Media Work & Institutional Logics

Forgive me, but I'd like to share an insight I had when writing on the third chapter of my forthcoming "Media Work" book. At the moment, I am building an argument on the ways in which media organizations (large and small) make decisions on what kinds of content to produce. The literature traditionally tends to draw a distinction between decisions made on the basis of what (intended) consumers want, and those made favoring the creativity, idiosyncracies and peer acknowledgement of the professionals involved. However, considering the signaled trends towards consumers becoming increasingly part of the production process in media work, I see a third institutional logic in media organizations emerging: a convergence logic - as in a logic that appropriates the consumer into the product-innovation process.

Please find below the (rather lengthy) segment of chapter 3 that elaborates on this - any comments are appreciated!

Media work tends to get caught between two oppositional structural factors in producing culture within media organizations: on the one hand, practitioners are expected to produce, edit, and publish content that has proven its value on a mass market - which pressure encourages standardized and predictable formats using accepted genre conventions, formulas and routines - while creative workers on the other hand can be expected (and tend to personally favor) to come up with innovative, novel and surprising products. Following Peterson and Anand (2004), this structural ambiguity and uncertainty in media work gets translated in two institutional logics that govern organizational decision-making either way: an editorial logic and a market logic.

Working in an organization using an editorial logic, media professionals tend to more or less ignore the shifting wants and needs of the audience in favor of producing content that holds up to peer review, wins trade awards (such as the Oscars in the film industry, a Pullitzer Prize in journalism, the Game Developer Choice awards, or the Golden Lion in advertising), and build prestige and acknowledgement throughout the industry. A market logic on the other hand embraces a competitive way of doing things, producing compelling content for as wide an audience as possible, and thus favoring a strictly commercial mass market approach to making decisions in the creative process. Richard Caves (2000) suggests that a market logic - which is more typical of the few integrated multinational companies in the creative industries - generally produces the most lucrative content, whereas an editorial logic - most likely particular to smaller businesses - results in the most innovative content.

Considering the work by Henry Jenkins (2006) and others on the increasing role of the consumer as collaborator or co-creator of media content, I have to conclude that a possible third institutional logic is emerging next to, and in a symbiotic relationship with, editorial and market logics: a convergent culture logic. Work done following this logic includes the (intended) consumer in the process of product design and innovation, up to and including the production and marketing process. The work of authors in fields as varied as management theory, product design, journalism studies and advertising define media content in this context interchangeably as: consumer-generated, customer-controlled, or user-directed.

Researchers in different disciplines have documented a distinct turn towards the consumer as 'co-developer' of the corporate product, particularly where the industry's core commodity is (mediated) information. Among creatives and brand managers in advertising agencies the contemporary focus is on interactive advertising, which can be defined as "the paid and unpaid presentation and promotion of products, services and ideas by an identified sponsor through mediated means involving mutual action between consumers and producers" (Leckenby and Li, 2000). Marketers brainstorm about the potential of upstream marketing, which refers to the strategic process of identifying and fulfilling consumer needs early in product development, up to and including end-users in the product innovation cycle. Executives in computer game companies consider their consumers as co-developers, where "innovation and product development [...] depend upon external online consumer communities" (Jeppesen and Molin 2003, p.363). Editors of news publications increasingly jump on the 'citizen journalism' bandwagon - creating websites where citizens can comment on, and upload their own news - following the advice of researchers at institutions such as the American Press Institute, who conclude that "to stay afloat, media companies must reimagine storytelling forms to vie for consumer attention [...] and they must react to the consumer’s creation of content with awe and respect" (2005: 3). Among business professionals managing consumer-generated media is increasingly considered critical to commercial survival, as exemplified by the launch of the Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association in May 2004 (registering 200+ members by September 2005), bringing WOM from a small specialty into the core of the marketing mix.

According to Henry Jenkins (2001), this shift towards a more inclusive production process makes perfect sense for media companies, as they can use the increasing participatory nature of media use to foster consumer loyalty and generate low-cost content. Mark Balnaves, Debra Mayrhofer and Brian Shoesmith consider such a more engaged, emancipatory and participatory relationship between media professionals and their audiences to be an example of a 'new humanism' in the domains of journalism, public relations and advertising, constituting "an antidote to narrow corporate-centric ways of representing interests in modern society" (2004, p.192).

UPDATE [19.07.06]: Henry Jenkins, in a post to his blog on convergence culture, included some of the issues outlined here in a discussion on the different approaches of media companies in dealing with the suggested shift towards a more participatory media culture - excellent stuff.