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Media Logic



The focus is on the nature and significance of media logic and an ecology of communication for a theory of mediation and for understanding and investigating political communication. Media logic is defined as a form of communication, and the process through which media transmit and communicate information. The logic and guidelines become taken for granted, often institutionalized, and inform social interaction. A basic principle is that media, information technologies, and communication formats can affect events and social activities. An overview of media logic, including correcting some unfortunate misinterpretations, is followed by discussion of attempts at clarification and revision (e.g., mediatization, mediality, mediatric, etc.), along with uses, relevance, and applications for political communication with various media (e.g., television, Internet, social media).
Media Logic (David L. Altheide, Emeritus Regents’ Professor, Arizona State Univ)
Media logic is discussed as a general framework for understanding the nature,
impact and relevance of media and information technologies for social life, as well as its
use and appropriateness for investigating political communication. Media logic is defined
as a form of communication, and the process through which media transmit and
communicate information (D. Altheide, 2006; David L. Altheide, 1985, 1995a; David L.
Altheide & Snow, 1979; David L. Altheide & Snow, 1988). A basic principle of media
logic is that events, action, and actors’ performances reflect information technologies,
specific media, and formats that govern communication. A related principle is that
communication guidelines become institutionalized and taken for granted, serve as an
interpretive schema, and guide routine social interaction, and thereby become integral in
creating, maintaining, and changing culture. These principles are not restricted to
television and the mass media, but as numerous publications have shown, will be adapted
and modified by other media (e.g., internet, digital media, smart phones, etc.). A major
point, then, is that media logic does not refer to just one logic for one medium, e.g.,
television, but is a conceptual model of mediation (some people prefer mediatization). It
is not, as some have suggested, a “uni-linear” process (Brants & Praag, 2006); nor does it
entail a linear nature of change(Lundby, 2009a), and it is not confined to the use of
formats (Hjarvard, 2013).
Media logic refers to the assumptions and processes for constructing messages
within a particular medium. This includes rhythm, grammar, and format. Drawing on
Simmel’s (Simmel & Wolff, 1964) insights about the nature and power of social forms,
format, while a feature of media logic, is singularly importantas a kind of meta-
communication device--because it refers to the rules or “codes” for defining, selecting,
organizing, presenting, and recognizing information as one thing rather than another (e.g.,
“the evening news” and not a “situation comedy,” or a “parody of news”). It is as though
each medium is associated with its own code of interpretation which the audience
members recognize. The point is that media operate with a set of grammatical rules for
using certain symbols, and have developed general perspectives for interpreting various
objects and events. In turn, audience members selectively adopt this overall logic and
symbol system for making sense of media experience. Stated differently, format is that
explicit and implicit understanding which joins an activity and/or actor via a medium to
an audience. However, since formats comprise "pre-givens" or basics for interaction and
communication, they tend to be taken for granted. Formats reflect technologies, contexts,
substantive and procedural familiarity and intended audiences. Formats are part of an
ecology of communication (ECOCOM) which refers to the structure, organization and
accessibility of information technology, various forums, media and channels of
information (David L. Altheide, 1995b).
Media logic is central to the process of the social construction of reality by
individuals as well as an institutional form for guiding organizational behavior and social
perspectives about what is normal and typical. The key element of a thoroughgoing
theory of mediation (Bennett & Entman, 2001) built on media logic is that the
institutional media forms not only help shape and guide content and numerous everyday
life activities, but also that audiences-as-actors normalize these forms and use them as
reality maintenance tools. Research subsequent to the publication of Media Logic in 1979
has added other terms to elaborate mediation (David L. Altheide, 2013): Mediation refers
to the impact of media logic and form of any medium involved in the communication
process that is part of an ecology of communication that joins information technology
and communication (media) formats with the time and place of activities. Mediatization
may be regarded as the process by which this takes place, including the
institutionalization and blending of media forms (Hepp, 2011, 2013; Krotz & Hepp,
2013). Several of these basic points have been widely discussed during the last few
decades, especially the nature of media logic (Gianpietro Mazzoleni, 2008; Strömbäck,
2008). Much of the published work concerning media logic has been informed by a
symbolic interactionist perspective on the nature of meaning and the social construction
of reality (Berger & Luckmann, 1967; Blumer, 1969; Couch, 1989). Placing this
approach within a symbolic interaction theoretical model, suggests that audience
members interact with media and vice verse in at least a para-social fashion (Lull &
2001) to develop various meanings based on the symbols employed and interpreted in a
specific context (Blumer, 1969; Douglas, 1970). In short, symbolic interaction
theoretically encapsulates the entire communication process from message formulation to
interpretation and action.
The nature, process and significance of the definition of the situation is paramount
to this approach; indeed, power is the ability to define a situation, and the interaction and
communication which helps accomplish and enact definitions are crucial to social order,
social reality, and social change. Media logic reflexively shapes interaction process,
routines, and institutional orders; everyday life and institutional orders reflect and reify a
communication order operating with media logic (Farré Coma, 2005a, 2005b; Horlick-
Jones & Farre, 2010).
Media logic is the broad theoretical construct, while ecology of communication
(David L. Altheide, 1995a) is more specific about the interplay between social activities,
social change, social organization and activities. Social order is increasingly mediated,
which simply means that social action is shaped and informed by media technologies and
the logics that orient behavior and perceptions. Elements of media logic include the
distinctive features of each medium (e.g., newspapers, Internet, blogs, etc.) and the
formats used by these media for the organization, the style in which it is presented, the
focus or emphasis on particular characteristics of behavior, and the grammar of media
communication (Altheide & Snow, 1979; Snow, 1983).
Political Communication
A major change in political communication noted by researchers involves the
emergence, adaptation, and innovation of communication formats associated with more
entertainment oriented content. Numerous studies show how this process has influenced
political communication (Doyle, 2003; Ericson, Baranek, & Chan., 1989). Mass media
organizations, including journalists, adjust practices and perspectives to produce “good
television,” on the one hand, but also more entertainment oriented coverage of topics.
Political culture is affected by these expanding evocative formats as journalists and news
sources now routinely package events for media attention, including visuals, urgency,
language, and drama, that will appeal to audiences. The interaction and shared meanings
of news workers who follow the entertainment format and audience members who
“experience” the world through these mass media lenses promote “sufficient
communication” to achieve the news organization’s goals of grabbing the audience while
also enabling audience members to be “informed” enough to exchange views with peers.
These, and other research efforts sought to clarify whether, and to what extent, political
culture is also affected by these expanding evocative formats as journalists and news
sources now routinely package events for media attention.
Many scholars, especially in Europe, have expanded and refined the basic
perspective of media logic with concepts such as mediatization, mediality, etc. Much of
the research on the role of media logic has focused on such adjustments. According to
Schrott, the mediatization of politics leads to a “gradual displacement of political logic
through media logic’’(Schrott, 2009p. 44).
Mazzeloni’s study of Italian elections clarified the impact of media logic over
party logic: These functions vary according to two basic patterns of message
production: party logic, that is, the structural and cultural assets that govern the
communications enacted by the parties; and media logic, that is, the set of values
and formats through which campaign events and issues are 'focused on, treated,
and given meaning [by news workers and news organizations] in order to
promote a particular kind of presentation and understanding that [is] compatible
with, for example, scheduling and time considerations, entertainment values, and
images of the audience'(Gianpietro Mazzoleni, 1987 p. 85).
Indeed, much has been written about the merits of using “mediation” or
“mediation” or “mediatization”, as well as “mediatric” (Friesen, 2009; Hepp, 2011;
Livingstone, 2009; Lundby, 2009a) . As Lundby notes,
"Mediatization takes place within matrices of communication, culture, and
hegemony...It shapes society and culture as well as the relationship that individual
and institutional participants have to their environment and to each other."
(Lundby, 2009b p. 4)
Investigations of political communication in several countries assessed the nature and
extent of adoption of media logic reflecting American entertainment formats and style
(Brants & Praag, 2006; Esser, 2013; Landerer, 2013; Takens, Atteveldt, Hoof, &
Kleinnijenhuis, 2013).
The best description of the current situation is "mediatization," where political
institutions increasingly are dependent on and shaped by mass media but
nevertheless remain in control of political processes and functions. (Gianpietro
Mazzoleni & Schulz, 1999 p. 247)
While researchers differ in their preference for terms (e.g., media logic,
mediation, mediatization, etc.), there appears to be a consensus that at least some part of
political communication is informed by media logic. But there is not unanimity, perhaps
because of the multiple uses of the related terms. For example, Landerer suggests that a
“normative logic” along with“market logic” serve to contextualize the communication
framework, and that politics is mediatized “when both media and political actors adapt
their behavior to the audience oriented market logic.” (Landerer, 2013 p. 239). Arguing
that different authors have used media logic in various ways, Landerer notes:
…media logic has been defined, conceptualized, and operationalized in different
ways over the years.. . In their definition [Altheide and Snow, 1979], namely the
detailed definition of format stands out. . . But by what logics this formatting
logic is drivenand why, if at all, it is so particular to the mediahas led to
much debate in the subsequent interpretation and operationalization of the
concept. (Landerer, 2013 p. 242)
The nature and impact of such media logic on political communication and social
order, including international relations, are of utmost importance. Clearly,
prognostications in the late 20th century that “changes in how people receive politics” in
future political communication would be less influenced by television formats, did not
negate the principles of media logic about the impact of other formats guiding the
internet, blogs, twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, etc. (Blumler & Kavanagh, 1999 p.
209). Researchers continue to find applications of media logic in new information
technologies as users adapt communication formats to change as well as initiate new
activities (van Dijck & Poell, 2013) (Schneider & Trottier, 2011). The role of media
logicand its iterationswill undoubtedly continue to shape and transform political
communication and culture. A compelling guideline is to continue to examine how these
principles are guiding our culture and our future:
As we engage the media, they engage us, as technological form and as sources of
meaning. As we shape them, in contingent processes of production and
consumption, they shape us, as sources of knowledge andenabling and
constrainingmeans of repression. The term I propose for such a totality of
meanings and practices, frames and forms, social actions and sensory experiences
and their technological infrastructure is culture. Media Culture.” (Adolf, 2013 p.
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Slightly longer version of discourse comprehension entry
It is argued that a central feature of all communication, and mass communication in particular, is a process of mediation involving organizing and interpretive schema embedded in specific formats. This mediation process may be conceptualized as a general social form that is used to direct and inform social activity and cultural phenomena. Individual action and meaning in everyday life weaves in and out of these organizing and interpretive schema. Building on symbolic interaction theory, so-called media effects are recast as cultural phenomena or content that derive meaning through symbolic references in the formal (format) properties of specific media.
Political communication is a precondition of democracy, and democracy depends heavily on the infrastructure of the media system (see chapters 1 and 2). The media and mediated communication are of central relevance for contemporary societies due to their decisive influence on, and consequences for, political institutions, political actors, and individual citizens. Political actors have learnt to accept that their behavior to a significant extent is influenced by the rules of the game set by the mass media. This transformation has been described as a shift to audience democracy (Manin 1995) or media democracy (Jarren 2008a). The idea of media democracy is an extension of the model of representative democracy (see Chapter 3). It refers to a development that at its beginning aimed to make politics more inclusive and transparent. In the process policy-makers have become accountable to an ever growing volume of interests and demands from the public — not only in the context of elections but in many phases of the policy process. The pressure on policy-makers to be responsive to public opinion in general and special interests in particular has increased the role of the mass media in many ways. Politicians have grown to rely on the mass media for gauging public opinion (using media coverage as a proxy for public sentiments), and for generating attention, acceptance, and legitimation of their actions (using media channels for public presentation of politics).
Mediatization has emerged as a key concept to reconsider old, yet fundamental questions about the role and influence of media in culture and society. In particular the theory of mediatization has proved fruitful for the analysis of how media spread to, become intertwined with, and influence other social institutions and cultural phenomena like politics, play and religion. This book presents a major contribution to the theoretical understanding of the mediatization of culture and society. This is supplemented by in-depth studies of: The mediatization of politics: From party press to opinion industry; The mediatization of religion: From the faith of the church to the enchantment of the media; The mediatization of play: From bricks to bytes; The mediatization of habitus: The social character of a new individualism. Mediatization represents a new social condition in which the media have emerged as an important institution in society at the same time as they have become integrated into the very fabric of social and cultural life. Making use of a broad conception of the media as technologies, institutions and aesthetic forms, Stig Hjarvard considers how characteristics of both old and new media come to influence human interaction, social institutions and cultural imaginations.