Future of Journalism, Cardiff Conference round-up

I spent the last two days in Cardiff for Bob Franklin’s biannual journalism studies conference hosted by the School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies (JOMEC). Lots of good stuff and great to see folks and catch up on interesting work being done around the world. (Full program here, abstracts of all papers here.)

Three take-aways from panels and discussions I attended (more at #FoJ2013 on Twitter for those interested)—

First, local and regional journalism and news information environments–

It was very refreshing to see several very good pieces of empirical research on the particular questions concerning local and regional journalism and news information environments in different contexts. I was particularly impressed with the work being done by Andy Williams and colleagues on local and hyperlocal journalism in the UK, Julie Firmstone and Stephen Coleman’s work-in-progress on the local information environment in Leeds (including studies of the city council, legacy news, and new digital sites), as well as research by Piet Bakker and colleagues from the Netherlands on developments there. Very good stuff. It would be great to see more studies from other countries so we can develop a more comparative understanding of what is going on with local news and information environments in different contexts. (Some work has been done in the US too.)

Second,the ubiquity of the New York Times–

It is clear that the New York Times continues to hold enormous sway over the imagination of both journalists and journalism studies scholars thinking about digital and digital strategy. As Piet Bakker rightly remarked after Robert Picard’s keynote lecture, “everyone talks about the same three examples: the New York Times, financial newspapers like the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, and the Guardian.” Of course, all of these are highly unusual cases, from which we can probably learn relatively little about how digital is developing and working out for other news organizations, including top titles in small national markets (that is, much of Western Europe), but also, apropos my point above, local and regional newspapers like the Western Mail in Wales (studied by Williams et al), the Yorkshire Post (studied by Firmstone and Coleman), and their equivalents in other countries. As I’ve argued before—as many others have—even if we have to recognize the empirical fact that the New York Times figures prominently in how lots of people talk and think about digital strategy, the actual news organization and company itself probably can’t even tell us much about how other US newspapers are faring, let alone how newspapers elsewhere are faring. There’s an analogy here to the role for example the Barack Obama campaign plays in discussions of digital politics. (As Oscar Westlund pointed out in one discussion, it’s well known from studies of organizational learning that you often make your biggest mistakes when you learn from the wrong examples.)

Third,lots of good, theoretically and methodologically diverse, work on digital–

Journalism studies continues to catch up on digital, lots of good work on innovation, the integration of new technologies in newsrooms and work practices, how ordinary people engage with news etc through digital, and also some work across platforms that takes digital seriously without giving up on legacy or ignoring legacy media’s enduring importance. The field of journalism studies, from my impression, has done a better job of overcoming sharp analogue/digital distinctions and “old media”/”new media” binaries than many other areas of media and communication studies including, I hate to admit as someone who also has an intellectual home there, parts of political communication research. In part, it is good to see how a conference like this draws not only people who consider themselves journalism studies scholars, but also a sizable contingent of audience researchers (very interesting papers by Regina Marchi from the US and by Tim Groot Kormelink and Irene Costera Meier from the Netherlands on tailor-made news), a few media economists, people studying management, etc. This kind of diversity is surely a necessary part of understanding journalism today.

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