Media event

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Groundhog Day annual ceremony

A media event, also known as a pseudo-event,[1] is an event, activity, or experience conducted for the purpose of media publicity. It may also include any event that is covered in the mass media or was hosted largely with the media in mind.[2]

In media studies, a media event is an established theoretical term first developed by Elihu Katz and Daniel Dayan in the 1992 book Media Events: The Live Broadcasting of History.[3] Media events in this sense are ceremonial events with narrative progression that are live broadcast and gather a large segment of the population, such as royal weddings or funerals.[4] The defining characteristics of a media event are that it is immediate (i.e., it is broadcast live), organized by a non-media entity, containing ceremonial and dramatic value, preplanning, and focusing on a personality, whether that be a single person or a group.[5] The 2009 book Media Events in a Global Age updates the concept.[6] The theory of media events has also been applied to social media, for instance in an analysis of tweets about the Swedish elections[7] or an analysis of the Bernie Sanders mittens meme during the inauguration of Joe Biden.[8]

Media events may center on a news announcement, an anniversary, a news conference, or planned events like speeches or demonstrations. Instead of paying for advertising time, a media or pseudo-event seeks to use public relations to gain media and public attention. The theorist Marshal McLuhan has stated that the pseudo-event has been viewed as an event that is separate from reality and is to simply satisfy our need for constant excitement and interest in pop culture. These events are, “planned, planted, or incited (Merrin, 2002)” solely to be reproduced later again and again.[9]

The term pseudo-event was coined by the theorist and historian Daniel J. Boorstin in his 1961 book The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-events in America: “The celebration is held, photographs are taken, the occasion is widely reported.”[10] The term is closely related to idea of hyperreality and thus postmodernism, although Boorstin's coinage predates the two ideas and related work of postmodern thinkers such as Jean Baudrillard. A media event being a kind of planned event, it may be called inauthentic in contrast to a spontaneous one.

In distinguishing between a pseudo-event and a spontaneous one, Boorstin states characteristics of a pseudo-event in his book titled "Hidden History." He says that a pseudo-event is: dramatic, repeatable, costly, intellectually planned, and social. It causes other pseudo-events, and one must know about it to be considered "informed".[11]

A number of video artists have explored the concept of a pseudo-event. The group Ant Farm especially plays with pseudo events, though not so identified, in their works "Media Burn" (1975) and "The Eternal Frame" (1975).

Types of pseudo-events[edit]

Madrid sends its bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics

Press Conference: A news conference is often held when an organization wants members of the press to get an announcement simultaneously. The in-person events may include interviews, questioning, and show-and-tell. These conferences often provide little information about the topic or don't reach a clear consensus.

Media events like news conferences can come to be expected, especially before, during, and after sporting events, and the National Football League demands that its players provide a weekly media event by taking postgame questions from reporters. When Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch dressed and left the stadium after a loss on Nov. 16, 2014, the NFL fined him $100,000.[12]

Political: Political conventions, planned presentations or speeches about company earnings or political issues, are a form of media event.

Celebrity events: Award ceremonies, red carpet events and celebrity photo opportunities are all considered a type of media event, where the event is orchestrated for the purpose of introducing a chosen narrative into the media.

Sex tapes: When created with the intention of being 'leaked' is a form of a pseudo-event because its purpose is to generate media attention.

Protests and charity events: They may be planned almost exclusively for the purpose of getting media attention for an issue or cause. This usually happens when organizers have ill intentions to receive attention or donations for the wrong reasons, in order to protect their reputation.

Historic examples[edit]

Media events became prominent when the media did. The driving of the Golden Spike in Promontory Summit, Utah, in 1869 has been described as one of the first media events in the United States. Edward Bernays and his Torches of Freedom campaign in 1929 is an example of an early media event that successfully influenced public opinion. Similarly, Nikita Khrushchev visit to the United States in 1959 was highly influential, and has been cited as the first example of media events being utilized in politics.[13]

Media events became practical in the middle 19th century as the Morse telegraph and the expansion of daily newspapers introduced same-day news cycles. The emergence of the internet led to many media stories being published live from the media event, real-time Twitter coverage, and immediate analysis of televised media events. When musical artist Prince pretended to take questions during his Super Bowl press conference but instead broke immediately into song, his performance itself became a meta media-event-within-a-media-event.[14]

Authenticity of events[edit]

These events are used by public relations professionals to satisfy journalists’ interests and needs so they can create a great story that makes an impact on the public. Examples include politicians taking photos with citizens to boost their likeability and press conferences. Though this is very common, using this media technique has been criticized for not producing authentic material, which is seen as stylistic instead of substantial informational. The public relations industry targets all sectors, not just government, with pseudo-events on behalf of representing and maintaining their clients’ interests and image.[15] This can bring into question if some of the media put out is actually true news and can be relied on, especially since serious topics are talked about using this technique.

Tourism authenticity

The tourism industry is subject to pseudo-events that are often unnoticed to the average tourist themselves. Every country may have specific sites, attractions, and things to do for a tourist so they can experience what life is like in that country or at least be introduced to the culture. The locals know that these attractions aren’t always a true reflection of life in that country, but rather a hyperreality to satisfy the desire to see the real thing.[16] Tourists are in search for the authenticity when visiting but these events that appear as one thing are not truly authentic; it is a symbol.[16]

In a postmodern perspective, tourists can enjoy these staged attractions and activities to get a more realistic experience. Examples include taking photos with a character or actor that plays the part of an authentic local or buying souvenirs at a market. Some tourists don’t notice these events because they are made to distract you from everyday life.[16]


Boorstin has viewed celebrities as ‘human pseudo-events’, specifically in American culture thought history, since the 1800s. Celebrities have an image that represents an ideal life, an elite status and persona that is separate from everyday life. They are seen as glamorous but with a distance from the public sphere. There are some celebrities that portray a life that seems unattainable by many, then there are celebrities who are famous for actual achievements. Examples of pseudo-events created by celebrities range from anything from signing autographs, making public appearances, holding an exclusive event, or doing projects with charities.[17]  

Non-scientific Internet polls and news

Non-scientific Internet polls have been increasingly popular as a conversational tool on websites and major news outlets. This method is used to invite participants to take a survey, which can generate thousands of responses or more. These polls are self-selected and can be used to drive more traffic to the website, which can cause the need for more news and generate more revenue. The large volume of responses can improve the image that is being reported rather than the news content itself.[18] Participants can believe that their participation in these polls can contribute to the reported online survey's topic. Jack Fuller, President of Tribune Publishing Company, has touched on this topic and how this form of gathering information for non-scientific reasons can be inauthentic.[18] The use of these online polls as news content can place scientific polls used for research to be equally as legitimate when that is often not the case. Boorstin has noted that these pseudo-events' main goals are meeting increased demands for more news and revenue generation.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Scherer, Helmut. "Media Events and Pseudo-Events". Blackwell Reference Online.
  2. ^ The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. "media event". Houghton Mifflin Company. Retrieved 2006-09-15.
  3. ^ Dayan, Daniel; Katz, Elihu (1992). Media events : the live broadcasting of history. Elihu Katz. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-03030-5. OCLC 607059875.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  4. ^ Scannell, Paddy (2022-06-01). "The life and times of media events: A tribute to Elihu Katz". Nordic Journal of Media Studies. 4 (1): 118–133. doi:10.2478/njms-2022-0007. S2CID 248562478.
  5. ^ Katz, Elihu. "Media Events: The Sense of Occasion". University of Pennsylvania ScholarlyCommons.
  6. ^ Couldr, Nick; Hepp, Andreas (2010). Media events in a global age. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-47710-9. OCLC 654781286.
  7. ^ Robinson, Jessica Yarin; Enli, Gunn (2022-06-01). "#MakeSwedenGreatAgain: Media events as politics in the deterritorialised nationalism debate". Nordic Journal of Media Studies. 4 (1): 56–80. doi:10.2478/njms-2022-0004. S2CID 248562462.
  8. ^ Jerslev, Anne (2022-06-01). "Contemporary ceremonial media events – time and temporalities of liveness". Nordic Journal of Media Studies. 4 (1): 19–36. doi:10.2478/njms-2022-0002. S2CID 248562477.
  9. ^ Merrin, William (2002). "Implosion, simulation and the pseudo-event: a critique of McLuhan". Economy and Society. 31 (3): 369–390. doi:10.1080/03085140220151855. ISSN 0308-5147. S2CID 144956416.
  10. ^ Boorstin, Daniel Joseph (1961). The image: A guide to pseudo-events in America. New York: Vintage. ISBN 0-679-74180-1.
  11. ^ Boorstin, D. Hidden History. Harper & Row, 1987. 279-280. Print.
  12. ^ Werder, Ed (19 November 2014). "Silence Costs Marshawn Lynch $100K". ESPN.
  13. ^ Mueller, Andrew. "Defining Moment: Nikita Khrushchev's visit to the US becomes the first 'pseudo-event', September 1959". Financial Times.
  14. ^ "Prince--The Super Bowl Press Conference 2007". Wat. Archived from the original on 2015-01-09.
  15. ^ Tumber, H. (2001), "Public Relations in Media", International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, Elsevier, pp. 12578–12581, doi:10.1016/b0-08-043076-7/04372-2, ISBN 978-0-08-043076-8
  16. ^ a b c Rickly, Jillian M.; Vidon, Elizabeth S. (2018-09-14), Rickly, Jillian M.; Vidon, Elizabeth S. (eds.), "Introduction: From Pseudo-Events to Authentic Experiences: From Pseudo-Events to Authentic Experiences", Tourism Social Science Series, Emerald Publishing Limited, vol. 24, pp. 1–12, doi:10.1108/s1571-504320180000024002, ISBN 978-1-78754-817-6, S2CID 149522511, retrieved 2022-03-14
  17. ^ Morgan, Simon (2011). "Celebrity: Academic 'Pseudo-Event' or a Useful Concept for Historians?". Cultural and Social History. 8 (1): 95–114. doi:10.2752/147800411X12858412044474. ISSN 1478-0038. S2CID 218839881.
  18. ^ a b Kent, Michael L.; Harrison, Tyler R.; Taylor, Maureen (2006). "A Critique of Internet Polls as Symbolic Representation and Pseudo-Events". Communication Studies. 57 (3): 299–315. doi:10.1080/10510970600845941. ISSN 1051-0974. S2CID 144608203.
  19. ^ "The Image: Or what happened to the American Dream. By <italic>Daniel J</italic>. <italic>Boorstin</italic>. (New York: Atheneum. 1962. Pp. ix, 315. $5.00.)". The American Historical Review. 1963. doi:10.1086/ahr/68.4.1076. ISSN 1937-5239.

Additional sources[edit]

  • Bösch, Frank: European Media Events, European History Online, Mainz: Institute of European History, 2010, retrieved: June 13, 2012.
  • Daniel Dayan and Elihu Katz, Media Events: The Live Broadcasting of History (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992)
  • Evans. (2018). Media events in contexts of transition: sites of hope, disruption and protest. Media, Culture & Society, 40(1), 139–142.
  • Strand, Forssberg, H., Klingberg, T., & Norrelgen, F. (2008). Phonological working memory with auditory presentation of pseudo-words — An event related fMRI Study. Brain Research, 1212(30 May), 48–54.
  • Morgan. (2011). Celebrity: Academic “Pseudo-Event” or a Useful Concept for Historians? Cultural and Social History, 8(1), 95–114.

External links[edit]