After “The Media”? Reflections On The Future Social Legitimacy Of Media Institutions

Prof. Nick COULDRY
Head and Professor, Department of Media and Communication, Goldsmiths College, University of London, United Kingdom

In this lecture, Nick Couldry will reflect on the current significance of his earlier work on the social legitimacy of media institutions for the dynamics of an age of convergence. For almost a century, media institutions have worked to acquire and sustain a central position in the production and distribution of symbolic content in many societies, and to claim the legitimacy of that centralization: that is, to present themselves as ‘natural’ and privileged access-points to the core values of, and the key happenings within, ‘society’. In previous work, Couldry called this ‘the myth of the mediated centre’ (Couldry 2003), focussing on mass media. But we are now entering a period where mass media institutions must interface with a dispersed proliferation of media production/consumption across countless platforms: in other words, the myth of the mediated centre is now increasingly contested (Couldry 2009, Couldry 2012). How can we think about this new phase?

The lecture will argue that mass media are unlikely to disappear because many other institutions (such as governments) still depend on mass media’s access to citizens for their survival and audience media habits will not disappear quickly or evenly. But mass media will have to work harder to maintain our attention and our belief in their legitimacy. Mass media institutions will increasingly depend for direct sales and broader marketing on events (inventing/borrowing ‘events’ that construct a temporary mass audience) and on a horizontally constructed ‘centre’, driven by people’s activities on social media. Meanwhile, social media, searching for reliable advertising income, will encourage people to share their likings for what remains of mass media. This is likely to result in a symbiotic relationship or ‘double helix’ between mass media and social media.

The lecture will end by considering how this contest over the myth of the mediated centre will play out differently in countries with different ‘media systems’ (in Hallin and Mancini’s term).

Couldry, N. (2003) Media Rituals: A Critical Approach London: Routledge.
Couldry, N. (2009) ‘Does “the media” have a future?’ European Journal of Communication.
Couldry, N. (2012) Media Society World: Social Theory and Digital Media Practice. Cambridge: Polity.