In the past decade, academic and professional debates about media accountability have spread around the globe – but have done so in a fundamentally different framework. In many Western democracies, trust in media – along with trust in politics and trust in institutions – as eroded dramatically. Fundamental shifts regarding the patterns of media use and the structure of media and revenue markets have made media and journalism more exposed to criticism from various stakeholders, and more vulnerable to the strategic influence of national and international actors. While many “Western” media professionals have reacted to these challenges to its credibility by new initiatives to demonstrate accountability and transparency, policy makers in other countries even in the “Global North” have tightened their grip on independent media and gradually weakened the concept of self-control. At the same time, an ongoing democratization in many parts of the world, along with a de-regulation of media markets, has created a growing demand for self-regulation and media accountability in countries formerly characterized by rigid press control.
Claude-Jean Bertrand defined the development and current structures of accountability in journalism as “any non-State means of making media responsible towards the public.” Key aims of media accountability are “to improve the services of the media to the public; restore the prestige of media in the eyes of the population; diversely protect freedom of speech and press; obtain, for the profession, the autonomy that it needs to play its part in the expansion of democracy and the betterment of the fate of mankind.” Journalists and news outlets have a wide array of responses to professional, public, and political criticisms via press councils, ombudsmen, media criticism, and digital forms of media accountability, while online and offline media accountability instruments have distinct traditions in different media systems and journalism cultures.
Accuracy is a central norm in journalism and at the heart of the journalistic practice. As a norm, accuracy developed out of objectivity, and has therefore an Anglo-American origin. Nevertheless, the commitment to the rule of getting it right is shared among journalists across different journalistic cultures. The history of accuracy is closely related to other central concepts in journalism like truthfulness, factuality and credibility, because it raises epistemological questions of whether and how journalism is capable of depicting reality accurately, truthfully and based on fact. Accuracy plays a particularly important role with regard to the factuality of the journalistic discourse, as it forces journalists not only to ground their reporting on facts, but to check whether presented facts are true or not—which is reflected both in the description of the journalistic profession as the discipline of verification as well as the central relevance of accuracy for instruments of media self-regulation like press councils and codes of ethics.
Accuracy is an important standard to determine the quality of the news reporting. In fact, many studies, most of them carried out Western democracies, have investigated the accuracy of journalistic reporting based on the number of errors that sources mentioned in the articles perceived. As journalism moved online and the immediacy of the news cycle requested a faster pace of publication, news outlets often adopted the strategy to publish first and to verify second, although research has shown that the accuracy of journalistic reporting and trustfulness are related. Especially in the current debate on disinformation, many online fact-checking and verification services have thus seen a global rise of attention and importance.
News aggregation—or the process of taking news from published sources, reshaping it, and republishing it in an abbreviated form within a single place—has become one of the most prominent journalistic practices in the current digital news environment. It has long been an important part of journalism, predating reporting as a form of newsgathering and distribution. But it has often been a poorly, or at best incompletely, understood practice. Aggregation was widespread in the 18th and 19th centuries through copying and republishing of newspaper articles in ways that sometimes showed little regard for copyright or individual authorship. But in recent decades, more sophisticated forms of aggregation have proliferated, both automated and manual, and on virtually every digital platform on which news is disseminated. Aggregation draws from the norms and values of both modern professional journalism and Internet culture and writing. That amalgam of standards and practices shapes aggregation as a hybrid practice that is built on professional journalism yet marginal within it.
News aggregators’ economic effect on the online news marketplace has been intensely debated, but research has shown them to be generally helpful to the news sites they aggregate from, expanding the news ecosystem and sending readers through hyperlinks. Their legal legitimacy has also come under scrutiny, though they have encountered significantly more restrictions in Europe than in the United States or elsewhere. Professionally, aggregation is built on the practices of reporting and relies on reporting as both the predominant source of its information and the blueprint for its methods of verification. But its defining characteristic is its secondary status relative to reporting, which shapes its methods of gathering evidence as well as its professional identity and values. Overall, news aggregation plays a growing role in the contemporary news environment, though its influence is complex, multifaceted, and ambiguous.
The emergence of citizen journalism has prompted the journalism field and scholars to readdress what constitutes journalism and who is a journalist. Citizen journalists have disrupted news-media ecosystems by challenging the veracity and representativeness of information flowing from mainstream news-media newsrooms. However, the controversy related to the desired level of citizen involvement in the news process is a historical debate that began before the citizen-journalism phenomenon. As early as the 1920s, journalist and political commentator Walter Lippman and American philosopher John Dewey debated the role of journalism in democracy, including the extent that the public should participate in the news-gathering and production processes.
This questioning of citizen involvement in news reemerged as an issue with the citizen journalism phenomenon around the late 1990s. People with no news-media organizational ties have taken advantage of the convenience and low cost of social computing technologies by publishing their own stories and content. These people are referred to as citizen journalists. Scholars have assessed the quality and credibility of citizen-journalism content, finding that citizen journalists have performed well on several standards of traditional news-content quality. Levels of quality differ dependent upon citizen journalists’ goals and motivations, such as serving the public interest, increasing self-status, or expressing their creative selves.
As it is an emerging area of study, unarticulated theoretical boundaries of citizen journalism exist. Citizen-journalism publications emphasize community over conflict, advocacy over objectivity, and interpretation over fact-based reporting. In general, citizen journalists have historically acted when existing news-media journalists were not fully meeting their community’s informational needs. Scholars, however, vary in how they label citizen journalists and how they conceptually and empirically define citizen journalism. For example, researchers have shifted their definitional focus on citizen journalists from one of active agents of democratic change to people who create a piece of news content. The mapping of the citizen-journalism literature revealed four types of citizen journalists based on their levels of editorial control and contribution type: (1) participatory, (2) para, (3) news-media watchdog, and (4) community. Taken together, these concepts describe the breadth of citizen-journalist types. For those of us interested in journalism studies, a more targeted approach in the field of citizen journalism can help us build community around scholarship, understand citizen journalists’ contributions to society and practice, and create a more a stable foundation of knowledge concerning people who create and comment on news content.
Rebekah H. Nagler and Susan M. LoRusso
Clinicians, medical and public health researchers, and communication scholars alike have long been concerned about the effects of conflicting health messages in the broader public information environment. Not only have these messages been referred to in many ways (e.g., “competing,” “contradictory,” “inconsistent,” “mixed,” “divergent”), but they have been conceptualized in distinct ways as well—perhaps because they have been the subject of study across health, science, and political communication domains. Regardless of specific terminology and definitions, the concerns have been consistent throughout: conflicting health messages exist in the broader environment, they are noticed by the public, and they impact public understanding and health behavior. Yet until recently, the scientific evidence base to substantiate these concerns has been remarkably thin. In the past few years, there has been a growing body of rigorous empirical research documenting the prevalence of conflicting health messages in the media environment. There is also increasing evidence that people perceive conflict and controversy about several health topics, including nutrition and cancer screening. Although historically most studies have stopped short of systematically capturing exposure to conflicting health messages—which is the all-important first step in demonstrating effects—there have been some recent efforts here. Taken together, a set of qualitative (focus group) and quantitative (observational survey and experimental) studies, guided by diverse theoretical frameworks, now provides compelling evidence that there are adverse outcomes of exposure to conflicting health information. The origins of such information vary, but understanding epidemiology and the nature of scientific discovery—as well as how science and health news is produced and understood by the public—helps to shed light on how conflicting health messages arise. As evidence of the effects of conflicting messages accumulates, it is important to consider not just the implications of such messages for health and risk communication, but also whether and how we can intervene to address the effects of exposure to message conflict.
Copyright is a bundle of rights granted to the creators of literary, artistic, and scientific works such as books, music, films, or computer programs. Copyright, as one of the most controversial areas of communication law and policy, has always been the subject of political contention; however, debates surrounding the subject have reached new levels of controversy since the 1990s as a result of the new formats of creative works made possible by digital media, and as a result of the new practices of authorship, creativity, consumption, collaboration, and sharing that have arisen in light of networking and social media. Technological change has not been the only driving force of change; social and political change, including changing concepts of authorship, the recognition of the rights of women and indigenous peoples, and the changing structures of international relations and international civil society, have also been reflected in copyright law. Copyright policymaking has become an increasingly internationalized affair. Forum-shifting has contributed to the proliferation of regional and international copyright policymaking forums under the rubric of stand-alone intellectual property institutions such as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), as well as under institutions dedicated more broadly to international trade negotiations.
Communication scholars and others have contributed extensively to the field of copyright and intellectual property law. Communication scholars have made significant contributions in examining the cultural significance, political economy, history, and rhetoric of copyright, drawing on diverse fields that include cultural studies and critical political economy. Communications scholars’ influence in the field of copyright scholarship has been significant.
Editorial journalism and newspapers’ editorial opinions represent an area of research that can make an important contribution to our understanding of the relationship between the press and politics. Editorials are a distinctive format and are the only place in a newspaper where the opinions of a paper as an organization are explicitly represented. Newspapers and the journalists who write editorials play a powerful role in constructing political debate in the public sphere. They use their editorial voice to attempt to influence politics either indirectly, through reaching public opinion, or directly, by targeting politicians. Editorial journalism is at its most persuasive during elections, when newspapers traditionally declare support for candidates and political parties. Despite the potential of editorial opinions to influence democratic debate, and controversy over the way newspapers and their proprietors use editorials to intervene in politics, editorial journalism is under-researched. Our understanding of the significance of this distinctive form of journalism can be better understood by exploring four key themes.
First, asking “What is editorial journalism?” establishes the context of editorial journalism as a unique practice with opinion-leading intentions. Several characteristics of editorial journalism distinguish it from other formats and genres. Editorials (also known as leading articles) require a distinctive style and form of expression, occupy a special place in the physical geography of a newspaper, represent the collective institutional voice of a newspaper rather than that of an individual, have no bylines in the majority of countries, and are written with differing aims and motivations to news reports. The historical development of journalism explains the status of editorials as a distinctive form of journalism. Professional ideals and practices evolved to demand objectivity in news reporting and the separation of fact from opinion. Historically, editorial and advocacy journalism share an ethos for journalism that endeavors to effect social or political change, yet editorial journalism is distinctive from other advocacy journalism practices in significant ways. Editorials are also an integral part of the campaign journalism practiced by some newspapers.
Second, research and approaches in the field of political communication have attributed a particularly powerful role to editorial journalism. Rooted in the effects tradition, researchers have attributed an important role to editorials in informing and shaping debate in the public sphere in four ways: (1) as an influence on readers, voters, and/or public opinion; (2) as an influence on the internal news agendas and coverage of newspapers; (3) as an influence on the agendas and coverage in other news media; and (4) as an influence on political or policy agendas. Theorizing newspapers as active and independent political actors in the political process further underpins the need to research editorial journalism. Third, editorial journalism has been overlooked by sociological studies of journalism practices. Research provides a limited understanding of the routines and practices of editorial journalists and the organization of editorial opinion at newspapers. Although rare, studies focusing on editorial journalism show that editorial opinion does not simply reflect the influence of proprietors, as has often been assumed. Rather, editorial opinions are shaped by a complex range of factors. Finally, existing research trajectories and current developments point to new challenges and opportunities for editorial journalism. These challenges relate to how professional norms respond to age-old questions about objectivity, bias, and partisanship in the digital age.
Understanding the role of gender in the newsroom involves tracing a shift from an initial consensus that women’s only journalistic role was to write with “a woman’s touch” about women, for women readers, to a claim that women should be allowed to produce the same “unmarked” news as men. The claim became that women’s forms—women’s sections or other materials intended for women audiences—represented professional ghettos, and that women were needed to produce better, more ethical journalism. That is, within the newsroom, gender was first dichotomized, rendering the interests of women and men as opposites, and then it claimed to be irrelevant. Feminist scholars point out that, over time, men have consistently tried to protect their status, jobs, and salaries, and have failed to acknowledge how journalism was set up as a male enclave with “macho” values and a culture that disadvantaged women, especially mothers, with its tradition of long and irregular hours and lack of childcare.
Research on gender and journalism can be divided into two categories: (a) gender “at work” in newsrooms (including opportunities or inequities in jobs, promotions, and salaries, as well as sexism), and (b) representations of women. Scholars often assume that the first issue over-determines the second. On both issues, research shows improvement, but also continuing problems. Now women journalists appear to be well established; the news includes issues associated with women’s quotidian concerns, and it takes women seriously. Yet a variety of gender divides continue to characterize journalism. Researchers find gendered patterns in coverage, especially in politics and sports. Women television journalists are routinely sexualized, and their high visibility in television broadcasting—through explicit scrutiny of their bodies, hairstyles, clothing, and voices—is countered by their invisibility in management. Gendered double standards and a glass ceiling continue to stymie the promotion of women to key decision-making and governance positions in print and broadcast news organizations. Moreover, women are far from enjoying equity in the online context.
Women continue to be concentrated in low-status media outlets and beats: they dominate community, small-town, and regional news organizations, and they produce “soft news,” human-interest stories and features. Men still dominate, although they do not monopolize, most of the high status areas of news production, particularly politics and business, as well as the lucrative and popular area of sports, a highly gendered and sexist domain. The most overtly gendered arena is war correspondence. Women who report on war and conflict are judged by very different standards than men. In particular, mothers are condemned when they go off to dangerous conflict areas, although fathers who cover war continue to be largely immune from public criticism. Women war reporters run a high risk of sexual violence and harassment, although women who have been sexually attacked rarely tell their supervisors—probably for fear of being pulled off an assignment.
Countless platforms are now available to citizens to disseminate their views as citizen journalists, including blogs and Twitter; these provide opportunities for challenging gender roles and democratizing relations between men and women. On the other hand, social media threaten the business model of professional journalism; the resulting trend to part-time, freelance, and even unpaid work creates a precarious and potentially highly feminized labor force.
Helle Sjøvaag and Jonas Ohlsson
Media ownership is of interest to research on journalism due to the assumption that ownership can have an impact of the contents and practices of journalism. Ownership of news media take many forms: state ownership, family ownership, party ownership, trust ownership, public or corporate ownership. The main concern with ownership in journalism scholarship is market concentration and monopolization, and the undue effects this may have on media diversity, public opinion formation, democracy and journalistic autonomy. Throughout the research, ownership motivations are assumed to lie with the potential financial and political benefits of owning journalistic media. Benevolence is seldom assumed, as the problematic aspects of ownership are treated both from the management side of the research, and from the critical political economy perspective. News and journalism are largely understood as public goods, the quality of which is often seen as threatened by commercialism and market realities, under the economic aims of owners. However, the many forms and shapes that ownership of news media assume have different impacts on the competition between media outlets, the organization of editorial production, journalistic and professional cultures, and the intensity of corporate and profit maximizing philosophies that journalists work under. Ownership, however, assumes different forms in different media systems.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For millennia, the idea that rituals create a shared and conventional world of human sociality has been commonplace. From common rites of passage that exist around the world in various forms (weddings, funerals, coming-of-age ceremonies) to patterned actions that seem familiar only to members of the in-group (secret initiations, organizational routines), the voluntary performance of ritual encourages people to participate and engage meaningfully in different spheres of society. While attention to the concept was originally the purview of anthropology, sociology, and history, many other academic disciplines have since turned to ritual as a “window” on the cultural dynamics by which people make and remake their worlds. In terms of journalism studies in particular, the concept of ritual has been harnessed by scholars looking to understand the symbolic power of media to direct public attention, define issues and groups, and cause social cohesion or dissolution. Media rituals performed in and through news coverage indicate social norms, common and conflicting values, and different ways of being “in the world.” The idea of ritual in journalism is accordingly related to discussions around the societal power of journalism as an institution, the ceremonial aspects of news coverage (especially around elite persons and extraordinary “media events”), and the different techniques journalists use to “make the news” and “construct reality.” Journalism does more than merely cover events or chronicle history—it provides a mediated space for audiences and publics that both allows and extends rituals that can unite, challenge, and affect society.