It is all too common to think of community journalism as being like all other types of journalism, just on a smaller scale. With the growth of the Internet and virtual community, this form of journalism cannot be distinguished solely by circulation size or geographic delineations. Within the larger journalism research sphere, community journalism remains underrepresented, even though the majority of publications in the United States can be classified as community journals, and throughout the world, small publications, both in print and online are commanding respect. If community media outlets are defined as having a circulation of lower than 50,000, then there are 7,184 community daily or weekly newspapers in the U.S. compared to only 4 publications with circulations of more than 500,000. Worldwide, data cannot be as easily condensed into percentages, but it is reasonable to think the figures are similar. Yet, media research typically focuses on the work and attitudes of the elites, i.e. the larger and best-known publications. Existing research on community journalism has identified key distinctions between community journalism and other types. First, community media focus on information connected to everyday life, and second, its media members tend to develop a closer, more intimate connection to the community they serve. The idea of closeness began with early research into the idea of community itself. Community as a concept revolves around emotional connection and membership. The two necessary elements for community formation are for a group of people to have something in common, and something that differentiates them from other groups. Community media build upon these concepts to give communities a voice. The audience for community news is often connected by an interest in, and emotional attachment to, a geographic area, which represents one form of community or a specific viewpoint, interest, or way of thinking which often represents virtual community. Both groups need journalists, who provide factual information on the community and enable and support strong community ties. Community journalists can also help build place attachment and create third places for community members to congregate and interact socially in.
Hans Meyer and Burton Speakman
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.
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.
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.
For some scholars, the role of public service journalism is profoundly ethical, though it exists amidst a diversity of incommensurate but not necessarily incompatible views and values. Public service journalism exists as part of a global media that has been referred to as a “mediapolis”: descriptively, a place, a communicative system where the world is constituted, and by means of which we learn about Others. Normatively it is an ideal of communication, a place where information and opinion may be expressed civilly to enable good choices to be made and public concerns to be thoughtfully addressed. As such, it is a place of equal expression. However, practically it must contend with finding a way to identify, value and integrate a wide array of voices. A mediapolis needs to become a place where a just and hospitable media enables the fundamental process of finding ways of living together. A key principle for the governance of mediapolis concerns “journalism”: uncensored, diverse, reliable journalism is essential to the making of well-informed decisions and a healthy political life. To this end and in order to anticipate a digital future where there exists an ethical mediapolis for global public benefit and where the internet and good journalism go hand in hand and are no longer antagonistic, contemporary public service journalism should reconceive the news as discursive rather than monological and informational, and the public as consisting of an interpreting, acute audience of citizens, rather than one of informed readers. If such a consummation were to be achieved then critical news judgements would be the norm, no matter how large or small the audience. Journalism would be an effective watchdog because government would be perpetually aware that a sufficient number of confident, attentive citizens is following the news and that, in consequence, it must function knowing that there is a constant risk of shame, disgrace, conviction and loss of popularity and office. In sum, public service journalism consists of civil expression of information, accommodating a multiplicity of voices, the news conceived of as discursive rather than merely informational, and the public conceived of as critical interpreting citizens rather than informed readers.
Karin Wahl-Jorgensen and Allaina Kilby
The relationship between journalism and its audience has undergone significant transformations from the earliest newspapers in the 18th century to 21st-century digital news. The role of the audience (and journalists’ conceptions of it) has been shaped by economic, social, and technological developments. Though the participation of the audience has always been important to news organizations, it has taken very different forms across times, genres, and platforms. Early newspapers drew on letters from their publics as vital sources of information and opinion, while radio established a more intimate relationship with its audience through its mode of address. Though television news genres may not have emphasized audience engagement, research on the medium was heavily invested in understanding how it affected its audience. The rise of the Internet as a platform for journalism has represented a significant turning point in several respects. First, it has challenged conventional hierarchies of news production and value by facilitating user-generated content and social media, enhancing opportunities for audience contributions. This presents new opportunities for engagement but also challenges journalists’ professional identities, compelling them to assert their authority and skill sets. Further, digital journalism has led to the rise of the quantified audience, leading to the increased role of metrics in driving the behavior of journalists. As the audience and its behavior are shifting, so are the practices of journalism. The two actors—journalists and audiences—remain interlocked in what may be a troubled marriage, but one which is structurally compelled to change and grow over time.
Studies of how children and young people relate to news have made important contributions to the field of journalism. As early as the early 1900s, children’s and young people’s news exposure was considered with interest. News exposure plays an important role for citizenship in democracies, and for news media organizations, recruiting new generations of audiences is important for survival in the future. From the early days, scholars have mainly focused on four areas in studies of news children and young people. First, the role of mass media as an agent of political socialization and how news exposure can inspire children and young people to civic engagement. Second, the introduction of television and television news increased the numbers of studies of children’s and adolescent’s emotional reactions to news coverage, and the emotional reactions to violence in the news coverage in particular. Third, an increasing focus on children’s rights and children as a minority group has further inspired studies of representation of children and young people in the news. Finally, inspired by methodological approaches focusing on people’s motivation for the use of different media and how they were used (“uses and gratification” studies), a main area for researchers has been to grasp how children and young people engage with news and how they do so in changed media environments. In the last decade, journalism studies have increasingly focused on how children and young people receive, evaluate, produce, and share news in social media.
Since the early 2000s, Digital Media Ethics (DME) has emerged as a relatively stable subdomain of applied ethics. DME seeks nothing less than to address the ethical issues evoked by computing technologies and digital media more broadly, such as cameras, mobile and smartphones, GPS navigation systems, biometric health monitoring devices, and, eventually, “the Internet of things,” as these have developed and diffused into more or less every corner of our lives in the (so-called) developed countries. DME can be characterized as demotic—of the people—in three important ways. One, in contrast with specialist domains such as Information and Computing Ethics (ICE), it is intended as an ethics for the rest of us—namely, all of us who use digital media technologies in our everyday lives. Two, these manifold contexts of use dramatically expand the range of ethical issues computing technologies evoke, well beyond the comparatively narrow circle of issues confronting professionals working in ICE. Three, while drawing on the expertise of philosophers and applied ethics, DME likewise relies on the ethical insights and sensibilities of additional communities, including (a), the multiple communities of those whose technical expertise comes into play in the design, development, and deployment of information and communication technology (ICT); and (b), the people and communities who use digital media in their everyday lives. DME further employs both ancient ethical philosophies, such as virtue ethics, and modern frameworks of utilitarianism and deontology, as well as feminist ethics and ethics of care: DME may also take, for example, Confucian and Buddhist approaches, as well as norms and customs from relevant indigenous traditions where appropriate. The global distribution and interconnection of these devices means, finally, that DME must also take on board often profound differences between basic ethical norms, practices, and related assumptions as these shift from culture to culture. What counts as “privacy” or “pornography,” to begin with, varies widely—as do the more fundamental assumptions regarding the nature of the person that we take up as a moral agent and patient, rights-holder, and so on. Of first importance here is how far we emphasize the more individual vis-à-vis the more relational dimensions of selfhood—with the further complication that these emphases appear to be changing locally and globally. Nonetheless, DME can now map out clear approaches to early concerns with privacy, copyright, and pornography that help establish a relatively stable and accepted set of ethical responses and practices. By comparison, violent content (e.g., in games) and violent behavior (cyber-bullying, hate speech) are less well resolved. Nonetheless, as with the somewhat more recent issues of online friendship and citizen journalism, an emerging body of literature and analysis points to initial guidelines and resolutions that may become relatively stable. Such resolutions must be pluralistic, allowing for diverse application and interpretations in different cultural settings, so as to preserve and foster cultural identity and difference. Of course, still more recent issues and challenges are in the earliest stages of analysis and efforts at forging resolutions. Primary issues include “death online” (including suicide web-sites and online memorial sites, evoking questions of censorship, the right to be forgotten, and so on); “Big Data” issues such as pre-emptive policing and “ethical hacking” as counter-responses; and autonomous vehicles and robots, ranging from Lethal Autonomous Weapons to carebots and sexbots. Clearly, not every ethical issue will be quickly or easily resolved. But the emergence of relatively stable and widespread resolutions to the early challenges of privacy, copyright, and pornography, coupled with developing analyses and emerging resolutions vis-à-vis more recent topics, can ground cautious optimism that, in the long run, DME will be able to take up the ethical challenges of digital media in ways reasonably accessible and applicable for the rest of us.