The 20th century was defined by violent conflict: war, genocide, and military occupation. World War I left approximately 10 million dead and World War II had a death toll estimated at 55 million. It has been conservatively calculated that the total number of dead killed in wars during the century was 108 million, as the casualties shifted from armed combatants to victims of mass extermination in civil wars and wars of colonization. Civilian collateral damage and the targeting of civilians by ethnicity and religion became tragically common. Journalists have witnessed and chronicled the seismic military, social, cultural, and political transformations, as well as providing a vital democratic function. Paralleling this age of devastation was the ascendant power of legacy media and its golden age in the West. The combination of technological advancement, the professionalization of the industry, greater literacy and expanded newspaper readerships, and mass culture brought the press to the frontline in unprecedented numbers and in a new and intimate relationship. Journalists functioned and continue to operate as witnesses, communicators, recorders, and interpreters, on both the battlefield and the home front, as well as negotiating the competing demands of their media organizations, the public, political, and military elites, and their professional lives. This century had barely dawned when armies and a largely jingoistic press were marshalled in Afghanistan and Iraq after the attacks in the U.S. on September 11, 2001. The nature of warfare had evolved—from limited wars with clearly identified armies on demarcated fronts to non-conventional wars and wars of insurgency—and, with it, changes in the relations between the state, military, and media. The conflicts in this millennium provoked both long-standing and new debates surrounding the role of the press and how it actively mediates conflict, censorship, and patriotism in a hostile media environment. Journalism also experienced profound change technologically and industrially. With the fragmentation of the media business model and editorial gatekeeping, and liberated by new media, the legacy media’s relationship with conflict has changed. New voices have gained prominence. Non-Western journalists have been accorded greater recognition when reporting invasion and conflict from a local perspective. Civilians also became both an important conduit and problematic source of news, there has been an upsurge of government and military propaganda, and terrorists have become chilling media producers. For other state media organizations in the East, their global footprint has expanded rather than diminished. Nevertheless, the debates about the image and role of journalism during armed conflict; censorship; media power, technology, and mediatization; and the physical and psychological dangers experienced by journalists when witnessing and reporting conflict, prevail.
Jingsi Christina Wu and Kara S. Alaimo
In August 2016, on the heels of the summer heat surrounding the Olympics, a major celebrity family scandal gripped mainland China. The nation watched closely as a well-known actor struggled through revelations about his wife’s scandalous infidelities, her disgraceful possession over their family properties, and most dramatically, her unilateral decision to flee to America with their two children—all while their divorce unfolded in front of the nation’s gaze. Not a political affair, this scandal was able to attract as much publicity as the Chinese people were thirsty for. Sina Weibo (Microblogging) became one of the biggest winners of this storm, as its NASDAQ stock price rose 7.05% the day after the actor made his announcement on Sina Weibo about his plan to divorce, and Sina Weibo’s market value broke through 10 billion U.S. dollars for the first time (according to Sohu Business in 2016). Within 14 hours of that announcement, the actor’s original Sina Weibo post had been forwarded 520,000 times and commented on 1,240,000 times (according to Sohu Business in 2016). Like all other major news events, many of which are often more politically sensitive and civically relevant, ordinary citizens in mainland China have grown used to looking to their social media sites for information and guidance. As of December 2015, mainland China’s social media population reached 530 million, amounting to 77% of its total Internet users (according to CINNIC in 2016). A Western media invention, social media platforms have largely permeated the lives of regular Chinese users, although not without “Chinese characteristics.” This article reviews an important body of literature that takes keen interest in the civic implications of mainland China’s social media sites, which render themselves more relevant than ever in everyday life as well as amid high-profile public events. Following in the footsteps of many influential foreign Internet sites, including Google and the New York Times, such leading social media entities as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have all been blocked by the Great Firewall of China, officially known as the Golden Shield Project. This exclusive characteristic, along with other unique Chinese phenomena, has given rise to a separate social media universe that China calls its own. This article draws connections among explorations about the civic significance of China’s social media landscape for the world’s largest Internet population (according to CNNIC in 2008). While unique Chinese conditions do not necessarily disconnect China’s users from universal features of social media use, this article focuses specifically on works that examine how local social media platforms have shaped civic engagement in mainland China’s restrictive political environment. Like the spread of Internet technology to modern China, recent developments in social media have invited competing narratives about their democratic implications, which often echo Western academia’s evaluative position taking between utopian and pessimistic narratives of digital technology’s social impact. The former state that Chinese citizens have availed themselves of the unprecedented opportunities afforded by social media to keep governmental actions in check, whereas the latter voice the concern that social media simply provide new and more ready channels for governmental monitoring and manipulating of public opinion. In 2010, Deng and Jing suggested that although the concept of civil society originated in the West, we need to understand it as historically, culturally, and socially specific. The Chinese civil society, according to the two scholars, is both separate from and interdependent with the state. Its origin stemmed from China’s state-guided transition from a planned economy to marketization, leading China’s civil society to be more dependent on state policies, while the Western civil society gains more independence from private capital. Deng and Jing note that theories of state-society relations have primarily positioned the two as confrontational entities and instead propose a “Positive Interaction Theory (BIT)” for the case of China. Under this notion, the state allows for the civil society’s independent operation and protects it with laws and abstract legislation. While there is great diversity within the civil society and often conflicts of interest, the state should interfere and mediate in legal and economic terms, when members of the civil society fail to reconcile on contractual grounds. Under BIT as an ideal type, Deng and Jing asserted that the state should not intervene in the civil society’s political rights, and the latter should reserve the freedom to organize their political voices and push for democratization. The closer state-society relation can be to this ideal, the more robust a civil society will be. Once China’s civil society establishes its independence and autonomy, the scholars suggest, it will then participate in China’s politics and provide effective checks and balances on state decision making. However, these two stages are not neatly separate from each other. As can be seen in the cases reviewed in this article, the Chinese civil society in its current state is not a unitary and static entity. While limited in sensitive political and religious domains, it has achieved a strong voice in other social issues and positive interaction with the state at times. This investigation into a burgeoning literature on social media in mainland China finds that although the Chinese people’s use of social media does not strike one as immediately liberating in terms of new political freedom, it bears the potential of creating a civil society that may be particularly meaningful for the idiosyncratic political environment of China. In other words, there may be a lot left to desire, but researchers can look more closely into the various ways in which users in China actively, and often creatively, organize their voices and actions via new social media outlets. In the absence of a democracy, a civil society continues to emerge.
In spite of journalism’s transnational nature, there is no common history of the subject and thus no common history of journalism in authoritarian societies, a field which can only be studied by bringing together historical facts about journalism in societies that experienced authoritarian regimes at some point in their history. Journalism in authoritarian societies is closely linked with forms of manipulation and censorship. While censorship is older than journalism, it was the rise of journalism as a profession that prompted authoritarian states to develop fully fledged censorship mechanisms and systems. The first forms of censorship of the printed word were introduced by the Catholic Church shortly after the printing press was invented in the 16th century. But it was from the 17th century on that censorship models aimed at controlling the emergent periodical press were created by absolutist monarchies. Secular institutions gradually took over censorship from the church, developing a more complex control system that would methodically check on the printed information distributed widely to the general public. While censorship systems were scrapped in most of Europe for a short period during the 19th century, the following century saw the rise of more sophisticated and repressive forms of censorship. They were developed by fascist dictatorships in several European countries and by the Soviet system in Russia. These models, particularly the Soviet propaganda system, influenced a spate of authoritarian regimes in communist nations all over the globe during the Cold War. The collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s sounded the death knell of a series of authoritarian regimes, heralding an era of press freedom and independent journalism. But many regimes, particularly in the former Soviet Union, soon revived old authoritarian practices to keep their people under control. In spite of the limitations on journalistic coverage in authoritarian societies, journalists reacted in various ways to all sorts of authoritarian practices, ranging from harsh censorship systems to less intrusive, yet effective, controlling mechanisms. They did so either by seizing opportunities that appeared during more relaxed political times or by developing circumvention tools that allowed them to reach out to their audiences. The rise of the Internet brought about new opportunities for journalism to reach and engage audiences, as governments struggle to push back by designing new forms of control and censorship.
Brenda L. Berkelaar and Millie A. Harrison
Information visibility refers to the degree to which information is available and accessible. Availability focuses on whether people could acquire particular information if they wanted. Accessibility focuses on the effort needed to acquire available information. In scholarly, industry, and popular press, people often conflate information visibility with transparency, yet transparency is generally a valued or ideological concept, whereas visibility is an empirical concept. Growing interest in studying and managing information visibility corresponds with the rapid growth in the use of digital, networked technologies. Yet, interest in information visibility existed prior to the introduction of networked information and communication technologies. Research has historically focused on information visibility as a form of social control and as a tool to increase individual, organizational, and social control and coordination. As a research area, information visibility ties to classic communication and interdisciplinary concerns, as well as core concerns of contemporary society including privacy, surveillance, transparency, accountability, democracy, secrecy, coordination, control, and efficiency. An emerging research area with deep historical roots, information visibility offers a promising avenue for future research.
Photography has been a practical reality for about 190 years, and, from its beginnings, journalism seemed like a natural application of the medium since most people believed that the photograph was an objective representation of reality. During the years since the first surviving photograph was produced in a camera, the evolution of photojournalism has been driven by a combination of technology, public demand, and a passion for the profession by its practitioners. In the first decades after that initial photograph, improvements in lenses, negatives, and prints made photographic reportage of the Crimean War (1853–1856) and the American Civil War (1861–1865) possible. The British and American populaces created immense markets for war images, and entrepreneurial photographers such as Roger Fenton and Mathew Brady provided them. Technological advances in cameras, lenses, film, lighting, photographic reproduction methods, and an ability to transmit photographs worldwide continued to advance the boundaries of photojournalism throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The topics of that work were mostly motivated by public demand. Wars, politics, photographs of “exotic” cultures from around the world, sports, everyday features, and celebrity portraits provided popular themes and continue to do so into the present, but photojournalists have also pursued subjects that they deemed important to humankind though not necessarily popular. Many have produced social, political, environmental, and cultural documentaries that challenge the status quo. Some have challenged this work as being outside the bounds of “objectivity,” but the usefulness of this argument has been rejected by many in the profession. Legendary photojournalist W. Eugene Smith, for example, stated succinctly, “there is nothing objective about journalism.” The final decade of the 20th century brought the evolution of the digital camera. Today’s photojournalism is almost exclusively a digital endeavor. The transformation of photography from analog to digital has revolutionized photojournalism in terms of workflow, mobility, transmission of images, ethics, image availability, and the question of “who is a photojournalist?” Finally, the gradual mutation of the term “photojournalism” to “visual journalism” denotes a transformation of the medium itself from the still image to a combination of still and moving images or perhaps exclusively moving images in the future. This, in turn, may fundamentally change the ways in which photojournalistic stories are told and experienced.