The Crisis of Journalism Reconsidered: Cultural Power

Barcelona, Spain | May 1-3, 2014

This project brings a dramatically different perspective to bear on the contemporary "crisis of journalism". Rather than seeing technological and economic change as the primary causes of current anxieties, it draws attention to the role played by the cultural commitments of journalism itself.

This project brings a dramatically different perspective to bear on the contemporary "crisis of journalism." Rather than seeing technological and economic change as the primary causes of current anxieties, we draw attention to the role played by the cultural commitments of journalism itself. Linking these professional ethics to the democratic aspirations of the broader societies in which journalists ply their craft, we examine how the new technologies are being shaped to sustain value commitments rather than undermining them. 

Recent technological change and the economic upheaval it has produced are coded by social meanings. It is this cultural framework that actually transforms these “objective” changes into a crisis –for both the profession and for the broader society. Cultural codes not only trigger sharp anxiety about technological and economic changes, but provide pathways to control them, so that the democratic practices of independent journalism can be sustained in new forms.

Democratic societies depend on the interpretive independence of mass media. Situated between hierarchical powers and citizen-audiences, journalism can speak truth to power. Supplying narrative frameworks that make contingent events meaningful, news reports create a mediated distance that allows readers to engage society more (and sometimes less) critically. The ability to sustain such mediation depends on professional independence. To some significant degree, journalists must regulate themselves. Organizing their own work conditions and their own criteria for creating and projecting news, they evoke such professional ethics as transparency, independence, balance, and accuracy.

These commitments significantly overlap with the broader discourse of democracy, the set of beliefs that sustain an independent civil sphere. Journalism is a critical element of the institutional-cum-cultural world of elections, parliaments, laws, social movements and publicity that creates the conditions for democracy. Just as the independence of the civil public sphere is continuously threatened by the continual incursions of markets, states, ethnic, and religious organizations, so is the autonomy of journalism itself. Journalistic boundaries are often fraught and always permeable. The independence of journalism is never assured. An ongoing accomplishment, partial and incomplete, the profession and social supporters must engage in continuous struggle for it to be sustained.

Paradoxically, the very efforts to sustain this autonomy -- efforts which have been markedly successful over the long term -- cause journalists to experience their institutional independence as more fragile and threatened than it actually is. Even as they successfully defend their professional ethics, journalists experience them as vulnerable to subversion in the face of technological and economic change. Indeed, independent journalists and the social groups who support them often feel as if they are losing the struggle for autonomy.

Our project challenges, not only a technological view of the current crisis, but the often gloomy self-assessment of journalists themselves. Because social change is endemic in modern societies, it is hardly surprising that the history of journalism has been marked by continuous eruptions of "crisis." Just as current anxieties have been triggered by computerization and digital news, so were earlier crises of journalism linked to technological shifts that demanded new forms of economic organization. Radio and television were feared as objective threats that would undermine print journalism's capacity for independence and critical evaluation. Neither actually did so. Neither did the transition from network to cable news in the USA, nor the transformation of the public service TV model in Europe that created overwhelming anxiety about privatization in the 1980s.


Post by Social Trends Institute.

Principal Inquiries

Understanding the current crisis as Schumpeterian creative destruction, we examine in granular detail contemporary efforts to develop new organizational forms. What are the institutional arrangements that, under the conditions of digital reproduction, can allow the cultural commitments of democratic journalism to be sustained? What about efforts by contemporary news organizations, such as Advance Publications, to create new digital platforms that complement their print media? To what extent are such social and digital media initiatives as long-form journalism countering the current meltdown of long stories in major newspapers? How are new philanthropic funding initiatives, 24/7 online formats, and web-marketing techniques responding to the sense of crisis by created new formats for traditional journalism? How does data journalism – including initiatives such as the “Facts Are Sacred” in the Guardian’s “Datablog” – preserve in-depth reporting and transparency in the digital era? What about the trend for once purely aggregating digital outlets, such as the Huffington Post, to hire their own professional reporters? Or the creation of new forms of purely digital journalism, such as in the U.S. and parallel efforts in Europe?

If networked news productions are making efforts to adapt professional journalism to the digital age while maintaining journalistic civil values, are there parallel adaptations from the digital side? In what ways does non-professional “citizen journalism” reflect democratic values and expanding public discussion? In what ways does its failure to embrace balance and professionalism represent a populist threat?

Academic Leader

Jeffrey C. Alexander -  Yale University



Jeffrey C. Alexander -  Yale University
From Theoretical Reduction to Cultural Power: Ther Crisis of Journalism Reconsidered

Cultural Constancy in Historical Transformations

Elizabeth Butler Breese - Crimson Hexagon
The Perpetual Crisis of Journalism: Cable and Digital Revolutions

Nikki Usher - George Washington University
The Constancy of Immediacy: From Printing Press to Digital Age

Paul K. Jones - University of New South Wales
Journalistic Autonomy versus Demagogic Populism: the missing binary

Cultural Constancy in Contemporary Transformations


Michael Schudson - Columbia University
"If you see something, say something": Citzenship and the News Media in Trans-Legislative Democracies

Peter Dahlgren - Lund University
Professional and Citizen Journalism: Tensions and Complements

The Crisis in America and Europe

María Luengo - Carlos III University of Madrid
Fears of Digital Desecration: Symbolizing the Collapse of Journalism in Europe and America

Daniel Kreiss - University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Beyond Administrative Journalism: Organized Skepticism and Professional Autonomy

Matt Carlson - Saint Louis University
Telling the Crisis Story: Page One and the Construction of Journalistic Authority

C.W. Anderson - College of Staten Island, CUNY
Assembling the Publics, Assembling Routines, Assembling Values: Journalistic Self-Conception and the Crisis in Journalism

K. Steen-JohnsenB. EnjolrasK. Andrea Ihlebaek - Institute for Social Research, University of Oslo
News on New Platforms: Norwegian Journalists and Entrepreneurs Face the Digital Age

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen - Roskilde University and Oxford University
The Many Crises of Western Journalism: A comparative analysis of economic, professional, and simbolic crises.

Matthias Revers - University of Albany
Innovation and Inertia in the Face of Crisis: Social Media in US and German Journalism

Håkon Larsen - University of Oslo
The Crisis of Public Service Broadcasting Reconsidered: Privatization and Digitalization in Scandinavia

David M. Ryfe - Reynolds School of Journalism
Journalism in American Regional Online News Systems


Elizabeth Butler Breese and María Luengo
Culture Structures of Journalism and Their Institutional Forms


Manuel Martín Algarra - University of Navarra

Ana Marta González - University of Navarra

Paper Abstracts

Jeffrey C. Alexander - Yale University
From theoretical Reduction to Cultural Power: The Crisis of Journalism Reconsidered

Efforts to comprehend the crisis in journalism have been hobbled by theoretical reductionism – by technological and economic determinism and by equating democracy with the spreading of digital networks and publicity. Reducing journalism to information, ideologists of the “Internet Age” have prophesied a horizontally organized citizen journalism pushing the vertically organized elitism of professional journalism aside. Citing lowered digital production costs and online advertising, others have predicted the end of journalism for reasons of market efficiency. Rather than going away, however, journalism has pushed back. What journalists produce is not information but meaningful interpretations, as they select, condense, and narrate ongoing events. They construct these interpretations in relationship to professional standards built upon fervently held cultural codes, norms about accuracy, balance, responsibility, and autonomy that have been gradually built up over historical time and are themselves enmeshed in the broader values of civil society. Motivated both by professional ethics and civic morals, journalism has constructed a wall between news writing and commodification. The push back by journalism should be seen as an effort to protect the sacred against digital and economic desecration, and eruption of societal support for journalism as efforts to sustain the values of democratic society. The simplistic binaries of technotopian rhetoric dichotomize digital technology and journalism, but efforts on the ground have moved increasingly toward hybrid forms, allowing the professional ethics and civic morals of journalism are being sustained in new ways.

Elizabeth Butler Breese - Crimson Hexagon
The Perpetual Crisis of Journalism: Cable, and Digital Revolutions

Journalism today, with budget cuts and digitization keeping fewer journalists working at a break-neck pace, is seen to be in crisis. This chapter lays the historical and theoretical ground to propose that journalism has continually been interpreted as in crisis.

In every age, new technology is seen to displace and disrupt traditional standards. Yet, in every age, the “problems” of journalism seem urgent and new. The present, in other words, is seen as the moment of rupture, where the standards of the past fail to hold in the face of new technologies, trends, and developments. In every age, interpretations of the future of news are filtered through a binary discourse that continually narrates subjectivity, manipulation, and bias as threatening professional news and journalistic standards. 

This historical perspective is illustrated by case studies of the “cable revolution” in the years around 1980 and “information revolution” today. In 1980, Walter Cronkite retired as anchor of CBS Evening News and was replaced by Dan Rather. What could have been a routine, inevitable retirement and mundane personnel decision became represented as a critical generational shift that would hasten the decline of news in the midst of the “cable revolution.” Cronkite had been revered as an old-style newspaper journalist who maintained professional standards in the television age. Rather was represented as style over substance, as typical of the degeneration of journalism in the television age. When CBS chose Rather over the low-key veteran Roger Mudd, the choice was representing as the deterioration of television journalism, a move toward audience-grabbing headline news and away from the serious, objective news of the Cronkite era. Eventually, however, Rather and such cable other “upstarts” as CNN came to be regarded as standard-bearers of traditional journalism.

Still newer technological developments, such as Twitter and the Internet media environment, were then constructed as dangerously revolutionary threats. In 2011, when NPR mistakenly reported on radio and Twitter that Representative Gabrielle Giffords had died at the hands of a gunman, the journalistic failing was attributed to the sped-up pace of digital news and the deleterious effects of the “information revolution.” Twitter’s capacity for instant reporting was widely contrasted with the editorial care and caution that supposedly had been pillars of earlier American journalism.

By uncovering the cultural construction of the perpetual discourse of pollution and crisis in journalism, this chapter suggests that the ideals of objectivity are not disappearing; they remain the symbolic representations of professional journalism.  Instead of being replaced by polluting symbolic codes, objectivity and its related ideals are reconstituted in every era.

Nikki Usher - George Washington University
The Constancy of Immediacy: From Printing Press to Digital Age

In the 24-7 era of digital news, journalism has no deadlines. Many journalists see an overarching emphasis on immediacy: more, now, faster than ever before. The stated goal is to fill the website with content to keep readers coming back for more, hoping churn will lead to digital revenue. Journalists supply this constant content thanks to technological advances offering the capacity to file anywhere at any time on any platform.

This chapter looks at one of the central values of online journalism, "'immediacy," setting it in a historical, social and occupational context. The chapter underscores how immediacy is not just a product of the digital age, but a central concern of journalism from the age of the printing press to the present. The rush to be first, ASAP, now, is more complicated than just economics and technology. Rather, the explanation can also be found in core constants in newsroom socialization throughout the past decades: professional pride; a desire to be first/competitive aspirations; and vague guesses based on journalists’ imagined audiences about how to construct the news. This chapter brings together a wealth of detailed fieldwork from metropolitan newspapers around the United States, including The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The Miami Herald, The Des Moines Register, among others.

Paul K. Jones - University of New South Wales
Journalistic Autonomy versus Demagogic Populism: the missing binary

Crises of journalism require public renderings of its normative rationale, its civic purpose. In this chapter, I suggest that such historical moments have frequently called for regulatory interventions to ensure the autonomy that independent journalism requires, and that such calls quickly become matters of civil contestation themselves. The civil role of professional journalism depends not only on demonstrating its institutional differentiation from vested interests but also its discursive differentiation from other forms of public speech.

A quality versus non-quality binary is deployed, the former aligned with the code of professional self-regulation, the latter with some variant of ‘tabloidization’. In the historical cases considered here, the anti-journalistic foe is populist discourse, which is constructed as “demagogic.” Populist commentary labels professional journalism as “elitist” in turn. Broadcasting’s hierarchical source-to-many configuration is well-suited to demagogic practice, and much recent ‘online activism’ has taken the form of plebiscitory populism.

This continuing historical problematique is traced reactions to the emergence of radio, television and multi-platform technologies on the American scene.

(i) ‘The Radio Priest’. The remarkably popular Father Charles Coughlin capitalized on the communicative bias of radio broadcasting almost as soon as it was developed and long before broadcast journalism completed its translation of print-based conventions. Coughlin’s inflammatory, often anti-Semitic, rhetoric and bizarre political journey represents the construction of media demagoguery in a very ‘pure’ form. Efforts to curb Coughlin’s success focused on by replacing the monological format of radio broadcasting with the panel discussion form of journalism. This early regulation of demagoguery contributed to the formation of the Federal Communication Commission’s Fairness Doctrine, with its ‘equal time’ and ‘fair play’ rules. Coughlin’s speeches also became the paradigmatic target of liberal critique of propaganda which were echoed in later investigative journalistic practices like Edward R. Murrow’s.

(ii) ‘Murrow Slays the Dragon’ on Television: McCarthyism definitively reversed any progressive association understandings. Murrow’s See It Now program, which pioneered key conventions of longform television journalism, is credited with diminishing McCarthy’s reputation, coming to embody journalistic autonomy in an iconic way, e.g., the hagiographic opening images in the contemporary HBO series Newsroom. McCarthy’s ‘right of reply’ to Murrow’s attack was legitimated by Fairness Doctrine-like logic, but it equally undid him. Murrow succeeded where the regulation of Coughlin had failed, forcing McCarthy’s rhetoric outside the preferred monological setting of his inquisitorial inquiries.

(iii) ‘Incivility and Outrage’ within Multi-platform Hybridity: The ‘content deregulation’ of the Fairness Doctrine from the late 1980s paradoxically enabled the rise of aggressive conservative talk radio, led by Rush Limbaugh. McCarthy’s 1954 demonization of Murrow – and his self-depiction as the ‘non-leader’ who opposed  a vast liberal conspiracy - set the template for contemporary media demagogues’ attacks on ‘elite media’ and its alleged allies. Political communication scholars now routinely map a multi-platform ‘conservative media establishment’ (of partisanship and ‘incivility and outrage’. The case-study component here will be The New Yorker’s ‘thick description’ of the multi-platformed Bryan Fischer as a polluted paradigm of partisanship and incivility. In the current crisis, there is an increasingly open struggle between ‘elite’ journalism and aggressive talk radio. The regulatory debate has shifted from overt content regulation (The Fairness Doctrine) to a reinvigoration of the liberal tradition of ‘exposure’ by professional journalists invoking the legacy of Murrow, academic scholars, and long-form television such as Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom. 

Michael Schudson - Columbia University
"If you see something, say something": Citizenship and the News Media in Trans-Legislative Democracies

Recent social theories have highlighted the centrality journalism to democracy by suggesting that, beginning sometime in the postwar period, we've moved into a post-representative democracy era – into "monitory democracy" (Keane), "audience democracy" (Manin),  "populist-bureaucratic democracy" (Keller), or "advocacy democracy"  (Cain). In this chapter, taking a broader historical perspective, I argue that something like trans-legislative democracy might be a better alternative. My provisional view is that legislatures were never really more than one form of representation and that there have been other forms of great importance for some time. I have in mind such communicative institutions as news media, social movements, voluntary organizations, and public opinion polls. Of course, elected legislatures continue to be crucial for democracy, but these other modes have grown in relative importance. This perspective raises a question about how journalists should go about their business. "Informing voters" is no longer a sufficient model (if it ever was) of what their role in democracy should be. As elite American news writing has moved away from the ideal of anonymity, a lot of journalists have figured this out intuitively. The emergence of digital journalism encourages fruitful experiments with new models of democratic news gathering and writing, even as creates tensions with this central trans-legislative institution in other ways.

Peter Dahlgren - Lund University
Professional and Citizen Journalism: Tensions and Complements

Mainstream professional journalism in Western democracies is currently confronted by an array of factors that challenge its traditional function and status. The financial constraints of its corporate context, the reorganization of journalistic work, evolving technologies, dissipating professional identities and other developments put a once securely established form of journalism on the defensive. At the same time we witness a sharp rise in “citizen journalism,” a term that covers a very diverse range of communicative practices by non-professionals. The technological affordances of the web have so enhanced the scope of such communication practices that ‘journalism’ is becoming an increasingly unstable signifier. Yet, even as public journalism fills the gaps left by the erosion of the major news outlets, they do so in heterogeneous and often problematic ways.

The present chapter explores the erosion of professional journalism and the rise of the new citizen journalism in the past decade, against the analytic background of democracy’s need for functioning public spheres. A key analytic point of departure is precisely the centrality of “publicness” to journalism, the imperatives of reaching citizens, making society and the political world visible, and facilitating discussion and opinion-making. This public dimension of journalism is not the same, indeed is often in tension with, its professional dimension, which stresses norms of accuracy, impartiality, transparency and accountability. The thesis of this chapter is that the cultural and institutional possibilities for maintaining such professional standards are becoming decoupled from those for achieving publicness. Even as citizen journalism provides an extraordinary expansion of publicness, its commitment to professional standards is far weaker commitment.

Yet, while professional and citizen journalism are in tension, they are also beginning to complement one another. So we need to avoid dichotomizing the trajectories of professional and citizen journalism. As they mingle and blur, professional journalism becomes dependent on amateur input via social media and becomes more interactive, collaborative, diverse, partisan, and immediate. In public spheres today, facts and opinions, debates, gossip, nonsense, the insightful, the deceptive, the poetic, are increasingly mixed together, scrambling the traditional boundaries between journalism and non-journalism.

While this can help to deepen and broaden democracies – and challenge the power structure in some authoritarian ones – the weak adherence of citizen journalism to traditional standards also becomes a threat to democracy even as it increases publicness.

The democratically healthy element of citizen journalism must be counterbalanced by a trajectory that, while sensitive to multiple realities and modes of perceptions in complex, heterogeneous societies, emphasises the quest for truth, however situated and relative it may be. Without some legitimate, shared reference point in the quest for truth, the foundations for democracy’s dynamic discussions begin to wobble dangerously; if public discourse loses its orientation to a shared sense of reality, it risks fragmenting into collectivities of solipsism.

In the present evolution of journalism, we need to strive to retain – via adapting and reformatting – its key classic virtues, in particular its commitment to the truth. This will involve confronting both professional and citizen journalism – and the hybrid variants between them – in terms institutional arrangements, practices, forms of representation, legal frameworks, and dissemination. Society’s public spheres, and ultimately democracy itself, are at stake.

María Luengo - Carlos III University of Madrid
Fears of Digital Desecration: Symbolizing the Collapse of Journalism in America and Europe

Examining the contemporary transformation at a granular level, this chapter exposes parallel processes at work in the cultural construction of crisis and struggles for institutional experimentation in two critical newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic – the American regional paper in New Orleans, The Times-Picayune, and the national paper in Spain, El País.

In May 2012, Advance Publications, the Newhouse family publisher of the newspaper, announced the drastic contraction of the Time-Picayune print edition and the extraordinary expansion of its website, which was to become a platform for 24-hour online news. Controversial staff cuts followed the announcement. Yet another American newspaper faced severe reductions in staff and the looming prospect that the merging of print and digital operations would undermine the independence of the traditional newsroom. Remarkably, there ensued an immediate public outcry -- locally, nationally, and even globally – that strongly polluted the imminent changes as anti-democratic. “A symbol of the courageous resistance of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, has bowed to the market pressures of modern press", so reads the opening sentence of an article in The New York Times on May 25, 2012.

The civil significance of impending changes in the Times-Pic was confirmed by mobilizations across urban social networks in New Orleans, wide-wide public demonstrations on behalf of the newspaper, and a statement signed by the newly formed “Times-Picayune Citizens Group” of influential citizens. In national and local news reports, columns, feature stories, and blogs, the emerging crisis was narrated as a conflict between civil and anti-civil social forces. Advance executives were depicted as constructing the new digital platform so new production could be reoriented to maximize profit and prurient titillation. Yet, this very coding pushed not only local but national social forces to find ways to defend the sacred ethical community of journalism and its vital relation to the “polis” of New Orleans. Many reporters were re-hired, editors made fervent public declarations about maintaining professional standards of investigative reporting and independence, and a “cowboy” version of the paper soon became distributed on its digital-only days. 

The construction of the digital shift as threating the “sacred core” of journalism also marked the crisis at the left-leaning Spanish newspaper El País. In October, 2012, Spaniards were subjected to a blizzard of statements, debates, and opinions on the present and future of El País, the largest newspaper in the country. During the post-Franco transition, the newspaper had helped lead the way for a young democratic society, combining an independent and watchful attitude with extraordinary moral authority. Painful downsizing – the company fired 30 percent of its workforce – was depicted by media executives as exclusively an economic decision, but journalists and other democratic critics coded it as undermining the credibility and independence of the newspaper’s reporting.

In a story about the crisis at El País entitled “Journalists engulfed by casino capitalism” (Kasino-Kapitalisten fressen Journalisten), the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine (24/10/2012) echoed criticisms made by Spanish journalists. In a flurry of articles globally distributed on the Internet, critical journalists decoded the reasons given for mass lay-offs by management at Prisa – the newspaper’s new owners. Prisa had pointed to “a natural catastrophe with inevitable damages caused by the rising flood wave of the Internet” (, 07/10/2012). This analysis was portrayed as deflecting attention from the real crisis facing the press, in which the Internet and digital change were not the primary cause but merely supporting actors. These critical articles re-coded the crisis as a display of insatiable capitalism that had pulled El País away from its core business of supplying information, leading the firm to over-borrow and so open its doors to foreign capital. This was portrayed, in turn, as creating generous payments for senior directors and, eventually, to most company stock passing from the hands of the Polanco family to the banks. Advertising revenues were collapsing, and the paper’s other source of income, printed copy sales, remained vulnerable -- because of the decision to make all content available online. Critics of the company management argued, however, that the paper’s professional excellence actually meant it could afford to hire far more staff than it had fired.  

Daniel Kreiss - University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Beyond Administrative Journalism: Organized Skepticism and Professional Autonomy

From the Knight Foundation's extensive funding efforts around "the information needs of communities" to recent scholarly work on "computational” and “data” journalism, practitioners and scholars alike have looked to the rise of digital and social media as new opportunities for journalists to hold state actors and other elites accountable for such things as poorly-performing public schools, wasteful expenditures, and even the potholes that mark city streets. While these forms of “administrative journalism” are certainly valuable, the focus on “data” and the privileging of cognitive and rational models of what Michael Schudson has called “information-based citizenship” has limited the conversation about what journalism is and what it should be.

This chapter will argue that the present narrative of crisis and the “journalistic imaginary” has ignored the civil values that journalistic institutions are uniquely position to articulate, and that provide evaluative criteria for judging the political performances of the powerful. Journalism is a form of institutionally organized skepticism, where journalists exercise performative scrutiny over political elites and utilize the democratic values of the civil sphere – equality, liberty, and justice – in their literal and symbolic control over publicity about the powerful. This chapter will document how, in the midst of the current crisis, whether in print or digital form, professional journalists struggle to sustain their institutional autonomy and play their distinctive role in democratic life. Ground journalistic autonomy on American legal culture, this chapter concludes by linking press freedom with the debate about the institutionalization of academic freedom in the United States, exploring the writings of John Dewey and other pragmatists about the significance of flexible and independent judgment in democratic societies.

Matt Carlson - Saint Louis University
Telling the Crisis Story: Page One and the Construction of Journalistic Authority

The changing state of contemporary media is encompasses an array of technological, economic, political, and cultural shifts that are upending entrenched journalistic structures. To simplify and make sense of this complexity, journalists tell stories to the public about what is happening to their profession. Through this meta-journalistic discourse, journalists construct interpretations of why the news industry has suffered, what its social consequence are, and what should be done. Such discourse invites critical examination, for it is central to how the crisis of journalism comes to be publicly defined. This chapter examines one influential journalistic effort to define the crisis -- by means of the 2011 documentary Page One: Inside the New York Times. The film creates a narrative contrasting “legacy” with emerging media outlets, following the newspaper’s media desk over many months. Just as significant as its direct influence, reviews and other broadly networked public responses to Page One provided a space for the journalistic community to confront and define the mass of digital changes faced by journalism. The film and its responses will be analyzed for how they construct a crisis of journalistic authority. Journalism as a socially embedded cultural activity charged with collecting, constructing, and distributing what’s new. This chapter documents and evaluates the specific understandings of journalistic authority that emerged in response to the documentary.

C.W. Anderson - College of Staten Island, CUNY
Assembling the Publics, Assembling Routines, Assembling Values: Journalistic Self-Conception and the Crisis in Journalism

The idea that “crisis” in journalism cannot be attributed to technological or economic changes alone, but is coded by the cultural frameworks and social meanings of journalism itself, is documented and complicated by this study of the local media “ecosystem” in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The primary normative commitment of early 21st century American journalism remains service to the public, but the public is conceived in a particular way for particular professional reasons. For traditional journalists, the public  -- whether local, national, or global -- has been something that they themselves assemble through the act of original reporting. The public exists, in other words, only in and through journalism.  While technological changes do not in themselves change the nature public -- as more deterministic theorists have argued – they do change what public is visible to journalists when. In so doping, they shake up journalistic self-confidence about the receptivity of their citizen-audiences, creating confusion about the journalist-public relationship.

Empirically, this chapter draws on fieldwork that took place in the now distant digital past of the 2007 Philadelphia mayor’s race. This political event, and its reporting, marked a key decision point in the history of Philadelphia journalism. It created new understandings about how to cover local elections in a digital world that suddenly contains a plethora of previously unheard public, quasi-journalistic voices, and at a moment when revenues to traditional news institutions began a steep decline. Drawing on observations, interviews, and an overview of the various websites deployed by the two most important Philadelphia newspapers, this chapter demonstrates how cultural self-understandings about professional journalism intersected with new technologies and organizational processes, encouraging the emergence of new modes of news coverage and the expansion of public interpretation.

K. Steen-JohnsenB. EnjolrasK. Andrea Ihlebaek - Institute for Social Research, University of Oslo
News on New Platforms: Norwegian Journalists and Entrepreneurs Face the Digital Age

Norwegian media are widely perceived as in crisis. The printed press is facing a drastic decline in readership and media houses are experiencing economic cutbacks.  Major national and regional newspapers have made significant staff reductions to reduce deficits. It has been argued that these types of changes might mean the end of high quality and critical journalism, posing a major threat to the media’s ability to uphold their professional ethics and defend basic values like freedom of speech and diversity of information. The debate is often framed simply as the response to difficulties in finding viable economic solutions on digital platforms. But fundamental questions about how journalism could be reconstructed are also being raised. While some idealize the journalistic culture and professional ethics from the print era, others call for a transformation of these ideals, either based on economic arguments or on value arguments, as exemplified by participatory journalism.

Based on qualitative interviews with editors and business developers in major media houses in Norway and on a representative survey of Norwegian journalists, this chapter examines the confrontation and negotiations between economic arguments, on the one hand, and arguments related to journalistic ethics and freedom of speech, on the other. We reveal how new journalistic ideals are being established for different platforms (print, computer, tablet and mobile telephone). While online news platforms rely on free minute-to-minute reporting, more costly in depth analysis remains a prerequisite for the financial success of other platforms, not only an idealistic commitment to maintaining media’s particular position in a democracy. Taking as its point of departure the idea that this situation is coded by the social meanings that different actors bestow upon it, this chapter seeks to identify the cultural dynamics guiding current debates within media professions. These debates among media professionals and entrepreneurs have a wider, societal bearing not only on perceptions of the crisis but on potential solutions.

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen - Roskilde University and Oxford University
The Many Crises of Western Journalism: A comparative analysis of economic, professional, and simbolic crises.

The digital-cum-economic crisis facing Western journalism differs in subtle but significant ways from country to country, and fierce struggles play out between different parties over how to interpret the situation and how to confront it.

This chapter presents a comparative analysis of how journalists, media executives, and media policymakers in six different Western democracies (Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the UK, and the US) employ three distinctive frameworks to interpret the state of professional journalism in their country. The first is an economic frame that defines the crisis of professional journalism in existential terms; the second focuses on the weaknesses of the professional model itself; the third defines the crisis in symbolic terms, as a morally problematic relation among journalists, citizens, and power holders.

These three crisis frameworks raise different questions for journalists, media executives, and media policymakers. The economic question is “Will journalism survive?” The professional question is “What is journalism?” The symbolic question is “What is the status of journalism in society?” On the basis of almost one hundred interviews, as well as secondary sources from trade publications and other media, the chapter reveals how answers to these questions differs from country to country, how the forms of argument are combined in distinctive ways, and how different kinds of evidence are mobilized.

Particular constructions of the crisis range from economically and professionally relatively robust countries like Finland and Germany, where symbolic issues loom large; to countries like the US, where economic, professional, and symbolic crises seem to coincide -- and are interpreted in large part through the lens of technology; to countries like France, Italy, and the UK, where crises are seen to coincide but where the roots of crises are seen as predating the rise of the internet and the erosion of existing business models for journalism. Each interpretation of the crisis in Western journalism points to different solutions, from appeals to state intervention in several European countries to calls for pay walls and deregulation in the US.

Håkon Larsen - University of Oslo
The Crisis of Public Service Broadcasting Reconsidered: Privatization and Digitalization in Scandinavia

From the 1930s onwards, national broadcasting was established as a “public services” in several European countries, with an avowed mission to inform, educate and entertain. While not dependent on commercial revenues, these public broadcasting institutions were structured so as also to keep an arm’s length distance from the government. In this way, they composed an important part of the infrastructure of a relatively autonomous civil public sphere.

Facing new technological and economic pressures, the democratic values attached to public service broadcasters are more strenuously explicated and legitimized. The defence of the sacred values of independent journalism takes different forms, depending on the nature of the social change and the cultural logic of the social context. In Scandinavian broadcasting, two major changes have triggered this new legitimation work: (1) The introduction of commercial broadcasting in the late 1980s and early 1990s and (2) The digitalization of broadcast media in the 2000s. I analyse how the threats to the independent journalism of these organizations are mediated culturally, and how the legitimization of independent journalism takes different forms in the different Scandinavian countries. I find it is still possible for the broadcasters to maintain their democratic mission in a digital media environment. The key is maintaining a focus on the quality of the content, regardless of the platform where it is distributed. 

David M. Ryfe - Reynolds School of Journalism
Journalism in American Regional Online News Systems

Drawing on interviews with eighteen individuals who represent fifteen online news sites operating in two regions of the American west, this paper argues that a principal dilemma facing these news sites is that of gaining visibility in their communities. One part of this dilemma involves gaining attention in the cacophony of the web. Another part, however, and one that is less well understood, is the problem of becoming recognizable to others as journalists.

Entrepreneurs with limited backgrounds in journalism struggle to get sources to talk with them and local businesses to trust them. They respond to this dilemma by attempting to show that they are, indeed, journalists. This entails acting in ways that others may recognize as journalistic. The effort to demonstrate themselves to be journalists pulls entrepreneurs toward the culture of journalism. Several conclusions follow. First, it appears that mainstream journalists retain great symbolic power even as the news organizations for which they work found. Second, the culture of journalism remains resilient even in the face of great disruption.

And finally, it appears that the culture of journalism exercises force beyond the newsrooms of mainstream news organizations. In fact, the culture of journalism remains sticky precisely because it is widely embraces across many constituencies.