Crisis of Journalism Reconsidered—Barcelona workshop

Just arrived for “The Crisis of Journalism Reconsidered: Cultural Power” (May 2- 3), organized by Jeffrey Alexander, Elizabeth Butler Breese, and Maria Luengo at the Social Trends Institute.

The workshop aims to bring more culturally-oriented and sociological perspectives into play to understand contemporary journalism, and move beyond the tendency in some circles to focus mostly on economics and technology.

Not done reading all the papers yet, but a couple of highlights from the program (I’m sure there are other gems)—

  • Daniel Kreiss on journalism as “organized skepticism”. Work in progress, but I’m curious to hear more about this, not sure the profession is particularly skeptical, or even that we should wish it to be primarily skeptical.
  • Nikki Usher on how journalists’ professional preoccupation with scoops may be at least as much to blame for “hamsterization” as new technologies that enable more immediate publication, akin to Rod Tiffen’s work on what he calls journalism’s sometimes “institutionally perverse” competitive ethos.
  • Chris Anderson on how professional journalism in the US, in the 20th century almost aggressively ignorant of its audience, is coming to terms with an ever-growing number of forms of audience metrics, forms of audience engagement, etc that complicates it’s relation to the public it claims to and aims to serve.

My own paper is called “The Many Crises of Western Journalism” and presents a big-picture comparison of economic, professional, and symbolic crises in journalism across six affluent democracies.

The figure below summarize the general thrust of the empirical argument—Northern European countries like Finland and Germany do not yet face the economic and professional crises seen elsewhere, but there too, journalism faces a symbolic crisis as many people have low confidence in news. Mediterranean European countries like France and Italy have both an old and a new economic crisis to contend with (already weak industry hit hard by digital), a profession that has never developed the same kind of occupational autonomy from politics and proprietors seen elsewhere, and low confidence in news. In the US, journalism faces a new economic crisis connected to the rise of digital over the last years, challenges to the status of the profession itself, as well as a decades-old symbolic crisis of confidence as many people have little confidence in news.

In short, different kinds of crisis and different degrees of crises, but a common theme running across these otherwise different Western countries being low public confidence in much journalism (I rely on World Values Survey data for this, see also Jonathan Ladd’s detailed analysis of why American’s don’t trust the news).

I’ve left out of this whether some Western governments behavior towards journalism in itself represent a distinct additional crisis, see for example the report by the Committee to Protect Journalism “The Obama Administration and the Press: Leak investigations and surveillance in post-9/11 America” and the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers’ Report “UK Press Freedom Report”, also concerned with monitoring and pressure on journalists. Both makes for very worrying reading.

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