Definition of Public vs. Mass Communication

Public communications and mass communications are similar fields. Both fields explore practices and trends of effective communication to large group audiences. The terms are sometimes used interchangeably. However, there are differences between public communications and mass communications and between the degree programs that correspond with each of these fields.

Public Communications: Definition

Public communications denotes communications between persons as equals. It is the receipt and exchange of messages, ideas and opinions. Means of public communications evolved over time with the development of technology and mediums of communications. Likewise, public opinions, policies and ideas evolved as society's attitudes and opinions changed. However, the exchange or transaction of ideas remains constant. People respond and react within public groups, thereby contributing to and shaping public discourse. For example, the public exchange of ideas following a political speech will most likely be a reflection of multiple political views. The public discourse may be positive in agreement with the speech or it can move into negative territory as audience members that disagree also share their positions.

Mass Communications: Definition

Mass communications is the broadcast of an unanswerable voice to a large audience. In contrast to public communications, mass communications does not involve an exchange of ideas, but is, rather, the delivery and receipt of a mass message or messages. The inhabitants of a mass society may dissent or disagree with the mass message transmitted, but there is still uniformity and universality of the message. An example of mass communications is the presidential State of the Union address that is now given through a television address to the nation; the public and media may hold discourse after the televised speech but the speaker (the President) gives the speech without any direct exchange of ideas with the audience.

Public Communications Degree

Public communications degree programs, like mass communications programs, focus on media institutions and the processes by which such institutions diffuse information to influence and persuade public opinion. Students in public communications programs also study the public's role in the communicative process. Students explore how individuals within a society contribute to social discourses and how they interact within such discourses. Public communications degree programs study communications as an interactive system. These types of degree programs are marked by the exchange, rather than simply the delivery of messages and ideas. Graduates with a public communications degree might pursue career in journalism field or as advertising executives.

Mass Communications Degree

In academia, mass communications describes the study of the means by which persons and groups use mass media to transmit information. These programs explore how large media voices and outlets, such as newspapers, magazines, radio programs and television and film productions transmit messages to large segments of the population. Mass communications students study how such media outlets strategically and effectively communicate with the masses and manipulate mass opinion. Mass communications studies are often coupled with other fields of study, such as journalism, marketing, advertising or public relations. Some career options for graduates majoring in mass communications might include human resource management, teaching or digital media.