Media logic is dead

We need a new playbook for a networked media landscape.

Media logic is dead … at least in its traditional form.

The media logic as we know might be dead, but it’s quickly being replaced by a new logic. We must speed up our digital transformation processes — or risk PR going out of style.

The new online media logic is potentially even more powerful than the traditional mass-media logic that we’ve grown accustomed to. Everyone with internet access is several steps closer to real mass influence — all the while special interests will be able to circumvent traditional gatekeepers and speak directly to their sometimes massive audiences.

In such a digital first world, and we’re racing towards it, we must be proactive and always stay in front of fast-paced developments.

What is media logic?

As technology shifts to digital and news cycles becomes shorter, journalists might begin to favour news stories that can be produced faster and faster.

Contrary to popular belief, media logic is not one single theory. Instead, it’s a collection of theories around how media works aside from the ideal idea of how it should work. One way to illustrate this discrepancy is to consider three central aspects of media; production, distribution, and media use:

Media logic.
The dimensions of media logic (Esser 2013:173).

For example: A national newspaper should ideally produce news reports from all parts of the country — that’s how it should work. However, due to commercial imperatives, new distribution models, and changes in consumption behaviours, the newspaper might lean towards producing journalism closer to where the reporters work, where most paying readers live, and rely more heavily on click-baiting.

Howe the media logic is shifting

Here are only a few examples of how the media will change how media works from the ground up:

  • The audience assumes a completely different role. The audience transitions from being a passive entity to active co-creators.
  • Algorithms are replacing human gatekeepers. It should come as no surprise that algorithms will do a better job than humans in acting as gatekeepers and filter. While mass media pushes its agenda onto the population, the networked agenda-setting process is being dictated by algorithms based on user behaviours and big data analysis.
  • New dynamics for the formation of groups and opinions. Groups with similar interests and communicative behaviours (publics) are formed and dissolved faster than ever before in human history with little or no concern for demographical similarities.
  • Media companies are becoming less important as media producers. The most important media companies Google and Facebook are showing the way by not producing any content at all.
  • Media production is becoming distributed. Anyone can become a content producer and these will start to completely outperform and dominate traditional media producers in terms of cost efficiency.
  • Media distribution is becoming performance-based. The power of deciding what will be seen, heard, and read is determined by complex network effects.
  • Search and on-demand are replacing television schedules. Evergreen quality and relevance gets a leg up and standardised day-to-day television will quickly start to feel dated. Evergreen content is getting a technological advantage over newsworthiness thanks to the way information on the internet is structured.
  • Print media is steadily dying. The idea of getting fast-paced news items printed on paper and distributed physically will loose its appeal and start to seem unnatural and archaic.

Media logic based on network effects

In a mass media-centric society, there are few senders and many recipients. Hence, the senders’ agenda will affect the many.

In a network-centric society, we are all senders and recipients at the same time. Marshall McLuhan stated the idea that the media has a tendency to amplify the human body; telephone is an amplification of your ears and a notebook an amplification of your memory.

Networked media is displacing human-to-human relations and group dynamics across both time and distance in a way that we can’t even begin to see the full extent of.

There are various examples of why the traditional thinking around how media works must be updated. And even more important, is there such a thing as an “ideal” state for networked media? Services like Google and Facebook are literally designed to amplify word-of-mouth mechanics, but can virality (effect) ever replace newsworthiness (idea) without something essential getting lost along the way?

The media landscape has shifted from being engineered and automated to become more of a mindless organism that, somewhat paradoxically, is becoming indistinguishable from the typical irrationalities of human group behaviour.

With all of this in mind, we might just be doomed to a variation of a Postman-esque dystopia (see also How social media divides us) where slowly stimulate ourselves to death.

Personally, I don’t think so. We have encountered big media shifts before and even though these shifts fundamentally changed the way our society works, we survived and we adapted.

The future of PR: Online influence and persuasion

We need to claim the death of media logic – at least as we know it. We must harness the differences between traditional media logic and network media logic.

There should be room for future PR professionals in this brave new world, too. When Brian Solis published Putting the public back into public relations in 2009, it encapsulated the PR zeitgeist that big data and communicative behaviours would increase the relevance and importance of our profession.

And the media landscape of today sure has room for talented communication professionals. Journalists and politicians alike is desperately blaming technology. Tech giants are being forced to censor speech. Silent miners and mass media tycoons have found ways to confuse the selfie generation. And a lot of people are having difficulties coping with social media angst.

But to make ourselves useful, we must educate ourselves, both as professionals and as media consumers and producers. Since traditional media logic is mass media-centric, its principles has been rendered useless for those of us looking to harness the power of the social web.

Photo by Tracy Thomas on Unsplash.


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Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, aka Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Communication Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

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