Hacks and spooks – journalism and the intelligence services

January 11, we launched John Lloyd most recent book “Journalism in an Age of Terror“, which focuses on the relationship between journalists (hacks) and the intelligence services (spooks) across the US, the UK, and France.

I had the pleasure of chairing a discussion of the book at the Institute of Government with a great (if rather male) panel including John, Andrew Dorman (Professor of International Security, Kings College London), Stephen Grey (Security Correspondent, Reuters), and Sir David Omand (former head of GCHQ).

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Hacks and spooks are two very different professions, and have for decades viewed each other with suspicion, even enmity, one aiming to publicize and to inform the public, the other necessarily often operating in secrecy and primarily informing government.

And yet they are also in some ways similar, trying to find truth and report it, often in real time, often at least in part on the basis of sifting through many different sources with many different motives (whether journalists’ sources or “comint” for spies).

They are also two professions that are considerably more interested in sharing their findings than being transparent about how they found out. The model is often “this is what we found, trust us”.

In his book, John focus on the central tension between journalists’ ambition to publish, and the secret services ambition to remain, well, secret. As he writes

The threat of terrorism and the increasing power of terrorist groups have prompted rapid growth of the security services and changes in legislation permitting collection of communications data. This provides journalism with acute dilemmas. The media claims the responsibility of holding power to account: but cannot know more than superficial details about the newly empowered secret services. At the heart of the state are agencies with sweeping powers to legitimately examine private correspondence – which by definition must remain secret.

Chapter one of the book is available for free download here, and John wrote a long article in the Financial Times on President Trump’s approach to both the press and the secret services based in large part on the book that you can find here.

CfP: Third annual IJPP conference, Sep 27-29 in Oxford (submit by March 31)

IJPPSeptember 27-29 2017, the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford will host the third annual International Journal of Press/Politics conference, focused on academic research on the relation between media and political processes around the world. (See the program from the 2015 conference and the 2016 conference.)

A selection of the best full papers presented at the conference will be published in the journal after peer review. The deadline for submission of abstracts is March 31 2017. Attendees will be notified of acceptance by April 28 2017.

Professor Natalie Stroud from the University of Texas at Austin will deliver a keynote lecture on “Engaging Newsrooms in the Digital Age.”

The conference brings together scholars doing internationally-oriented or comparative research on the intersection between news media and politics around the world. It aims to provide a forum for academics from a wide range of different disciplines and countries to discuss the theoretical, methodological, and substantial challenges and opportunities for research in this area. It is open to work from political science, political communication, journalism studies, media and communications research and many other fields.

Examples of relevant topics include the political implications of current changes in the media, the relative importance of new forms of digital media for engaging with news and politics, studies of the role of entertainment and popular culture in how people follow current affairs, studies of relations between political actors and journalists, research on political communication beyond the electoral context (including of government, interest groups, and social movements), all with a particular interest in studies that focus on parts of the world that are under-researched in the international English language academic literature, develop comparative approaches, or represent substantial theoretical or methodological advances.

Titles and abstracts for papers (250 words max) are invited by Friday March 31 2017. The abstract should clearly describe the key question, the theoretical and methodological approach, the evidence the argument is based on, as well as its wider implication of international relevance.

Please send submissions to the email address ijpp@politics.ox.ac.uk with the subject line “IJPP conference submission” including in the email the full title of your paper, the abstract, and your name and professional affiliation. (Please do not send attachments.) Full papers will be due August 25 2017.

Please contact the conference organizer, Rasmus Kleis Nielsen (RISJ Director of Research and IJPP Editor-in-Chief) with questions at rasmus.nielsen@politics.ox.ac.uk.

More about the journal, the Reuters Institute, and the keynote speaker:

The International Journal of Press/Politics

IJPP is an interdisciplinary journal for the analysis and discussion of the role of the press and politics in a globalized world. The journal publishes theoretical and empirical research which analyzes the linkages between the news media and political processes and actors around the world, emphasizes international and comparative work, and links research in the fields of political communication and journalism studies, and the disciplines of political science and media and communication.

Keynote Speaker – Natalie Stroud

Natalie (Talia) Jomini Stroud (Ph.D., Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania) is an Associate Professor of Communication Studies and Assistant Director of Research at the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life at the University of Texas at Austin. Since 2012, Stroud has directed the grant-funded Engaging News Project, which examines commercially-viable and democratically-beneficial ways of improving online news coverage. In 2014-15, she is a fellow at the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics at Princeton University. Stroud is interested in how the media affect our political behaviors and attitudes and how our political behaviors and attitudes affect our media use. Her book, Niche News: The Politics of News Choice (Oxford University Press) explores the causes, consequences, and prevalence of partisan selective exposure, the preference for like-minded political information. Niche News received the International Communication Association’s Outstanding Book Award. Her research has appeared in Political Communication, Journal of Communication, Political Behavior, Public Opinion Quarterly, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, and the International Journal of Public Opinion Research.

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism marks the University of Oxford’s commitment to the comparative study of journalism around the world. Anchored in the recognition of the key role of independent media in open societies and the power of information in the modern world, the institute aims to serve as the leading forum for a productive engagement between scholars from a wide range of disciplines and practitioners of journalism. It brings the depth and rigor of academic scholarship of the highest standards to major issues of relevance to the world of news media. It is global in its perspective and in the content of its activities.

Fake news – an optimistic take

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Nobody likes fake news, whether produced for profit or for political purposes, and irrespective of how it has been disseminated.

It clearly exists, whether propaganda or churned out by the now infamous Macedonian teenagers.

But how much of an issue is fake news, narrowly understood as news that is factually wrong and/or fictitious while masquerading as news and is knowingly produced as such?

The first rule of writing about fake news is to admit that we do not really know what is going on: how much is there, produced by whom, who uses it, why, and how much does it influence them?

That said, here is an optimistic take on the fake news discussion–based on three points.

  1. Are there in fact likely to be significant effects of being exposed to fake news? Before jumping to the conclusion that people are in fact influenced by fake news, consider the following possible objections. First, most people are exposed to many different messages, pieces of information, and news stories every day, and research suggests that the effect of any one of these messages (like a fake news story) is likely to be very limited and short-lived, unless exposure is consistent, sustained, and very one-sided. Second, when people navigate news online, they rely in part on what their own browsing behaviour and various algorithmic filters lead them to, but also on source affiliation and social endorsements for cues on what to believe. Third, when they do in fact engage with news (some of which may be fake), they may do so in a whole lot of ways and for a whole lot of reasons that are more ritual and do not involve them actually believing that the information contained is necessarily true—think of this by analogy as being amused by a tabloid or gossip site, sharing something on Twitter or commenting on Facebook without actually having read it, etc.
  2. Everybody seems to think other people are fooled by fake news, few seem to think that they themselves have been fooled. The discussion around fake news seems to reflect at least in part what media researchers call “third-person effect”, the fact that people generally see media and communication “as having a greater effect on others than on himself or herself”. Often, these “others” happen to people who are (a) poor and have low levels of education and (b) with whom those worried about the effect disagree politically, adding a bit of classism and partisan polarization to the discussion. (BuzzFeed and Ipsos did one of the most interesting and important empirical studies of fake news in the US back in December, and found that 33% of survey respondents—a clear minority—recalled seeing fake news headlines during the election (57% recalled real news headlines). Of those who did recall fake news headlines, a majority (especially amongst Republicans and Trump supporters), rated those headlines as “very accurate” or “somewhat accurate”—though keep in mind as is clear from the topline data, in most cases, most respondents answered “somewhat accurate”).
  3. Of course, fake news is likely to be important for some. Selective exposure to partisan fake news (we tend to seek out information that reinforces our pre-existing views while avoiding information that contradicts it) and motivated reasoning (we tend to process information so that it fits with our existing beliefs) means that for a minority of very highly partisan people, fake news probably shore up and even further polarize their political views. But here fake news is arguably (unless empirical work can find that there is a lot of it and people pay a lot of attention to it) a small part of a larger story of partisan polarization in some countries (including notably the US) and of a media industry that has moved from providing mostly middle-of-the-road, he-said/she-said news committed to some version of attempted objectivity to a situation where more and more media are clearly partisan or perhaps deliberately and for largely commercial reasons peddle moral outrage. Fake news may intensify this development, but if so clearly builds on a much broader and long-standing development.

There are no doubt a group of people who are fooled by fake news and who in fact are influenced by it.

And it seems clear that fake news is not only cheaper to produce (and monetize) today, but also easier to disseminate online than ever before.

But until someone provide evidence to the contrary, I suspect most people are exposed to relatively little fake news (and a lot of other stuff) and are not very much influenced by it.

Point one and two above, building on decades of empirical media research, suggest that, until there is evidence to the contrary, we should expect only a minority of people to be both (a) exposed to fake news, (b) fooled by it, and (c) in fact influenced by it. Point three of course suggests that there is another minority who may rely in part on fake news as they maintain partisan identities, but, as said, this is arguably a broader point about political (partisan polarization) and media (move from mass to niche, including partisan niche).

None of this means that we should not take fake news seriously or that there aren’t reasons to be concerned when people produce fake news, either for profit or for political purposes. Nor does it mean that we should not be concerned about the question of whether technology platforms including Google and Facebook enable the production and dissemination of fake news (though they also enable a whole lot more, and any call for change, intervention, and/or regulation needs to keep this in mind, and to think about whether the cure is sometimes worse than the disease).

But what this optimistic take on fake news does mean is that we should not let the passionate and heated (and sometimes largely evidence-free and polemical) discussion distract us from a set of arguably more fundamental challenges concerning news and the role of news in contemporary politics and public life.

These include—

  • Do non-fake news in fact serve society well in terms of how they have dealt with issues including Brexit and Donald Trump? The loud discussion around fake news risks obscuring a critical discussion of (real) news and how well different (real) news organizations handle their public role. Some news organizations did a valiant and principled job. Others did not. Research on rumours both offline and online suggest people turn to “improvised news” (often inaccurate, sometimes outright falsehood) especially in times of crisis when conventional news may be scarce or do not answer the questions people have.
  • Why is it that so many people (in the US almost 40%) do not trust (real) news and in some cases don’t accept that (real) news is much different from fake news, or much more trustworthy than fake news? As a media researcher and as someone who personally believes in the public value of much of journalism, warts and all, I am concerned that the focus on one easy target of moral approbation—fake news—distracts from the fact that many people think of much of news, sometimes justifiably so, as less than trustworthy, and often out of touch with their problems, values, and concerns.
  • Are the political outcomes of political processes like the UK referendum on the European Union and the US Presidential Election perhaps first and foremost political in nature? Blaming Macedonian teenagers making things up for a living, Russian propaganda, and the opaque algorithms of powerful and profitable technology companies for an election result draws attention away from whether in fact these outcomes were primarily driven by more fundamental political, social, and economic processes (and that these in turn vary by country).

An optimistic take on fake news may thus (perhaps pessimistically) suggest that the most important questions we face around media and democracy today concern real news, and how real news—often on an eroding resource base—can cover highly partisan politics, reach more people, and connect societies that in some cases seem more and more polarized in terms of both social values and relative affluence.

(Many thanks to David Levy and Richard Fletcher for comments on this piece. I wrote this in part because Gina Neff effecitvely told me to.)

Reading list on innovation and organizational change in news media/journalism

Below a reading list on academic research on innovation and organizational change in news media/journalism that Alessio Cornia, Annika Sehl and have developed for our ongoing work on how public service media and legacy private sector media across a range of countries in Europe are adapting to a changing media environment.

Thoughts/recommendations? Email or comments for suggestions!

NERD ALERT — this particular list is focused on academic research. Obviously there is much excellent writing elsewhere.

READING LIST ON INNOVATION AND ORGANISATIONAL CHANGE IN NEWS MEDIA/JOURNALISM

The list covers the following theoretical/thematic areas:

  1. Comparative research on media systems
  2. Institutionalism (general theory)
  3. Institutionalism applied to change in news organisations
  4. Newsroom ethnographies and journalism studies
  5. Media management
  1. Comparative research media systems

 

Key readings

  • Hallin, D. C. & Mancini, P. (2004). Comparing media systems. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Brüggemann, M., Engesser, S., Büchel, F., Humprecht, E., & Castro, L. (2014). Hallin and Mancini revisited: Four empirical types of western media systems. Journal of Communication, 64: 1037-1065.

 

  1. Institutionalism (general)

Key readings

  • DiMaggio, P. J., & Powell. W. W. (1983). The Iron Cage Revisited: Institutional Isomorphism and Collective Rationality in Organizational Fields. American Sociological Review, 48 (2): 147–60.
  • Scott, R. W. (2008). Institutions and Organisations: Ideas and Interests. Third edition. Sage. 7 “Institutional Processes and Organisations” (pp. 149-180) (Simple and clear explanation of issues such as: legitimacy, isomorphism, organisational structure and institutional context, strategic responses and sources of divergence) (available at: GTC Library, HM 786 Sco).
  • Fligstein, Neil, and Doug McAdam. 2012. A Theory of Fields. New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press, chapters 1 and 4.

Other readings

  • Reed, M. I. (1992). The Sociology of Organisations: Themes, Perspective and Prospects. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf. Cap 4: Theory Groups and Research Programmes (pp. 172-176, ‘Institutionalists’) (Focus on institutional isomorphism). (GTC Library, HM 131 Ree)
  • Powell, W. W. & DiMaggio, P. J. (1991) The New Institutionalism in Organisational Analysis. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 13 ‘The Structural Transformation of American Industry’. (empirical application of the theory focusing on Institutional Change). Chap. 14, ‘Institutional Origin and Transformations’. (see previous point) (GTC Library, HM 131 Pow).
  • Padgett, John Frederick, and Walter W. Powell. 2012. The Emergence of Organizations and Markets. Princeton, NJ; Woodstock: Princeton University Press.

 

 

  1. Institutionalism applied to change in news organisations

Key readings

  • Lowrey, Wilson. 2011. ‘Institutionalism, News Organizations and Innovation’. Journalism Studies 12 (1): 64–79.
  • Lowrey, Wilson, and Chang Wan Woo. 2010. ‘The News Organization in Uncertain Times: Business or Institution?’ Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 87 (1): 41–61.

Other readings

  • Nordqvist, M., Picard R. G., & Pesamaa O. (2010). Industry associations as change agents: The institutional roles of newspaper associations. Journal of Media Business Studies. 7(3): 51-69.
  • Cook, Timothy E. 1998. Governing with the News: The News Media as a Political Institution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Chap. 4 ‘The institutional news media”.
  • Ryfe, David M. (2016). News Institutions. In T. Witschge, C. W. Anderson, D. Domingo, & A. Hermida (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of digital journalism (pp. 370-382). SAGE.

 

  1. Newsroom ethnographies and journalism studies

 

Key readings

  • Boczkowski, Pablo J. 2004. Digitizing the News: Innovation in Online Newspapers. Inside Technology. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
  • Mitchelstein, E. & Boczkowski, P. (2009). Between tradition and change: A review of recent research on online news production. Journalism, 10(5). Section on: “The process of innovation in online journalism” (pp. 566-568).
  • Weiss A. S. & Domingo D. (2010). Innovation processes in online newsrooms as actor-networks and communities of practice. New Media & Society, 12(7): 1156-1171. The article explores two different theoretical approaches to frame innovation in online media: actor-network theory and community of practice.
  • Ekdale et al. (2015). Making change: diffusion of technological, relational, and cultural innovation in the newsroom. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, pp. 1-21. DOI: 10.1177/1077699015596337

Other readings

  • Anderson, C. W. 2013. Rebuilding the News: Metropolitan Journalism in the Digital Age. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
  • Usher, N. (2014). Making news at the New York Times. Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press.
  • Paterson, C. & Domingo, D. (Eds.) (2008). Makin online news: The ethnography of new media production. New York: Peter Lang.
  • Lewis, S. C., & Westlund, O. (2015). Actors, actants, audiences, and activities in cross-media news work. Digital Journalism, 3(1), 19–37.
  • Gillespie, Tarleton, Pablo J. Boczkowski, and Kirsten A. Foot, eds. 2014. Media Technologies: Essays on Communication, Materiality, and Society. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
  1. Media management

Key readings

  • Küng, L. (2008). Strategic management in the media. London: Sage Publications.
  • Küng, L. (2015). Innovators in digital news. London: I.B. Tauris.

 

Other readings

  • Maitlis, S. & Christianson, M. (2014). Sensemaking in organisations: Taking stock and moving forward. The Academy of Management Annals, 8(19): 57-125.
  • Teece, D. J., Pisano G., & Shuen A. (1997) Dynamic capabilities and strategic management. Strategic Management Journal, 18(7): 509-533.
  • Lischka J. A. (2015) How structural multi-platform newsroom features and innovative values alter journalistic cross-channel and cross-sectional working procedures. Journal of Media Business Studies, 12(1): 7-28.
  • Courtney, Hugh, Jane Kirkland, and Patrick Viguerie. 1997. ‘Strategy Under Uncertainty’. Harvard Business Review. November 1. https://hbr.org/1997/11/strategy-under-uncertainty.
  • Christensen, Clayton M., Michael E. Raynor, and Rory McDonald. 2015. ‘What Is Disruptive Innovation?’ Harvard Business Review. Accessed November 22. https://hbr.org/2015/12/what-is-disruptive-innovation.

Platforms and publishers – video

I’ve had the opportunity to present about the work Sarah Ganter and I have been doing on the relationship between platforms (large technology companies like Facebook and Google) and publishers (news media organizations) at a range of very different forums over the last month or so.

All over the world, search engines and social media are increasingly important for the distribution of news. In our research, we examine how news media have responded to this development, how they handle their relations with the new powerful digital intermediaries that they are simultaneously increasingly empowered by and dependent upon, and how these platform companies in turn handle their role in the wider news media ecosystem.

It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to discuss our work with very different groups of people–

  1. In November first at ECREA in Prague, where I was honored to give a keynote lecture, and had great questions from a range of people including Des Freedman and Nick Couldry.
  2. Later that month at AsCOR in Amsterdam, a very different crowd with Claes de Vreese, Natali Helberger, and their colleagues.
  3. Then in December at the PSA Media and Politics Group’s annual general conference, good discussion, especially with Andrew Chadwick and Cristian Vaccari

Each lecture draws on the same project and a set of core ideas we are developing, with some variation depending on context and occasion. The ECREA one is available as video (below) for those interested.

I feel very fortunate to have had the chance to discuss this project and our work-in-progress with so many different people and get so much useful and constructive input.The abstract of the ECREA lecture is re-posted below, and the slides are here.

Now, to the writing!

Publishers and platforms

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, keynote lecture at ECREA 2016 in Prague

What does the continued, global rise of platforms like Google and Facebook mean for public communication in a new digital media environment, and for how we research and understand public communication? That is one of the central questions facing the field of communication research today. In this lecture, I examine the relationship between publishers and platforms as one key part of how the rise of digital intermediaries is playing out, and show how news media—like many others—are becoming simultaneously increasingly empowered by and dependent upon a small number of centrally placed and powerful platforms beyond their control (and with whom they compete for attention and advertising). I develop the notion of “platform power” to begin to capture key aspects of the enabling, generative, and productive power of platforms that set them apart from other actors. As a range of different intermediaries including search engines, social media, and messaging apps become more and more important in terms of how people access and find information online, and in turn restructure the digital media environment itself, communication research is faced with a set of interlocking questions concerning both our intellectual work and our public role. The intellectual questions include the need to understand how people use these platforms to engage with public communication, but also institutional questions including how different platforms engage with other players (like publishers) and how these other players in turn adapt to the rise of platforms, as well as political questions concerning the implications of their rise. The question concerning our public role concerns how existing ways of doing and communicating communication research fits with our ability to understand—and help others understand—an opaque and rapidly-evolving set of processes profoundly reshaping our media environments.

CfN: 2017 International Journal of Press/Politics Best Book Award

IJPP

Nominations are invited for the annual International Journal of Press/Politics Best Book Award, to be sent to IJPP editor Rasmus Kleis Nielsen by email no later than February 15.

Rationale

The International Journal of Press/Politics Best Book Award honors internationally-oriented books that advance our theoretical and empirical understanding of the linkages between news media and politics in a globalized world in a significant way. It is given annually by the International Journal of Press/Politics and sponsored by Sage Publications.

The award committee will judge each nominated book on several criteria, including the extent to which the book goes beyond analyzing a single case country to present a broader and internationally-oriented argument, the significance of the problems addressed, the strength of the evidence the book relies on, conceptual innovation, the clarity of writing, and the book’s ability to link journalism studies, political communication research, and other relevant intellectual fields.

Eligibility

Books published within the last ten years will be considered. Monographs as well as edited volumes of exceptional quality and coherence will be considered for the award. (Books by current members of the award committee are ineligible and committee members will recuse themselves from discussion of books by members of their own department, works published in series that they edit, etc.)

Nominations

Nominations including a rationale of no more than 350 words should be emailed by February 15 to Rasmus Kleis Nielsen at rasmus.nielsen@politics.ox.ac.uk.

The nomination must specify why the book should receive the award by outlining the importance of the book to the study of news media and politics and by identifying its international contribution and relevance. Please include links to or copies of relevant reviews in scholarly journals.

Arrangements should be made with the publishers of nominated books for three hard copies to be sent by February 15 to the Rasmus Kleis Nielsen at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, 13 Norham Gardens, OX2 6PS, Oxford, United Kingdom.

Award committee

The award committee consists of Rasmus Kleis Nielsen (the editor of the International Journal of Press/Politics), Peter Van Aelst (chair of the Political Communication Division of ICA), and Henrik Örnebring (chair of the Journalism Studies Division of ICA).

Presentation

The award will be presented at the 2017 ICA Annual Meeting and will be announced on the IJPP website.

What will news look like after advertising?

The most recent round of year-end predictions is out on the Nieman Lab site, always full of really interesting and inspiring reads. Joshua Benton has done an amazing job again.

I wrote mine on the question of what news will look like after advertising. Full piece here.

The link between advertising and news that has for so long provided so much of the money invested in professional journalism is coming apart. […]

Beyond the job cuts, this presents journalists with a challenge and an opportunity.

The challenge is that a profession that has taken pride in its detachment from commercial considerations will increasingly be asked to be more directly involved in developing new potentially profitable products.

The opportunity is to rethink what value looks like when the business models underlying news production change. At end of the day, most journalists would probably rather work for their readers than for their advertisers.