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The media logic as we know is dead, but not forgotten. We must push forward and adapt to a ‘digital first’ media logic. And sooner is better then later.

Media logic is many media theories baked into one

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

media logic | Media Logic & Media Theory | 2
The dimensions of media logic (Esser 2013:173).

If we look at production and journalism, a typical national newspaper should produce news reports from all parts of the country — that’s the logical ideal. However, due to various commercial imperatives, the newspaper might lean towards producing journalism closer to where the reporters work, simply because it’s cheaper. And, as technology shifts and news cycles become shorter, journalists might begin to favour news stories that can be produced faster and faster.

The age-old conflict between media logic and journalism

The analytic mind will quickly realise that media logic and journalism is at odds with each other. From a scientific perspective, no-one has been able to give us a clear answer about exactly how much media logic is influencing the ideal that is objective news reporting. As a professional PR adviser, I can open any newspaper and quickly become disheartened; most journalistic reporting isn’t at all objective by any measurement. And many fellow PR industry colleagues would agree.

Update (2018-02-27): The conflict between media logic and journalism is the central undercurrent for the US President Donald Trump’s attack on the news media; “fake news” indeed has a grain of truth to it. It’s the establishments unwillingness to acknowledge the fact that news are created as a result of media logic as much (or more) as it is of its newsworthiness.

When pitching a news story, I’m obviously adamant about making sure that the story itself meets the typical criteria of newsworthiness. However, I’m equally concerned about whether or not the actual news medium will be willing to publish my story — especially from a business perspective. Will the story be cheap to produce? Would it be conflicting for the owners of the platform? And so on.

Still, most research concerning media logic have been centered around the mass media. While the mass media is of great importance, the advent of social media, online self-publishing, and viral distribution, much of the typical media logic fail to explain how media actually works today.

For a more in-depth look at media logic, download (in Swedish) our thesis Strategiska nyheter (Christiansson/Silfwer 2002), winner of the 2003 PRECIS Award and the 2003 DIK Scholarship.

Maybe we should examine a media logic based on network effects?

There are various examples of why the traditional thinking around how media works that must be updated. For example:

  • 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.
  • Distribution is today more ductile; networked nodes with established trust will have a greater chance of being successful distributors, either as original content producers or as curators.
  • 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.
  • Evergreen content has gotten a technological advantage over newsworthiness thanks to the way information on the internet is structured.
  • As a society, we have quickly moved from push to pull, meaning that individuals will seek out the information they need themselves. Thus, mass media quickly lost its most valuable prerogative.

More importantly, is there such a thing as an “ideal” state for social networks? Services like Facebook and twitter are literally designed to enhance word-of-mouth mechanics, but can virality (effect) ever replace newsworthiness (idea) as an ideal?

Networked media: Amplification through human behavior

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. The media landscape has shifted from being purposely engineered to become more of an organism that is indistinguishable from human behaviour.

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. Today, network-centered media has become the amplification of our social brains’ reward centers.

With all of this in mind, we might just be doomed to a variation of a Postman-esque dystopia (see also Socialising Ourselves to Death) where slowly stimulate ourselves to death. But I, for one, don’t think so. We have encountered big media shifts before and even though these shifts fundamentally changed the way our society works, we came out evolved on the other side.

The future of public relations: Online influence and persuasion

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.

In that sense, we need to claim the death of media logic – at least as we know it. We need to understand the dynamics and differences between traditional media logic and network media logic.

Since traditional media logic is mass media-centric, its principles are more or less useless for those of us looking to harness the power of the social web.

Photo by Tracy Thomas on Unsplash.