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.
Oscar Westlund and Stephen Quinn
Journalism and news are so much a part of our lives that most societies take them for granted. To access the news, people have traditionally had to pay for newspapers or acquire television and radio receivers with accompanying licenses or cable subscriptions. To a large extent, accessing the news has been connected to specific physical domains, especially the home. The widespread diffusion of computers, the Web, and news sites that started in the mid-1990s has made news increasingly accessible, and over the past decade, mobile news has fueled this even more. Digital technologies have become an accepted part of our lives. Access to news and information is easier than ever, with an abundance of free news via connected and ubiquitous digital platforms. News is expensive to produce, however, creating concerns about future business models to support journalism. It means we cannot take journalism for granted. News media must produce content that is valuable to society.
Mobile devices and different forms of mobile media and communication have become integral parts of contemporary societies. The nexus of mobile media and reporting has become one of the most important developments for journalism. Research into mobile news production falls into two main strands. On the one hand, we find research taking an organizational approach, with studies of intra-organizational collaborations in developments of mobile services, what mobile platforms to use, business model considerations, and so forth. On the other hand, we encounter research focusing more specifically on news production among mobile journalists (so-called MoJos). For the working journalist, the mobile device has become the key tool for gathering information, images, and video, and for communicating with colleagues and sources.
Siebert, Peterson, and Schramm’s Four Theories of the Press has been a powerful influence on scholarship on comparative press systems and normative press theories in the years since its publication in 1956. Its appeal comes from the way it combined a history of Western development with a normative schema that is simple and teachable. Critics have pointed out the shortcomings of both its historical accounts and its theoretical structure, charging that the book expressed a Cold War mentality, elided non-Western and nonliberal theories and practices, and neglected the complicating dimensions of race, class, gender, and ethnicity. Critics also note that actual press systems are usually governed by hybrid norms, and that press systems are increasingly interconnected, overlapping, and global. Yet, Four Theories of the Press retains significant influence despite these criticisms. One reason is that no real replacement has appeared and it is unlikely that a new map of normative theories will win acceptance. The work emerged at a unique moment of Western liberal global hegemony and a successor would require a similar hegemonic moment.
Feature journalism has developed from being a marginal and subordinate supplement to (hard) news in newspapers to becoming a significant part of journalism on all platforms. It emerged as a key force driving the popularization and tabloidization of the press.
Feature journalism can be defined as a family of genres that share a common exigence, understood as a publicly recognized need to be entertained and connected with other people on a mainly emotional level by accounts of personal experiences that are related to contemporary events of perceived public interest. This exigence is articulated through three characteristics that have dominated feature journalism from the very beginning: It is intimate, in the sense that it portrays people and milieus in close detail and that it allows the journalist to be subjective and therefore intimate with his or her audience; it is literary in the sense that it is closely connected with the art of writing, narrativity, storytelling, and worlds of fiction; and it is adventurous, in the sense that it takes the audiences on journeys to meet people and places that are interesting.
Traditional and well-established genres of feature journalism include the human-interest story, feature reportage, and the profile, which all promote subjectivity and emotions as key ingredients in feature journalism in contrast to the norm of objectivity found in professional news journalism. Feature journalism therefore establishes a conflict of norms that has existed throughout the history of journalism.
Feature journalism has become an increasingly popular part of digital news outlets. Online newspapers have experimented with digital formats for feature journalism since the late 1990s, first with technology-driven multimedia feature journalism and later with story-driven long-form feature journalism. Since 2010, podcasts and online templates for long-form journalism have increased the popularity of digital feature journalism.
Kristina Riegert, Anna Roosvall, and Andreas Widholm
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.
Kristy Hess and Lisa Waller
There are more local news outlets operating around the world at any given moment than larger-scale metropolitan newsrooms, and yet it is the latter that have dominated journalism scholarship. As a specific area of inquiry, local journalism—often branded “community journalism” or “hyperlocal journalism”—is a relatively new but rapidly growing field of research in this period of digital disruption. Scholars argue that studying news at the local level can offer rich insights into the role and place of journalism more broadly and reveal much about why people engage with news. Local journalism has been highlighted for its distinct role in reinforcing notions of and building community and the importance of social and public connection among audiences. More recently, attention has shifted to business models sustaining local news given the turbulence facing traditional media and the rapid closure of long-serving local newspapers, especially in the United Kingdom. Scholars have also emphasized the importance of re-conceptualizing local news in a globalized and digital world, highlighting the continued relevance and importance of place to journalists and audiences. Sociology and political science have been the dominant lenses used to examine this sector; however, increasingly scholars are turning to cultural studies to understand the relationship between local news and audiences. Most recent research also indicates there is renewed optimism within the sector, especially among news providers who remain embedded and committed entirely to the local areas they serve.