Media Studies, a field of study concerned with the analysis of the media in its political, cultural, economic, and social context. Founded in the 1970s as television studies, the area was developed by teachers and academics in response to the perceived importance of media in society rather than by media industry personnel. It was renamed media studies in the 1980s and has since become an established area of academic study, offered in some form at all levels of education. In recent years the provision of, and demand for, media studies courses has grown very rapidly, and it is now one of the most popular subjects available.
Media studies are taught from secondary level upward. In England and Wales it is offered as part of the National Curriculum, not as a specific subject, but usually as part of a study of English, although it may also be touched upon in other areas of the curriculum. It is available as a subject at GCSE and A-Level. In higher education, it can be studied as a degree in itself or as part of a combined degree (often along with cultural or communication studies). In other English-speaking countries, it is often taught as a subject in its own right.
The area of media studies has suffered in the past from a confusion over exactly what it covers, largely owing to the misconception of it as a practical and vocational area of study that will prepare students for a career in the media industry. This is not the aim of most media studies courses. Rather, the media themselves are studied. The focus is often on television, but also extends to magazines, the music industry, advertising, radio, and new communication media such as the Internet. The angle of study is usually critical and analytical, questioning the role and importance of the media as a part of everyday life. A typical media studies course will examine areas such as the institution of the media, how it works, and what it is communicating (and why); the media text (meaning any product of the media, such as a billboard advert, television programme, or album sleeve), what it is communicating, how, and why; media audiences, how they receive, use, and understand media texts; and issues of representation, censorship, and control of the media. Another misconception often held is that it is purely a practical subject.
While there is a practical element to most media studies courses—students are often required to produce a practical project using media technology—such practical work is usually produced in the context of study or analysis of the media, rather than as a way of gaining the vocational skills necessary for entry to the media profession. Specific areas of research include representations of groups of people or issues by the media; issues of censorship of the media; the effects of the media on audiences; and analyses of the patterns of ownership and control of the media.
The aim of most media studies courses is to prepare students for careers in a wide range of professions. They may enter the media industry (with some extra training) but are more likely to work in areas where well-developed analytical, communication, research, writing, and presentation skills are required.