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Innovative Journalistic Initiatives in a Disrupted Industry

I missed the first paper in the next ECREA 2016 session because it was too crowded already to find a seat, so we're on to the second paper, by Frank Harbers. He begins by noting that traditional news media are struggling both economically and in terms of their societal role; the period of high modernism in journalism is over. There is a second critique that suggests that conventional journalistic practice is no longer suited to current environments – including especially the adherence to traditional ideals such as objectivity.

New journalistic initiatives have emerged into this environment to explore some new approaches – including the Dutch De Correspondent, the German Krautreporter, or the French Mediapart. These establish new ideas of what quality journalism is or could be, and present themselves as innovative news brands making a clean break with the conservative establishment. There are also cultural variations between them, however: in their embrace of subjective viewpoints, for instance, or in their focus on investigative journalism.

They play, then, on well-established dichotomies including objective vs. subjective, impartial vs. partisan, or fact vs. opinion. De Correspondent, for instance, established in 2013, is crowdfunded and offers only three or four extensive stories per day; it is supported by monthly subscriptions, runs no ads, and is operated on a non-profit basis; and its themes are detached from day-to-day mainstream news agendas. It presents itself as an antidote to the daily news grind, and to the traditional conception of journalism with its focus on objectivity and news-as-product.

A qualitative content analysis of its articles shows this not to be the whole story, however. The site still relies on authoritative sources as indicators of factuality, for instance; it still tracks some of the major stories of the day. Its lofty ideals are not necessarily reflected in its everyday practice, therefore. This may be explained by field theory, which expects newcomers to create their own position and challenge the establishment, yet also to adhere to some extent to the conservative ideals of the field.

Field theory therefore enables a more critical look at these new startups; it explains the strategic positioning of these sites, and encourages a focus on their journalistic practices and content outputs. This offers a more nuanced perspective on the practice(s) of journalism. Further analysis, across case studies and combining discourse, narrative, and content analysis with practitioner interviews and other data, is required in this context.