Summer school on comparative qualitative research on journalism and news media

I’m organizing a summer  school at the Reuters Institute in Oxford September 11-12 with Lucas Graves and Annika Sehl. It’s going to be great. Apply by May 31 to join. Full info below.

Some of the most important research on journalism and news media has been based on qualitative studies, including in-depth interviews, ethnography, historical studies, and other qualitative methods. Such work has generated lasting empirical insights as well as many of the foundational concepts in the academic study of media and communications.

Qualitative research has, however, tended to produce insights which are less ‘portable’ to new research questions and contexts. Too often the impact of this kind of scholarship is limited because findings are highly specific to the case and/or country studied, because engagement with theoretical work is not explicit, or because the logic of generalisation and the standards of validity have not been made clear.

These hurdles are especially pronounced in the vital emerging domain of comparative international media research. Well-designed qualitative work — whether carefully situated case-studies or explicitly comparative projects — has the potential to significantly advance our understanding of, for example, the economic and professional forces reshaping news production today — changes which are playing out very differently in different organizations and media systems. But we have so far seen far less systematically comparative and internationally oriented qualitative research on journalism and news media than what has been pursued by, for example, researchers focused on content analysis, role perceptions, and the like.

The purpose of this two-day summer school for advanced doctoral students and early career researchers, hosted by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, is to explore the unique promise of qualitative methods for comparative scholarship in journalism and media/communications and to help the participants connect their individual projects to wider discussions to in order to increase their substantive contribution and impact.

Through a combination of seminars led by Oxford-based researchers and workshop discussions of work-in-progress from the participants, the aim is to:

  1. Significantly advance our shared understanding of the methodological issues involved in advancing genuinely comparative and internationally-oriented qualitative research on journalism and news media,
  2. Explicitly engage with theoretical discussions that can help structure such work and clarify its contribution (beyond describing interesting and sometimes intrinsically important cases), most notably recent work drawing on institutional theory and science and technology studies.
  3. Help the participants think about their own individual research as contributing to a collective and cumulative attempt to understand the evolution of news and journalism, and to identify potential collaborators for cross-country studies.

Seminars at the summer school will be led by Lucas Graves, Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, and Annika Sehl.

All participants will be provided with a reading list in advance for the seminars and will be asked to submit a draft article or chapter that they would like to workshop and get feedback on from the organizers and the other participants at the summer school.

The participation fee is £149 per person, covering the summer school itself as well as lunch both days and dinner at an Oxford college. The participation fee does not cover transport and accommodation (which each participant will be responsible for organizing on their own).

We will accept a maximum of 12 participants for the summer school to ensure that we have an intimate and constructive forum for discussion and that everyone can get detailed feedback on their work. We will aim for a diverse group to advance our goal of building towards more comparative, international qualitative research on journalism and news media.

To apply to take part, please send an abstract of no more than 500 words outlining the central research question, empirical basis, and driving hypotheses and intellectual stakes of the work that you would like to present to Philippa Garson at philippa.garson@politics.ox.ac.uk no later than May 31. Please direct practical questions to her, and substantive questions about the program to Lucas Graves at lucas.graves@wisc.edu.

We will notify those accepted before the end of June.

About the summer school organisers

Lucas Graves is Assistant Professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen is Director of Research at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford and Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Press/Politics.

Annika Sehl is Research Fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford.

About the Reuters Institute

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism is based in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford. The Institute was launched in November 2006 and developed from the Reuters Fellowship Programme, established at Oxford more than 30 years ago. The institute is committed to connecting timely and rigorous research from a range of different disciplines to the substantial issues facing journalism and news media around the world.

“The Changing Business of Journalism and its Implications for Democracy” as free download

Back in 2010, David Levy and I edited a collection of essays on The Changing Business of Journalism and its Implications for Democracy, published by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism here in Oxford.

We have today made the whole book available for download here [PDF]. (All the hard copies have been sold!)

In addition to the chapters written by David, Robert Picard, and myself, the book contains interesting contributions by Alice Antheaume (Sciences Po, Paris), Michael Brüggemann (University of Zürich, now Hamburg), Frank Esser (University of Zürich), John Lloyd (University of Oxford/Financial Times), Hannu Nieminen (University of Helsinki),  Mauro Porto (Tulane University), Michael Schudson (Columbia University), Daya Kishan Thussu (University of Westminster), and Sacha Wunsch-Vincent (World Intellectual Property Organisation and formerly OECD).

Nicholas Lemann and Paolo Mancini provided the advance praise with some very nice quotes.

The Changing Business of Journalism and its Implications for Democracy, as the only rigorous global survey of a situation usually discussed on the basis of anecdote and unproved assertion, is an indispensable and necessary work. It ought to open the way for real progress in reinventing journalism.

Nicholas Lemann, Dean and Henry R. Luce Professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism

This is a very detailed and rich analysis of the structural changes in today’s business of journalism: the media in many countries face a deep crisis caused both by new technologies and more general economic circumstances while in others they are experiencing rapid growth. In both cases the entire structure of the field is undergoing a dramatic change in terms of professional practice and in how media are organized and run. This book represents an indispensable tool for all those who want to understand where journalism and democracy are going today.

Paolo Mancini, Professor at Università di Perugia and co-author of Comparing Media Systems (Cambridge, 2004).

The full table of content looks as follows:

Contents

Executive summary

1. The Changing Business of Journalism and its
Implications for Democracy
Rasmus Kleis Nielsen and David A. L. Levy

2. A Business Perspective on Challenges Facing Journalism
Robert G. Picard

3. Online News: Recent Developments, New Business
Models and Future Prospects
Sacha Wunsch-Vincent

4. The Strategic Crisis of German Newspapers
Frank Esser and Michael Brüggemann

5. The Unravelling Finnish Media Policy Consensus?
Hannu Nieminen

6. The French Press and its Enduring Institutional Crisis
Alice Antheaume

7. The Press We Destroy
John Lloyd

8. News in Crisis in the United States: Panic – And Beyond
Michael Schudson

9. The Changing Landscape of Brazil’s News Media
Mauro P. Porto

10. The Business of ‘Bollywoodized’ Journalism
Daya Kishan Thussu

11. Which Way for the Business of Journalism?
Rasmus Kleis Nielsen and David A. L. Levy

The Future of News – European Parliament

March 1, I spoke at a workshop on the future of news in the European Parliament organized by MEP Marietje Schaake (Dutch Democratic Party (D66),part of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) group).

A video of the event should be available here.

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The video should be well worth watching — lots of interesting and important discussion, of fake news, of filter bubbles, and of various policy issues including copyright.

I was particularly struck by the contrast between what I couldn’t help but feel was deep pessimism from Francois Le Hodey (CEO of the IPM publishing group which owns, amongst other things, the daily newspaper  La Libre Belgique) and Rob Wijnberg (co-founder and editor of DeCorrespondent), who had a more optimistic take.

Despite (rightly) highlighting that many European publishers have built significant digital audiences and are investing aggressively in digital initiatives, Le Hodey said several times “we have got five years”. He argued that it takes “between €50 million and €200 million” a year to fund and run a proper newsroom, and pointed out that print revenues are currently shrinking much faster than digital revenues are growing.

Wijnberg in a way was much more critical of existing journalism in terms of the quality and public value of much of it (arguing it often doesn’t actually help people understand the world, because it focuses on episodes and exceptions rather than longer-term developments and general trends). But he was also much more optimistic about developing a sustainable business around reader contributions and others sources — as deCorrespondent has done in the Netherlands, now with more than 50,000 paying subscribers. His optimism may in part be about expectations — unlike the figure Le Hodey offered (based on what newspapers have historically been able to invest), he said deCorrespondent operates on a budget around €3 million a year — not easy to generate (as other start-ups have found), but surely easier than €50+ million. His position has, I felt, a lot in common with that Melissa Bell outlined earlier this year in her lecture at Oxford.

I gave a short presentation based on some of our recent research, including our work on private sector legacy news media (this report, with Alessio Cornia and Annika Sehl), digital-born news media (this report with Tom Nicholls and Nabeelah Shabbir), and broader trends in media use, markets, and policy across Europe (this report with Alessio Cornia and Antonis Kalogeropoulos), as well as some of the work we have under way on the notion of filter bubbles (see a short piece Richard Fletcher and I wrote here).

My main points are summarized on the slide below.

future-of-news-eu

The other speakers were Francois Le Hodey (CEO, IPM Group), Rob Wijnberg (Founder, De Correspondent), Marco Pancini (Director Of EU Public Policy, Google), Anne Appelbaum (Columnist, Washington Post), Richard Allen (Vice President Public Policy EMEA, Facebook), and Krisztina Stump (Deputy Head of Unit, Converging Media, Content Unit, Directorate General, Communications Networks, Content and Technology, European Commission).

Murray Edelman Distinguished Career Award – nominations?

I’m on the American Political Science Association Political Communication Section’s award committee (together with Patricia Moy and Kevin Coe) for the Murray Edelman Distinguished Career Award, which recognizes a lifetime contribution to the study of Political Communication.

Email me if you have candidates in mind. The award will be given at APSA 2017.

Previous recipients include Gladys Lang and Kurt Lang, Elihu Katz, Michael Schudson, Lance Bennett, Jay Blumler, Russ Neuman, Diana Mutz, Dan Hallin and many others I and so many fellows scholars have learned so much from.

It’s named after Murray Edelman, an impressive and idiosyncratic figure in our field. I’m glad political communication recognize the importance of people like Edelman who do things differently. As the NYTimes noted in his obituary, “Edelman’s highly subjective analytic style put him at variance with the prevailing orthodoxy in contemporary American political science.”

“At variance” — that’s putting it mildly.Not many political scientists would begin a book the way he begun his 1971 book Politics as Symbolic Action:

Political history is largely an account of mass violence and of the expenditure of vast resources to cope with mythical fears and hopes.

For all the shortcomings (and I think there are many) of his strand of “post-modern political science” inspired by continental philosophy and older strands of symbolic interactionism, his attention to symbols, meanings, and performance is arguably as relevant today as ever, and perhaps more so than the paradigm Edelman challenged during his lifetime.

As the NYT put it: “Known as rational choice theory, this holds that political actors make rational decisions after weighing all the pros and cons. Not quite how I’d describe recent political events.

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.)