MDST 3321 Media Industries and Economics

Instructor Contact:

Douglas Wagner, PhD


About the Course:

MDST 3321 is about is about the business of media and approaches this subject matter from two foundational perspectives. The first perspective focuses narrowly on the economics (production, distribution, and allocations of associated resources) of communication media and of the industries (firms and other institutionalized entities) that produce, distribute, and own media content. This classical economics-based approach is identified with the subdiscipline of media studies called media economics.

More broadly, the course is also about the political economy of media—a holistic and critical subdiscipline of media studies that emphasizes the political, social, and cultural contexts within which the business of media takes place with emphasis on the needs of a democratic public sphere.

A third dimension of the course examines media industries substantively and critically—effectively telling the stories of the powerful corporations, independent producers and distributors, and government overseers and describing how these entities operate; how they affect, and are affected by, the larger social systems and political economy; how they fund their operations and earn profits; and how they interact with civil society. This substantive inquiry will be conducted in two ways.

  • First, coverage of current and recent-historical activity in the media economy will be provided among the weekly required readings and media resources via news stories and other literature from academia and the public sphere. This content serves as case studies to illustrate the concepts introduced in the various weeks of the course.
  • Second, each student will select a substantive topic focusing on a particular industry, firm, public policy, or media market to serve as the basis of independent research that will be applied to three written assignments, including a presentation of findings to classmates that will comprise the final assignment and serve as the basis for the final discussion forum.

This multi-dimensional approach will prepare students to bring substantive knowledge and critical perspectives to discussions and debates surrounding the business of media. As an additional benefit, the course will inform your ability to provide to their friends a well-informed and nuanced explanation of various goings on in the video series Succession.

(For those not familiar with this popular HBO Series, Succession profiles the lives and labors of the dysfunctional family owners of a media empire rather obviously based on the Murdochs and News Corporation. Disclaimer: the small number of Succession video clips provided in the course are designed to demonstrate concepts and plausible amuse students and not to promote the series.


After concluding this course, students will be able to

  1. Describe the parameters and substance of what are commonly referred to as “the media economy” and “the political economy of the media.”
  2. Demonstrate competency and literacy applying the tools and concepts of the main theoretical and methodological approaches to media economics and political economy of media.
  3. Critically assess journalistic and scholarly commentary on economics, politics, and institutional practices associated with media of information and communication.
  4. Assess the role played by governments and public policies in guiding, regulating, and driving developments historical changes in the media economy, the media political economy, and the ecology of communication and information media in the larger society and public sphere.
  5. Explain how the economics of information-intensive commodities and production processes diverge from the standard rules of classical economics and what are the implications for media industries, media practices, and democratic societies.
  6. Assess the significant changes that have occurred in the realm of media, the media economy and political economy, and policy over the past half-century in association with neoliberal policy regimes, reregulation, informatization, globalization, digitalization, digital network architectures, and mobile communications.

Required Texts:

Albarran, Alan B. (2018). The Media Economy. New York, NY: Routledge. ISBN-13: 978-1138886087

McChesney, R. W. 2013. Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism Is Turning the Internet Against Democracy. New York, NY: The New Press. ISBN-13: 978-1620970317. (Available from online vendors for less than $20.)

Grading (out of n points):


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8:00am to 5:00pm


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1505 University Avenue
University of Colorado Boulder
178 UCB
Boulder, Colorado