we need to answer if we want a functioning media fit for the digital age.
A media studies program equips students with practical skills to start a career in a wide range of industries. Common career paths include broadcast or print journalism, public relations, advertising, event planning, and market research. It's also a great subject for students looking to work in creative industries, such as the arts, film, television, or publishing. Local governments and civil services are always on the lookout for media-savvy candidates who know how to communicate with large numbers of people. As well as offering an exciting and varied career, working in a government communication department is also very well paid. A chief press officer can earn up to $60,000 a year, while those working for multinational private corporations command salaries well into the six figures.
Tips for media studies students
Careers in the media are exciting, varied, and offer serious earning potential. As such, they are also competitive, which means you'll need to find that extra edge to stand out from the crowd. One of the best ways to boost your chances of landing a role after graduation is through work experience and placements. Most universities will offer these as part of your studies, so make sure you make the most of any opportunities. Placements could include shadowing a journalist at a local newspaper, helping a PR firm launch a new advertising campaign, or working as a runner on a film or TV set.
You could also look at securing summer internships. You can write directly to TV companies, newspapers, advertising firms, or tech companies. Apply to as many as possible, and don't be afraid to aim high. Danny studied Communication and Media at Loughborough University in the UK. During one summer, he interned at Warner Bros movie studios. Two of his fellow classmates found work experience at Microsoft and IBM, while another interned as a press release officer for Liverpool football club. College newspapers, radio shows, and podcasts are some of the other ways to get experience during your studies.
Media studies presents an excellent opportunity to learn how the world works and boost your chances of securing a dream job after graduation.