Luhmann, of course, wrote a book on the mass media system; however, he came to this subject late in his career and the book has flaws.
To begin, the concept of mass media is extremely broad, probably too broad to be of much use. If were are interested in the news aspect of mass media, it might be more productive to look at journalism, rather than the mass media, as a function system. Journalism is a system of communication that operates according to the news/non-news code, which is a variation of the wider information/noninformation code. Luhmann’s lumping of entertainment and advertising with news and in-depth reporting has been criticized on the grounds that these three mass media “programs” don’t have enough in common to justify being placed in one function system (Gorke and Scholl, 2006).
Additionally, Luhmann’s treatment of the mass media leads to a focus on the technology of dissemination media (printing press, radio, TV, Internet, etc.) rather than on communication. Although Luhmann states that these technologies belong to the environment of the mass media system, there is nonetheless a tendency treat the mass media system as material. As Gorke and Scholl (2006) write,
Luhmann defines mass media as dissemination media in a technical sense enabling the public to communicate without interaction. How can a technical criterion be effective to define a social system’s boundaries, which in Luhmann’s theory should be communicative boundaries? (650).
Alexander Gorke and Armin Scholl (2006). NIKLAS LUHMANN’S THEORY OF SOCIAL SYSTEMS AND JOURNALISM RESEARCH.
I agree. Communication systems have communication boundaries. The Internet is not an autopoietic communication system; it does not reproduce itself. If servers break, the can’t rebuild themselves. But journalism as a communication system does reproduce itself. We might consider journalism a function system alongside politics, the economy, art, education, science, health, etc. Mass media might be removed from the list of function systems without much harm. I would not argue, however, that journalism is as influential as politics or the economy because these function systems emerged before journalism ad were necessary preconditions for the emergence of journalism. Just because function system are operationally autonomous this does not mean they are equally influential in world society. For instance, the influence of religion has declined greatly since the 18th century, but is hasn’t ceased to function.
Journalism, or “the press,” evolved alongside other function systems in the 18th century. Its autonomy is recognized in doctrines of freedom of the press. Here is an ngram with the search terms journalism+press+newspaper+journalist: