The role of digital journalism in journalism education

What is the role of digital journalism in journalism education?

It is an important question, and it is one that I have discussed and thought about more than usually since yesterday. The occasion is an opinion piece by Signe Okkels on Journalisten.dk (the trade journal for Danish journalists) where she critiques the journalism study programs in Denmark for not taking the digital dimension serious even though the digital is probably here to stay. Okkels studied journalism at Roskilde University and her point of comparison is a nine-months program at University of Southern California. Her conclusion:

“The level of Danish journalism education must simply be improved, and that calls for a different prioritization of and attitude toward digital journalism.” (translated by me)

It would be easy to just dismiss the critique as anecdotal (“well, that’s just her experience”) and off the mark (what does Okkels know about the other journalism educations in Denmark, including the one I work at?). But I actually think that, to some degree, she has a point – and her piece certainly struck a chord among people in the news industry:

The people tweeting here are obviously ones who pay more attention to the digital and will likely place more emphasis on it than your average editor or journalist (for one thing, they discuss this matter on Twitter…). But that does not disqualify their points of view. On the contrary: they work with the tensions and conflicts that surround the digital in newsrooms on an everyday basis. They know what this is about. For that reason alone, it would be wrong for journalism educators to just discard Okkels’ piece.

I agree with much of what Okkels and her tweeting supporters say. At the journalism study programs, we can do better in integrating digital with everything we do. Or rather, we should stop treating digital as a distinct category and instead teach our students to work with writing, audio, and visuals across all media. Instead of teaching “television and radio”, we should teach “moving images and sound”. We should teach our students about emerging business models, social media skills, WordPress, scraping, and the basic principles of coding as integral parts of the existing curriculum. In many instances, we should get rid of the “digital” prefix – nobody talks about “analogue” or “electronic” journalism, right?

But the thing is – and this is where I respectfully disagree with Okkels’ assessment of current journalism education in Denmark – that we already do much of this. At least at the Centre for Journalism at SDU where I work; what the other institutions do, I cannot speak for. We do not do it all the time, and we do not do it everywhere. But in our “old” MA program, my “J-Lab” course on media innovation and concept development in a transformed media environment is now mandatory. And on the new MA program, which just started on September 1, digital is one of the three cornerstones: the students must make their own websites and publish on it, they learn to write and produce audio and video for whatever platform they choose, and they will spend half a year on a “digital project” in collaboration with media organizations. It is our explicit ambition that these students excel at being digital journalists when they graduate.

I do not mean to be self-congratulatory, because we are not there (wherever that may be) yet. Could we move faster? Yes. Should we move faster? Yes, I think so. Should we be more agile and adapt to changes faster than we do? Yes, of course.

It is one thing that universities are slow organizations with above-average institutional inertia. But Magnus Bjerg from Danish TV 2 raises an important issue in his tweet as does Pernille Holbøll from free daily MetroXpress: not very many students are actually all that interested in the digital. Their observation corresponds with my own experiences from teaching our students and what I hear from colleagues on other Danish universities. Sure, digital is fine and all, but what really matters is getting your byline on the front-page of the printed newspaper or in the evening news. In that context, it is sometimes uphill for educators who actually want to push things in a digital direction (but we can, of course, be better – I am not making excuses). That is also a serious challenge for the news organizations now and in years to come, no doubt about that.

I cannot help thinking that all of this connects somehow to another issue that journalism education at universities must deal with: the theory vs. practice issue. While most professors, themselves socialized in an academic system, are interested in giving their students as much knowledge as possible, most students are interested in practicing journalism and learning the tricks of the trade. They do, after all, study journalism in order to become journalists.

But as Kurt Lewin put it, “There is nothing so practical as a good theory.” A theoretical perspective can inform practice and distinguish the reflexive practitioner from the one who is just doing a job. I strongly believe that in times of rapid and profound contingency changes, practitioners are better off with more theoretical knowledge, not less. And I do not necessarily see a conflict between the theory and practice when they can be mutually informing.

You can, with all due respect, always learn to make a timeline with Timeline.js and embed it on your site, but seeing through the communicative structures of the hybrid media system is not necessarily something you can just do just as good without being familiar with Chadwick’s scholarship.

One example (anecdotal, I am afraid): in most of my under-graduate courses, I at some point present Habermas’ theory of the public sphere to the students. Even though I am quite explicit about my reasons for doing so, I cannot escape the feeling that only the smartest of the students actually grasp why this is important (it proposes one very influential framework for understanding journalism’s raison-d’être), and even they would rather be out there interviewing sources for their next piece of journalism… It will sometimes (often?) be years, before they get the “oh, that’s what he was talking about” moment.

The challenge is that theory is abstract, insights come slowly, and this type of knowledge often exists as a reservoir of understandings that help inform what one does but not always in an explicit or obvious way. Practical skills are concrete, they can be acquired on a basic level fast(er), and they are part of everyday professional life. I understand why students (and their employers-to-be) do not always appreciate the need for and relevance of theory here and now when they could improve their practical skills. (By the way, the tension is of course not new. In 1958, it was what kept the conflict going between Doris Day and Clark Gable in the movie Teacher’s Pet.)

But I think it will be a slippery slope to just focus more on the practical skills, even though they are in high demand, at the expense of the theoretical dimension. Rather, I think we need to re-calibrate the journalism study programs in line with what I have mentioned above. I think we are doing the right thing with our new MA program. And I think we as researchers and educators at journalism study programs could be better in articulating why theoretical approaches can be useful for the students and the news industry. American scholars like Nikki Usher and Mark Coddington are extremely good at this; we can learn from them.

The critique from Okkels and others has two dimensions, one that has to do with what we do (where I actually think we might be a little more digital than we are given credit for) and one that has to do with our pace of adapting (where I think we could be better). Within the structural framework of universities, we – and again, I cannot speak for other than myself and my closest colleagues – try to work with these issues in a way that does not compromise scholarly quality; as C.W. Anderson has argued, one of the unique features of academia is that we actually have time and are expected to think hard about our objects of study, which takes a lot of time. Sometimes the slow approach is the best way to generate new insight, even though it obviously clashes with rapid and radical transformations that take place here and now. I do not mention this as an excuse, rather as an explanation. And it does not exempt us from being digital enough in our teaching. We can do more in that area.

If I should wish for something in return, it would be that our students embrace the digital more than they do today. It is, in all likelihood, where many of them will spend their entire career, but it is all too rare that a critique such as Okkels’ is put forth.

Full disclosure: The Danish community of journalism educators is small, and the circle of people teaching and researching digital journalism is even smaller. For this reason, I know the people Okkels critiques and even consider many of them good friends. I hope this has not clouded my judgment on this matter.

Update, September 15, 2015: The discussion has continued today, and I have added the tweet by Pernille Holbøll above. Furthermore, Filip Wallberg and Mads-Jakob Vad Kristensen have contributed to the discussion on their respective blogs; their basic argument is that starting one’s own medium should be mandatory for all journalism students.

NordMedia 2015 in review

Back from the NordMedia 2015 conference in Copenhagen. It is the biannual media researcher conference for the Nordic countries (in 2013, it was in Oslo), and this time (as in Oslo) it was a very good experience. Congratulations to my former colleagues at the Department for Media, Cognition and Communication at the University of Copenhagen for successfully organizing the conference – in particular, I applaud the efforts of Anne Jerslev and Christa Lykke Christensen, who served as chairs of the organizing committee.

On the conference, I presented two of the projects I am currently working on.

First, I had organized a panel on “Journalism and Social Media”, where Ulrika Hedman (Gothenburg University), Anders Olof Larsson and Christian Christensen (Oslo University and Stockholm University, respectively), and I presented our research on, well, journalism and social media. While the papers by Ulrika and Anders/Christian were empirical pieces with analyses of large data sets, my own paper was of a rather theoretical character, discussing the relationship between the private, the personal, and the professional on journalists’ social media profiles. It was very much a work-in-progress, but I expect it to be a finished article ready for submission to a journal later this year.

I know Anders from my visiting fellowship at Oslo University earlier this year, and Ulrika and I have kept on online conversation going for the last couple of years since our research interest into social media journalism are very closely connected (but for some peculiar reason we had not actually met in persons before the NordMedia conference – very nice to finally do so). For me, it was quite a “dream team” of scholars that participated in the panel, and the presentations certainly met my high expectations. All in all, I think the panel was a success – not least thanks to the insightful questions and smart comments from the audiences.

Here is the proposal for the panel:

As social media have proliferated extensively over recent years, they now play an increasingly important part in journalistic practices and in the workings of news organizations. Having a de-centralized and distributed character, social media constitute a very different communicative structure than traditional mass media, which are built upon the logic of one-to-many communication. Hermida (2014), for example, identifies Twitter as an “ambient news network” because of the constant and multi-directional exchange of information, journalism, opinions, and social intelligence on the social medium. Furthermore, journalists are not the only ones on social media conducting journalism, and not all activities performed by journalists on social media are of a journalistic nature.

So, the established order of journalism is challenged since social media induce alternative, more personalized, ways of expressions and flows of public communication into the workings of the mass media system. The questions, then, are how actors, organizations, and institutions rooted in the “old” media system accommodate to the “new” media platforms, and how their routines and practices change because of them.

The panel brings together researchers from Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. It consists of three papers, which complement each other in approaching the how social media influence journalism and the ways news media and news workers work from different perspectives (participatory practices, “social media logics”, sociological role theory) and with different methodological frameworks (content analyses, case studies). Together, they address the multi-facetted responses to the challenges brought about by social media and the heterogeneous research that currently maps these developments.

Be sure to read Ulrika’s blog post about the research she presented (in Swedish – she also has a shorter piece in English) as well as Anders’ about his presentations.

Second, I presented a paper (again, work-in-progress) about media policy responses to the convergence of news media sectors in Denmark (to some degree a re-run of the paper I presented at the 2nd International Conference on Public Policy in Milan last month). Here, I am still collecting the last pieces of data from the political parties eligible to run at elections for the Danish parliament, but I expect the article version of this paper to be published next year.

I almost always find it enjoyable to attend conferences and present my work. But the NordMedia conferences are something special because they constitute an opportunity to see all the good colleagues from the Nordic countries – many of whom I have know throughout most of my academic career and almost consider my “research family“. So I am looking forward to the 2017 conference in Tampere, Finland.

Other highlights:

  • Lee Humphrey’s excellent key note speak on “The Qualified Self” where she, among other things, argued that the sociality and (perceived) self-indulgence of social media is nothing new but rather goes back to the format of the diary in the 19th century. (I unfortunately missed Klaus Bruhn Jensen’s keynote on meta-communication.)
  • The planning of future collaborations with colleagues in Denmark and abroad. One of the strengths of the NordMedia setup is that it facilitates and encourages international comparative work, and after my meetings with some amazingly smart people, there are interesting projects in the pipeline.
  • Being elected chair of the Journalism Studies division of NordMedia.
  • The national meeting, where large parts of the Danish media research community attended, and where we got lots of useful feedback for our work in the Association for Media Researchers in Denmark (SMiD).
  • The “Digital Methods” workshop organized by Stine Lomborg and Anders Olof Larsson as a pre-conference.
  • This tweeted image, which caught my PhD supervisor and friend Stig Hjarvard at a light moment:

Special issue of Journalism Practice on cultural journalism

In case you missed it, a research article of mine was recently published in Journalism Practice. The article is part of a special issue on “Cultural Journalism and the Media Reporting of Culture”, which is edited by my good colleagues Nete Nørgaard Kristensen and Unni From. It is, I think, an important special issue because the community of journalism scholars has tended to neglect research in journalism on arts and culture and instead focus on political journalism (not that political journalism is not important – it most certainly is). In an international context, this special issue is one of the first publications on the subject, and it will likely be a standard reference or go-to source for students, researchers, and practitioners alike in years to come.

The special issue will be out in hard copy in December, but the articles are already published online. And so, as a service and in the spirit of getting good research out there sooner rather than later, I have taken the liberty to put together an improvised table of contents here with links to the articles:

Because of the set-up at the publisher, people not employed by research organizations probably will not have free access to the articles (except of, perhaps, through public libraries); should you have trouble with accessing the articles, contact the authors directly and they will likely be happy to provide you with pre-print versions of their articles.

For people attending the NordMedia 2015 conference in Copenhagen, which starts on Thursday, please note that some of the research found in the special issue will also be presented at the panel “Pushing the boundaries of journalism: Nordic cultural journalism in transition” on Friday, 10:15-12:00, in room 15A.1.13.

And should you be interested in our research on cultural criticism, stay tuned for the collaborative “From Ivory Tower to Twitter: Rethinking the Cultural Critic in Contemporary Media Culture“ research project that starts officially on September 1 this year.

Ezra Klein, Nate Silver, and DJ Tiësto

I’ve got a new post on Danish media site MediaWatch. It’s about how the most successful journalists build a personal brand that allows them to operate more freely than organizational actors are usually able to. Paraphrasing Mark Deuze, it mentions that their business model somewhat resembles that of music stars such as DJ Tiësto.

The post is in Danish and requires subscription. But exclusively for the readers of my blog, it’s also (as always) available here:

Fremtidens journalist er som DJ Tiësto

Journalister bliver i stigende grad løsttilknyttede, kreative medarbejdere. Det stiller krav til deres evne til at brande og kapitalisere sig selv, skriver Aske Kammer, adjunkt ved Center for Journalistik, SDU.

Journalister skal bygge deres egne brands og markedsføre sig selv på sociale medier. Det har vi hørt gentagne gange de seneste år. Nu understreger en aktuel sag fra de højere luftlag i den amerikanske mediebranche imidlertid, at der er tale om mere end blot en floskel.

Sagen har været relativt ubemærket i dansk sammenhæng men går i al sin enkelthed ud på, at den unge, amerikanske stjerne-skribent Ezra Klein efter sigende har truet med at forlade forlade The Washington Post. Her bestyrer han bloggen Wonkblog, som er en blanding af statistisk journalistik, analyse og holdningsbårne klummer, og som har særdeles gode besøgstal. Og så er han en gudsbenådet skribent – klar i mælet med en personlig stemme, skarp, kritisk, overvældende produktiv og har i skrivende stund 411.303 followers på Twitter.

Sagen er imidlertid den, at avisens ledelse efter sigende ikke har villet give Klein friere tøjler til at opbygge et nyt site med mere af det samme – men uden for Washington Posts ejerskab (avisen ejer Wonkblog). Kleins modtræk lader til at være, at han forlader avisen for selv at køre sitet, som han  – vel at mærke – angiveligt allerede har sikret solid økonomisk polstring.

Der er, som mine forsigtige formuleringer også afslører, mange usikkerheder og ubekendte i historien. Men selv hvis detaljerne viser sig ikke at holde vand, cementerer den ikke desto mindre på en tendens – nemlig at succesfulde journalister i stigende grad udgør et personligt brand, der fanger (medie-)interesse.

I særlige tilfælde er dette brand af en sådan kaliber, at den enkelte journalist kan skabe sig en karriere uden for den enkelte organisation. Klein er et eksempel på denne type journalist. Den amerikanske statistiker og skribent Nate Silver er et andet og mindst lige så bemærkelsesværdigt

Silver er statistik-nørden, som ved det amerikanske præsidentvalg i 2012 korrekt forudsagde resultaterne i samtlige delstater på sin blog FiveThirtyEight på The New York Times netavis.

Denne forudsigelse sikrede Silver øjeblikkelig berømmelse, og bloggen, hvor den løbende blev opdateret og justeret under valgkampen, var et vigtigt økonomisk aktiv for avisen; ifølge en artikel i det anerkendte magasin New Republic var op til hver femte besøgende på The New York Times’ netavis lige inde omkring Silvers blog i dagene omkring Obamas valgsejr.

Silvers historie rummer en klar parallel til Kleins. Da The New York Times i 2013 ikke indvilligede i at tilføre Silver yderligere ressourcer, så han kunne udbygge FiveThirtyEight-bloggen, rykkede han nemlig teltpælene op og tog den med til sportskanalen ESPN, hvor han nu analyserer baseball og amerikanske valg. Det er et tab for The New York Times – men ikke nødvendigvis for Nate Silver.

Pointen er, at hans personlige journalistiske brand er af en sådan værdi, at det rimeligt uproblematisk kan klare sig uafhængigt af medieorganisationerne. Hvis mediet ikke vil lege med, afsluttes samarbejdet.

Brandets værdi opstår gennem en kombination af indholdsproduktion af høj kvalitet og en sans for personlig branding og forretning; da det eksempelvis stod klart, at Silvers forudsigelse var korrekt i alle delstater, tweetede han med en kæk bemærkning en henvisning til sin bog på Amazon, hvorefter salget steg med omtrent 850 pct.. Det vigtige er kvaliteten, men markedsføringen af den er medvirkende til at sikre en skare af læsere, som trofast følger den enkelte journalist.

Vi kender også tendensen fra Danmark, hvor en person som Rune Lykkeberg (kulturredaktør på Politiken, red.) vel nok er en af de skrivende journalister, der pt. har det stærkeste personlige brand.

Men også journalister som Line Holm Nielsen (Berlingske, red.) og Kaare Sørensen (Jyllands-Posten, red.)er gennem bogudgivelser, højt-profilerede artikler og en særdeles offensiv tilstedeværelse på især Twitter godt i gang med at opbygge et personligt varemærke, som rækker ud over henholdsvis Berlingske og Jyllands-Posten.

Tendensen til, at journalister skaber deres eget brand er imidlertid ikke blot udsprunget af personlige ambitioner og de nye teknologiske muligheder for at positionere sig (eller score kassen). Den er også et udtryk for en tilpasning til strukturelle forandringer i mediebranchen.

Her er midlertidige ansættelser og projektansættelser blevet normen i et i stigende grad usikkert arbejdsmarked, hvor grænserne for, hvem der arbejder journalistisk, også er under udviskning. I et sådant arbejdsmarked er personlig branding og profilering en naturlig reaktion, ligesom det at være involveret i mange projekter på én gang er det.

Det har fået den hollandske medieforsker Mark Deuze til at bruge DJ Tiësto som et billede på den måde, journalister bør arbejde for at sikre sig en plads i fremtidens mediebranche.

Den hollandske dj tjener nemlig ikke kun til dagen og vejen gennem sin musik. Tværtimod har han gennem en stor og differentieret produktion (musik, koncerter, merchandise, etc.) og en flittig tilstedeværelse på eksempelvis sociale medier positioneret sig som en vigtig del af et netværk, hvor en stor gruppe mennesker er interesserede i det, han laver. Han har så at sige både skabt en butik og kunder til selvsamme butik.

Hvis vi drager en paralle til journalistisk arbejde, så handler det altså for den enkelte journalist om at slå sit navn fast med høj kvalitet (gerne på en række forskellige platforme) og kapitalisere på det på alle tænkelige måder.

Så i fremtiden vil den succesfulde journalist altså ikke være den, der skriver eller producere til ét medie, men derimod den som kan omstille sig, producere indhold til en række forskellige private og organisatoriske platform, markedsføre sig selv og – i udtrykket allermest bogstavelige betydning – sælge varen.

“Journalism in an industry”, special issue

Journalistica 1-2013In Danish newsrooms, a saying goes that “we don’t produce a newspaper in order to make money. We make money, so that we can produce a newspaper.” The idea is to signal how publicist considerations are more important than commercial ones in a news organization, and how selling news is only a means to undertake news production.

In recent years, we have, however, witnessed a change in that perception. Newsrooms as well as journalism research have increasingly been oriented towards the economic framework of news production. It’s a shift in focus which is caused, to a large extent, by the economic crisis of the news industry – and it is also the subject of a recently published special issue of academic, peer-reviewed journal Journalistica, which I have edited. The special issue corresponds with my current research into the digital business models of the press and also ties in with a seminar I arranged back in 2012.

The headline of the special issue is “Journalism in an industry“, and the theme section consists of one introduction and five research articles:

  • Aske Kammer: Introduktion: Journalistik i en industri [Journalism in an industry; in Danish]
  • Jonas Ohlsson: De svenska tidningsstiftelserna: Partipressens sista bastion? [Swedish newspaper foundations – the last stand of the party press?; in Swedish]
  • Piet Bakker: The life cycle of a free newspaper business model in newspaper-rich markets
  • Astrid Marie Holand: Et delt mediemarked: Prosesser som fremmer små aviser [A divided media market; in Norwegian]
  • Jens Barland: Innovasjon av inntekter: Journalistikk som bygger kunderelasjoner [Innovation of revenues; in Norwegian]
  • Ingela Wadbring: Journalists care about commercialization

In addition to the theme section, the issue also contains a number of articles (mostly in Danish). The journal is published open access, so all articles can be read free of charge. Enjoy.

Update January 11, 2014: Some of the research articles have resonated with people “out there”. Piet Bakker’s article received a very nice mentioning on the Nieman Journalism Lab website, while Jannie Møller Hartley’s article on hierarchies in news organizations (article not in the theme section) was discussed on the dSeneste blog (Danish).

24 on journalism

This December, I’ve counted down to Christmas by tweeting one (in one instance: four) great piece on journalism, news, or the media each day. I’ve used the hashtag #24onjournalism and hope my followers have enjoyed this little countdown nearly as much as I’ve enjoyed putting it together.

If you’re not familiar with Twitter, or you just want the full overview of the content of this Christmas calendar in collected in one place – here you go:

Happy Holidays.

Journalism’s struggle for legitimacy

New post on MediaWatch (behind paywall and in Danish):

Journalistikken kæmper for sin egen legitimitet

Når DR sætter Martin Krasnik til skyde skarpt mod sin egen chef om exitpoll-fadæsen, er det et eksempel på, hvordan medierne i stigende grad kæmper for at forsvare deres egen troværdighed, skriver Aske Kammer, ph.d. og ekstern lektor.

Den famøse exitprognose, som DR offentliggjorde ved sidste uges kommunalvalg, har fået megen opmærksomhed i medierne: Den ramte langt forbi det endelige valgresultat, kan have påvirket vælgerne og gav ikke mindst Socialdemokraternes formand fejlagtigt stof til en taber-tale

Men exit-fadæsen rummer også et andet perspektiv: Efterdønningerne er blevet endnu et eksempel på, hvordan medier og journalister i stigende grad kæmper aktivt for deres troværdighed.

Dagen efter kommunalvalget interviewede Deadline-vært Martin Krasnik DR’s daværende nyhedschef (og altså Krasniks egen chef) Jakob Kwon om sagen. Og Krasnik gik til stålet med særdeles kritiske spørgsmål.

Interviewet blev selvfølgelig nævnt på både sociale og traditionelle medier (det vanlige ”Sådan, Krasnik!”, osv). Men de mere principielle fortolkninger er blevet forbigået.

Journalistikken og nyhedsmedierne er magtfulde institutioner. De er borgernes primære bindeled til den politiske offentlighed, og kan (og skal) sætte spot på urent trav hos de formelle og uformelle magthavere.

I bogen ’Hvor kommer nyhederne fra?’ fra 2009 fremfører mediejournalist Lasse Jensen dog den kritik, at medierne glemmer at rette kanonen mod en vigtig magthaver: Journalistikken selv. Der skrives meget om mediernes strukturer, økonomi, osv., men meget lidt om selve journalistikken, skriver Jensen.

Det kan der være mange gode grunde til. Men det ændrer ikke ved, at det har været uklart, hvem (om nogen) der har vogtet vogterne. Der har naturligvis været Pressenævnet, men dets rolle og ikke mindst (mangel på) slagkraft har været en tilbagevendende debat i mediebranchen – og kritik fra politisk hold.

2013 har imidlertid budt på flere bemærkelsesværdige eksempler på, at journalist-standen vender det kritiske blik mod andre journalister:

Hos Zetland skrev Ida Nyegård Espersen en single om BT’s redaktør Simon Andersen, hvor sammenblandingen af private, professionelle og politiske interesser blandt journalister blev fremhævet.

I fagbladet Journalisten skrev Rune Skyum-Nielsen og Emil Ellesøe Ditzel i en særdeles kritisk artikel, hvordan Dan Tschernia angiveligt kørte TV 2 Lorry lige på kanten af reglerne.

I kølvandet på Krasniks meget omtalte interview med formanden for Trykkefrihedsselskabet, Lars Hedegaard, interviewede TV 2’s Poul Erik Skammelsen som gæstevært på Deadline Krasnik om journalistisk metode og rimelighed.

Og nu udspørger Krasnik altså sin egen chef uden at lægge fingrene imellem.

Disse eksempler er ikke blot interessante, fordi de giver et indblik i en kulørt, magtfuld og lukket medieverden. De er også interessante i en større sammenhæng, fordi de kan ses som eksempler på journalistikkens kamp for at fastholde sin legitimitet.

Når politikere og andre magthavere konstant udfordrer journalisternes arbejde, angriber det mediernes vederhæftighed. Jyske Banks aggressive strategi i forhold til DR’s dokumentarserie om skattefifleri er et aktuelt eksempel. Selvom det ligger i journalistikkens DNA stille spørgsmål til andres troværdighed, så tærer det alligevel, når der offentligt og ved gentagne lejligheder sættes spørgsmålstegn ved mediernes egen troværdigheden.

Som jeg ser det, kan de kritiske portrætter og historier om journalistikken, dens personer og virksomheder, forstås som et tegn på, at medierne er blevet sig dette bevidst: De er nødt til at forsvare deres egen legitimitet. De må åbne op og vise sig villige til at underkaste sig selv og sine egne den samme behandling, de samme krav om transparens, som de udsætter andre for.

På den måde er den kritiske journalistik om journalistik ikke kun samfundsrelevant stof, der forholder sig til en af de magtfulde institutioner. Det er også små fægtninger i kampen om, hvilken plads og legitimitet journalistikken fremover kan påberåbe sig

Reuniting with the research family

I’m in the airport – Arlanda, Stockholm. I’m on my way home from the last seminar of the Nordic Research Network in Journalism Studies, which has existed for almost four years and consists of journalism researchers from the Nordic and Baltic countries. The network is headed by Professor Sigurd Allern and is funded by Nordforsk, whose grant is, however, expiring.

The network has arranged seven seminars of which I’d already participated in three, and they have always been of very high value for me. I always learn a lot, often get inspiration for ways to improve and tweak my own research, and have more than once gotten a little intimidated by just how smart some of my colleagues are. This fourth seminar was no exception. The presentations in Stockholm were generally of a high quality, but I’ll highlight only the ones that made the most impression on me and that stand the clearest for me now as I’m waiting for my plane, writing this blog post:

  • Nina Kvalheim (Bergen University) presented interesting new data on what characterizes the content of one news website before and after its introduction of a paywall.
  • Helle Sjøvaag (Bergen University) addressed the issue of journalistic autonomy. I cannot recapitulate her exact point here, but her presentation certainly provided food for thought.
  • Magnus Danielson (Stockholm University) addressed the element of shame in a Swedish journalistic television program. His point was that the shaming of “the bad guys” both serves as a journalistic tool and has a certain guilty-pleasure appeal to the audiences.
  • Jens Barland (Gjøvik University College) outlined why and how corporate media may get to think of journalism as a means to attract eyeballs to their other online services (e.g., micro-banking) rather than an end in itself.

I presented a paper with the title ”Types of reader participation in the production of online news”, which is an English version of one of the articles from my dissertation, News on the Web: instantaneity, multimodality, interactivity, and hypertextuality on Danish news websites. I’ll let others judge whether the presentation was successful and just mention that I got some really useful feedback from appointed opponent Christian Christensen.

Stockholm trees

In some way, I come full circle with this seminar, which took place only a couple of weeks after the defense of my dissertation. The very first international seminar I attended as a researcher, only three months into my PhD project, was one arranged by this network, namely the Oslo seminar in April, 2010. This seminar was also were I first presented a paper for an academic audience and had to face and deal with the critique from peers in front of that kind of audience; I must admit, that was quite a nerve-wrecking experience for me as a new member of the academic society (at least until I got to actually present – of course it went okay once I got started). And as a matter of fact, my papers in Oslo, 2010, and Stockholm, 2013, actually also drew upon some of the same empirical material. I wouldn’t go as far as saying I had a feeling of déjà-vu, but there are certainly parallels at play here.

This seminar, however, was the last one within the Nordic Research Network of Journalism Studies.

One of the most valuable assets of the research network has been that many other scholars in the beginning of their academic careers have participated in it. So, I’ve met a lot of interesting people who not only work with related research interests but also deal with the same issues of professional insecurity and the challenges of dissertation writing. I guess it’s always nice to know you’re not the only one with that kind of uncertainties, and sometimes people in the same position as yourself are better to talk to about that than senior researchers with permanent employment who may not quite remember what it was like.

Among the other participants in the research network, I’ve made some very good friends and established a large number of important professional connections. There is a very large number of persons who I hope to see again soon and cooperate with.

For me, the Nordic Research Network in Journalism Studies and the members of it have constituted one recurring and important point of orientation throughout my PhD work. In addition to the Oslo seminar and, of course, this final Stockholm seminar, I’ve participated in the seminars in Copenhagen (2010) and Bergen (2011). Especially the last two seminars have reminded me of some kind of family reunion – you meet some people who you really like but who you don’t talk to quite as often as you’d like to. And as you know most of the people in advance, you don’t have to put a lot of resources into getting to know new people but can focus on what’s important.

A lot of other good things could be said about the Nordic Research Network in Journalism Studies. But now, my plane is ready for departure, and it’s time to go.

CfP: The business models of journalism

I recently joined the editorial board of Journalistica, the Danish journal for journalism studies. One of my first actions as editor has been to suggest a theme issue of the journal about the business models of journalism – a suggestion which my fellow editors agreed upon. This theme issue will relate to some of the most important questions in current news production – most importantly, how journalism is financed, and how it will be so in the future. These are questions that was addressed on the “New business models for the news industry” seminar, which I arranged on the University of Copenhagen last November, and now this theme issue will be an interesting venue for continuing this work; and hopefully so with a broad range of fellow researchers.

Topics of interest for the theme issue include (but are not limited to):

  • Institutional changes in the news market
  • Ownership and its consequences
  • Public and private subsidies to news media
  • Google, Facebook, and other new, commercial actors in the news business
  • Payment models for online news
  • Free news and changes in news consumption
  • Audience segmentation
  • The economy of journalistic start-ups, blogs, websites with niche news, etc.
  • Commercialization of news values

We currently have some problems with the journal’s website, but here, you can read the full CfP (English version). Deadline for submissions is May 1, and publication is scheduled for December 2013. Contributions may be in Scandinavian languages (Danish, Norwegian, or Swedish) or English and should not exceed 35,000 keystrokes.

PS: you can get future news, calls for papers, and announcements via Journalistica’s Facebook site.

An Englishman in Copenhagen

I’m happy to announce that in the Spring semester, we’ll welcome Ben Falk as a visiting lecturer at the Department of Media, Cognition, and Communication. Ben is an English journalist, currently teaching journalism at London Metropolitan University, and in the week of February 25, 2013, he’ll participate in teaching activities at my department. The visit is part of the European researcher exchange program LLP/Erasmus.

Ben will participate in three arrangements here in Copenhagen: First, he’ll give a lecture on my MA course about news and journalism in Denmark. Second, he’ll visit Marianne Lentz’ course on practical journalism writing, drawing upon his experience as a journalist. And third, he’ll participate in the open seminar “The production or arts and cultural journalism” alongside associate professor Nete Nørgaard Kristensen from my department. This seminar will be held on February 28 from 10am to 12pm in room 22.0.11 at the Southern Campus of University of Copenhagen. Admission to this seminar is free of charge and registration is not necessary, so everybody is welcome.

The best ideas and the most interesting projects are often conceived in the company of people with different perspectives and backgrounds. For this reason as well, I look forward to welcoming Ben to Copenhagen.

Teaching two courses next Spring

This is a public service announcement: next Spring, after having handed in my PhD dissertation in January, I will be teaching two courses at the Department of Media, Cognition, and Communication on the University of Copenhagen. Even though both courses will be in Danish, students can take their exams in English, so foreign students shouldn’t hesitate to contact me if they’re interested in the subjects.

The first course is called Nyheder og journalistik i Danmark [News and journalism in Denmark] and will be on MA level. It is an elective module and will be about my key research-interest, namely news and journalism and their place in a broader societal context.

The other course is a compulsory course for our BA students and is called Faktateori og -analyse [Non-Fiction Theory and Analysis]. Years ago, when I was a student myself, this course (then taught by my excellent colleague today Nete Nørgaard Kristensen) played a very important part in turning my interest towards journalism, so it’s fun for me to now come somewhat full circle and be the one teaching it.

Danish Twitter profiles about #journalism

A service for my Danish-speaking readers primarily: inspired by a list of 100 English language Twitter profiles, which every journalism student must follow, I have made a Danish list. It is a lot shorter as it includes only 15 Twitter profiles that are good resources for people who want to follow current developments within Danish news media and journalism. The list (presented in alphabetical order) is somewhat idiosyncratic and hardly exhaustive, so let me know if I’ve forgotten someone or gotten something wrong, then I’ll revise the list later.

  • @Ahaheder: Ahaheder.dk, research-based web magazine on journalism
  • @bo_elkjaer: Bo Elkjær, editor of Journalisten
  • @ernstpoulsen: Ernst Poulsen, digital/new media journalist
  • @fiwa: Filip Wallberg, associate professor at the University of Southern Denmark
  • @julie_h_toft: Julie H. Toft, journalist at MediaWatch.dk
  • @KaareSorensen: Kaare Sørensen, journalist at Jyllands-Posten
  • @larskjensen: Lars K. Jensen, media blogger (employed at Ekstra Bladet)
  • @LasseJensen7: Lasse Jensen, radio host and grand old man of Danish media journalism
  • @LineHolm1: Line Holm Nielsen, journalist at Berlingske
  • @MikaelRomer: Mikael Rømer, journalist at DR
  • @orskov: Stig Kirk Ørskov, COO of JP/Politikens Hus
  • @PernilleT: Pernille Tranberg, head of editorial development at Berlingske
  • @rosenorn: Søren Rosenørn, managing editor at Gong
  • @tafkal: Lars Damgaard Nielsen, editor of social media at DR
  • @troelsbj: Troels B. Jørgensen, web editor at Kristeligt Dagblad

Furthermore, you must of course follow the hashtags #dkmedier and #medienyt and also check out @LineHolm1’s list of Berlingske journalists and @tafkal’s list of DR journalists.

Update September 28, 2012: Thanks to Line Holm Nielsen and Lars Damgaard Nielsen, some details have now been corrected/added.

Update June 7, 2013: Ernst Poulsen has put together a list of all Danish journalists on Twitter.

The celebrity guest editors

On occasion of today’s edition of metroXpress, which was edited by the Danish crown prince, I’ve taken a look at the trend among especially free dailies to use celebrities as guest editors.

The trend started earlier abroad but as far as I can tell, the first instance of it in Denmark was when then leader of the then largest opposition party and current Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt edited Nyhedsavisen, which is now closed, on May 1, 2007. Later, then party leader Naser Khader and scientist Bjørn Lomborg were also in charge of the content of this free daily (on respectively June 5, 2007, and May 21, 2008).

MetroXpress, the main Danish publication of Metro International, however, leads the pack when it comes to inviting celebrity guest editors: here, radio host duo De Sorte Spejdere (April 22, 2008), pop group Outlandish (their front page is the illustration to this blog post; June 4, 2009), judges of television show Talent 09 (September 11, 2009), comedians from television sketch show Live fra Bremen (March 4, 2010), rock group Volbeat (music section only; May 23, 2011), and rapper L.O.C. (music section only; November 7, 2011) have acted as editors-in-chief for one day, and global guest editors-in-chief James Blunt (November 17, 2008), Lady Gaga (may 17, 2011), and Karl Lagerfeld (February 7, 2012) have also indirectly been in charge of the Danish free dailies.

The question remains, however, who benefits from this widespread use of guest editors.

As I see it, the news organizations are first in line to reap the harvest from this arrangement. They get a lot of mainly positive publicity, and the readership is likely to spike (when Bono guest edited UK broadsheet the Independent in 2006, for example, it reportedly sold 70.000 extra copies). In the next line, the celebrity guest editors get enormous exposure – also to segments of the population, they aren’t usually in contact with (which is fortunate as the guest editing often coincide with album releases or other cultural events). This way, both media and celebrities benefit, and from their point of view the whole guest editor arrangement makes economically sense.

But how about the public? A positive effect is that guest editors can sometimes make possible or highlight specific stories because of their personal positions and networks. If Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the leader of the Danish Social Democrats, had not been in the editorial chair on the International Workers’ Day 2007, Nyhedsavisen’s readers might not have been able to read an exclusive interview with the leading Swedish social democrat Mona Sahlin. And in her 2011 Metro edition, Lady Gaga focused intensely on the rights of homosexuals, drawing attention to a subject matter that seems to be neglected in a lot of countries.

Two negative consequences, however, are that the quality of the news might not exactly benefit from having a celebrity rather than a news professional in the driving seat and that the selection of news can be somewhat more eclectic than usually. Critically inclined persons would say that the audiences get inferior news while the media and entertainment industry get the advantages. The way I see it, however, is that when celebrities take over, the news is not only about udating the public (though it often is when you’ve turned over the first approximately 15 pages and reached the point where it’s just business as usual). On the contrary, rather than being information about current event, the guest edited newspaper constitute an experience in itself for the reader and should be understood that way. It’s an intellectual experiment come to live: what does the world look like through the eyes of this or that celebrity?

In his seminal article “What “Missing the Newspaper” Means” from 1949, Bernard Berelson pointed out that newspaper reading “has respite value” (p. 119). When guest editors putting together free dailies, creating an experience for the readers, I think this is still the case.

Update October 5, 2012: Yesterday, Sir Richard Branson was Global Guest Editor-In-Chief of Metro. Here are links to the Danish and American versions of “his” newspaper.

Urban closes, Metro International last man standing

Berlingske Media – publisher of the oldest Danish newspaper and currently owned by London-based investment company Mecom Group – just announced that they will close their free daily newspaper Urban tomorrow, leaving metroXpress and 24timer [24hours] (both owned by Metro International) as the only national free daily newspapers in Denmark. In a press release, CEO of Berlingske Media Lisbeth Knudsen says that

“We [Berlingske] expect a year where economical growth won’t increase, where consumption won’t increase, and where the pressure on the transition from print to digital and mobile will continue. We have to make sure that the group continues to be strong in the competetive situation we face. […] We are sad to choose to say goodbye to thousands of faithful readers of our free daily newspaper Urban but there are no indications that advertising conditions will turn advantageous for the national market for free daily newspapers in 2012; with three [free daily] newspapers there are too many players for that part of the advertising.” (my translation)

When I taught a course on free daily newspapers and news media in Denmark in the Fall of 2009, one of the things I discussed with the students was of course the future of the free daily newspapers. Would they all survive (the financial crisis was also peaking at that time)? If not, which would close? Or perhaps new ones would open? We agreed that if one of the free daily newspapers were to close, it would probably be Urban. Why?

First, the target audiences of metroXpress and 24timer were much more clearcut; metroXpress spoke to an audience interested in international matters and politics while 24timer prioritized lifestyle and service journalism. Urban’s target audience was, however, less clearly defined and it could be hard to define exactly who it was written for. We expected that when having three different free newspapers to choose from, people would probably go for the one that matched their interests best – and judging from Piet Bakker’s recent calculation of readership, I’d say they apparently did.

Second, Berlingske Media was under immense pressure (to say the least) from their owners in Mecom to make a profit; in that situation, giving away news for free on one more platform than the existing economic problem-child of the web seemed an unlikely long-term strategy. Substituting shop steward Thomas Conradsen more or less touches upon the same perspective in a comment to the professional journal of Danish journalists:

“I don’t know if you can say we’re surprised. You know that when you don’t generate profit, it’ll have consequences some day. But we have run the newspaper as [economically] tight as we could so we hoped we would make it.” (my translation)

I’m actually a little surprised to see such an honest admission that Urban wasn’t profitable. But for the two reasons given above, I wouldn’t say that I’m very surprised the free daily newspaper closed.

In 2001, Metro International introduced the first free daily newspaper to the Danish citizens. Now, 10 years later, the transnational publishing company remains the last man standing on the Danish market for free daily newspapers. And with two outlets now instead of just one in the beginning, the organization might actually come out stronger from the battle against now closed free alternatives Nyhedsavisen, dato, and Urban.

Pastry, a lamp, and little Holger – 2011 on news websites

New Year’s Eve is always a good opportunity to look back at the old year and evaluate – accordingly, lists of the best and the worst, the most memorable, popular, forgetable, admirable, embarrasing, etc., of year X constitute a popular genre in the last days of the year.

On news websites, this kind of evaluating lists often appear in the shape of articles about the most-read articles of the year that passed. And for a researcher on web-based news and journalism – such as me – these lists provide an interesting overview of what people actually read when they go online for news. That being said, I must stress the un-academic nature of the following reflections on readership on Danish news websites: the sampling is close to random as I have looked only at the top lists on the Danish news websites that I found searching for “mest læste i 2011” (‘most read in 2011’) and “mest læste 2011” (‘most read 2011’) on Google; the analysis is descriptive and explorative at best; the statistical significance is not calculated (and probably non-existing)! Nevertheless, the lists of most-read articles do give an indication about the patterns of online readership.

On Politiken, the online editor claims that “There is a clear tendency that the readers click on to the more serious news” (my translation). Even though there are indications of this pattern on Politiken’s websites, it is certainly a qualified truth when you look across the different news websites. It is true, that many of the most popular events in terms of readership on news websites were of a serious kind: the Arab Spring, the benchmarking of public schools in Denmark, the terrorist attack in Norway, the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan, and especially the election of a new parlament and appointment of a new government in Denmark were events that readers were very interested in. Those events are all the kind of hard news that journalists, scholars, and concerned citizens agree are important for a functioning public sphere and society.

The most popular event, however, seems to be the disappearence of the little boy Holger which generated numerous articles on the news websites. Readers followed this story intensely and many – among them one of TV 2’s reporters who started crying – must have felt sheer relief when the red-haired boy was finally found and returned to his parents; the articles about the happy ending of the searching were among the most-read on many news websites. The Holger story was only the most prominent example of soft news reaching a large audience.

The 2011 readership of Danish news websites, however, also substantiated and confirmed some of the prejudices about content of online news and the people that reads it. Stories about sex and nudity (quite often with pictures…), celebrities (e.g. the deaths of Amy Winehouse and Danish singer Flemming Bamse Jørgensen), and quirky, uncommon events were popular everywhere. And on Politiken, the most-read article was about TV-gardener Søren Ryge and the best pretzel-shaped pastry in the world; it appears that the turn towards more serious news still has at least some way to go…

When it comes to the websites of local news media, it is clear that the local stories constitute the most popular content. The most-read article from Dagbladet Ringkjøbing-Skjern was, for example, the exciting though very short piece “Lampe revet af væg” (‘Lamp torn of wall’); likewise, in Esbjerg Ugeavis the ultimative click generator of 2011 was about three local pranksters, and almost the entire Top 10 list consists of local news. The same pattern occurs on DR P4 Trekanten where an article about the European Union was among the most-read – but of course with a local angle (about gingerbread). And on the website of Fyens Stiftstidende – Fyens Amts Avis, articles about the sudden illness and death of a prominent local politician constituted seven of the 27 most-read articles.

Departing from the broad overview, I will end this account of the year with an honourable mention of the headline on the front page of a news website in 2011 that I liked the most: “Denne tablet spiser æbler til morgenmad” (‘This tablet computer eats apples for breakfast’) on Ekstra Bladet – about a tablet computer that was apparently way better than Apple’s iPad.

Sources: using Google, I found the following lists of most-read articles:

Did I miss out any mainstream news websites? Add them in the comment field below and I will take a look at them later.

Until then: Happy New Year!

Update January 2, 2012: I’ve found some more lists. Apart from the lists of Børsen and Kristeligt Dagblad which reflect their specialist character (related to respectively financial and religious matters), the news lists generally support the agenda I have outlined above:

Update Feburary 3, 2012: Some of the webpage are now offline. I’ve removed the link but kept the titles for the sake of documentation.

“Journalistic Reorientations” master class and conference

I’ve never been to Bergen, Norway, before but these days I’m visiting for a research seminar in the splendid Nordic Research Network in Journalism Studies. Bergen is a really nice town (and contrary to popular beliefs, it doesn’t rain that much), the arrangement is great as always, and I get to meet a lot of both old and new friends with the same professional interests as me. Keynote speeches on the conference are by Dan Hallin (Communications, UCSD) and Natalie Fenton (Media and Communications, Goldsmiths). The title of the conference is “Journalistic Reorientations” as it’s arranged in coorperation with Martin Eide’s Norwegian research network of the same name, and it’s highly relevant for my research as it’s about how news and journalism are changing these years. So I get a lot of inspiration for further research and interesting studies to do – and am among the people to perhaps do them with.

Before the conference, we junior researchers had the opportunity to participate in a master class with paper presentations. I presented my paper “News from the Frontline” about ekstrabladet.dk’s real-time coverage of the COP15 demonstrations and got constructive feedback from both senior researchers (a special thank you to my respondent Dag Elgesam) and fellow PhD fellows; over the next couple of weeks, I’ll work on improving the paper and then submit it for publication. The master class also featured a very interesting keynote speech by Rodney Benson on how ownership matters in connection with journalism; I’ll be following Rod for a couple of months next spring when I go to the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University Steinhardt as a visiting fellow (as described in an earlier post). It’s nice to meet Rod again, and it’ll be great to spend some time at “his” university next year.

Guest editor on Audiovisual Thinking #6, 2013

The editorial board of Audiovisual Thinking have kindly asked me to guest edit an issue on journalism, and I have happily accepted. Audiovisual Thinking is something as exotic as “a leading journal of academic videos about audiovisuality, communication, media and design” (i.e. you submit videos instead of papers!) so this task is quite different from anything academic I’ve ever done before. It’s definitely going to be challenging and exciting. The headline of my issue is “News and Journalism in an Online Environment”, and the call for videos goes:

Since their popular emergence approximately 20 years ago, the internet and the World Wide Web have changed news and journalism as we knew it. More recently, other digital and online technologies such as smartphones have intensified the development. Even though core values and self-understandings of journalism remain the same, working practices, business models and approaches to news are challenged. The question, then, is how the online environment changes, challenges and transforms the making, presentation and use of the news. Or to put it another way: if Michael Wesch’s The Machine is Us/ing Us explains digital text, then how can we explain digital journalism?

Topics could include (but are not limited to):

  • Changes in the journalist/audience relationship
  • Challenges to journalism as a profession
  • Transformations of modes of presentation
  • News without a deadline
  • Convergence of different news media
  • Social networks as channels for news dissemination and tools for journalism
  • Tensions between personalized news and a coherent public sphere

Deadline for submissions is February 2013; the issue will be out in the summer of 2013. If you have questions or comments, feel free to contact me or editor Inge Ejbye Sørensen.

Update February 2, 2012: For administrative reasons, the editorial board has pushed the dates for my special issue a little. Submission now opens Spring 2013 and closes November 15, 2013, and the issue is #8. The content remains the same, however.

Update June 3, 2014: This has been a long process, but today it has finally reached its logical conclusion: due to the lack of acceptable contributions, my special issue will not be made. That’s ok, though I would of course have liked to actually have a series of videos about digital journalism that could be used for, for example, teaching purposes. But then it’s a good thing that we still have the video summer school from the Centre for Journalism at the University of Southern Denmark (including my presentation on audience participation in online news).

Media subsidies for democracy

The so-called Dyremose-commission has just released its recommendations for the future media subsidies in Denmark. Previously, online newspapers haven’t been entitled to receive state subsidies as the money were set aside for print and broadcast media; this is an arrangement that has generated a lot of criticism. Now, the commission recommends that the money should be distributed in accordance with the production of original content, i.e. the more journalists a media organization employs, the more subsidies is should receive. This is clearly an invitation to vitalize democracy by strengthening journalism and publicist activity. No one can oppose this aim. One kind of news media, however, appears to be quite negatively affected, namely the free daily newspapers: according the the commission’s calculations, metroXpress and 24timer (both owned by Metro International) will each lose approximately 14 m DKK (a good 2.5 m USD) each year while the subsidy for Urban (owned by Berlingske Media) remains the same.

In my master thesis Gratisaviserne som politisk ressource [Free Daily Newspapers as a Political Resource] from 2009, I argued that free daily newspapers could serve an important democratic function because (1) they are the most-read newspapers among the members of society with the lowest income, the shortest education, and the hierarchically lowest jobs, and (2) their political content contains sufficient information to enable its readers to follow and (to some degree) understand the political processes. I concluded that:

All things considered, the free daily newspapers are to be regarded as a political resource to a certain degree; especially the political content of Nyhedsavisen is enabling political citizenship. Still, the political content of the free daily newspapers do not match the standards of Jyllands-Posten, whereas it is actually better than the political content of Ekstra Bladet. (p. 1)

Nyhedsavisen is no longer published but to the extent the remaining free daily newspapers still have readers among the disadvantaged groups (and I unfortunately have no recent statistics on this aspect of readership) a weakening of this particular kind of news dissemination is not unambigiously a strengthening of democracy.