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Taking over as editor of the International Journal of Press/Politics

January 1, 2015, I’m taking over as editor of the International Journal of Press/Politics after Silvio Waisbord.

I regard IJPP as the premier journal for genuinely international and comparative work focused on the intersection between news media (broadly conceived) and politics (equally broadly conceived) and as a journal dedicated to publishing theoretically and methodologically diverse social science work of high quality focused on substantially important problems.

At least that’s what Sage has published so far under Silvio and other previous editors, so now I have something to live up to. An “important but tough job” as one experienced colleague told me. I’m looking forward to it.

Nice review of “Political Journalism in Transition”

LSE Review of Books has a nice review of Political Journalism in Transition: Western Europe in a Comparative Perspective (I.B. Tauris) which I’ve edited with Raymond Kuhn.

The final verdict by Joseph Peralta:

Political Journalism in Transition remains one of the most comprehensive, interdisciplinary comparative analysis of political journalism that is currently in print. Any analysis that features these confounding and intersecting historico-political elements could have easily resulted in a heady, impractical work, but this bipartite anthology offers a complete resource that is straightforward and digestible. It is a handy, relevant resource for scholars of political journalism and critical media studies worldwide, as well as for news and public affairs practitioners who stand to gain from a nuanced understanding of the factors, both obvious and overlooked, that are shaping political journalism today.

Whole review here. Book also available on Amazon.

Danish discussion of surveillance by NSA and others

Spoke yesterday at a debate hosted by the newspaper Information, the Danish Journalists’ Association, and the IT University about the NSA scandal, including its Danish subsidiary (spying during the COP15 negotiations, a story broken by Information working with Laura Poitras on the basis of documents leaked by Snowden and subsequently covered around the world).

I focused on how journalists are not only reliant on brave individual wRKN(1)histle-blowers like Snowden and Manning in covering these kinds of stories, but also enabled and empowered by real political debate and popular interest.

This we have in for example Germany, but is all-too-often often absent when the political elite close ranks or some top news organizations chose not to pursue a story.

It was a great event overall with Ewen MacAskill from the Guardian and a host of Danish journalists and others commenting, coinciding of course with the publication of Glenn Greenwald’s book.

Video of the here (all but Ewen MacAskill in Danish), more on Twitter at #nsadk

Political Journalism in Transition—new book officially out

Political Journalism in Transition—Western Europe in a Comparative Perspective, a new book I’ve edited with Raymond Kuhn, is now officially out in the Reuters Institute book series published by I.B. Tauris.

Pol JourThe book is what it says on the tin—it takes stock of how political journalism operates today and how it has changed over the last decade in a range of different Western European countries.

The first chapter and index is available here, the book is for sale on Amazon here.

We are lucky to have in the book both great country case studies and a number of chapters dealing with cross-cutting themes.

In our introduction, Raymond and I make clear that there are several examples of both change and continuity in political journalism that are similar across most of Western Europe.

Continuity includes the enduring centrality of legacy media organizations like newspapers and broadcasters both in terms of (1) news production and (2) news dissemination, across both digital and non-digital platforms, as well as (3) the “legitimist” vision of political journalism which generally operates within a sphere of “legitimate controversy” that is marked out by electoral politics (and sometimes does not even fully include all of electoral politics as when elected representative of far-right and far-left populist parties are treated quite differently from more “mainstream” politicians).

Changes common across Western Europe includes an (1) accelerated news cycle (driven by 24-hour rolling television and increasingly social media), (2) a shifting balance of power between a reduced number of journalists producing more content for more platforms and an (3) increased number of communication professionals servicing top political actors, and of course the increased importance of digital media.

But though these are clear, shared trends, there are also pronounced, consequential, and enduring national differences, as shown by the countries analyzed in the book, where we have chapters on the specificities of political journalism in France (Raymond), Italy (Alessio Cornia), Germany (Carsten Reinemann and Philip Baugut), Denmark (Mark Blach-Ørsten), and the UK (Aeron Davis).

In terms of cross-cutting themes, we cover changes in coverage of the European Union (Oliver Baisnee), the role of public service broadcasting (Stephen Cushion), differences and similarities between political journalism in the United States and Western Europe (myself), long-term trends in political reporting (Andrea Umbricht and Frank Esser) as well as the evolution of international news coverage (Kevin Williams).

Throughout the book, we show that political journalism in Western Europe is characterized by similarity and differences as well as change and continuity, and most of our authors argue there is no underlying convergence on one “Western European” model of political journalism. Of the countries we cover, especially Italy continues to stand out from Northern Europe, but differences between the UK and for examples Germany and Denmark are also pronounced.

We hope the book will be useful for scholars and students interested in Western Europe in particular, but also more generally for an international audience interested in cross-national and cross-regional differences and similarities in the workings of political journalism, and in how it is changing in part due to internal professional dynamics, but also in response to changes in the media industry more broadly, and changes in our political systems.

Paper for “Transforming Audiences” in London

Below is the abstract of the paper Kim Christian Schrøder and I present at the Transforming Audiences conference in London.

Basically, we use data from the Reuters Institute Digital News survey to assess the relative importance of social media as sources of, ways of finding, and ways of engaging with news across eight developed democracies with, in a global perspective, high levels of internet use.

We show that television is still the most widely used and most important source of news, that the websites of legacy media are very important online, and that, though much of the population use social media like Facebook for social and other purposes, only a minority use these sites as ways of engaging in more participatory forms of news use, and that social networking sites are not generally considered particularly important sources of news, even by the younger cohorts.

Two key tables and full abstract below.

Sources of newsParticipating in news

The role of social media in the news information cycle—an eight-country comparative analysis

By Rasmus Kleis Nielsen and Kim Christian Schrøder

The increasingly widespread use of social media like Facebook and Twitter is in the process of changing how news is produced, shared, and discussed. Studies of individual events, processes, and sites have led researchers to suggest that we are moving from a traditional “news cycle” dominated by journalists and professional sources to a more complex “information cycle” that integrates ordinary people in the ongoing construction and contestation of news (Chadwick, 2011), that new “participatory cultures”  increasingly complement existing consumer cultures (Jenkins et al 2006), and that the dichotomy between producers and users is being blurred by the rise of active “produsage” where social media users take the lead in content creation and dissemination (Bruns, 2007). But so far, we have had only a vague understanding of (a) how important social media are as sources of news and ways of finding news relative to other sources, (b) how widespread these new forms of more engaged news media use actually are, and (c) whether these developments are similar or different from country to country. Based on data from a cross-country online survey of news media use (the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2013), we present a comparative analysis of the role of social media in the news information cycle in Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States, covering a range of developed democracies with historically different media systems but generally high levels of internet use. We show that television remains both the most widely used and most important source of news in all these countries, and that the websites of legacy news media organizations like broadcasters and newspapers are generally the most important online sources of news. We identify a set of similarities in terms of the growing importance of social media as part of the cross-media news habits of especially younger generations, but also important country-to-country differences in terms of how widespread especially the more active and participatory forms of media use are. Surprisingly, these differences do not correspond in any simple way to differences in levels of internet use, suggesting that more than mere availability shapes the role of social media in the news information cycle.

English version of “The Best Media in the World–and why they are about to change”

Below is a magazine article I wrote for the Helsingin Sanomat that was published Sunday December 9. With permission from my editor, Laura Saarikoski, I’m posting the English original (my Finnish is not as good as it ought to be, and maybe others might find this easier too). The translation has been slightly shortened but below is what I wrote.

I’m from Denmark myself and claim no special insight in the qualitative dimensions of Finnish journalism. But looking at the institutional pre-conditions for journalism in place across the Nordic countries, my view is the region is blessed with some of the best media in the world in terms of (a) their capacity to produce news, (b) the diversity of provision, and (c) the reach and dissemination of news across the entire population. Things are not perfect, but they are in a comparatively good shape, an argument I’ve also made about the situation in Denmark.

They are also about to change, because the economic models, political compromises, and forms of journalistic practice that define the model are all under pressure. Beyond issues over journalistic quality (diversely defined, but generally in opposition to “churnalism” and mindless chasing of minor breaking news-items with very limited shelf-life) the current generation face at least a three-fold challenge to ensure that Nordic media of tomorrow are as good as, if not better than, the ones of today.

1) Can historically successful and diversified newspaper companies manage the transition to a new media environment in which they remain important but do not have the market power of yesterday? (Because of their (dwindling) subscriber base and ancillary business activities many Nordic newspaper companies are in a much better position to do so than for example US newspapers.)

2) Can the political compromise behind strong public service broadcasting be renewed for a new era of cross-platform public service media in a way that does not lead to PSBs crowding out private sector news providers and thus undermining the diversity of provision? (While still allowing PSBs the resources to compete with pay TV and global entertainment giants.)

3) Can a way forward be found that ensures news coverage not only of select part of national politics, business, and other public affairs, but also of regional and peripheral public affairs? (The region has a tradition of quite strong regional news media, the private ones are having a hard time reinventing themselves and the local PSB offerings are often merged into larger and larger regional services in danger of losing their local connection.)

The full magazine article is below the jump. If you want to know about my imaginary sister in Turku, you’ll have to read the whole thing… Continue reading

Journatic—a problem of by-lines or billions?

Sarah Koenig’s piece in last week’s This American Life on Journatic, a content provider that combines US-based editors and freelancers with Filipino writers and researchers to produce copious amounts of very cheap mostly local content for a variety of clients including Tribune Company newspapers, has produced quite a ruckus, with commentary on Poynter, by David Carr, a blog post by Koenig’s main source, Ryan Smith on the Guardian and much much more.

Much of the controversy focuses on Journatic’s use of fake by-lines—apparently, contributors would select an appropriately American-sounding name from a drop-down menu of options rather than publish under their own name. It is a powerful symbol of the de-skilling and commoditization of journalistic work that many reporters feel keenly as colleagues are laid off right, left, and center and both their profession and the industry that has sustained and constrained it seems in tailspin.

But as Mathew Ingram of GigaOm points out, outsourcing and automation are bound to be part of the news business’ future. It’s too easy to simply criticize this as “pink slime journalism” and wish for a better world in which good reporting is done by countless upstanding professionals with decent salaries, job security, and generous benefits.

As revenues continue to decline and users still expect (a) a package of news and (b) regular updates of news, the old model based on in-house production by staff correspondents is hard to sustain. Part of the discussion thus has to be about what to outsource and what to automate rather than whether to outsource and automate.

I’m sure a reporter going in person to cover budget negotiations at city hall is better than having someone do it in front on a screen on the basis of online documents and maybe a single phone call to a convenient source. But that doesn’t mean it is economically sustainable to have that reporter go to that meeting.

An insistence on individually hand-crafted news stories will necessitate a wholesale move away from the kind of large-scale production we have grown accustomed to, and for all the dangers of churnalism, there is something to be said for having running coverage of many things, especially when combined with distinct, relevant, content. Cottage production works for the few, I don’t see how it will work for the many.

Koenig acknowledges this in her piece—Journatic CEO Brian Timpone gets the second to last words in the piece (full transcript here)

Brian Timpone: I would posit that it’s better to have somebody look at them than to have nobody look at them. You know what? Newspapers are firing people. Newspapers are struggling. They’re going bankrupt. We have a solution that helps solve the problem, right? Cutting staff is not the way to growth. But empowering a reporter with people in the Philippines– that’s a really smart thing to do. The criticism’s fine. But at the end of the day, what’s a better solution?  … I mean do you have one? Tell me if you have a better idea, I’m all ears.

Sarah Koenig: I don’t have a better idea.

And that’s the real problem. Commercial sustainability is not a sufficient, but may well be a necessary, condition for widespread quality news journalism. In that light, the billions of revenue lost as newspaper advertisement collapsed over the last decade in the US is a far bigger problem for journalism than fake by-lines. Managing that transition–which Journatic is but one symptom of–is the challenge at hand both for journalists and industry executives.