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 losing control.

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.

The conflict between media logic and journalism

As a PR professional, I can open a newspaper and quickly become disheartened; most journalistic reporting isn’t at all objective by any measurement.

Media logic and journalism is at often 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.

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 still 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 the relationship between journalists and PR professionals, download (in Swedish) our thesis Strategiska Nyheter (Christiansson/Silfwer 2002), winner of the 2003 PRECIS Award and the 2003 DIK Scholarship.

Media logic based on network effects

There are various examples of why the traditional thinking around how media works must be updated — or journalistic reporting will suffer.

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?

Amplification through human behavior

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

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. 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 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.