Newsroom Integration As An Organizational Challenge: Approaches of European public service media from a comparative perspective

Newsroom integration has been a priority and a industry buzzword for more than a decade, but how far have European public service media actually integrated their newsrooms? In most cases, not very far.

In an article published in August by Journalism Studies, based on ongoing comparative, qualitative research that Annika Sehl, Alessio Cornia, and I are doing on how European news media are adapting to digital, we (with our colleague Lucas Graves), use interviews at a range of different European public service media to show only a small minority have in fact integrated their newsrooms, and that organizational legacies shape how they are dealing with digital, with especially those with a history of separation between media (as in France), between different channels (as in Italy), or a regional structure (as in Germany) have so far not really integrated.

Abstract below and article here.

In this paper, we examine to what extent public service media (PSM) in six European countries have integrated or are integrating their newsrooms in order to adapt to an increasingly digital media environment. Based on 67 interviews over two years with senior editors and managers, this study constitutes the largest comparative analysis of newsroom change among PSM organizations conducted to date. Despite much talk of “convergence”, our empirical analysis shows that full newsroom integration remains the exception in this sector. Although all of the PSM studied experience pressure to reorganize across platforms, only two have achieved high levels of newsroom integration. Our findings suggest that centralizing online news under a single operational roof — only recently undertaken and still incomplete at several PSM — is a necessary first step to more thorough editorial reorganization across platforms. Our data also shed light on the complex ways that internal and external variables combine to shape organizational change: in addition to organizational challenges, we highlight broader historical, political, and economic factors affecting how PSM have responded to rapid technological shifts in the media environment.

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‘We no longer live in a time of separation’: A comparative analysis of how editorial and commercial integration became a norm

Back in June, Journalism: Theory, Practice, Critique published an article based on the ongoing, comparative qualitative research Alessio Cornia, Annika Sehl, and I have been doing on how European news media are adapting to digital.

Based on interviews as 12 different private sector legacy news media, we show how many are rethinking the traditional separation of editorial and commercial operations, and that the increasing integration between editorial and commercial (not assimilation of editorial into commercial, not hierarchical relegation of editorial to commercial) is motivated by the same aspiration as the traditional separation: to ensure professional autonomy, only today that is pursued by working with other parts of the organization to jointly ensure commercial sustainability, rather than by trying to remain completely separate from commercial issues..

The abstract below and the article here.

The separation between editorial and business activities of news organisations has long been a fundamental norm of journalism. Journalists have traditionally considered this separation as both an ethical principle and an organisational solution to preserve their professional autonomy and isolate their newsrooms from profit-driven pressures exerted by advertising, sales and marketing departments. However, many news organisations are increasingly integrating their editorial and commercial operations. Based on 41 interviews conducted at 12 newspapers and commercial broadcasters in six European countries, we analyse how editors and business managers describe the changing relationship between their departments. Drawing on previous research on journalistic norms and change, we focus on how interviewees use rhetorical discourses and normative statements to de-construct traditional norms, build new professionally accepted norms and legitimise new working practices. We find, first, that the traditional norm of separation no longer plays the central role that it used to. Both editors and managers are working to foster a cultural change that is seen as a prerequisite for organisational adaptation to an increasingly challenging environment. Second, we find that a new norm of integration, based on the values of collaboration, adaptation and business thinking, has emerged. Third, we show how the interplay between declining and emerging norms involves a difficult negotiation. Whereas those committed to the traditional norm see commercial considerations as a threat to professional autonomy, our interviewees see the emerging norm as a new way of ensuring professional autonomy by working with other parts of the organisation to jointly ensure commercial sustainability.

Changes in Third-Party Content on European News Websites after GDPR

Working with RISJ colleagues Tim Libert (now at Carnegie Mellon) and Lucas Graves, I’ve worked on a short piece of research examining changes in third-party content and cookies on news sites across seven EU countries before and after GDPR.

Tim led the work using his tool webXray to collect and analyse a total of 10,168 page loads, nearly 1 million content requests, and 2.7 million cookies from April (pre-GDPR) and July (post-GDPR) across over 200 news sites.

We find that news sites continue to be deeply intertwined with a wide range of third parties, especially in advertising, social media, and the like, though there is some drop in the amount of third party content and cookies after GDPR.

The factsheet is here and abstract below.

This factsheet compares the prevalence of third-party web content and cookies on a selection of European news websites one month before and one month after the introduction of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).   To understand how news organisations may be adapting to the new privacy framework, prominent news websites in seven countries (Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, and the UK) were analysed during the months of April and again in July 2018.

While there is no change in the overall percentage of pages from news providers which contain some form of third-party content (99%) or third-party cookies (98%), we find a 22% drop in the number of cookies set without user consent and an observable decrease in third-party social media content.

Free Media Are Not “The Enemy Of The People”

“Confronting powerful politicians who attack free media is a start. But the real issue is how journalists and news organisations can gain and retain people’s trust. If free media are to win a fight that they never wanted, and hold power to account, they can only do so with the public on their side.”

Today, August 16, around 350 US based news organizations have published editorials challenging President Trump’s “enemy of the people”-rhetoric.

But the problem of powerful politicians actively attacking free media goes well beyond the US.

Self-styled strongmen all over the world, from Italy to India, from Poland to the Philippines, from Ecuador to South Africa are trying to bully journalists and news media into submission.

Free media are not “the enemy of the people” – to the contrary they can at their best inform the public and help them hold power to account. And that is precisely why they are under attack from politicians all over the world.

Standing up to that is not a partisan move, but a public commitment to the values that underpin journalism at its best, a plea that the public trusts trustworthy news media, and a commitment to delivering on and deserving that trust.

I’ve written about that for the European Journalism Observatory here, and why public trust is critical if journalism is to hold power to account.

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.

2018 International Journal of Press/Politics Book Award to “Political Journalism in Comparative Perspective”

I’m happy to announce that Erik Albæk (University of Southern Denmark), Arjen van Dalen (University of Southern Denmark), Nael Jebril (Bournemouth University) and Claes H. de Vreese (Universiteit van Amsterdam) have received the 2018 International Journal of Press/Politics Book Award for their book Political Journalism in Comparative Perspective (Cambridge University Press, 2014).9781107674608

Below is the official announcement of the award from the full award committee, which included Peter Van Aelst (as Chair of the ICA Political Communication Division), Henrik Örnebring (as Chair of the ICA Journalism Studies Division), and myself (as editor of the journal).

2018 International Journal of Press/Politics Book Award to “Political Journalism in Comparative Perspective”

It is frequently recognized that political communication research needs to be more systematically comparative to properly understand the interplay between news media and politics and its implications in different contexts. Actually pursuing such comparative research, especially across production, content, and effects, is much rarer. Because it is difficult, hard, and both time- and resource-consuming, we still often fall back on single-country case studies.

Political Journalism in Comparative Perspective is an impressive exception to the tendency to study political communication and journalism in individual countries in isolation.

Combining surveys of journalists, content analysis, and panel surveys of the public, the team behind it analyze several key aspects of the political communication process across a strategic sample of four systematically different high income democracies. The book demonstrates how these different national contexts create different kinds of political journalism, produces different kinds of news coverage of politics, with different implications for the role political journalism plays in democracy.

We are proud to honor it with the 2018 International Journal of Press/Politics Book Award on behalf of the journal and the award committee, which this year consisted of Peter Van Aelst (as Chair of the ICA Political Communication Division), Henrik Örnebring (as Chair of the ICA Journalism Studies Division), and myself (as editor of the journal).

This is the fourth year we give the IJPP Book Award, which we have instituted to honor “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.”

Books published within the last ten years are eligible for the award, and we had a very strong field of candidates, including a growing number of books focused on political communication and news media outside the high income democracies much scholarship has focused on in the past. This is a real testament to the theoretical creativity, methodological rigor, and growing internationalization of this field of research.

In this very strong field, the award committee agreed that Political Journalism in Comparative Perspective provides a powerful example of what truly comparative research can look like, with clear contributions based on an impressive combination of methods as well as intellectual engagement with work from across media sociology, journalism studies, and media effects research illustrating how political communication research can be enriched by engaging with adjacent and overlapping fields.

The book is also remarkable for its explicit engagement with normative issues based on a clear connection between empirical work and clearly articulated theories of democracy, noteworthy in a field where we often link our work with normative issues, but frequently without making our standards, or their basis, explicit.

I hope you’ll join me in congratulating the four authors. The award is simply a way for the community to recognize and highlight their contribution to the field.

What is journalism studies studying? (ICA 2018 edition)

I am at the International Communication Association 2018 annual meeting in Prague. It is arguably the single most important international academic conference for communications research, media studies, and, by extension, work on journalism.

This year, 130 individual papers have been accepted for presentation by the Journalism Studies Division after peer review (the acceptance rate is normally less than fifty percent, this year 45% for full papers).

The ICA papers, most of them work-in-progress, fresh, recent, up-to-date work by a wide range of academics studying journalism from a range of perspectives, from a range of backgrounds, from a range of countries, can provide the basis for at least a partial answer to the question of what journalism studies is actually studying today.

So I did a quick and subjective categorization of all the paper titles by topic, following a similar post I did at the 2017 Future of Journalism conference in Cardiff. (This is not a formal content analysis, and I did this on my own. For a more rigorous recent meta-analysis of the field, see this piece by Laura Ahva and Steen Steensen.)

The results are below. I categorized the 130 accepted papers by their title, and collapsed all topics with less than 5 papers into “other”. Because most codes have only 1 or 2 papers, this account for a large share, almost half.

The results I think are quite interesting – they give a sense of where academic research overlaps with pressing civic, professional, industry, and policy-maker concerns (and where it does not), and provides an illustration of how the academic community collectively gather around certain topics in bottom-up ways with little in terms of explicit, coordinated discussion of what “the field” “should do”.

ICAJS

Please note I coded only the full papers, not panel submissions—if we take these into account, including four full panels more or less directly related to discussions around “fake news” and “post-truth” etc, the overall picture is different, with various “fake news”-related papers then constituting the single largest group.

Because panel submissions are based on short abstracts, I would say they constitute expressions of academic intent, whereas full papers, which require a whole lot more work, constitute revealed preference, what academics have spent months of effort on. Crudely put, panels are what we’d maybe like to do, papers is what we have actually done.

In line with the thrust of the field at large, inequality and other barriers means that the bulk of the presentations are from and focused on high income democracies, so there are a whole range of issues around state censorship, freedom of expression, violence against journalists, media capture, and other very pressing issues that are largely absent.

Beyond that, some stand-out take-aways for me—

  • Has the “fake news” and “post-truth” moment passed already? (Or not found favour with reviewers?) At the 2017 Future of Journalism conference, 17% of all papers including some mention of these terms in the title, at ICA, the figure for full papers is 6%. (As noted above, the picture gets more complicated if we count the panels on this theme.) Perhaps this, like for example “citizen journalism” before it, will be a short boom driven by public and professional interest in a particular word more than something clearly anchored in academic work? Given how little empirical research we actually have on disinformation in many countries, and how urgently such work is needed to inform policy-making and industry responses (whether from the European Commission or from private companies like Facebook), if the moment has passed it may have passed too soon?
  • A lot of work on social media (most of it on Twitter, perhaps because of the availability bias, much less on Facebook and Instagram, a few on Chinese social media platforms). Most of this work is focused on social media content and social media use by professional journalists (for distribution, sourcing, audience engagement, etc). Very little work as far as I could see on the institutional implications of the rise of platforms. This is an issue I am personally very focused on and think is a defining issue of our time (see for example here).
  • Compared to the Future of Journalism papers, many more of the ICA papers are directly and identifiably rooted in established, long-standing areas of work in journalism research, including various forms of content analysis (discourse analysis and especially framing), news production, and professionalism, are much more explicitly evoke theoretical approaches (deliberation, mediatization, etc.), or directly and explicitly connect with other established areas of academic research like audience studies.

Some conspicuous absences?

  • Apart from one paper with the phrase “political economy” in the title I could not find any work on the business of journalism. I find that extraordinary, and extraordinarily troubling. The business models that funded most of journalism as we knew it are being fundamentally challenged by the move to digital media, the proliferation of choice for both audiences and advertisers, and the rise of platform companies, and yet while this underlying structural change influences so much of what journalism studies study, very few seem to study the change itself, how it plays out in different countries, or indeed how research might inform how the industry and the profession responds to this change. Many countries are looking into the sustainability of professional news production, for example in the UK through the governments’ Cairncross review of the sustainability of high quality journalism. If we want to be part of such important policy discussions, we need to engage directly with the underlying questions and bring independent, relevant, and robust evidence-based work to bear on them.
  • There are other issues, including around trust, partisanship, and information inequality, as well as forms of discrimination around for example gender and race, but on the whole I found more ICA papers on this than I saw at the Cardiff conference.
  • More broadly, journalism studies as a field overall seems more focused on studying journalists themselves, their work routines, their professional identity and role perception, and the content they produce than the institutional relations — with audiences, with business, with technology, with politics, etc — that constitutes journalism.

I’d be curious to hear what people think about this attempt to provide a rough overview.

I think we as a field produce some terrific research.

I think we probably also

  1. should argue more “outwards” (engaging with other fields, and other disciplines, as those connecting audience studies with journalism studies do) than “inwards” (talking most to and with other people who identify with journalism studies),
  2. would benefit from being less newsroom-centric and supplementing research on the actions and output of journalists with attention to the institutions that sustain and constrain journalism
  3. and could bring a lot more to public debate, public understanding of the issues of our time, and policymaking if we more often tackled these issues more directly on the basis of independent, relevant, evidence-based work.

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Keren Tenenboim-Weinblatt for sharing a spreadsheet with all accepted papers and some further context, including pointing me to the four panels on “fake news” and “post-truth”. She bears no responsibility for the analysis or the post.