Summary and Keywords
Cultural journalism is a subfield of journalism that encompasses what is known as arts journalism. While arts journalism is characterized by reviews, critique, news, and essays about the arts and popular culture, cultural journalism has a broader take on culture, including lifestyle issues, societal debate, and reflective ethical discussion by cultural personas or expressed in a literary style. Both arts and cultural journalists see their work as “journalism with a difference,” evoking different perspectives and worldviews from those dominating mainstream news reporting. At the same time, cultural journalism shares with journalism issues like boundary work, genre blurring, digitalization, globalization, professionalization, and “the crisis of journalism.” There are three main ways cultural journalism has been studied: one research strand defines cultural journalism as material produced by the cultural desks or material that is explicitly labelled cultural journalism; another defines it as journalism about culture, regardless of how it is labelled or produced; and a third strand includes only arts journalism, examining journalistic content on the fine arts and popular culture. Studies from all of these approaches are included in this article due to the effort to include a wide variety of countries at different time periods and an effort to track joint defining features and developments in cultural journalism. The emphasis is on the Nordic context, where the term “cultural journalism” is well established and where research is relatively comprehensive. The research is divided into three themes: the cultural public sphere and the contribution to democracy; cultural journalism’s professionalism and the challenges of digitalization; and transnational and global aspects of cultural journalism, including tendencies such as cultural homogenization and hybridization.
International research on cultural journalism as a subfield has been complicated by its varying designations (arts journalism, feuilleton, journalism about culture, entertainment), and its numerous aesthetic forms, disciplines, or types of culture, all of which are changing over time. Despite these issues, research points in the same direction: the amount of cultural journalism is increasing, and the boundaries against other types of journalism are becoming more porous. There is also a decline in editorial autonomy. In common with journalism, there is an increase in generalists working with culture and greater central managerial control in new multiplatform media organizations. The research points to an increase in a more transnationally oriented cultural journalism, mainly through a larger share of cultural news and popular culture—while its core, review and critique, has changed in character, or arguably lost ground. The increasing “newsification” of cultural journalism should prompt future research on whether the “watchdog” role vis-à-vis the cultural industries is growing. New forms of art and culture are beginning to get coverage, but also, in some cases, the intermixing of “lifestyle” with cultural journalism. The commercialization and celebrity aspects of this are clear, but new digital platforms have also enabled new voices and different formats of cultural journalism and a wider dissemination and intensity in cultural debates, all of which emphasize its democratic potential. New research on this subject appears to focus on the longitudinal changes in cultural journalism, the implications of digitalization and globalization, and cultural journalism in broadcasting.
Cultural journalism is a branch of journalism that has arts journalism at its core, but is broader in scope. While arts journalism is characterized by reviews, critique, news, and essays about the arts (Harries & Wahl-Jorgensen, 2007), cultural journalism has a broader take on culture, increasingly including entertainment and lifestyle issues (Kristensen & From, 2011; Fürsich, 2012). Moreover, it includes societal debate and ideological-political matters as discussed by cultural personas and intellectuals, or expressed in literary style (Kristensen & Roosvall, 2017; Riegert, Roosvall & Widholm, 2015; Reus & Harden, 2005). In this sense, cultural journalism is not necessarily defined by content, it is the artistic or literary perspective that matters, and who is producing it. As Golin and Cardoso (2009, p. 70) put it, detailing cultural journalism in Brazil: “[r]eporters, intellectuals and thinkers live together in [. . .] pages dedicated to the cultural field” and “[t]he result is a space that is different from the rest of the conventional journalistic production.”
This article describes how cultural journalism differs from other types of journalism, while also discussing issues it shares with journalism in general, such as boundary work, genre blurring, digitalization, globalization, professionalization, and the crisis of journalism. The crisis of journalism is sometimes defined as a crisis for democracy. In relation to this, it is useful to highlight cultural journalism’s contribution to democracy in a globalizing world. What is cultural journalism? How did it develop as a specific subfield? How does it contribute to the constitution of the journalistic field and to democracy? These questions are addressed via: 1) an historic overview of the evolution and characteristics of cultural journalism in different parts of the world, 2) an overview of themes in cultural journalism research: “the cultural public sphere and cultural debate,” “cultural journalism as a subfield: from differentiation to professionalization,” and “cultural globalization,” and 3) a critical research assessment.
Cultural journalism is especially pronounced in the Nordic countries (Kristensen & Riegert, 2017), but it is also identified as a journalistic subfield in other parts of Europe, such as Italy (Hainsworth, 2000), Portugal (da Silva & Silva, 2014) and Germany (Reus & Harden, 2005, 2015), as well as in South America (Golin & Cardoso, 2009). In the United States, the term “cultural journalism” is relatively seldom used; instead, “arts and entertainment,” “arts and lifestyle journalism,” “cultural news,” and “cultural reporting and criticism” appear (Szántó et al., 2004; Kristensen & From, 2011; Jaakkola, 2015a, p. 19).1 Since the term “cultural journalism” is mainly and most consistently used in the Nordic countries, and since the most comprehensive research has been conducted there, this article often takes these countries as examples, focusing on cultural journalism’s relatively prominent and longstanding role(s) there, and on the burgeoning Nordic cultural journalism research. It draws most extensively on examples from Sweden in section 1, since of the existing tentative historic reviews of cultural journalism in the Nordic countries, the Swedish context has been covered as far back as to the 1700s (albeit still not comprehensively).
There are three main approaches to cultural journalism as an object of study: research applying an institutional definition, examining material produced by the cultural desks and explicitly called “cultural journalism”; research that understands cultural journalism as journalism about culture, regardless of what desk has produced it or on what pages of a newspaper it appears; and research focusing on arts journalism, examining journalistic content on the fine arts and popular culture. This article draws most extensively on research applying the institutional definition, examining material produced by cultural desks, but also on research discussing journalism about culture, as long as this research uses the term “cultural journalism.” Furthermore, especially longitudinal research on arts journalism is included, since arts journalism constitutes a significant subarea of cultural journalism, even though arts journalism is not the main focus. Not included here is research on various forms of arts criticism within cultural journalism.
The Evolution of Cultural Journalism
A chronological trajectory begins with the predecessors of cultural journalism in the 1700s and early 1800s and proceeds, via the establishment of cultural journalism as a subfield of journalism in the second half of the 19th century and first half of the 20th, to the turn of the millennium. Later time periods are covered in the subsequent sections. The historiography here is by necessity unevenly distributed across time and space, as research is unevenly distributed and sparse. Moreover, the trajectory is determined by a focus on outlets, individuals, and aspects that highlight cultural journalism’s contribution to democracy in a globalizing world, and that relate to the three research strands discussed in the following sections: “The Cultural Public Sphere and Cultural Debate,” “Cultural Journalism as a Subfield: From Differentiation to Professionalization,” and “Cultural Globalization.”
Early expressions of cultural journalism can be traced back to the 18th century, when it became possible to make a living as a free writer on public affairs and work as a professional critic; the earliest examples occur in England (Elam, 2010; Nilsson, 1975, p. 32). By the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th, critique of theater, music and literature was a consistent feature in the daily press’ journalism in many parts of Europe. During this time, the establishment of newspapers was crucial for “the structural transformation of the bourgeois public sphere,” as Habermas (1962/1989) defines it, and a significant matter of discussion in this process was the novel. In Britain, The Spectator was particularly important for this development (Elam, 2010, p. 13). The Spectator was published in the 1710s and related to literary texts in two ways: it was literary text in itself, and it critiqued other literary texts (Black, 2008). This combination of reviewing and producing literary text is seen as a signifying trait of cultural journalism in the 20th and 21st centuries (Riegert et al., 2015). In Sweden, the newspaper Stockholmsposten, established in 1788, featured the country’s first theater critic in the late 1700s (Elam, 2010, pp. 13–14).2 Regular music criticism was also established in Swedish newspapers in the latter half of the 18th century, which preceded its establishment in the daily press in Germany in the first years of the 19th century, and in France slightly later (Widestedt, 2001, p. 21).
However, it was not until the mid-19th century that cultural journalism started to be viewed as a distinctive part of journalism. In Norway, this happened along with the rise of the modern newspaper at this time (Hovden, Larsen, & Nygaard, 2017). Concurrently, a kind of “cultural correspondent” appeared in the Swedish newspaper context, where for instance the author Carl Jonas Love Almqvist around 1840 reported for the daily Aftonbladet in the form of “letters” from Paris, mixing reviews with political discussions (Elam, 2010). Around the same time, the feuilleton, which emanated from France and Germany, entered Swedish newspapers with its mix of reviews, scientific, philosophical and literary essays, wider cultural debate, and the sort of fictional story series that later became known as feuilletons (Jaakkola, 2015a, pp. 19–20; Nilsson, 1975, pp. 35–37; Kristensen & Riegert, 2017). Thus, cultural journalism in Sweden was influenced by this wider scope of cultural coverage.
The type of cultural journalism that focuses more specifically on arts was at the same time thriving in France. The journal L’Artiste, founded in 1831, blossomed during the 1830s and 1840s. It is sometimes called the first art periodical. Roth (1989, p. 35) writes: “if L’Artiste was not the first journal devoted to art, it was the first one in which art began to be systematically isolated from the political, social, or moral polemics of the day.” In this sense, L’Artiste was a typical example of arts journalism, even if Roth (1989) calls it cultural journalism. L’Artiste was highly influenced by the Romantic idea of “l’art pour l’art,” art for art’s sake. This separated art from social and political action in a society otherwise characterized by politicization and revolution. An editor’s note featured in L’Artiste at the end of its first year stipulates: “We shall let the authors of the various unsolicited articles we receive defend themselves against objections addressed to them, and accept responsibility only for un-signed articles” (in Roth, 1989, p. 39). This underlines the importance of who writes cultural journalism (discussed further in the professionalization section). At the same time, L’Artiste “defined its legitimate boundaries not by mission but by subject matter” (Roth, 1989, p. 39). This differs from understandings of cultural journalism in the Nordic countries in the 20th and 21st centuries, understood as not defined by subject matter (Kristensen & Riegert, 2017).
During the 20th century, specific cultural pages, with their own vignettes, were gradually established in newspapers in the Nordic countries, as well as in some other parts of Europe and in South America. It is said that cultural journalism in Sweden found its form during the 1910s when it finally became inherently societal (Lundqvist, 2012), although it didn’t become a daily feature with its own vignette until the 1920s, and in some cases the 1930s/1940s (Lundqvist, 2012). In Finland, while individual reporters started being assigned to cultural issues during the first half of the 20th century, it took until the 1950s, when the differentiation of newsrooms took place on a broader scale, for cultural journalism to become a regular established beat (Hellman, Jaakkola, & Salokangas, 2017a; Keränen, 1984). Prior to this, cultural journalism was, according to Hurri (1993 in Hellman et al., 2017a, p. 53), permeated by politics (the 1940s and 1950s). Later years have shown evidence of, on one hand, the importance of “societal questions,” and on the other, a relative lack of political aspects in Finnish cultural journalism (Jaakkola, 2015a, p. 27; Hellman et al., 2017a).
In Italy, in the 1930s and 1940s, during fascist rule, cultural pages were a constant feature in the fascist weekly newspaper Il Bargello (Hainsworth, 2000). These pages were inherently political, while concurrently being devoted to high culture. Hainsworth (2000) notes that overall, ideological issues were not explicitly discussed in reviews, but “came more to the fore in the articles on broad cultural issues, which often included discussion of the relationship between the arts and politics [. . .]. As a rule these were longer and more prominently positioned than reviews [. . .] and were often given a certain vitality through being cast as an intervention in a debate” (p. 698). The underlining of debate and the connection between arts and politics in this fascist outlet, which is similar to genre and subject patterns in cultural journalism in democratic settings, illustrates that the political in cultural journalism is not necessarily used to reinforce democracy, but can be used for different purposes in different contexts.
The 1960s are often viewed as a specifically political decade. Shifting the attention back to Sweden once again, societal issues in Swedish cultural coverage increased hugely during the 1960s, and by the end of the decade societal material made up more than 30% of the cultural pages (Nilsson, 1974). During this time, cultural journalism started to reach broader audiences, outside of an educated elite, not only via newspapers but also through radio and television, as noted by Hovden, Larsen, and Nygaard (2017) regarding the Norwegian context. This coincides with a challenging of the highbrow in cultural journalism, where popular culture was given increased attention while fine arts lost some of their privilege. This broadening of the scope of cultural journalism, targeting audiences outside of the elites, also characterizes the rest of the Nordic countries at this time (Kristensen & Riegert, 2017).
Similarly, around the same time in Brazil, a “profusion of literary supplements and similar periodicals, inserted in important Brazilian papers, takes place in the 1950s and 1960s” (Golin & Cardoso, 2009, p. 71). This lays the ground for a “revolution of critique” at the end of the 1960s; subsequently, in the 1970s journalists with university degrees “claimed the journalistic space, attacking the hermetic language, the argumentative logics, the jargon and the technical excesses of scholars” (Sussekind, 2003, pp. 31–35, in Golin & Cardoso, 2009, p. 71).
In Sweden, however, the final migration of popular culture to the cultural pages did not take place until the 1990s, and it is still kept at bay in certain outlets (see, e.g., Hemer, 2010; Lundqvist, 2012). The loss of autonomy at cultural journalism desks and a blurring of genres followed in the wake of the merging of entertainment pages and cultural pages at a time of increased competition in the media market. In the wake of this, there is evidence from several countries that cultural journalism’s focus on high arts is decreasing (Hovden et al., 2017; Larsen, 2008; Lund, 2005). US studies of arts journalism show that reviews are decreasing overall during the same time, as the share of reviews between the end of the 1990s and early 2000s drops (Szántó et al., 2004, pp. 13–14).
Nevertheless, cultural journalism is still in the 2000s characterized by assessment of symbolic production. Drawing on its “interpretative legitimacy,” cultural journalism defends ideas and schools of thought, thus forming a public space for intellectual production and constituting an interpretative platform dealing with not only culture but also ideas (Golin & Cardoso, 2009, p. 70, on Brazilian cultural journalism). Thereby it is closely connected to the “interpretative turn” in journalism (Barnhurst, 2014), and may have good opportunities to survive the crisis of journalism, which could otherwise be detrimental to what is sometimes considered a “soft” type of journalism (Kristensen & From, 2015b).
Cultural journalism over time and across the world is varied. There are, however, some joint defining features: the mixing of arts, culture, and broader societal and political issues, which are discussed by cultural personas or viewed through a cultural “filter,” or more specifically discussed in relation to cultural-philosophical ideas and contexts. This is emblematic of most journalism that is explicitly called cultural journalism, and is most clearly and consistently pronounced in Norway and Sweden, but exists also throughout the Nordic countries (to different degrees at different times), across Europe, in South Africa (though it is called arts journalism there), in South America, and in specific media outlets in the United States. Cultural journalism understood in this sense includes multiple genres such as reviews, essays, reportage, news, interviews, and opinion/debate. Some of the differences that were revealed in this section can be connected to the inconsistent use of the terms “arts journalism” and “cultural journalism,” in the media as well as in research. Such variation pertains, however, to many journalistic sections across time and space and the way they are investigated in journalism research (see for instance the use of “foreign news,” “international news,” “world news,” etc.).
The Cultural Public Sphere and Cultural Debate
Cultural journalism is a key site for information, evaluation, and reflection in what the scholars in this section call the cultural public sphere. All the genres of cultural journalism—both the subjective and the more objective ones—are potentially important for the cultural public sphere. However, opinion, critique, and debate articles are perhaps the most obvious contributors. The notion of the cultural public sphere builds on Jürgen Habermas’s description of the 18th-century “literary” public sphere, which originated with the rise of literary salons where people gathered to read, criticize, and debate literary pieces or art works (Gripsrud, 2017, 2008). As McGuigan (2005) describes it:
[. . .]according to Habermas, disquisition on the social role of literature and philosophical reflection in the broadest sense prepared the ground for legitimate public controversy over current events[. . .] The literary public sphere was not about transient news—the stuff of journalism—that is, the usual focus of attention for the political public sphere. Typically, complex reflection upon the chronic and persistent problems of life, meaning and representation, which is characteristic of art, works on a different timescale. (p. 430).
Aside from the difference in types of issues, Jostein Gripsrud (2017, p. 184) posits that the cultural public sphere accomplishes other functions than the political public sphere, namely identity, empathy, and argumentation. Identity refers to the cultural public sphere building a set of shared experiences, which establishes belonging (in subgroups or national identity). Empathy is about nourishing an understanding of different human experiences, which develops a person’s ability to put oneself in another’s shoes. Argumentation points to the fact that literature or artworks themselves provide a specific point of view of the world and give voice to certain experiences in the public domain. Thus, the cultural public sphere is not limited to the arts and culture, but intersects with political, philosophical, economic, and social domains (Knapskog & Larsen, 2008). This is because the boundaries between the cultural and political public spheres are not necessarily that clear, especially during times when art becomes explicitly critical to social and political life or in authoritarian societies when art is forced into the service of government.
However, in contrast to the political public sphere with its emphasis on critical-rational debate, McGuigan writes, “[t]he concept of a cultural public sphere refers to the articulation of politics, public and personal, as a contested terrain through affective (aesthetic and emotional) modes of communication” (2005, p. 435). These modes of communication could, for example, refer to common cultural journalism genres such as open letters, critique, debates, or essays demonstrating a minority point of view, written by authors and intellectuals, or criticism of dominant societal tropes that someone wants to dispute.
Regarding affective communication in the cultural public sphere, cultural press debates have shown tendencies similar to Chantal Mouffe’s (2005) notion of agonistic democracy rather than to the Habermasian deliberative democracy (Kristensen & Roosvall, 2017). While both conceive of argument as key, the former stresses the importance of confrontation rather than consensus. Further, Mouffe argues that while “politics” is restricted to certain designated institutions, “the political” takes place in numerous societal venues and thus invites more ideological alternatives, where antagonism and pluralism play greater roles. She argues that artistic practices have the potential to unsettle the ideological hegemony of the “post-political condition,” in which conformism and universalism repress the political agonism necessary for meaningful democracy.
Kristensen and Roosvall (2017) use Mouffe’s notion of agonism when comparing Swedish and Danish newspapers’ editorial and cultural debates following the Charlie Hebdo and Copenhagen terrorist attacks in early 2015. The editorial pages had more polarizing antagonistic worldviews, whereas the cultural debates had more agonistic and pluralistic tendencies, since the latter drew on cultural, political, and philosophical contexts more than other opinion articles. Wallentin and Ekecrantz (2007, p. 198) found that cultural debate articles about the Mohammed cartoons were “more reflective, interpretational or explanatory” than political editorials, which tended to be more polarized. There is, however, reason to believe that other parts of the cultural public sphere, such as public service media, do not embrace agonistic argumentation to the same extent. Riegert et al. (2015) found that cultural editors at Swedish public service broadcasting organizations saw their remit as presenting “alternative ways of thinking,” giving “insights not opinions,” providing experiences and touching emotions, which highlights the identification and empathy functions of the cultural public sphere rather than argumentation.
Cultural journalism can, Gripsrud writes, at its best contribute to “sustained argumentation and critical reflection on the subject matter in question,” at its worst it can uncritically serve the advertising interests of cultural institutions or media entertainment producers (2017, p. 182). As noted in the next section, cultural journalists have had important roles as cultural intermediaries (Bourdieu, 1984) or cultural mediators between cultural production and consumption (Janssen & Verboord, 2015; Kristensen, 2017).
Cultural Journalism as a Subfield: From Differentiation to Professionalization
A growing body of international scholarship has analyzed the distinctive role of cultural journalism in light of the broader professionalization of the journalistic field. Culture and arts journalism, as we have seen, is distinguished from the journalistic field in several ways, but research has also shown that these distinctions have been increasingly blurred over time. The concept of field, as it is used in this research, draws on the work originally developed by Pierre Bourdieu (1984), who explored semi-autonomous and increasingly specialized societal spheres such as the fields of politics, religion, economy, and cultural production. Fields are characterized by internal discursive struggles as well as external “relational competition,” where individuals and organizations mobilize different forms of economic and cultural capital in order to maintain influence and expand their competitive advantages (Benson & Neveu, 2005). By establishing and prioritizing specific forms of cultural and economic capital, journalism has established itself as a societal field in its own right, governed by specific and relatively homogenous rules and principles of action.
Professionalization, in this context, refers to the historical process by which journalism has been consolidated as coherent profession, defined for example by the development of a specific education, ethical standards, and autonomy vis-à-vis the state and various organized societal interests (cf. Waisbord, 2013). Another side of professionalization is the development of a general “occupational ideology,” defined by values such as public service, objectivity, common ethics, and immediacy (Deuze, 2005). Research has shown that professional values are generally shared among journalists in large parts of the world, although the ways in which these values are implemented or “translated” into daily working practices may differ between media systems and journalism cultures (Hallin & Mancini, 2004; Hanitzsch, 2007). However, cultural journalism has proved to be an anomaly, partly due to its close relationship with the cultural field and partly due to its unique set of genres and writing styles. While the general journalistic field has been increasingly professionalized in terms of education,3 cultural desks have by tradition been more open, recruiting both journalists, artists, academics, and public intellectuals (Kristensen & From, 2012; Sarrimo, 2017). Moreover, a characteristic of cultural journalists is that they have higher and more varied academic merits than news journalists, yet their education may not necessarily include studies in journalism specifically (Hovden & Knapskog, 2015; Kristensen & Riegert, 2017).
Closeness to the cultural field is an important resource that cultural journalists capitalize on in their role as intermediaries or mediators between cultural producers and audiences/consumers. Research on the intermediary function of cultural journalism dates back to the work of Pierre Bourdieu (1984), who referred to cultural intermediaries (for example critics, TV producers, journalists, and editors) primarily in terms of their power to ascribe symbolic and economic value to cultural products, thereby shaping public perceptions of cultural artefacts, including distinctions between good and bad taste.
Janssen and Verboord (2015) have distinguished seven different practices of cultural mediation, of which five are specifically relevant in the context of cultural journalism (see also Kristensen, 2017). As gatekeepers, cultural journalists include and exclude cultural products and actors from the media spotlight (a function they have in common with news journalists who operate primarily in relation to the political and economic fields). As connectors and networkers, they cultivate social relationships and necessary links between producers, media institutions, and audiences. As sellers/marketers, they provide a mediated public space necessary for consumption to take place on a massive scale. Cultural journalism also functions as distributor of cultural content, for example in the form of music radio and embedded content on online news sites. Lastly, cultural journalists operate as evaluators, classifiers, and meaning-makers, terms which refer first and foremost to their roles as reviewers, chroniclers, and “tastemakers.” In that capacity, they rely on their specific field expertise and the distinctive genres of cultural journalism, which enable them to obtain professional autonomy within the journalistic field as well as recognition in the broader cultural field (Janssen & Verboord, 2015). However, the intimate relationship between cultural journalists and the cultural field has brought this professional autonomy into question. As “cultural patriots” they have been blamed for lacking critical distance from their sources (Hovden & Knapskog, 2015), and cultural journalists may build their expertise in the field on their roles as active cultural producers. Moreover, Kristensen (2017) has argued that cultural journalism carries signs of “churnalism,” by which she means a tendency to recycle information from sources with little or no attempt to verify or critically examine it. However, she also observes that while information subsidies seem to play a noticeable role in the previewing, reporting, and reviewing of art and culture, some journalists resist such tendencies by “applying a meta-reflective and analytical approach to the commercial strategies of the culture industries” (Kristensen, 2017, p. 14).
The Dual Professionalism of Cultural Journalism
Besides differences in professional autonomy, researchers have identified central value contradictions between cultural journalism and the broader journalistic field. Field theory is a useful concept to pinpoint what unites as well as what divides the journalistic field (Marchetti, 2005). The most overarching difference between cultural journalism and news journalism is that the former is grounded in evaluation, opinionated criticism, and a subjective voice, aspects that do not resonate well with ideals of objectivity and neutral representations of reality (Deuze, 2005). In fact, the demarcation between culture and news has proved to be a central resource for cultural journalists in the cultivation of a distinct professional identity. In international research, such processes have been labelled “journalism with a difference” (Forde, 2003), “arts exceptionalism” (Harries & Wahl-Jorgensen, 2007) or simply “cultural elitism” (Hovden & Knapskog, 2008). However, with the gradual expansion of cultural journalism and the inclusion of more arts forms and popular culture, especially from the 1990s onward, its boundaries have become more porous. This has prompted scholars to refer to cultural journalism as having a “dual professionalism” which has been conceptualized as two paradigms, the aesthetic and the journalistic (Jaakkola, 2015a; Hellman & Jaakkola, 2012). Inspired by Bourdieu, Marchetti (2005) says the journalistic field is organized around the opposition between a generalist pole and a specialized pole, where the latter represents specific knowledge and competence in a certain area and the former refers to journalists doing the everyday reporting. The aesthetic and journalistic paradigms can be seen as a heuristic device to define how this divide materializes within cultural journalism as a subfield. The journalistic paradigm represents the professional ideals and practices of news journalism applied in a cultural context (e.g., “news about culture,” interviews, and portraits), whereas the aesthetic paradigm is connected to informed criticism and particularly the review genre. According to Hellman and Jaakkola (2012), the journalists of the journalistic paradigm prioritize a political/democratic referential system, base arguments on common sense (the separation of facts from fiction), and employ a proactive approach to culture in their work. This is contrasted to the reviewers and critics of the aesthetic paradigm, who promote quality in the arts; base arguments on field expertise, emotionality and experience; and employ a primarily retrospective approach to culture. Typical for journalists of the latter category is that they see themselves as “representatives of the artistic field in the newspaper rather than as representative of the journalistic field in the arts” (Hellman & Jaakkola, 2012, p. 785). Thus, members of the aesthetic paradigm actively strive for autonomy from the journalistic paradigm. It should be noted that the degree to which those working in the aesthetic paradigm focus on artistic expression varies between countries. Societal critique has, for example, had a central position in Swedish (and Norwegian) cultural public spheres (Hellman et al., 2017b).
International research has pointed to a “newsification” of arts/cultural journalism over the latest decade, reflected in the increasing role of the journalistic paradigm and the decline of the aesthetic paradigm (Hellman & Jaakkola, 2012; Sarrimo, 2017). A similar development is also noted in the still very limited broadcasting research on cultural journalism: academics have been replaced by journalists, folkbildung by niche journalism, and education by providing an experience (Vik, 2008). On a general level, this represents broader media industry changes toward a more integrated and streamlined production where multi-skilled journalists replace beat reporters in all types of journalism departments (Reich & Godler, 2017). A larger share of the coverage has also been assigned to freelancers or wire services than before (Szántó, Levy & Tyndall, 2004), and central management has taken tighter control over the cultural desks (Jaakkola, 2015a).
Longitudinal research demonstrates that arts and cultural journalism have expanded considerably in newspapers, especially during the 1990s, when special interest sections and supplements became more common in many European newspapers (Kristensen, 2010; Heikkilä et al., 2017). This is attributed to the international flow in media cultural products, growth in advertising funds, the increased education of readers, and the general expansion of newspapers until the late 1990s (Szántó et al., 2004). An increase in newer types of cultural coverage is directly related to this: service journalism (Eide & Knight, 1999) and lifestyle journalism (Hanusch, 2012)—consumer-oriented coverage guiding the “time-strapped reader” with listings and “capsule reviews,” or coverage that purports to guide cultural consumption in areas of travel, food, design, etc. (Kristensen & From, 2012)—as well as cultural news about media institutions, celebrity journalism, and background stories (Verboord & Janssen, 2015).
These changes are accompanied by long-standing debates, or what Jaakkola (2015b) called “a meta-narrative of crisis,” alleging a decline in cultural journalism. Some of the claims of the decline thesis have remained unsupported by longitudinal evidence. For some scholars, there is no long-term decline in the number and the amount of space devoted to reviews, but rather an increase in popular culture (Reus & Harden, 2005; Heikkilä et al., 2017). Other longitudinal studies, including France, Germany, the Netherlands, and several Nordic countries, have observed a shift in focus from classical music to popular music, and a general increase in film, popular music, and television fiction between 1955 and 2005 (Verboord & Janssen 2015; Larsen 2008). Verboord and Janssen (2015, p. 842) report a convergence in the “packaging” of arts journalism in four European countries between 1955 and 2005 toward cultural news and reviews, with little marked decline in reviews, rather an increase in other types of cultural articles such as background articles, many more illustrations, and a shift toward popular culture. Heikkilä et al. (2017, pp. 13–14) noted little sign of a crisis in six highbrow European newspapers between 1960 and 2010. Instead cultural journalism has expanded, reviews have not declined, but illustrations and “the commercial orientation of articles” have become prevalent. In a smaller sample of reviews in the same newspapers during the same time period, Heikkilä and Gronow (2018, p. 12) found that they have become more attractive to readers, more analytical and reflective, with a more personalized storytelling mode. These general findings coincide with the Nordic scholars’ work cited above. Thus, it seems that at least in the quality dailies of European countries, what is changing is the increase in popular art forms, the layout of the papers, and their general orientation, but the change up until 2010 across Europe was not as drastic for the aesthetic paradigm as the “meta-narrative of crisis” implies.
Cultural Critique and Convergence Culture
As indicated above, cultural journalism’s relationship with professionalization has always been complicated, and there are signs of both more and less professionalization over time and in different media. The more prevalent role of news genres and journalistic modes of writing in cultural journalism can be taken as an instance of strengthened professionalization in the sense that the workforce is becoming more homogenous. However, the converging digital media landscape where the boundaries between producers and consumers are dissolving poses new challenges to particularly the aesthetic paradigm. Online platforms allow for increased user participation, and the traditional cultural intermediaries of legacy media institutions are challenged by “amateurs” who provide new forms of cultural critique and guidance through blogs, social media, and websites built on collaboration with users. The rise of amateur criticism (Kristensen & From, 2015a) and post-industrial criticism (Kammer, 2015) has altered the relationship between critics and the cultural field, since expert knowledge and experience are no longer prerequisites for being a reviewer. This research asks whether “everyday amateurs” conduct cultural critique based on personal experiences and tastes grounded in their life worlds, as opposed to professional criticism, which is tied to cultural institutions and other prominent tastemakers in the cultural field. As Janssen and Verboord (2015) note, this development represents a new “bottom-up” practice of cultural selection and evaluation that breaks with old hierarchical practices, where critics tended to legitimize cultural preferences of higher-status groups. Kammer (2015, p. 883) says that while new amateur online criticism may reflect an “inclusive public sphere where private individuals express themselves and do engage in public discourse,” many “amateur” critics have a high degree of formal education and experience in aesthetic disciplines, which may mean that they simply reproduce established patterns of cultural elitism rather than representing something totally new. Hence, social media and participatory trends are central to understanding not only the challenges to journalism, but specifically to the authority of cultural critics within cultural journalism (Verboord, 2014; Kristensen & From, 2015b).
Cultural journalism and the cultural public sphere cannot be explained from within the confines of nation-states, even if national and local institutions, organizations, and cultures still play important roles. Like journalism in general, the factors affecting the development of cultural journalism must be situated within the metaprocesses of globalization, in its economic, political, and particularly cultural manifestations. There is a voluminous scholarly literature on cultural globalization, depending on what types of media and culture are dealt with (Hopper, 2007; Tomlinson, 1999; Crane, 2008). Different paradigms of cultural globalization purport to explain the outcomes of “the growing international diffusion, exchange and intermingling of cultural goods and media products” (Janssen, Kuipers, & Verboord, 2008, p. 720). Jan Nederveen Pieterse (2015) puts forward three theories about the consequences of cultural globalization: cultural differentialism (clash of civilizations), cultural convergence (homogenization), and hybridity (glocalization/creolization of culture), which all have bearing on various aspects of cultural journalism. The categories are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and studies of cultural journalism often highlight combinations of, for example, the homogenizing structures and flows with hybrid glocal specificities. The blurred boundaries between arts, culture, and lifestyle, the general increase in cultural news, and the changes in newspaper layout and focus that have taken place since the late 1990s–2000s all indicate greater global cultural convergence, due to the impact of media industry changes on journalism, and cultural journalism particularly. However, cultural journalism is also closely connected to local and national identities and cultural institutions (Szántó et al., 2004; Jaakkola, 2015b). This means that the remit of culture, and cultural journalism itself, differs depending on national/local contexts and the media organization in question. For example, “in post-apartheid South Africa the high/low art debate was further complicated by tensions between promotors and detractors of so-called Eurocentric/Western and African/indigenous arts and culture” (Botma, 2013, p. 17).
There are several studies that focus on varieties of hybridity in the content and production of cultural journalism in national contexts. Fürsich and Avant-Mier’s (2013) study points to how US world music reviews invite readers to consider issues such as migration, hybridity, racism, and diaspora, issues relating to cultural globalization framed in a popular writing style. Roosvall and Widholm’s (2018, pp. 1145–1147) study of transnationality in Swedish cultural journalism in the press and radio 1985–2015 shows that even when cultural stories focus on Sweden, other parts of the world are referred to and interconnected with Sweden in the majority of articles and segments sampled. Relating to Pieterse (2015), they found little sign of polarization over time, but an increase in homogenization could be inferred from the increasing number of stories from North America. Hybridization was also evident through the post-Westphalian framework of geographic scales, the explicit mention of multiculturalism (especially in 1995), and the frequency of mentions of ethnicity/race and nationality, especially in public service radio.
In another longitudinal study of US, Dutch, German, Polish, and French arts journalism (1955–2005), Janssen, Kuipers, and Verboord (2008) concluded that the “international orientation” of European cultural coverage had increased over the years. Similarly, this increase was not considered “more global,” but reflected the importance of certain core countries—a “cultural world system” centered on the United States and Europe. Regarding television, Kuipers (2011) concludes that there is a transnational culture of television buyers and producers in the form of common professional norms and practices and a common set of criteria. This didn’t undermine national television cultures as cultural intermediaries, but exists side by side with them. Thus, studies of cultural or arts journalism from a cultural globalization perspective often find that a national or local cultural journalism exists alongside the globalized circuit of cultural news coverage and evaluation.
From these studies, we can see that cultural and arts journalism has an international or transnational orientation, even if it focuses on mainly Europe and United States, and that cultural journalism in multiple countries exhibits both homogenizing and hybridizing processes of globalization, and despite the former tendencies, exhibits national and local differences accruing to the media landscapes and cultural public spheres in various settings.
Evaluation and Future Studies
Cultural journalism provides a unique contribution to democracy through the cultural public sphere. It provides alternative perspectives, critique, and reflection, and instigates important debates that differ in terms of style and content compared to other forms of journalism. As a whole, cultural journalism has been underresearched. This may be due to its varying international designations (arts journalism, feuilleton, journalism about culture, entertainment) and to the numerous aesthetic forms, disciplines, or types of culture it encompasses, which themselves are changing over time. This is compounded by the fact that the journalists may not self-identify as cultural journalists but as critics, writers, or intellectuals. Secondly, cultural journalism may have amorphous boundaries in relation to other journalistic sections in mainstream media organizations, against news and opinion on the one hand and entertainment/lifestyle on the other. This may further blur boundaries as “arts exceptionalism,” external expertise, and editorial autonomy are replaced by generalist journalists and greater central managerial control in this era of multiplatform media organizations (Hellman et al., 2017a). These are two issues that scholars need to pay attention to in order to further consolidate cultural journalism as a subfield of journalism research.
This article has not included the numerous studies of cultural criticism in specific art forms (film, literature, theater, or visual art), nor studies that focus on lifestyle journalism, which includes travel, food, and other types of consumption (see Hanusch, 2012). The focus has instead been to show how the steady increase and broadening of arts and cultural journalism identified in various countries has taken place through a larger share of cultural news and popular culture—while review and critique continues to be considered the core of the field. Due to the increase in “newsification” of cultural journalism, future research should investigate whether the “watchdog” role conception of the cultural industries is growing. Secondly, cultural journalism’s development from blurred distinctions between high and popular culture to the coverage of new art and cultural forms has also in some countries led to the inclusion of lifestyle adjacent to or intermixed with cultural journalism (Kristensen & From, 2012; Hellman et al., 2017b). This points to increasing commercialization and celebrity journalism undermining the more reflective aspects of cultural journalism, although digital platforms have also enabled new critical voices, different formats (Kristensen & From, 2015b), and a wider dissemination of cultural debates—on gender, democracy, religion, freedom of speech, and racism—which leak into the political public sphere. Although the research on the societal/political aspects of cultural journalism has been limited to a few countries (e.g., Riegert et al., 2015; Botma, 2013; Reus & Harden, 2005), the ease with which cultural debates gain “clicks” and “shares” appears to stand in direct contrast to the lack of those measures for arts criticism. What are the consequences of this agonism for cultural journalism?
Finally, it should be noted that few longitudinal studies include the period after 2010, when the European newspaper industry went through heavy contractions, something which affected journalism in general and cultural journalism in particular. Furthermore, there is a noticeable lack of research on cultural journalism in radio and television. Thus, future work should not only include the effects of digitalization and online cultural criticism, but also compare online to print and broadcasting media.
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(1.) In the United States, “cultural journalism” is sometimes used to describe “the collection and preservation of oral history, folklore and folklife of a locale” as used in, for example, student produced magazines (Olson & Hatcher, 1982, p. 46). This is not the definition used in this article.
(2.) As we trace predecessors of cultural journalism in the Nordic countries from the 18th century and onwards, it is noteworthy that Finland was a part of Sweden until 1809, and that Norway and Sweden were in a union until 1905. Studies/overviews, however, generally pertain to the separate countries. How far we can go back in covering cultural journalism depends on what research has been done on the respective countries.