Mart Ots and Robert G. Picard
Due to its function as a watchdog or fourth estate in democratic societies and a variety of commercial challenges, policy-makers have undertaken initiatives to support the production and distribution of news. Press subsidies are one such policy initiative that particularly aims to provide support to private news producers. Paid as direct cash handouts or indirect reduced taxes and fees, they exist in some form in almost every country in the world. Subsidies are not uncontroversial, their effectiveness is unclear, and their magnitude, designs, and areas of application, differ across nations and their unique economic, cultural, and political contexts.
After periods of declining political and public interest in media subsidies, the recent economic crisis of journalism, and the rising influence of various forms of click-bait, fake, native, or biased news on social media platforms, has brought state support of original journalism back on the agenda.
Jesper Strömbäck and Adam Shehata
Political journalism constitutes one of the most prominent domains of journalism, and is essential for the functioning of democracy. Ideally, political journalism should function as an information provider, watchdog, and forum for political discussions, thereby helping citizens understand political matters and help prevent abuses of power. The extent to which it does is, however, debated. Apart from normative ideals, political journalism is shaped by factors at several levels of analysis, including the system level, the media organizational level, and the individual level. Not least important for political journalism is the close, interdependent, and contentious relationship with political actors, shaping both the processes and the content of political journalism.
In terms of content, four key concepts in research on political journalism in Western democratic systems are the framing of politics as a strategic game, interpretive versus straight news, conflict framing and media negativity, and political or partisan bias. A review of research related to these four concepts suggests that political journalism has a strong tendency to frame politics as a strategic game rather than as issues, particularly during election campaigns; that interpretive journalism has become more common; that political journalism has a penchant for conflict framing and media negativity; and that there is only limited evidence that political journalism is influenced by political or partisan bias. Significantly more important than political or partisan bias are different structural and situational biases. In all these and other respects, there are important differences across countries and media systems, which follows from the notion that political journalism is always influenced by the media systems in which it is produced and consumed.
Lifestyle journalism is a significant and very substantial field of journalism. Unlike other fields of journalism, however, it has not been the focus of much scholarly debate. Providing audiences as it does with “news you can use,” it is often considered a supplement to breaking news, political news, and news on social and cultural conflicts. Lifestyle journalism has frequently been defined in opposition to the normative ideal of journalism and therefore in terms of what it is not. This means that it has often been defined from within other journalistic fields, or as a fusion of journalistic elements such as soft news, service journalism, consumer journalism, popular journalism, or even cultural journalism. Lifestyle journalism has also been an umbrella term for more specialized beats of journalism such as travel journalism, fashion journalism, or food journalism. But while lifestyle journalism is partly defined by the topics addressed, it is also characterized by specific genres or modes of addressing the audience (as consumers, for example). Common to a lot of characterizations is a strong connection with advertising and public relations, which means that lifestyle journalists often have been accused of running the errands of the market. For this reason the journalistic role and the self-perceptions of journalists in this field have been a special point of interest in the scholarly debate. In addition to being challenged from within journalism, the legitimacy is also challenged by the many new voices that participate in the field of lifestyle issues in a digital media landscape, a participation that increasingly blurs the boundaries between professionals and non-professionals.
The field of lifestyle journalism is, however, itself characterized by blurred boundaries, both between the various subfields and between soft and hard news. Genres traditionally used in hard news, for example, have been adapted to soft news, and topics such as health can in one context be presented as “soft news” (e.g., “how to improve your health”) but in others as “hard news” (e.g., “smoking causes economic expenses”). The relatively new practice of constructive journalism can serve as a case of how approaches associated with lifestyle and service journalism have migrated to more traditional hard news fields.
Journalism’s “social contract” refers to journalism’s role in democracy, primarily its obligations to inform the public and scrutinize government. The notion of a contract, however, entails the exchange of rights and obligations for mutual benefit. In this exchange, journalism enjoys the rights to free expression and publication, and it is obliged to cover the world fairly and accurately, providing citizens with the information they need to perform their roles as citizens. The notion of a social contract of the press is primarily rooted in liberal philosophy, though there is also a moral side to the contract that can be traced to republican theories of democracy. The question of reciprocity is central to the research on journalism’s social contract, primarily on the relationship between journalists and audiences, an area of research that is gaining traction as networked public spheres grow in importance as new venues of audience participation. Although the notion of a social contract is most visible in discussions of journalism ethics and professional practice, democratic media models also assume that journalism’s social contract constitutes an important conduit of democratic processes. As such, journalism’s social contract largely describes normative dimensions of journalism’s role in society, primarily embedded in notions related to the quality of information and an informed citizenry.
Fake news is not new, but the American presidential election in 2016 placed the phenomenon squarely onto the international agenda. Manipulation, disinformation, falseness, rumors, conspiracy theories—actions and behaviors that are frequently associated with the term—have existed as long as humans have communicated. Nevertheless, new communication technologies have allowed for new ways to produce, distribute, and consume fake news, which makes it harder to differentiate what information to trust. Fake news has typically been studied along four lines: Characterization, creation, circulation, and countering. How to characterize fake news has been a major concern in the research literature, as the definition of the term is disputed. By differentiating between intention and facticity, researchers have attempted to study different types of false information. Creation concerns the production of fake news, often produced with either a financial, political, or social motivation. The circulation of fake news refers to the different ways false information has been disseminated and amplified, often through communication technologies such as social media and search engines. Lastly, countering fake news addresses the multitude of approaches to detect and combat fake news on different levels, from legal, financial, and technical aspects to individuals’ media and information literacy and new fact-checking services.
Journalism can be defined as a communication process between producers and consumers. Traditionally, both ends have been addressed as separate spheres. Journalism and journalism studies developed around the study of journalism producers—that is, journalists and their professional identities and practices. The audience was long considered the end point of journalism; the public sphere was where journalism was consumed. Rather than also studying audiences’ news use practices, the audience was generally imagined as a mass of passive sensation seekers unappreciative of the value of good journalism and taken for granted as a result. This dichotomous view of users and producers has since then been challenged.
First, the inequality in attention given to producers over users was addressed during a sociological turn in the study of journalism since the 1990s. This “turn” inspired a series of seminal studies focusing on the audience of journalism, showing how layered people’s interpretative practices are and how these are contextually shaped. Although journalism studies in the 21st century still tend to orient their gaze more to producers than users, the audience’s part in shaping the role of journalism in society is being increasingly acknowledged.
In parallel, with the continuing advancements in information and communication technologies, the conceptual distinction between producers and users in itself was questioned. Whereas the role of audiences in producing news was already explored in studies of community media and public journalism, it was the adoption of digital media that led to the blurring of lines between media producers and users. This distinction has encouraged journalism researchers to explore practices such as citizen and participatory journalism, leading to new conceptions of the user/producer dimension in journalism.
The user/producer dimension in journalism may be blurred, but it has not dissolved. Especially from a more structural perspective, professional journalists and news organizations still have preferential access to the news ecosystem and larger impact on the policy agenda. Conceptually however, news users should be conceived as potential contributors to the production and distribution of journalism. As such, news users are not the end point of journalism but an essential part of it.
Funding of journalism has become a critical part of journalism and digital journalism studies because no single business model has emerged to solve revenue problems for print and digital news outlets. Despite newspapers’ efforts to expand their income sources, they have remained print reliant in terms of revenue. In 2017, approximately 80% of global news publishers’ revenue still came from print products. While some large news corporations such as The New York Times Co. and News Corp have reported substantial increases in their digital subscription numbers, revenue from subscriptions and digital advertising has not been substantial enough to fund their newsroom structures and journalism. In this context, academia has started to produce more research on news payment systems. Recent studies of payment systems have largely concentrated on people’s willingness to pay for news. Academic researchers have also studied paywall models, content, and revenue. Additionally, crowdfunding as a source of revenue for news has been investigated, and the research on membership models is expanding. Most of the studies about news payment systems have concluded that none of the news payment systems—including paywalls, micropayments, donations, and memberships—is (on its own) sustainable for funding future journalism. Paywall can be understood as a subscription model that limits the public’s access to all or to some digital news content without a payment. Micropayments allow readers to pay per article or per view. Memberships allow the public to access certain content (premium content) or extra services such as events for a fee. Donations refer to the public’s voluntary monetary contributions to produce news articles or projects to the news sites. News publishers have become increasingly dependent on social media platforms such as Facebook for their content distribution. However, there is still very little academic research about news payment systems related to Facebook or other social media companies. This may well be because there is no transparent information about this kind of revenue as the news industry itself is not reporting on it.
J. David Wolfgang
Shortly after its emergence as a tool for participatory journalism, online commenting became a popular format for audience public discourse and a subject of controversy for professional journalists. The early 21st century has seen a constant growth in research considering how online comments have influenced journalism by providing new ways to understand the perspective of the audience, by changing the routines and practices of the newsroom, and by encouraging a reconsideration of how content influences readers. News audiences, generally, have been relatively quiet and passive in the past, but online comments have given them the opportunity to speak alongside journalists on professional platforms. This shift in news-mediated public discourse has the potential to reshape the journalist−audience relationship in substantial ways. The research on commenting has provided new evidence on how journalistic practices are changing, how people perceive and process information online, and how journalists negotiate technological change while trying not to upend the profession. However, there is a need for more research that explores critical questions related to comment quality, changing journalistic norms, and the relationship between journalist identity and technology. Online commenting has the potential to help fulfill the journalistic norms of providing a space for public discourse and promoting diverse views from within the community. This potential, however, is reliant upon journalists who uphold the civic function of journalism’s role.
The relationship between journalists and their sources is central to journalism practice. It is a relationship based on a power struggle over the presentation of information to the public. The nature of that relationship continues to change in response to cultural, social, political, and technological circumstances. Historically, the relationship between journalists and sources has been predominantly characterized as interdependent, oscillating between cooperation and conflict over the control of information. However, the arrival of digital publishing platforms has significantly disrupted this mutually dependent exchange. It has blurred the boundaries between the two roles and released sources from their traditional reliance on journalists to disseminate their messages to citizens. Using digital platforms, sources have the option to bypass the traditional media and communicate directly with the public if it meets their strategic communication goals. Depending on whether the source is trying to reach a specific audience via social media or a wider audience via mass media, he or she can “opt-in” or “opt-out” of a traditional journalist-source relationship. The shift in power between reporters and sources poses a challenge to the authority and control of journalists who have lost their stranglehold over the means of publication. This change points to issues of accountability and scrutiny and raises questions about the ongoing relevance of journalism’s “fourth estate” role in democracy.
Jannie Møller Hartley
The focus of news-audience research has shifted from investigating news audiences of single platforms—such as newspapers, television, or radio news—to audiences in an inherently cross-media context; and from examining the audience as passive, choosing between content made available for them; to investigating what audiences do with the news more actively, often coined by the term “news engagement.”
News-audience studies can be divided into five approaches: (1) media-effect studies of news consumption; (2) studies of news-media use and motives; (3) cultural audience studies of news practices; (4) news audiences’ comprehension and recall of news; and (5) news engagement in the digital age.
Due to changes in the media landscape, both technological and commercial, traditional analytical models in news-audience research have been challenged. The final discussion addresses how a tendency to focus on either reducing audiences to quantifiable aggregates in big-data research or labeling news audiences as a thing of the past can be observed—in both cases removing news-audience research from actual empirical audiences.