Category Archives: Online journalism

If journalism studies research want to be part of the conversation about the future of journalism, we need to start showing up

The rise of digital media and the resulting changes in both the practice and business of news, the crisis of confidence in the media in many countries, and growing political pressures on independent journalism in others, animates an increasingly urgent conversation about the future of journalism.

The academic field of journalism studies often seems virtually absent from that conversation.

We might feel that we, like other scientific fields, have “epistemic authority” over our main object of analysis, the legitimate and recognized right to define, describe, and explain specific aspects of reality.

But few seems to care what we know, or find what we do relevant. As former ICA President Larry Gross said at ICA in 2017, we, like other media and communications researchers, may feel we have a lot to offer. But the debate is in practice often dominated by lawyers, economists, and consultants.

Similarly, with some notable exceptions, much of the discussion around what we study—journalism, its output, and the relations that constitute, define, and enable it in different contexts—is driven by practitioners, pundits, and scientists from other fields.

Journalism studies, on the other hand, seems largely absent.

Some of the factors accounting for our relative absence are surely external to our field, things over which we have little control.

But there are arguable also internal factors, factors we might address if we want to be part of the conversation about the future of journalism.[1]

One factor is not showing up.

Consider for example the International Journalism Festival, held every spring in Perugia in Italy. It can serve as a useful illustrative case because it represents a fantastic opportunity to engage with many different voices engaged in the conversation around the future of journalism. (There are many ways to engage, including writing for popular outlets, social media, and private conversations with journalists. But attending professional and industry events like IJF I think are an important example of engagement.)

The festival is free to attend, and draws thousands of people, including hundreds of speakers from news media, technology companies, and policymaking circles. It is genuinely international with participants from many different countries. It is proudly open and inclusive in providing a platform for many different voices from many different backgrounds—those interested simply propose a panel and the organizers work to accommodate all they can, and subsidize most of the speakers.

IJF is fantastically interesting, good fun, and, from an engagement point of view, a cheap, easy, and engaging way for academics to learn from journalists and others and share work with them.

However, it appears that not many academics do so.

Consider the 2018 festival, which hosted more than 500 speakers. Looking specifically at the 386 international speakers, and defining an academic speaker broadly as someone who list their main affiliation as a university and works at least in part with research, I could identify only 40 academics, 10%, amongst the speakers.[2]

Even more strikingly for a festival in (continental) Europe, a full 31 of these worked at UK (18) or US (13) universities. The third largest group by country of work? Canada (!) with 3, followed by Belgium, France, Germany, Serbia, Spain, and Turkey with one each. Leaving aside Italians and the UK, there were just 6 academics from the rest of Europe combined, about 1.5% of all festival speakers.

IJF

If we are serious about being part of the conversation about the future of journalism, we need to start showing up to events like this, and show up in numbers and in all our diversity.

I have no problem with the fact that 90% of the IJF speakers are non-academics. I enjoyed every single panel I went to and learned a ton, often especially from non-academics.

But I do think it is a shame and a missed opportunity for academics, both individually and institutionally, that so few of us show up for events like the IJF that provide such a perfect opportunity for learning from and sharing with practitioners, policymakers, and members of the public interested in what we do.

Some scholars have developed a normative idea of “reciprocal journalism”, based on the idea of mutually beneficial forms of exchange.

Perhaps we need an similar commitment from academics to “reciprocal research”, strengthening our own work while also giving back to the public, the people we study, and policy-making discussions?

Some scholars do already show up, judging by the 2018 numbers especially academics from the UK and the US. What drives this strong representation?

Some of it is surely the added visibility and reach that can come with working in English, and in the case of the US a large field of academics with international interests.

But remember, IJF is open to anyone who pitches a panel. (I have no reason to think the festival routinely rejects relevant proposals, but can’t really know from the outside – if anyone has had such experiences, please let me know.)

So part of the reason is likely that UK and US academics pitch more frequently than their counterparts elsewhere in Europe and beyond.

One possible explanation is the growing number of extra-departmental, inter-disciplinary centers committed to connecting research and practice that seems particularly prevalent in English-speaking universities. (This would include for example POLIS at the LSE in the UK and Agora at the University of Oregon in the US as well as us at the Reuters Institute in Oxford.)

Such centers account for only a tiny part of the overall number of academics researching journalism, but they are important because they operate differently from traditional departments where, I would posit, the informal norms and formal reward systems of our field often do not reward engagement, and often tend to reward inwards discussion and narrow specialization.

Centers, in contrast, can serve as what science and technology scholars call trading zones, spaces where the development of interactional expertise helps people with different practical experience, professional objectives, and forms of substantive expertise collaborate across their differences.

And indeed, if we break down the 40 academics who presented at the International Journalism Festival in 2018, by my count, 13 out of the 31 UK and US academics come from various extra-departmental, inter-disciplinary centers focused on connecting research and practice. 6 are associated with the Reuters Institute alone – more than the total number of academic IJF speakers from Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, and Turkey combined. (I am not familiar with all the academic institutions people work at, so I may have under-counted centers based in countries where I do not speak the language. When in doubt, I have assumed people are based in a department, not a center.)

Some may see this difference between departments and centers as a zero-sum trade-off or a division of labor. From this point of view, departments focus on basic science, centers do applied work and engagement. I think this is often misleading.

A different perspective and from my point of view more useful approach is the one developed by some sociologists of science, who have distinguished between what they call “Mode 1” (an older paradigm of scientific work, driven by academically exclusive, investigator-initiated, and discipline-based forms of knowledge production) and “Mode 2,” the kinds of context-driven, problem-focused, and interdisciplinary forms of knowledge production that are central to some of the most successful fields in science today, like computer science, engineering, and medicine.

From this perspective, all centers can benefit from doing some basic science, and all departments can benefit from more engagement.

I would suggest much of the work done in journalism studies today often aspires to the inwards-looking “Mode 1” model, whereas work done in extra-departmental interdisciplinary centers aspires to “Mode 2” forms of knowledge production in ways that tend to encourage engagement with an evolving set of both inside and outside partners and focus on contemporary issues.

The difference here is not between basic and applied research, or between intellectual substance and practical application, but in how questions are asked, why, how work is done, and how it is published.

At the Reuters Institute, for example, we combine self-published fast turn-around reports with peer-reviewed articles in top outlets like the Journal of Communication and New Media & Society.

Similarly, many other academics who spoke (and listened) at the International Journalism Festival combine a focus on scholarly work with a real commitment to engagement with practitioners, whether already established figures like Charlie Beckett and Regina Lawrence, people like Nikki Usher and Ruthie Palmer from my own generation, or PhD students like Lisa-Maria Neudert and Philip di Salvo. If we as a field are serious about engaging in the discussion, learning from and sharing with journalists, policymakers, and the public, we should recognize and celebrate those who do, especially early career researchers who are frankly taking a risk – one I think they should and will be rewarded for – when they take out time to attend things like this rather than trying to crank out yet another peer-reviewed journal article.

Both “Mode 1” and “Mode 2“forms of knowledge production have different strengths and weaknesses, but there is no doubt which one prioritize engagement the most, nor which of them privilege what former ERC President Helga Nowotny has called “social robustness”, the aim of producing “robust knowledge” that is relevant to and accepted by actors in the context of its application.

My own view is that “Mode 2” offers a very promising model of knowledge production for journalism studies if we wish to produce knowledge that is relevant and robust in addition to being distinct, valuable, and reliable.

From this perspective, more engagement would not be distraction for journalism studies, but a way of enriching our work, while also making a greater contribution to public debate, and perhaps to the public. I think this has great potential, for journalism studies as a field, and for the discussion around journalism, and hope many more academics will join.

At its best, journalism studies can be an important part of the conversation about the future of journalism.

But to do so, we need to start showing up, listening to and learning from those already engaged in the discussion, integrate such engagement in what we do and what we value as a field, and work hard to make sure that our work brings independent evidence and insight to the issues of the day.

As John F. Kennedy is supposed to have said, “Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try.” I suggest academics interested in engaging more with those most active in the discussion around the future of journalism, and learning from this conversation start by showing up in greater numbers.

Perhaps try it by coming to the IJF in Perugia next year? It’s April 3-7. Mark your calendar. I’ve marked mine. I hope to see you there.

Notes

[1] I’ve written about similar issues in the field of political communication research here.

[2] This is not a formal content analysis and done quickly on my own by looking through all speakers and categorizing them on the basis of their stated affiliation. The definition of “academic” means that Aron Pilhofer, who does not have a PhD but does important work at Temple University, is counted as an academic, while Guy Berger, who is an accomplished academic but works for UNESCO, does not (nor does Alan Rusbridger who at the University of Oxford, but as Principal of Lady Margaret Hall). I have coded people by the institutional affiliation they provide, not their country of origin.

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How much time do people spend with news across media?

How much time do people on average spend with news on a daily basis? A few weeks back, Chris Moran from the Guardian asked this seemingly simply question to which I did not know, but wanted to know, the answer.

Moran

 

There are at least three immediate problems in answering the question. First, people won’t necessarily agree on what precisely constitutes news versus other genres (opinion, sport, culture, etc.), second, we don’t have consistent reliable data across platforms (digital, broadcast, print) and, third, the best available source of consistent data across platforms, surveys, relies on self-reporting, which is notoriously plagued by problems of social desirability bias and inaccurate recall. (Markus Prior compared surveys with behavioural data for TV and found that surveys on average exaggerate news consumption by a factor of three.)

I am going to ignore these three problems here (because we can’t solve them at the moment), as well as the many others that complicate a precise and robust result, and try to give a minimal viable answer to Chris’ rather relevant question. I will offer a high estimate based on generous assumptions and a low estimate based on more conservative assumptions. The figures for the UK in 2016 are, 74 minutes and 25 minutes, depending on assumptions, and for the US 72 minutes and 24 minutes.

stacked bar

I will caveat the estimates further by saying that (1) that time spent does not mean “devote” as in Chris’ original question, as much media use involve multi-tasking, either dual screening with multiple media (about 1/5 of media use according to Ofcom) or using media while also doing something else, and  (2) statistically, we know that “no one is average”, so there will be significant variation most importantly probably by age, interest, and socio-economic class—but I will stick to averages here for a simple overview with simple assumptions.

Enough caveats—here is what the estimates above are based on. First, an estimate of what percentage of time spend on specific media platforms (television, radio, etc.) people spend on news. Second, up-to-date data on how much time people spend with specific media platforms. The high estimates treat the self-reported data as relatively reliable. Third, the low estimate simply divide self-reported figures by three as per Prior’s finding.

The steps then are as follows—

 

First, the estimate of time spent with news.

The most recent publicly available study based on a single consistent source of data that estimates time spent with news that I know of is from the Pew Research Center in the US. In 2010, they surveyed Americans to learn how much time they spent with news on various platforms, including television, radio, print, and online. Using data from this study on the number of minutes Americans said they spent with news on various media platforms and data from eMarketer on how much time American spent in total with the same various media platforms allow us to calculate the percentage of time spent with news on each platform—e.g. in 2010, Pew finds that people on average spend 32 minutes with television news on a daily basis, and eMarketer reports people spend 4 hours and 24 minutes watching television, so television news accounts for 12 percent of viewing time.

So here is what we get. In 2010 in the United States in, the average time spend with news by medium was—

32 minutes of television news (12% of 4:24 average viewing time)

13 minutes of digital news (7% of 3:14 spent with digital media across desktop, smartphone, and tablet)

10 minutes of print news (20% of 0:50 spent with print)

15 minutes of radio news (16% of 1:36 spent with radio)

70 minutes in total (about 11 % of the 10 hours and 42 minutes eMarketer estimated Americans spend with media daily in 2010).

 

Second, up-to-date data on time spend with specific media platforms.

For this, I use Ofcom’s Digital Day study from 2016 for the UK and from eMarketer for the US. If we use the percentages calculated above as a reasonable approximation of how much time spend with a particular medium is spend specifically with news on average, we can calculate the average time spend with news by looking at people’s media use in 2016. (Strong public service media in the UK may mean that the US percentages are too low, as public service media tend to program more news at peak viewing times (documented by Toril Aalberg et al.) and reach wide audiences online.)

The estimates then look as follows—

UK 2016, based on data from Ofcom

38 minutes of TV news (12% of 5:13 viewing time)

19 minutes of digital news (7% of 4:27 spent with digital media across desktop, smartphone, and tablet)

5 minutes of print news (20% of 0:26 spent with print)

12 minutes of radio news (16% of 1:15 spent with radio)

74 minutes in total (this too is about 11% of the 10 hours and 52 minutes Ofcom estimated Brits spend with media daily in 2016).

 

US 2016, based on data from eMarketer

29 minutes of TV news (12% of 4:05 viewing time)

23 minutes of digital (7% of 5:25 spent with digital media across desktop, smartphone, and tablet)

6 minutes of print (20% of 0:28 spent with print)

14 minutes of radio (16% of 1:27 spent with radio)

72 minutes in total (so about 10% of the 12 hours and 5 minutes eMarketer estimated Americans spend with media daily in 2016).

 

The high estimates based on generous assumptions stop here.

 

Third, the low estimates in the figure above

These are based on more conservative assumptions by factoring in Prior’s finding, that people on average over-report by a factor of three (young people, rich people, and people with kids tend to over-report more than that—in some demographics by a factor of eight). The factor may be different in the UK but Prior’s estimate is the best I know of.

Looking specifically at the figure for digital, other sources based on tracking data rather than recall would support that. While the self-reported measures from Pew suggest that people in 2010 on average spent 7% of their time with digital media with news, tracking data from Nielsen suggest that the actual figure in 2011 was much lower, reportedly just 2.6%. This is close to the figure one would arrive at if factoring in Prior’s average over-reporting (2.3%). And some figures for how much time people spend with news across digital media are lower than that. (In the absence of robust data, I have not tried to account for possible difference in the share of news that people consume as part of various ways of using digital media, e.g. difference between desktop and mobile, or difference between news as a share of browsing on the open web versus as a share of time spent with social media—if people know of good data I would like to see it so I can update.)

 

So what?

Beyond giving high and low estimates of how much time people on average spend with news on a daily basis, these calculations also draw attention to a basic feature of the structural move from analogue to digital media: news is a much, much smaller share of what we do with digital media (at most 7% on average) than it is of what we do with older offline forms of media, including print (20%), radio (16%) and even television (12%). The move to a digital media environment with far fiercer competition for our attention is thus a move to an environment in which people spend more time with media, but almost certainly will spend less time with news—and this would be even more so if it wasn’t for products and services like search engines and social media that in their current form demonstrably drive incidental exposure to news when people use them for other purposes.

The powerful driving forces behind this shift are technology, which vastly expand supply, and our relative preferences, which determines the demand. And as Prior has shown in previous work on the move to cable television, while almost everyone is interested in news, most of us have many other things we are more interested in, so the more we get to choose from, the bigger the gulf between those who are most interested in news and those who are less interested in it. Media choice is good in many ways, but it also increases information inequality. And no media environment has ever offered us as many choices as we have today with digital media.

I am grateful to Richard Fletcher for his comments, suggestions, and assistance.

Dealing with digital intermediaries – article out

In a new article, “Dealing with digital intermediaries”, Sarah Anne Ganter and I examine relations between publishers and platform companies.

The article presents an in-depth case study and show that publishers’ relationships to platforms are characterized by a tension between (1) short-term, operational, often editorially led pursuit of the opportunities offered by both search and social to reach people and (2) more long-term strategic worries about whether publishers will become too dependent on platform companies, including worries over whether they will lose control over their editorial identity, access to user data, and central parts of their revenue models.

On the basis of interviews with senior editorial staff, people from management, and technologists, we show that the way the case organization handles its relationship with different platforms is shaped by a fear of missing out, by the difficulties of evaluating the risk/reward ratio of engaging with different initiatives developed by platform companies, and by a sense of a profound asymmetry as a large news media organization finds itself dealing with far larger platforms.

Ultimately, our analysis suggests that publishers are becoming simultaneously increasingly empowered by and dependent upon a small number of centrally placed and powerful digital platforms largely beyond their control.

The article is published in New Media & Society and available as open access here and here as PDF.

The work behind the piece was supported by the Tietgen Award that I received in 2014 from the DSEB.

Is social media use associated with more or less diverse news use?

By Richard Fletcher and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen

In the wake of the US election result in November and earlier in the year the outcome of the UK referendum on the European Union, some have argued that the rise of social media and its increasing role as a source of news have led to a world where people get less and less diverse information.

The terminology varies—echo chambers, filter bubbles, etc.—but the underlying concern is the same: that the rise of social media means that people get less diverse news from a narrower range of sources.

But is that actually the case? At the moment, we know surprisingly little about how people get news via social media, and how social media platforms might shape news consumption. Much of the current discussion is driven more by worry than by evidence.

Data from the 2015 Reuters Institute Digital News Report might shed some light on what is going on. It suggests that social media users in fact use significantly more different sources of news than non-users, thus challenging the filter bubble hypothesis.

While both social media use and social media functionality have evolved since the survey was in the field in 2015, it provides an important pointer as to the implications of social media use, because it helps us distinguish between the news diet of (1) people who intentionally use social media to get news (News users), (2) people who use social media for other purposes and come across news in the process (the Incidentally exposed), and (3) people who never see any news on social media, or do not use it at all (Non-users).

When we compare the number of online news sources (e.g. BBC News, the Mail Online, the New York Times app or website, etc.) each of these three groups said they had used in the last week, and compared them to those who do not use social media, we see that social media use is in fact associated with being exposed to significantly higher number of online news sources.

Importantly, both those social media users who use the platforms for news (News users) and those who use social media for other reasons and in the process come across news (the Incidentally exposed) get news from significantly more different online news sources than non-users.

The data presented in Figure 1 (for the UK) and Figure 2 (US) below clearly show how those who do not use social media (the blue bar of Non-users) on average come across news from significantly fewer different online sources than those who do use social media (the red bar of News users and the yellow bar of the Incidentally exposed). The figure for the incidentally exposed is particularly important because the data suggests that social media users typically receive a ‘boost’ in the number of news sources they use each week, even if they are not actually trying to consume more news.

us

UK.png

Furthermore, Figures 1 and 2 also show that the difference between those who intentionally use social media for news and those who are incidentally exposed is quite small; usually smaller than the gap between non-users and the incidentally exposed. In the case of Facebook in the UK, the gap is almost zero.

Put differently, the effect of incidental exposure is in some cases powerful enough to close gaps in news consumption between those who are motivated or interested enough to actively seek it out using social media, and those who use it for other purposes.

The data presented above are raw figures, but the patterns identified remain consistent even when we use regression analysis to control for demographic differences such as age, gender, income and education, as well as people’s level of trust and interest in the news. Social media use is thus associated with more diverse news use.

Of course, in some cases, using more different sources of online news will not in itself guarantee a more diverse news diet. It is possible that all the sources used by some respondents reflect the same basic political or ideological stance. A few respondents may use a high number of different but very similar, very partisan sources of news and thus still live in a filter bubble or echo chamber of sorts. Our data only captures the number of sources respondents say they have used in the past week, not the content they have actually consumed.

Nonetheless, in most cases, using significantly more different sources of online news is likely to result in a more diverse news diet, and social media users—both those who intentionally use social media for news and those who use the platforms for other purposes but come across news while on them—use more different sources of online news than people who do not use social media.

New edited book on local journalism out

Local journalismLocal Journalism: the decline of newspapers and the rise of digital media, has just been published by I.B. Tauris. It contains a range of analysis of local news media ecosystems, relations between local journalists and various other actors  in local communities, and of hyperlocal news sites across a range of high income democracies in the Western Europe and North America.

I edited this book because local journalism is important, because it is often overlooked by academics as well as in discussions around the future of journalism, and because the contributors to the book had some really interesting things to say about how local journalism is developing, including in terms of differences and similarities across various countries.

The first chapter is available for free download here, and the book can be purchased through the usual routes including the publisher or Amazon.

Full description, nice words of praise from Bob Franklin and David Ryfe, as well as the list of contributors and the table of contents all below.

Local Journalism: the decline of newspapers and the rise of digital media

Edited by: Rasmus Kleis Nielsen

For more than a century, local journalism has been taken almost for granted. But the twenty-first century has brought major challenges. The newspaper industry that has historically provided most local coverage is in decline and it is not yet clear whether digital media will sustain new forms of local journalism.

This book provides an international overview of the challenges facing changing forms of local journalism today. It identifies the central role that diminished newspapers still play in local media ecosystems, analyses relations between local journalists and politicians, government officials, community activists and ordinary citizens, and examines the uneven rise of new forms of digital local journalism. Together, the chapters present a multi-faceted portrait of the precarious present and uncertain future of local journalism in the Western world.

“This is a detailed, research-based and comparative account of developments in local news and journalism at a time of structural change and transition in local news ecosystems. It reasserts the significance of local news and journalism for local communities and their economic, political, social and cultural life and sets a benchmark for future studies of local news and journalism during a period of change and uncertainty.”

Bob Franklin, Professor of Journalism Studies, Cardiff University

“Journalism is changing, nowhere more rapidly than in locally produced news.  This book provides an on-the-ground glimpse of these changes as they are taking place across Europe, the UK, and the United States.  An invaluable snapshot of a fast-moving process…and an important touchstone for research yet to be done!”

David Ryfe, Director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Iowa

The contributors to the book are Andrew Williams (Cardiff University), Bengt Engan (University of Nordland), C. W. Anderson (CUNY-CSI), Dave Hart (Birmingham City University), David Domingo (Université Libre de Bruxelles), Emmanuel Marty (University of Nice Sophia Antipolis), Florence Le Cam (Université Libre de Bruxelles), Franck Bousquet (University of Toulouse), Jerome Turner (Birmingham City University), Julie Firmstone (University of Leeds), Marco van Kerkhoven (Utrecht University of Applied Sciences), Matthew Powers (University of Washington), Nancy Thumim (University of Leeds), Nikos Smyrnaios (University of Toulouse), Oliver Baisnee (Sciences Po, Toulouse), Piet Bakker (Utrecht University of Applied Sciences), Sandra Vera Zambrano (Sciences Po, Toulouse), and Stephen Coleman (University of Leeds).

Table of contents

  1. The Uncertain Future of Local Journalism (Rasmus Kleis Nielsen)

PART I – Local media ecosystems

  1. The News Crisis Compared: The Impact of the Journalism Crisis on Local News Ecosystems in Toulouse, France and Seattle, USA (Matthew Powers, Sandra Vera Zambrano, and Olivier Baisnée)
  2. Local newspapers as keystone media: the increased importance of diminished newspapers for local political information environments (Rasmus Kleis Nielsen)
  3. How News Travels: A Comparative Study of Local Media Ecosystems in Leeds (UK) and Philadelphia (US) (C.W. Anderson, Stephen Coleman, and Nancy Thumim)

PART II – Local journalism and its interlocutors

  1. The plurality of journalistic identities in local controversies (Florence Le Cam and David Domingo)
  2. Rethinking local communicative spaces: reflecting on the implications of digital media and citizen journalism for the role of local journalism in engaging citizens in local democracies (Julie Firmstone and Stephen Coleman)
  3. Perceived relevance of and trust in local media (Bengt Engan)

PART III – New forms of local media

  1. Between journalistic diversity and economic constraints: local pure players in Southern France (Nikos Smyrnaios, Emmanuel Marty, and Franck Bousquet)
  2. Hyperlocal with a Mission? Motivation, strategy, engagement (Marco van Kerkhoven and Piet Bakker)
  3. Filling the News Hole? UK community news and the crisis in local journalism (Andy Williams, Dave Harte, and Jerome Turner)

What are the keystone media in our information environment?

Later this month, I’m presenting a paper called “The Increasing Importance of Diminished Newspapers for Local Journalism?” at a conference on local journalism I’m organizing with Robert Picard at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

In the paper, I show how despite the fact that it is no longer a “mainstream medium” in terms of audience reach, the local newspaper in the community I study (Næstved, a mid-sized provincial Danish municipality with a population of 81,000) plays an absolutely central role in the wider local political information environment as by far the most important producer of ongoing, original, independently reported news about local affairs.

From the content I have coded, the newspaper accounts for 64% of all coverage of local politics, even in a community also served by two licence-fee funded regional public service broadcasters, several weekly freesheets, a community radio station, and shot through with national and international media as well as global online media like Google and Facebook. Furthermore, much of the (limited) local news content published by other media can be traced back to the newspaper.

I call the newspaper a “keystone medium” in the local political information environment, drawing an analogy to the idea of “keystone species” in conservation biology and zoology. There, the term is meant to capture the critical importance of particular species, who despite being only a small part of a larger interconnected ecology play an outsize role in defining the state and structure of the wider environment. In parallel, I define “keystone media” not in terms of their reach or ubiquity, but in terms of their systemic importance, their importance not for the majority of media users, but for the wider information environment they live in.

I’m thinking the notion of “keystone media” is a useful way of capturing the outsize importance of some entities in a wider environment and that it is an idea that works not only at the local level, but also nationally and internationally (think about news agencies, for example).

I’m not the first to point to the empirical fact that newspapers in many places play a central role in the production of news at the local level. In the US, for example the Project for Excellence in Journalism has done this in a study of Baltimore, Chris Anderson has done this in his great book on Philadelphia, and a series of community information case studies orchestrated by Tom Glaysier when he was still at the New America Foundation has done it.

But what I wanted to do is to make two particular points based on a close study on what sources of information are actually used in my case community and the information that these sources in turn produce and publish.

(1) Though the local newspaper is diminished in terms of reach and resources, it is ironically becoming more important for local information provision as other media pull out and cut their investment and no new providers have emerged. This is not simply a point about volume of production, but also about the environment in which things are produced.

(2) In community case studies done in the US people have generally found a vast ecology of other media outlets reusing and commenting upon news originally produced by local newspapers. That is not the case in the community studied here. Though several of the most widely used media sources of information about local politics in the community (including the regional public service broadcasters) in part base their coverage on stories first covered by the local newspaper, most of what the local newspaper covers does not make it any further in the news “food chain”–it is covered there, and nowhere else. Again, this is not simply a point about the newspaper, but about the environment in which it exists.

The notion of “keystone media” is meant to capture the structural (ecological, if you will) consequences of there being a newspaper in this community rather than there not being one (as in conservation biology).

The true importance of the paper in this community case study lies not in its role as a source of information seen from the users’ point of view (though about a third of the respondents in my survey data read the paper, very few identify the newspaper as their only important source of information about local politics), but as a producer of information that (a) matters because a small minority of it underlies the content produced by other media more widely used in the community but also, importantly, (b) matters because it is there at all, even when it has a limited readership and is not re-used and commented on elsewhere. (And we know from much media research that news coverage of public affairs can affect how politicians and government authorities behave even when the coverage does not routinely reach a large audience–the shadow of publicity is sometimes enough.)

In a time of more and more media, the local newspaper in this case play a structuring role for the entire local political information environment because–though it is only one of many media used as a source of information by citizens, and not a particularly widely used one–it is increasingly the only organization doing ongoing on-the-ground reporting on local public affairs. (Despite Danes having some of the highest levels of internet use and digital device ownership in the world, as well as being avid “joiners” in Robert Putnam’s parlance, active in any number of civic associations, Denmark has not seen the emergence very many significant non-profit or hyperlocal online-only news sources.)

In short, it plays a role as what I am currently thinking of as that of “keystone media” in our political information environments.

The full paper abstract is below. The paper is based on data from a larger research project on local political communication and municipal democracy in a changing media environment that I am pursuing with Nina Blom Andersen and Pernille Almlund from Roskilde University. This is work in progress, so I’d be curious to hear of people working with related ideas or people who think this is nonsense.

The increased importance of diminished newspapers for local journalism? – a case study of sources and producers of information in a digitally connected community

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen

Roskilde University and the University of Oxford

Paper for “Local journalism around the world: professional practices, economic foundations, and political implications”, February 27-28, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford.

ABSTRACT

On the basis of a mixed-method study combining survey data, content analysis, and semi-structured interviews done in a strategically chosen case community in Denmark, this paper shows that the local daily newspaper, despite its diminished audience reach and editorial resources, has become an increasingly important node in the circulation of independent and professionally produced news about local affairs as other news organizations have pulled out of the locality and no new providers have emerged. Citizens in the community studied have access to more and more media, but less and less news, most of it originating with a single news organization—the local daily newspaper. The study suggests that local newspapers—reporting across platforms but still sustained by their eroding print business—despite the well-known challenges they face in a changing and increasingly digital media environment, despite their dwindling editorial resources, and despite their diminished reach, may thus ironically become more important for local journalism as our media environment change, because they increasingly are the only organizations doing ongoing on-the-ground reporting on local public affairs. They are not so much mainstream media—for the majority does not rely directly on them for information, and most of what they produce is disseminated no farther than to their own readers—as keystone media in a local information environment, playing a critical role in the production and circulation of information with ecological consequences well beyond their own audience.

Local journalism around the world: professional practices, economic foundations, and political implications

Below the program for a conference I’m organizing with Professor Robert G. Picard at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism on local journalism, to be held at the end of the month. Tons of interesting stuff being presented, much to be discussed as we tend to focus on developments in international and national journalism though of course much of the profession and industry remains local and regional and journalism plays an important role in many local communities.

Local journalism around the world: professional practices, economic foundations, and political implications

February 26-28, 2014RISJ

Conference hashtag #localjourn

 

Conference overview

Most journalism is practiced—and most news media organizations are based—at the local level. Yet journalism studies overwhelmingly focus on national and international journalism and most debates over the future of journalism remains oriented towards a limited number of exceptional and often nationally or internationally-oriented news media organizations. This focus limits our ability to understand journalism and its role in society. This conference focuses on local journalism around the world, exploring professional practices, economic foundations, and the social and political implications of local journalism as it is actually practiced today.

The conference is focused in particular on how local journalism is impacted by current technological changes, changes in the media industries, and changed in local communities and local governments. It includes both case studies and comparative analysis, both within-country comparisons between different regions and cross-country comparisons between local journalism in different national contexts.

The conference is focused on empirically-based work that advances our understanding of local journalism both within and across individual countries, and brings together 32 papers presenting research on 16 countries around the world.

The presenters deal with topics including the work conditions and everyday practices of local journalists, relations between local journalists and local business and political elites, the role of local media as part of communities, the journalistic, economic, and democratic track-record of locally-oriented media of various kinds, the role of social networking sites and new mobile media in local news production and use, how existing local and regional news organizations are dealing with current changes in the media business, and with new alternatives to established forms of local journalism (including hyperlocal websites and local non-profits).

Conference organizers

Professor Robert G. Picard, Director of Research, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, Associate Professor of Political Communication, Roskilde University and Research Fellow, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

 

Program Details

Thursday February 27th (8.30-18.00)

Panel I – Local communicative spaces and media systems (9.15 – 11)

Rethinking local communicative spaces (Julie Firmstone and Stephen Coleman)

Normalization of journalism in local and regional American news systems (David Ryfe)

Increased importance of diminished newspapers for local journalism? (Rasmus Kleis Nielsen)

Local pure players in Southern France between journalistic diversity and economic constraints (Nikos Smyrnaios, Emmanuel Marty & Franck Bousquet)

Panel II – Local media ecosystems (11.15-13.00)

Mapping Local Media Ecosystems: A Comparative, Longitudinal, Cross-National Perspective (C. W. Anderson, Nancy Thumim, and Stephen Coleman)

Adaptation and innovation in metropolitan journalism: A comparative analysis of Toulouse, France and Seattle, Washington (USA) (Matt Powers, Sandra Vera Zambrano and Olivier Baisnee)

Narrating multiculturalism in Brussels (Florence Le Cam and David Domingo)

Ecosystem model applied to local media markets (Piet Bakker)

Panel III – Local journalism and local communities (14.00-15.45)

Are local newspaper chains local media? (Lenka Waschkova Cisarova)

Is it really homegrown? Understanding ‘local’ news in the digital age (Kristy Hess and Lisa Waller)

“Local” and “news” redefined (Bengt Engan)

Value of Hyperlocal Community News (Andy Williams, Dave Hart, Jerome Turner, Glyn Mottershead)

Panel IV – Local journalism opportunities (16.00-18.00)

Local identity in Print and Online News (Helle Sjoevag)

Localism as the new -ism? (Birgit Roe Mathiesen)

Local journalism–how online opportunities change professional practices (Sonja Kretzschmar and Verena Wassink)

I would cover this scandal if only I had the time (Roman Hummel, Susanne Kirchoff and Dimitri Prander)

Exploitation of technological developments from the Greek regional newspapers (Ioannis Angelou, Vasileios Katsaras and Andreas Veglis)

Friday February 28th (8.30-16.30)

Panel V – The business of local journalism (9.00-11.00)

Business approach and motivation of hyperlocals in the Netherlands (Marco van Kerkhoven and Piet Bakker)

Re-Inventing the Business of Community Journalism: New Models for the Digital Era (Penny Abernathy)

Evaluating Strategic Approaches to Competitive Displacement (Dobin Yim)

Local journalism as a business: comparative perspectives on commercial television stations in Serbia (Aleksanra Krstic)

Successful business models in local dailies (Antonis Skamnakis and George Tsouvakas)

Panel VI – Local journalism practices (11.15-13.15)

A print crisis or a local crisis (Ingela Wadbring and Annika Bergsstrom)

Local data journalism for newspapers in Germany (Andre Haller)

Participatory journalism in local newspapers in Germany (Annika Sehl)

Regional networking or not–use of Facebook by Dutch regional news media and their audiences (Sanne Hille and Piet Bakker)

Hyper local online media and influence of local politics in Dubrovnik (Mato Brautovic)

Panel VII – Local journalism in transition (14.00-16.00)

Intent and Practice are Seldom the Same Thing–study of third-sector journalism in UK and Germany (Daniel Mutibwa)

Interpreted Meaning of the Global Journalist (David Bockino)

YourAnonNews and Hashtag Leverage (Jonathan Albright and Amelia Acker)

Local media in a post-democratization context: the case study of local commercial radio in Serbia (Ana Milojevic and Aleksandra Ugrinic)

Role of social networking sites in Australian journalism production (Saba Bebawi and Diana Bossio)