12/01/2011 11:43 am ET Updated Jan 31, 2012

Like a Network, Unlike a Magnet

The work and results of digital media are produced within a network, but, generally, they tend to be measured and analyzed as if they were magnets.

Due to the kind of cultural consumption shaped by the analogical model, media have historically behaved like a magnet, instead of like a network. Their mission to draw audiences is an essential part of the genealogy of mass media and content production. Journalism and advertisement, in this sense, are explicit forms of that logic of attraction. Everybody, come to me. Look at me. Broadcast formulas are, by definition, a magnet.

The efficiency of a magnet-media is easy to measure: how many objects it attracts, how quick it is, and for how long is it able to be appealing. The efficiency of a network-media is highly more complex: how objects are connected and intertwined, how are transitivity properties, among other variables that must be studied straight away.

Thinking about the work and results of digital media like a network, and not just like a magnet is also learning how to think without a center. An assumption like this is very disruptive for working techniques in media organizations, as well as for the re-design of the offer and the professional profiles of the news-making staff.

Content consumption and circulation tends to network, and not to magnet. It tends to flexibility and not to rigidity. It tends to irregular and unstable. The challenge posed by these conclusions is not just for the media, but also for advertisers and agencies, who are still looking for magnets.

In Hacking journalism, we suggest that a great deal of the future of mass media lies on the renovation of management, in techniques of procedure that are more connected with the modular logic of software than to the static verticality of authority based on hierarchy, instead of experience and know how. Changing the magnet for the network is not just a journalistic challenge, but also a natural step, and probably a very painful one, towards media management.