McPhail began his academic career in the 1970s alongside Marshall McLuhan and taught several seminars with McLuhan at the University of Toronto. He subsequently taught at the University of Calgary, and Carleton University (Canada), the University of Hawaii and worked with UNESCO (Paris).
In the mid-1980s McPhail produced a public policy study for a Montreal based think-tank which predicted the negative impact of the internet on the daily newspaper and other print and publishing industries. McPhail contended this would lead to the demise of the newspaper.
McPhail has published over 90 articles and several books, including the widely translated Global Communication: Theories, Stakeholders, and Trends. The book details McPhail's theory of electronic colonialism which likens the impact on individuals of media and communication conglomerates, such as Google and Disney to that of the British Empire and American hegemony.
In 2009 he published with Wiley-Blackwell a book on development communication.
He now serves as a media and internet analyst for many media outlets including AP, UPI, USAToday, Toronto Star, Ottawa Citizen, NPR/PBS, Financial Post, and the New York Times.
- McPhail, T. (1981) Electronic Colonialism: The Future of International Broadcasting and Communication. Newbury Park: Sage.
- McPhail, T. & McPhail, B. (1990) Communication: The Canadian Experience. Toronto: Copp Clark Pitman.
- McPhail, T. (2002) Global Communication: Theories, Stakeholders, and Trends. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
- McPhail, T. (2006) Global Communication: Theories, Stakeholders, and Trends. (2nd ed.) London: Blackwell.
- McPhail, T. (2010) Global Communication: Theories, Stakeholders, and Trends. (3rd ed.) London: Wiley-Blackwell.
- McPhail, T. (2010) Development Communication: Reframing the Role of the Media. London: Wiley-Blackwell.