Academic Research Writings

The Relationship Between Media, Markets, and the Public Sphere

Quarter: Fall 2015
BISMCS 333: Media and Communication Studies
Professor: Susan Harewood

In the recent years the media industry has changed significantly. In Media, Markets, and the Public Sphere David Croteau and William Hoynes explain why with two perspectives that scholars use when examining changes within the media industry. The first is the more popular of these perspectives, the market model, which views the media as a product and the people who use it as consumers. In this model media consumers regulate the market, like any other good, through supply and demand. Success is determined by maximum profits. The second perspective is the public sphere model, which views the media as a resource for citizens. Within the public sphere model success is seen in the media’s ability to cultivate substance and diversity, rather than maximize profit.

This chapter focuses on media use within the United States, which is important to recognize because America is a capitalist society that values private business over state regulation. This is a large reason why the market model has easily been adapted to the media business over the public sphere model. The function of supply and demand in the market model offers simplicity. Consumers within the market regulate it by choosing to buy what they like and ignoring the products they dislike. These actions tell producers which types of media to produce more of and pay more attention to.  “Like any other producer of products, if the media industry is left unregulated, it will respond to consumer demand, develop innovative new products, and remain flexible and efficient (p.19) ”. Croteau also addresses the limitations of the market model, the largest being that it is undemocratic and biased, “those parties with significant resources may own or disproportionately influence the media content; those with only modest means have little or no influence on what is produced (p.24)”. Markets also do not distinguish between good and bad or right and wrong. Therefore if immoral or unethical programs are being paid for, then they will continue to be produced even if it has negative effects on the consumers, “Markets make no judgment about what is bought and sold. They do not distinguish between products that might be good for society versus products that might be harmful,” (p. 24). The market system depends on competition, responding to the actions of competitors, and trusts that the consumer will consume what is best.

In addition to American’s valuing capitalism citizens also value their government’s protection of their basic rights. These rights include the first amendment which Croteau highlights, “The First Amendment gives the press a special status, protected from government regulation, because of its important role in informing citizenry (p.31)”. The public sphere model views media as a resource rather than a product. Croteau uses the work of Jurgen Habermas to explain how the media is a crucial part of democratic societies, “a principal way that mass media can contribute to democratic process is by helping to cultivate social spaces for ongoing public dialogue (p.22)”. The media is unique, therefore it cannot always be treated like other products within the market system. Unlike having a C.E.O. of a profitable company, the media should not operate under any direct ownership. Rather, it should be a collaborative space where all citizens, regardless of income or social class, should be able to access in order to send and receive information. Unlike a product, media informally educates the public “the media produce cultural and political goods…citizens rely primarily on media for information they need to actively participate in public life. (p. 29)”.  A healthy democratic society depends on a healthy public sphere that is diverse and independent of bias or elitism and focused on the public interest. Unlike the market model, which has no concern for the public interest outside of what can be regulated though supply and demand, the public sphere model is centered on maintaining the well-being of the people. “Media serve the public interest to the extent that they portray the diversity of experiences and ideas in a given society (p. 34) [and] provide citizens with substantive information and innovative entertainment (p. 36)”. The media is more than a product because it has a job to perform and a standard to abide by, this is why it is a resource protected in the First Amendment.

In conclusion, there are advantages and limitations associated with both models. Croteau notes a critical difference in the public sphere model from the market model, “it contends that media should ‘serve’ these citizens, rather than ‘target’ potential consumers (p. 22)”.  The change in focus from the public sphere model to the market model is a large contributor to the changes we see in media today. The market model allows us to monetize media, and as money has been increasingly more significant in America, satisfying the public interest becomes less of a priority. Croteau wants the reader to recognize the value in both models, “the two approaches provide different lenses for seeing and evaluating (p.38)” but he stresses the limitations of the market model because we have placed too much of an emphasis on it in modern society which has the destructive effect of neglecting the public interest.


Croteau, D. & Hoynes, W. (2006). Media, markets, and the public sphere. In D. Croteau & W. Hoynes, The business of media: corporate media and the public interest.  (15-40). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.Preview the documentView in a new window

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About Amani Sawari

I am a University of Washington alum, Class of 2016. I graduated with my Bachelors Degree in two majors: Media and Communications AND Law, Economics and Public Policy. It's a mouthful but it illustrates how I have a hard time doing only one 'thing'. I am a writer, poet, singer, songwriter and much more. I enjoy sharing my experiences and perspectives with those who are interested and I am a proud member of the black diaspora!
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