Automated journalism—the use of algorithms to translate data into narrative news content—is enabling all manner of outlets to increase efficiency while scaling up their reporting in areas as diverse as financial earnings and professional baseball. With these technological advancements, however, come serious risks. Algorithms are not good at interpreting or contextualizing complex information, and they are subject to biases and errors that ultimately could produce content that is misleading or false, even libelous. It is imperative, then, to examine how libel law might apply to automated news content that harms the reputation of a person or an organization. Conducting that examination from the perspective of U.S. law, because of its uniquely expansive constitutional protections in the area of libel, it appears that the First Amendment would cover algorithmic speech—meaning that the First Amendment’s full supply of tools and principles, and presumptions would apply to determine if particular automated news content would be protected. In the area of libel, the most significant issues come under the plaintiff’s burden to prove that the libelous content was published by the defendant (with a focus on whether automated journalism would qualify for immunity available to providers of interactive computer services) and that the content was published through the defendant’s fault (with a focus on whether an algorithm could behave with the actual malice or negligence usually required to satisfy this inquiry). There is also a significant issue under the opinion defense, which provides broad constitutional protection for statements of opinion (with a focus on whether an algorithm itself is capable of having beliefs or ideas, which generally inform an opinion).
Transparency is the most recently established ethical principle for professional journalists, even though its roots stretch back almost a century. The emergence of transparency as a core journalistic ethic and value has been fueled mainly by three distinct yet interdependent developments. First, sociocultural advances in society have gradually increased the availability and demand for more information, including in areas such as politics and business. This development instilled an expectation of the “right to know,” also impacting the journalistic institution. Second, the introduction of digital media technologies has provided more means to disclose information, interact with journalists, and witness news production. Third, ethical and normative discussions by journalists and scholars have promoted more openness about journalism. Transparency has frequently been advocated as an effective way to combat the ongoing decline of trust and credibility in the news media. A central rationale supporting information disclosure and providing direct access to journalists and news organizations is that the audience will be able to ascertain which journalism it can trust to be true or which journalism may be superior. Specifically, in times when the news media is being labeled as fake or lying to the public, transparency may indeed be an important mechanism for the audience to hold journalism accountable. Yet, while the promise of transparency is an enticing prospect for the journalistic institution, empirical research has not quite been able to support all the claims that transparency will indeed improve credibility and trust in the news media. However, transparency is a nascent ethic and practice in journalism, and has only recently been officially recognized. Journalists and news organizations are still in the process of finding new ways to openly engage with the public, showing them the journalistic production process and building relationships with their communities. After all, building trust takes time and may only be achieved in a continuous effort to engage in an open, honest, and personal dialogue with the people.
Christopher J. Gilbert
The editorial cartoon is a touchstone for matters of free expression in the journalistic tradition. Since their early inception in the politically charged engravings of 18th-century pictorial satirist William Hogarth to the present day, editorial cartoons have shone forth as signifiers of comic irreverence and mockery in the face of governmental authority and in the more generalized cultural politics of the times. In democratic nations they have been cast as a pillar of the fourth estate. Nevertheless, they—and the cartoonists, critics, commentators, and citizens who champion them—have also long stood out as relatively easy targets for concerns about where the lines of issues such libel, slander, defamation, and especially blasphemy should be drawn. This goes for Western-style democracies as well as authoritarian regimes. In other words, the editorial cartoon stands at a critical nexus of meaning and public judgment. At issue from one vantage is what it means to promote the disclosure of folly as the foolish conduct of public officials and the stupidity of institutions that are thereby worthy as objects of ridicule. From another vantage, there is the matter of what it is to deplore the comicality in journalistic opinion-making that goes too far. To approach editorial cartoons from the standpoints of free expression and press freedoms is to verge on conflicting values of civil liberty in and around the so-called right to offend. This was true in the age of Hogarth. It was true in the days of famed French printmaker and caricaturist Honoré Daumier, who was imprisoned for six months from 1832 until 1833 after portraying Emperor Louis-Philippe in the L Caricature. It is also particularly true today in a global media age wherein editorial cartoons, whether or not they are syndicated by official newspapers, can traverse geographic and other boundaries with relative ease and efficiency. Furthermore, the 21st century has seen numerous cartoon controversies vis-à-vis what many commentators have referred to as “cartoon wars,” leading to everything from high-profile firings of cartoonists (including in the United States) through bans and imprisonments of artists in Middle Eastern countries to the 2015 shootings of cartoon artists at the headquarters of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Indeed, if the threshold of the free press is the killed cartoon, the limit point of the freedom of expression is the killed cartoonist. Hence the importance of looking beyond any one editorial cartoon or cartoonist in order to contemplate the comic spirit in certain historical moments so as to discover the social, political, and cultural standards of judgment being applied to the carte blanche of journalism and the comic license of those using graphic caricatures to freely editorialize their takes on the world—or not.
Marilyn S. Greenwald
For women in international journalism, it is the best and worst of times. Their numbers have grown dramatically in the last 100 years, and more women are being recognized for their journalistic accomplishments and bravery. In the last few decades, women journalists have banded together to form regional and international organizations to monitor coverage by and about women and to study the employment of women in newsrooms. In addition, some women journalists find that their gender allows them to speak to some people that men cannot – women subjects and sources in restrictive nations often feel more comfortable talking to women journalists. Yet their numbers as journalists in most countries are low when compared to those of men, and few women have been named to management positions within media organizations. Global changes, including political upheaval, technological changes, and economic cutbacks, have led to their diminished status in global media. Technological advancements within media organizations may make the dissemination of news easier, but it means reduced access to some poor and rural areas that often cannot afford expensive technology. Also, media concentration worldwide has reduced the number of small and independent media organizations that often employ women. And the elimination of international bureaus by many news outlets translates into many journalists—men and women—losing their jobs.
The number of formal programs educating and training young people to work in journalism and mass communication media organizations has grown substantially worldwide since the 1920s. Estimates put the number of college and university programs well beyond 2,500, with the United States and China exhibiting the largest numbers. These estimates do not count many of the private training programs offered by for-profit companies. Beyond these programs, media organizations, foundations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), journalist associations, and media unions offer training to help students and journalists update their skills in a field undergoing rapid change. Much of this growth is because journalism itself has commanded attention from organizations of all kinds in the 21st century: governments, private industry, nonprofits, NGOs, sports organizations—leaders in virtually all forms of human activity have come to believe that media play a powerful role in shaping public opinion. This attention has led societies around the globe to invest in training journalists and media workers. Some of these investments have been through higher education. Others have been through private training institutes and organizations, NGOs, and private foundations. New types of media jobs have developed since the 1970s. Strategic communication and promotion industries dedicated to shaping public discourse have expanded around the world. New media technologies have changed journalism itself, creating new kinds of journalism jobs worldwide. Digital innovation has changed the structure of traditional media industries. As new forms have emerged, these digital innovations have expanded both the types and numbers of media jobs available. These new types of media jobs have changed how journalism students are educated and trained. Demand for trained workers has increased and skill sets have changed. This has altered thinking about journalism education around the globe. Journalism educators have introduced new types of training into the curriculum, including entirely new topics and new types of majors in many countries. Similarities in how journalism is taught, based on shared educational needs and skills, have grown, while historically important ideological differences in teaching journalism have weakened. Shared challenges include how to teach media technologies, ethics, fact-checking, and coping with disinformation and fake news. They also include preparing journalism students to deal with strategic manipulation, partisan hostility, threats, and shifting concepts of appropriate online media discourse in social media, blogs, tweets, and online comments. Despite these common challenges and shared approaches, unique circumstances in each society still lead to differences in how journalism is taught around the world. These differences can be quite pronounced. These circumstances include resource shortages, competing training traditions, weak industry support, sociopolitical differences, and censorship. Across the globe it is clear that education in journalism and media will continue to expand as changing media technologies exert a growing influence on public discourse. Journalism education is changing in every country as: (1) technologies reshape it, (2) media theories shift teaching techniques, (3) new technologies create newly shared ideas about teaching journalism, (4) unique circumstances in each country still produce different approaches, and (5) it expands in different regions of the world.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the U.S. Congress, with allies in the news media, created legislation that came to be known as the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). It was designed to help hold the federal executive accountable to the public. It became law in 1966. Its significance can be understood in several contexts: (1) in connection with a special relationship of journalists to the operation of the FOIA; (2) in terms of arguments that transparency in government is necessary for citizens’ informed participation in democracy and that, on the other side, there are strong democratic arguments that transparency should be limited in the pursuit of other legitimate values, some of them recognized in the language of the FOIA itself that government agencies may deny a citizen's request for information on the grounds that honoring the request could endanger national security, personal privacy, the integrity of internal government deliberations, or other significant objectives; and (3) that freedom of information law are one institution within a wider web of institutions and practices dedicated to holding government accountable. In this regard, the U.S. Freedom of Information Act can also be seen in a broad context of a cultural shift toward “openness” and a political shift toward what has been called a “monitory” model of democracy.
Christian von Sikorski and Jörg Matthes
As one of the most popular concepts in current research on journalism and mass communication, framing refers to the idea that actors like strategic communicators, journalists, but also audience members select some aspects of a particular issue and make them salient while other aspects are ignored. Frames refer to a specific presentation of issues or events and therefore construct reality in a meaningful but selective way. They do so by suggesting a problem definition, causal interpretation, treatment recommendation, and/or moral evaluation on a given issue, favoring a specific political leaning and course of action. More specifically, strategic communicators suggest frames that compete for public and media attention, and journalists adopt and alter these frames, which ultimately affects audience members’ individual level frames. Framing as a concept thus explains the power to construct and alter meaning. As a unifying concept, framing has the potential to bridge several areas of communication research and explain the competition of strategic positions on the side of communicators, journalists, and audience members. However, the concept is also plagued by conceptual and operational fuzziness, resulting in arbitrary and incompatible uses of the term. This limits the relevance of the framing concept to theory-driven journalism studies.
The concept of representation is a cornerstone of the field of cultural studies. Representations are symbols, signs, and images used to communicate and construct meaning. They are at stake in a variety of fundamental cognitive processes such as perception and imagination. Language, for instance, is based on a system of representation where words stand for something else, such as an object or an idea. Representations are thus central to the process by which individuals and societies make sense of the world, assign meaning, and delineate norms, rules, and identities. Journalism is a key site of production of representations. Unlike most other fields of cultural production, journalism is grounded in a regime of truth: it claims to represent the world as it is. Scholars interested in representation and journalism have largely opposed those claims. Journalism always involves covering certain events over others. News stories necessarily prioritize certain frames, voices, and contextual information, which creates peculiar kinds of representations. Those representations are constrained by the working conditions of journalists, but they are also shaped by broader political, economic, cultural, and historical contexts. In that sense, journalism creates representations but also reproduces representations that exist elsewhere in society. Because the concept of representation points toward broader social forces involved in meaning construction, it has largely been used to explore the operations of power. Instead of asking “is any given representation true?” cultural studies scholars have been more interested in asking “how do relationships of power, domination, and inequality shape representations?” As a result of its development in the field of cultural studies, the study of representation has largely been oriented towards questions of inequalities and identity, most notably gender, race, ethnicity, and class. With regard to the study of representation and journalism, three broad areas of inquiries are delineated. The first concerns how journalism represents different social groups, places, events, and issues through its coverage. This literature is wide and covers a range of issues in both domestic and international coverage. Most of those studies focus on the linguistic, rhetorical, and visual properties of media texts to deconstruct the ideological operations behind what often appears natural and common sense in the news. Another strand of research looks at similar issues of representation but in the context of journalistic production. In particular, these studies centralize the importance of who makes the news to understand the peculiar representations that journalism ultimately produces. Often relying on surveys, statistical data, or ethnography, these have contributed to an understanding of issues such as gender inequalities and lack of diversity in newsrooms. A final—and more discreet—literature investigates how journalism itself is represented in popular culture. Novels, films, television, commercials, cartoons, art, and video games routinely construct representations of journalism and journalists. These representations play a role in shaping popular mythologies around journalism and its role in society.
Tabloid journalism has long been a highly contested news form. With a sensationalist approach and an easily digested mix of entertainment and news, it has often attracted mass audiences at the same time as it has stirred controversy and raised concern about its impact on public discourse. Originating in the tabloid newspaper, associated both with a small newspaper format and a particular news style, the term “tabloid” is today considered to characterize a range of other media content, extending to popular TV programs and certain kinds of online news. The rise and development of tabloid journalism, in combination with wider processes shaping the media, has moreover led to a debate about “tabloidization,” involving ideas about shifting priorities in journalism and the media landscape as a whole. Although tabloidization has no standard definition, an overview of empirical research using the concept as a starting point highlights analyses of various media, historical periods, and media markets, adding to understandings of tabloidization as multi-faceted and context-bound. Such a process, furthermore, has been viewed both as a possible threat to the public sphere and as potentially entailing democratizing elements, relating to long-standing depictions of tabloid journalism as either “dumbing down” or “reaching out.” Yet contemporary analysis in this field has tended to paint a more complex picture of both phenomena as well as pointing to emerging questions around the category of tabloid journalism in digital settings.
Pamela J. Shoemaker
One of the oldest social science theories applied to the study of communication, the gatekeeping approach emphasizes the movement of bits of information through channels, with an emphasis on decision points (gates) and decision-makers (gatekeepers). Forces on both sides of a gate can either help or hinder the information’s passage through a channel. The gatekeeping process shapes and produces various images of reality, not only because some bits of information are selected and others rejected, but because communication agents put information together in different ways. In addition, the timing and repetition of information can affect the prominence of events or topics and can influence the probability of future information diffusion. Gatekeeping was originally modeled as a series of linear processes within the mass media, but in the late 20th century the flow of information through the mass and social media began to interact. Information is now understood to flow among journalists, among social media users, and among agents of both types of media. All such communication agents are gatekeepers. In addition, we can study these networked interconnections as one level of analysis, with the supra-gatekeepers (such as Facebook or Twitter) adding their own gatekeeping processes over and beyond those of their own clients of the mass media. In addition to looking at various pairwise relationships between gatekeepers, gatekeeping theory should go beyond to instead consider the entire web of gatekeepers as a whole or system. A system is composed of elements (gatekeepers), interactions (relationships among them), and a goal or function. Multiple functions have been proposed by 20th-century scholars (such as socialization, entertainment, or surveillance) for the mass media, but scholars should now consider the function(s) of the gatekeeping system (mass and social media, as well as supra-gatekeepers) as a whole. Although each type of medium can be analyzed as its own system, such analysis would not facilitate new thinking about the various ways in which these partial systems affect one another and how the whole system functions beyond the simple addition of its parts.