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Future of Journalism 2011

Future of Journalism conference, Cardiff, 8-9 Sep. 2011

The Phonehacking Scandal and the Future of Journalism

The final session here at Future of Journalism is a roundtable on the News of the World scandal; as a panel session, it will be hard to blog, but I’ll try my best. Bob Franklin starts us off by highlighting the wide reach of the scandal, and notes that while journalism overall has been tarred with the abuses committed by News International, there also has been some excellent journalistic coverage of the scandal.

The first panellist is Labour Party MP Chris Bryant, shadow minister for political and constitutional reform. He says that it feels as if public debate in the UK has been changed massively by the scandal; it feels like being released from prison, he says. In fact, in his Welsh constituency, the only way to get digital TV is to subscribe to (the partly Murdoch-owned) BSkyB; and Murdoch has been using his newspapers’s political influence to protect BSkyB as a cash cow.

Chris’s own phone was hacked, and he knows that this has enabled News papers to find a great number of his contacts, who could then be contacted for any potential dirt they may have. The same happened in the Milly Dowler case, of course, and here Glenn Mulcaire even delete messages, which is ‘playing god with the family’s emotions’, Chris says.

Blogging Journalists, Journalistic Blogging

The next speaker at Future of Journalism is Lex Boon, whose focus is on the changing context for journalism in this transitional phase. In particular, blogs have been driving this change, and as a result, of course, journalists themselves have also started their own blogs.

Lex examined media blogs (in the professional context of journalism, published on the Website of news organisations), and interviewed the journalist-bloggers behind them – from a broad range of news beats. Mostly those journalists essentially fell into blogging: their editors raised the need to start blogging, and they started their blogs as experiments, without much pre-planning. This also means that they’re not taking their approach to blogging too seriously at this point.

Social Media Users' News Consumption in Canada

The next speaker at Future of Journalism is Alfred Hermida, who is interested in how news consumption changes as a result of the greater use of social networking platforms. Such users may now start to constitute network publics: mediated public spheres where networking technologies and social interactions influence one another. How does such a networked audience use the news?

The Pew Center has already shown that 75% of U.S. audiences get part of their news via email and other sharing; this mediated sociability is increasingly simply part of what we do, and social media have infiltrated our daily habits. What questions does that raise for the media industry, which has long managed to control its content distribution channels?

Alfred conducted a national survey in Canada to examine how people consume online news; of the 1600 people surveyed, some 1000 also visited social networking sites at least once per month. Half of the Canadian population is on Facebook, some 20% of Canadians are on Twitter. Do such networks play a role in the distribution of news, then?

'Ordinary' People in the News, before and after Web 2.0

The next speaker at Future of Journalism is Jeroen de Keyser, whose interest is in how Web 2.0 has changed the presentation of ordinary people’s views in newspapers. Traditionally, journalists view citizens as sources only for anecdotal (eyewitness, vox pop) information; otherwise, they prefer elite actors as sources. As a result, few everyday citizens are visible in news output, and they are mostly positioned to be of low importance.

Web 2.0 has changed this situation somewhat, both through the introduction of citizen journalism practices and by making a wider range of everyday sources available to journalists. Does this lead to ‘ordinary peoople’ appearing more often and more prominently, then?

Jeroen undertook a content analysis of five daily papers in Flanders (two quality, two tabloid papers from three different companies), comparing samples of their news coverage from 2001 (pre-Web 2.0) and 2011. All articles which included ordinary citizens (through quotes or mentions) were included in the dataset.

Do Social Media Affect Journalistic Story Sourcing?

The next paper session at Future of Journalism 2011 starts with Megan Knight, whose interest is in the impact of social media on newsgathering. She’s already examined the level of social media-based sourcing of mainstream news reporting in the context of popular protests in the Middle East - which appears to remain relatively low; however, does such low overt use hide a greater amount of use of social media not as direct sources, but as generating story ideas and providing background which is then pursued further my journalists sourcing information from more powerful sources?

Megan pursued this question by observing the reporting processes at a major national daily newspaper in the U.K., as well as interviewing key actors and conducting content analysis. She found that stories originated overwhelmingly with state institutions, corporations, and government bodies; indeed, journalists increasingly appear to wait for power elites to approach them, rather than contacting them directly.

The Inevitability of Public Funding for U.S. News Media

Day two of the Future of Journalism conference starts with a keynote from Robert McChesney. He begins by acknowledging yesterday’s keynote, but also notes that he has a somewhat different view on matters; pointing to The Guardian as a special case, endowed by a trust, and publicly funded media in Britain in general, he notes that there aren’t all that many such news organisations left – and these and new initiatives may not be enough in their own right to sustain the future of journalism. More and other approaches are needed.

The world is filled with young people who want to be journalists, and they need to be given the opportunity to do so. There’s no lack of talent or enthusiasm, but a lack of resources and institutions that enable this – this is a political problem first and foremost; the labour market for journalists in the U.S. is now the worst it has ever been – worse even than in the Great Depression –, and this will not change unless major changes are made. And things may get even worse in the coming years.

Journalistic Professional Ideology as Boundary Maintenance

The final speaker in this session at Future of Journalism is Helle Sjøvaag, who shifts our focus to the role of the classic news ideals in a changing journalistic environment. Professional journalistic ideology remains an important part of journalistic professional life, and is mobilised in distinguishing professional journalists from other groups.

Digitalisation processes challenge the established news business model, of course: income streams and audiences are dwindling, and competition between news outlets increases. Journalistic ideology is the sum of journalistic professional beliefs, and is recycled through daily journalistic practice; branding of professional journalistic products as professional through such ideology becomes ever more important in this highly competitive space, therefore. This is a process of boundary-maintenance to sustain professional identity and difference.

Open Innovation in the News Industry

The next speakers in this session at the Future of Journalism conference are Tanja Aitamurto and Seth Lewis. Their focus is on open innovation in the news industry: the use of purposive inflows and outflows of knowledge to accelerate innovation. Such innovation is necessary in news, due to the continuing increase in media platforms, the shortening of product lifecycles, the rapid change of consumer habits, and the diminishing resources available.

Tanja and Seth have identified three cases which exemplify such innovation. How does such innovation manifest in the news industry, and what implications does it have in research and development work? At the macro level, one such example is the Knight News Challenge. It is a high-profile competition examining the future of news, and can be seen to be setting the agenda for journalism innovation; overall, it has wide influence in journalism. Knight follows an inside-out process by providing funds, reports, and signals to the industry, as well as an outside-in process that taps into the wisdom of actors outside of journalism; this results in a coupled process which straddles the boundaries of journalism by linking journalists and technologists.

Understanding the Market for News

The next speaker at the Future of Journalism conference is Arne Krumsvik, who says that new media are important and will continue to be so, but that old media will continue to fund journalism. Digital news media products will have strategic value in the future, but fail to generate substantial funds, so the main source of finances will continue to be conventional media products.

Porter suggests five key market forces: immediate competition in the market, the bargaining power of buyers, the bargaining power of suppliers, possible new entrants to the industry, and substitute products that come from one industry but fill a need in the other, to the other’s detriment. Traditionally, none of these have been strong in the news market: competition is limited, and therefore news organisations have strong bargaining powers; they often own their own supply chains. New entrants into print or broadcast are comparatively rare, and rarely successful, and few substitute products from other markets are available.

Four Reasons to Be Optimistic about the Future of Journalism

The first speaker in the next session at Future of Journalism is my QUT colleague Stephen Harrington, whose question is not only whether journalism is in crisis, but how we might be able to tell. He suggests that there may be four basic criteria for journalism’s health. The first of these, in ascending order of importance, is the number of outlets which exist in the media ecosystem. This is also least contentious: journalism is healthy when lots of it is being produced.

On this measure, though, journalism cannot be said to be in crisis today, and this is also an argument raised by Brian McNair in Cultural Chaos: there has now been an explosion in the amount of news being produced and shared, if not necessarily by professional journalists.


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