In the early days of media studies researchers essentially devoted their attention to the effects of the media message. This has led to a major focus on the choices of single individuals while the analysis of more complex entities and phenomena has often been given secondary importance. This has created a delay in dealing with the aggregate level of system that had already been at the core of sister scientific fields such as political science. From these fields, communication studies has derived many possible directions for a systems approach, in particular a focus on the complex framework of interactions with other systems and their reciprocal influences. Comparative research in particular has gained from the adoption of a systems approach. Nevertheless criticism has not been lacking and has pointed out some major weakness in the systems approach: the difficulty in setting the borders of a system and the risk of underestimating the processes of globalization that makes the identification of media systems with the nation state difficult.
Joshua A. Braun
Media distribution plays a key role in defining publics by determining which groups are able to access and share news. Put more broadly, decisions about how content circulates, whether they are made by corporations, platforms, street vendors, or file sharers, are central to the question of who has access to cultural resources and on what terms. This is significant for scholars of journalism insofar as a central concern of journalism studies is the role that news media play in public life. As media distribution has become increasingly dependent on digital intermediaries like search engines and social media, responsibility for media circulation has become an increasingly significant aspect of news work, shifting journalistic routines in the process. Though journalism studies researchers have typically paid less attention to distribution than to news production, news content, and audience reception, the disruptive changes wrought by the widespread adoption of digital media have begun to inspire renewed interest in distribution across media industry studies. And while various industries and regulatory regimes define distribution differently, it is important for scholarship on distribution to forge its own conception of the subject matter, both to avoid industry capture and to grapple with a changing media landscape in which formerly distinct professional boundaries between distribution and other media practices like production and marketing are rapidly blurring and shifting. A variety of scholars have argued that news distribution plays an important role in creating the imaginaries that sustain public life by enabling the conceit that media are addressed to the same audience over an extended period of time. It is true, too, that distribution networks can sow social divisions by extending the reach of messages and images beyond their intended contexts. The impact of the Internet on these dynamics has drawn a great deal of attention. Distribution platforms—even digital ones—should also be understood as having material underpinnings that can constrain their form and functionality, and arguably favor particular organizational forms. The resulting dynamics can dramatically impact news providers’ access to distribution networks and, by extension, audiences. This is true for physical distribution networks and also, mutatis mutandis, in online space, where news providers have become highly dependent on a small set of companies—Google, Facebook, and their ilk—for access to audiences. At the same time, many media organizations pay substantial amounts to vendors for access to white-label technologies and infrastructures to maintain their own distribution channels. The changing distribution landscape has led to changes in production dynamics at news organizations. In particular, the online advertising industry has now built its own distribution systems for ads, fundamentally changing the relationship between advertisers and the commercial news organizations on which they once relied for access to consumers. This, in turn, has led to changes in editorial logics at many news organizations aimed at preserving rapidly diminishing advertising revenues. Simultaneously, news distribution has become an increasing part of the work that goes on in news rooms, as optimizing the news for circulation via search and social media has become an editorial responsibility. These changes across media industries have generated a surge of interest in media distribution within academia.
Olivier Baisnée and Jérémie Nollet
Journalism as a field is a theoretical construction inspired by Pierre Bourdieu’s field theory, which sheds new light on the issues of media studies. This analytical framework was developed in France, beginning in the 1990s with the work of Patrick Champagne on the mutual influences between the fields of journalism and politics; the rare writings of Bourdieu on the journalistic field; and finally the work of young researchers on the subfields of specialized journalism. Reception of field theory in international journalism research dates back to the early 2000s, in particular around the work of Rodney Benson. The journalistic field is a theoretical framework consisting of about 10 main concepts that raise a large number of research questions, both theoretical and empirical. It first describes the internal relations in the social space, both as a field of struggle (with concepts of illusio or field effect) and as a field of forces (with concepts of capital, commercial vs. civic poles, autonomy, or subfield). At an individual level, it also makes sense of the conduct of individual journalists (with concepts of habitus, position and position taking, and strategy). Second, it enables consideration of the place of journalism in society and its relations with other social spaces (the concept of media capital), referring in particular to the analysis of information sources or mediatization of society. This research program has been incompletely realized thus far: general descriptions of the structure of current fields are lacking; little work has been done on the reception of media messages and consideration of the development of the Internet; and transnationalization of the media is insufficient. The journalistic field nevertheless has a strong heuristic potential in at least two directions. First, it is a useful tool for comparing media systems because its relational approach avoids the pitfalls of nominalism and facade comparisons. Second, it is valuable in considering the history of journalism because it describes the emergence of specifically journalistic activity without giving way to anachronism or culturalism. The journalistic field is a demanding but nonexclusive theoretical framework, presenting a refreshing analytical challenge for traditional topics of journalism studies, such as the production of journalistic information, the mediatization of societies, the history of journalism, or the comparison of media systems.
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.
Siebert, Peterson, and Schramm’s Four Theories of the Press has been a powerful influence on scholarship on comparative press systems and normative press theories in the years since its publication in 1956. Its appeal comes from the way it combined a history of Western development with a normative schema that is simple and teachable. Critics have pointed out the shortcomings of both its historical accounts and its theoretical structure, charging that the book expressed a Cold War mentality, elided non-Western and nonliberal theories and practices, and neglected the complicating dimensions of race, class, gender, and ethnicity. Critics also note that actual press systems are usually governed by hybrid norms, and that press systems are increasingly interconnected, overlapping, and global. Yet, Four Theories of the Press retains significant influence despite these criticisms. One reason is that no real replacement has appeared and it is unlikely that a new map of normative theories will win acceptance. The work emerged at a unique moment of Western liberal global hegemony and a successor would require a similar hegemonic moment.
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.
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.
Doug Ashwell and Stephen M. Croucher
The Global South–North divide has been conceptualized in political, cultural, economic, and developmental terms. When conceptualizing this divide, issues of economic growth/progress, technology, political and press freedom, and industrialization have all been used as indicators to delineate between the “North” and the “South.” The North has traditionally been seen as more economically, technologically, politically, and socially developed, as well as more industrialized and having more press freedom, for example; the South has been linked with poverty, disease, political tyranny, and overall lack of development. This conceptualization privileges development efforts in the Global South based on democratic government, capitalist economic structures with their attendant neoliberal agenda and processes of globalization. This negative view of the South is a site of contest with people of the South offering alternative and more positive views of the situation in the South and alternatives to globalization strategies. While there may be some identifiable difference between some of the countries in the identified Global South and Global North, globalization (economic, political, technological, etc.) is changing how the very Global South–North divide is understood. To best understand the implications of this divide, and the inequalities that it perpetuates, we scrutinize the Global South, detailing the background of the term “Global South,” and examine the effect of globalization upon subaltern groups in the Global South. We also discuss how academic research using frameworks of the Global North can exacerbate the problems faced by subaltern groups rather than offer them alternative development trajectories by empowering such groups to represent themselves and their own development needs. The culture-centred approach to such research is offered as alternative to overcome such problems. The terms usage in the communication discipline is also explained and the complexity of the term and its future is explored.
In recent years, organizations have greatly increased their use of communication technologies to support knowledge management initiatives. These technologies, commonly referred to as knowledge management systems, are adopted in the hope that they will bolster organizations’ access to, and utilization of, knowledge resources. Yet the relationship between communication technology and knowledge management is complicated by ambiguity regarding whether knowledge can be validly captured, stored, and transmitted in an explicit form (as an object) or only exists in applications (as an action). Many scholars argue that reliance on communication technologies for knowledge management aids the ability of organizations to process information, but it has limited benefits for helping individuals gain situated knowledge regarding how best to accomplish work. An alternative view explores the potential of communication technologies to facilitate interaction among knowledgeable actors, which can support ongoing organizational learning. In practice, the use of communication technologies enacts a duality whereby knowledge operates both as an object that organizations and individuals have, and as an applied action that is used to solve situated problems. Numerous theoretical frameworks have been applied to study the relationship between communication technologies and knowledge management, with three of the most prominent being public goods theory, communities of practice, and transactive memory systems theory. Extant research recognizes the diverse ways that communication technologies can support knowledge management practices aimed at either improving the utilization of information in organizations or bolstering opportunities for interpersonal knowledge sharing. Regardless of the position taken regarding the most appropriate and effective ways that communication technology can support knowledge management, organizations hoping to implement knowledge management systems face numerous challenges related to spurring the creation of organizational knowledge, motivating individuals to share knowledge, transferring knowledge among groups, and storing knowledge to allow future retrieval. Furthermore, the breadth and diversity of communication technologies used for knowledge management will continue to expand as organizations explore the potential applications of social media technologies and seek to gain value from increases in available data regarding individuals’ communication and behaviors.