Commercialization of journalism is not a new concern. Indeed, journalism has always been bought and sold in the market, and commercialization has thus always been a central part of the production of journalism. In a modern sense, however, commercialization became an issue with the emergence of the penny press in the United States and the abolishment of the “taxes on knowledge” in the United Kingdom. These developments altered the content of newspapers and brought along discussions concerning the effects of commercialization. In the late 20th and early 21st century, commercialization of journalism again took a new turn. Developments such as digitalization and the emergence and communization of the internet, has led to an increased attention to market logics. This, in turn, makes studies of the commercialization of journalism increasingly more important.
Nina Kvalheim and Jens Barland
News is produced primarily to inform readers and viewers. However, audiences are charged only a fraction of the high production costs or not asked to pay at all. The reason is subsidy by advertising revenue. Since the beginning of professional journalism, news has been bundled with advertisements. This way, media companies can sell the attention of audiences attracted by journalistic content to advertising companies, which in return seek to attract consumers to their products and brands. Beyond distributing both simultaneously, advertising and journalism can intermingle, which causes ethical concerns. From a normative point of view, news and advertisements should be separated clearly in regard to the production process and the content itself. The separation of “church and state” or the “Chinese Wall” between the newsroom and the business side within a media company are commonly used metaphors used to express the ideal of separation. This principle aims to protect journalistic autonomy from economic influences such as advertising considerations. Nevertheless, advertising interests may influence journalism in different forms and to various degrees. They are regularly discussed as influence on journalistic selection of topics as well as writing style, and as the source of attempts to blend advertising and editorial content. Scholarly concerns are increasingly consumer oriented and less critical journalism, biased reporting on advertisers’ brands or products, and the potential deception of audiences, for example, when hybrid forms of advertising such as native ads camouflage their commercial nature. The relationship between journalism and advertising has been treated as an orphan compared to the relationship to public relations or politics. However, the media organizations’ struggles for sustainable business models in the 21st century fuel discussions in media economics and journalism studies about whether advertising is a blessing or curse to journalism. In a nutshell, the relationship between advertising and journalism is as long-standing as it is ambivalent (see “Evolution of the Relationship”). On the one hand, advertising revenue largely lays the financial foundation for prospering professional journalism (see “Funding Journalism”). On the other hand, this financial dependency causes potential threats to journalistic autonomy (see “Influencing Journalism”).
Edda Humprecht and Linards Udris
The way news is produced and consumed has changed dramatically during the first two decades of the 21st century due to digitalization and economic pressures. In a globalized world, current events are reported in almost real time in various countries and are diffused rapidly via social media. Thus much scholarly attention is devoted to determining whether these developments have changed news content. Comparative research in the area of journalism focuses on whether news content across countries converges over time and to what degree national differences persist across countries. When studying the research on long-term trends in news content, three main observations can be made. First, theoretical assumptions are often rooted in different models of democracies, but they are rarely explicitly discussed. Second, many studies focus on the organizational level using theoretical concepts related to increased market orientation of news outlets, such as personalization, emotionalization, or scandalization. Furthermore, commercialization is associated with the effects of digitalization and globalization, namely, decreased advertising revenues and increased competition. A commonly expressed fear is that these changes have consequences for democracy and informed citizenship. Third, in recent years, there has been a steady increase of studies employing international comparisons as well as a growing standardization for measurements. These developments lead to more multicountry studies based on large samples but come at the expense of more fine-grained analysis of the way news content changes over time. Finally, the vast majority of cross-national and single-country studies focus on Western democracies. Thus our knowledge about recent changes in news content is limited to a small set of countries. Overall, many studies provide evidence for constant changes of news content driven by social, political, and economic developments. However, different media systems exhibit a sustained resilience toward transnational pressures reflected in a persistence of national differences in news content over time.