Media studies courses look at the structure, history, output and effect of various media. There is an overlap with communication studies in that both disciplines look closely at how information is transmitted and opinions are formed.
Courses will often look at ownership of media channels and the effects of digital technology on the media with modules on smartphone culture, social media and online advertising. Media studies arose as an academic discipline out of the tradition of critical analysis in English literature courses. It has since grown and established itself as an important academic field in its own right, drawing from a wide range of academic material including texts and ideas from: anthropology, psychology, criticism, sociology, philosophy, cultural studies, film theory, art history, and political science.
The media is in a near-constant state of upheaval with legacy media operations shrinking their operations and in some cases closing completely. The landscape is being redefined through online publishing and social media by an army of bloggers, YouTube stars and citizen journalists. There has never been a more interesting time to study media and never a greater need for people who understand the current complexities of the industry.
The media industry is notoriously competitive and some areas still count first-hand experience over academic qualifications but a media studies degree will give you a good grounding for a job in journalism or a similar media role. Graduates also go on to roles in public relations, as television producers, programme researchers or in marketing, communications or publishing. Work experience is also a crucial first step so prospective media studies students are advised to build up as much as possible, even before beginning your undergraduate studies.
Communications studies incorporates aspects of social sciences and the humanities in looking at how human beings communicate with each other. The field is broad and teaching can focus on themes as diverse as linguistics, mass-media, rhetoric, technology, semiotics and interpretation.
Students will look at how meaning is transmitted – via speech, text, broadcast or image and how such messages are received and interpreted. You will also look at the context of these messages be it political, cultural or economic.
Degrees can be more academic, with students studying the nature of communications in modern society and the history of communications as an academic discipline. More practical courses will combine communications with a complementary subject like journalism, public relations or politics. The field draws widely from other academic disciplines such as sociology, psychology, law, anthropology, biology and economics among others. This allows students to sample a broad range of theories and approaches while they unravel the intricacies of human communication.
Communications has one of the broadest range of career paths open to graduates. Experts in communication are employed in almost every sector from government spokespeople and corporate PR chiefs to newspaper and online journalists, press officers and marketers and advertising executives. The skills you learn on a degree course will stand you in good stead for any of these roles and much of what you will be taught will transfer to other sectors. So if you are fascinated by the power of rhetoric or mass media, or if you fancy yourself a media mogul or advertising guru, this might be the path for you.