In This Article Media Logic

  • Introduction
  • Core Texts
  • Media Production
  • Political Logic
  • Mediation versus Mediatization
  • Medium Theory
  • Digital Media Logic
  • Fear

Communication Media Logic
Gianpietro Mazzoleni, Sergio Splendore
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 January 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0166


This entry offers a review of works in communication studies. It discusses the theoretical debate and empirical research that have contributed to define, highlight, and expand the concept of “media logic.” The concept is grounded in the media sociology perspective, but it acquires an interdisciplinary nature from its numerous applications in political communication, among other disciplines. Media logic is connected both with the ideas of production of media content and with the area of media effects. From the production perspective, the concept leans on the sociology of journalism, and particularly on the studies of newsmaking. In this sense, media logic consists predominantly of a formatting logic that determines the classification of materials, the choice of mode of presentation, and the selection of social experience. When David Altheide and Robert Snow—in Altheide and Snow 1979 and Altheide and Snow 1991 (both cited under Core Texts)—worked out the concept of media logic, they pointed at the formats, the processes by which media produce their content. The “media logic” refers to the organizational, technological, and aesthetic determinants of media functioning, including the ways in which they allocate material and symbolic resources and work through formal and informal rules. If media logic refers to the processes for constructing messages within a particular medium, “format” becomes a key term because it refers to the rules and codes for defining, selecting, and presenting media content. From the perspective of media effects, the concept also envisions the impact media have on institutions. Here, one major theoretical development is the concept of “mediatization” of society, and especially of politics. Events and actors’ performances therefore reflect formats that frame communication. As Nick Couldry points out in “Mediatization or Mediation? Alternative Understandings of the Emergent Space of Digital Storytelling” (Couldry 2008, cited under Mediation versus Mediatization), mediatization, regarded as media logic effects, has been employed in two different ways: (1) within the institutional frame, which considers media as an independent institution; and (2) the constructivist frame, which considers media as one of the institutions that contribute to the social construction of the reality. In this entry, both traditions are discussed. At the same time, media logic is also discussed as a process of mediation.

Core Texts

David Altheide and Robert Snow first coined the term “media logic” in Altheide and Snow 1979. Since then they have improved it extensively. In Altheide and Snow 1988 and Altheide and Snow 1991, they treated it in terms of social and economic contexts and technological progress, compelled to assign different meanings to the process of communication through mass and new media. This continuous reinterpretation has expanded the scope of the concept. The authors have contributed to develop the framework: they extend media logic from the original idea of format presented in Altheide and Snow 1979 to that of codes and rules that define the production routines of media content discussed in Altheide and Snow 1991. They also debated the concept in Altheide and Snow 1988 in terms of theory of mediation, a theoretical framework that scores a huge debate within the media studies. In Snow 1983, Snow included a cultural approach in his discussion. Altheide 1995 includes a discussion of media logic within the broader framework of the ecology of communication. More recently (in Altheide 2004 and Altheide 2013), Altheide has discussed it in terms of mediatization of politics and social control.

  • Altheide, David L. 1985. Media power. Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE.

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    The book specifies the relation between media content and its formats (the way in which is produced). It singles out the relevance of the frames in terms of social influence and how they affect the perception of reality acquired from the media.

  • Altheide, David L. 1995. An ecology of communication: Cultural formats of control. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.

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    Media logic as format is discussed here in connection with the idea of ecology of communication. The author refers to the organization and accessibility of information technology and media. As more activities incorporate media within their organization, new activities are added and others are changed according the media logic.

  • Altheide, David L. 2004. Media logic and political communication. Political Communication 21:293–296.

    DOI: 10.1080/10584600490481307E-mail Citation »

    In this brief article, the author reaffirms the importance of media logic in the field of sociology of media and political communication. He argues that the entertainment format pervades news and politics, changing the organization as well as the culture of audience and journalists.

  • Altheide, David L. 2013. Media logic, social control, and fear. In Special issue: Conceptualizing mediatization. Communication Theory 23:223–238.

    DOI: 10.1111/comt.12017E-mail Citation »

    The article discusses the role of media logic in social order. It discusses the social order in terms of a communication order, where the logics of communication have reshaped many activities. The article also comprehends examples involving social media and popular culture.

  • Altheide, David L., and Robert P. Snow. 1979. Media logic. Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE.

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    This is the book that introduced the concept of “media logic.” It singles out the role of media in shaping and transforming different areas, such as politics, sport, and religion. The media also affects the knowledge of users.

  • Altheide, David L., and Robert P. Snow. 1988. Toward a theory of mediation. In Communication Yearbook 11. Edited by James A. Anderson, 194–223. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE.

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    The authors revisit the concept of media logic as a format, but they analyze it in terms of the “theory of mediation.” They highlight how social experiences are increasingly mediated.

  • Altheide, David L., and Robert P. Snow. 1991. Media worlds in the postjournalism era. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.

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    The authors expand their analysis on media logic. They hold that all social institutions are media institutions. They claim to initiate another generation of media studies, where the focus is on social institutions, public discourse, and cultural logic (that is informed by the media logic).

  • Snow, Robert. 1983. Creating media culture. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE.

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    The author uses the concept of media logic to highlight the reflexive nature of communication and culture. He analyzes the mass media to show how they structure content, and therefore how they structure the way audiences view the world.

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