Cover: Media by Nick Couldry

Polity’s Why It Matters series

In these short and lively books, world-leading thinkers make the case for the importance of their subjects and aim to inspire a new generation of students.

Helen Beebee & Michael Rush, Philosophy

Nick Couldry, Media

Robert Eaglestone, Literature

Andrew Gamble, Politics

Lynn Hunt, History

Tim Ingold, Anthropology

Neville Morley, Classics

Alexander B. Murphy, Geography

Geoffrey K. Pullum, Linguistics

Graham Ward, Theology and Religion


Why It Matters

Nick Couldry



To Chris, Imogen, and Will


This book was written between June 2018 and June 2019, in a period of considerable turbulence and rising controversy in media, politics and society in Brazil, Hungary, India, the UK, the USA, Venezuela, and many other places. Rather than bracket out that context, I have tried to reflect it.

Thanks to Pascal Porcheron of Polity for his invitation in 2016 to write a book in Polity’s Why It Matters series, his patience with a slower schedule than originally planned, and his perceptive editorial input. Thanks to Ellen MacDonald-Kramer for her support too and to Justin Dyer for a sharp and sensitive copy-edit of the manuscript.

I also want to thank various institutions and people without whom the book, once committed, could never have been written or completed. In terms of institutions, thanks to the Department of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics and Political Science, which granted the sabbatical during which this book was written; and thanks to the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University and MIT’s Comparative Media Studies programme for being congenial homes in autumn 2018. Turning to people, particular thanks to my niece Isobel Edwards for carefully reading an earlier draft and reassuring me that I had made at least some progress in shedding the jargon and unnecessary detail that often gets in the way of academic writing. And thanks to Yongchan Kim for advice about media in Korean history; to Kim Schrøder for alerting me to the original version of the Stuart Hall research paper discussed in Chapter 2; and to Sonia Livingstone and Rafał Zaborowski for conversations over a number of years about the ‘media deprivation’ exercise as performed in their Media Audiences course at the LSE. Many thanks also to João Vieira-Magalhães for research assistance and, as ever, excellent help on many matters of detail. Thanks to three anonymous reviewers for Polity for helpful and constructive comments that helped me to produce a better version. And heartfelt thanks to Louise Edwards not just for commenting on the manuscript, but even more importantly for tolerating my frequent distractions and absences during much of this book’s writing and for her clarity, as always, in grasping what really matters. The faults that remain are my responsibility.

I dedicate this book to Chris Powell, Imogen Crarer, and Will Crarer. In their world, media will surely matter even more than in mine – whether for good or ill, we must wait and see.

Nick Couldry
Islip, near Oxford
June 2019