In Journal: Journalistic truth, the limits of competition and covering the 2008 presidential campaign

Selected articles from the June 2009 issue of Journalism Studies that may be of interest to the journalism community:

Claiming Journalistic Truth, by Burton St. John

The US press’s assertions of credibility stem from the post-World War I decade. Disillusioned with its own earlier credulity regarding the Committee on Public Information’s (CPI) wartime propaganda, the press gradually professionalized during the 1920s. During those years, it focused on developing fact-oriented work routines that allowed it to claim it was more accurately reporting the “truth.” During that same decade, PR pioneer Edward L. Bernays claimed that propaganda served as a pro-social mechanism, offering new minority viewpoints that the press may overlook. Bernays’ advocacy of propaganda during that decade aggravated news worker concerns about post-war domestic propaganda; the press attacked propaganda as corrosive and his claims as elitist, disingenuous and irresponsible. Not surprisingly, journalism’s professionalization movement gained further momentum, asserting a scientific approach that emphasized gathering facts contextualized by experts. However, this same technique for guarding against propaganda had the unintended effect of news workers turning to PR sources for the data and contacts needed to report stories. Journalistic claims of autonomous authenticity continue to exhibit a dissonance that has roots in these dynamics.

Is More Always Better?, by Lee Becker, Ann C. Hollifield, Adam Jacobsson, Eva-Maria Jacobsson and Tudor Vlad

While classic market economic theory argues that competition among media is better for consumers, preliminary research in emerging media markets suggests otherwise. High levels of competition in markets with limited advertising revenues may lead to poorer journalistic performance. This study tests that argument using secondary analysis of data from a purposive sample of countries where measures of news media performance and market competition exist. The authors find a curvilinear relationship between competition and the quality of the journalistic product, with moderate competition leading to higher-quality journalism products and higher levels of competition leading to journalistic products that do not serve society well. The implications of the findings for media assistance initiatives are discussed.

Changing and Staying the Same: Communication in Campaign 2008, by Lynda Lee Kaid

In 2004 Journalism Studies commissioned a number of senior journalists to reflect on their experiences of reporting the Presidential election and to draft ‘Front Line’ reports documenting continuities and changes in media coverage and shifts in campaign communication strategies, as well as developments in new media technologies, especially the Internet and their impact on political communications. In 2008, we again invited distinguished journalists and public relations specialists to offer brief, but first hand, accounts of their experiences in reporting this landmark election. Walter R. Mears reports on newspaper coverage of the campaign, Debora Halpern Wenger and Susan A. MacManus offer an account of television coverage of an “election ‘season’ like no other”, Josh Kraushaar provides an insider account of the presidential election in which the Internet “became a crucial cog in how voters get their political news”, while Merrie Spaeth analyses aspects of Presidential politics and public relations. Distinguished communication scholar Lynda Lee Kaid introduces these reports from the front line with an essay which identifies “some campaign mainstays” such as the continued focus on the horserace elements of the campaign, which “remained significant elements of the 2008 contest”, but also highlights developments in new technologies which nurtured “unprecedented advances in candidate strategies and tactics and in news media coverage of the campaign.”

Strategies for Autonomy, by Noha Mellor

This article aims at unraveling the views of Arab journalists towards their profession particularly during the second half of the twentieth century through examining the memoirs of a sample of veteran journalists primarily from Egypt, Lebanon and Syria. Thus, the article acknowledges the role of journalists particularly in the so-called developing world as cultural producers and cultural intermediaries. The analysis shows how these memoirs include discursive strategies of inclusion and exclusion aiming at defining the borders of the profession and gaining more prestige for journalists. The article examines statements and reflections of around 20 Arab journalists; in these, the journalists reflect on their profession and the political era of which they were witnesses. Indeed, these Arab journalists have adopted the role of eyewitness to national and international events, and several of them have been able to translate this knowledge into notoriety in the political field, by functioning as experts and advisers to those in power. The article argues that those journalists have managed to negotiate their autonomy, albeit partially, from the political regimes by (re)defining their role in society.

Investigative Journalism in China Today, by Jingrong Tong and Colin Sparks

The situation of investigative journalism in China is precarious. There are serious pressures from both the party-state and advertisers that have reduced the opportunities for this kind of journalism. On the other hand, investigative journalism has proved a very important tool in the economic development of some newspapers, and has been integrated into their organizational structure as well as providing what might be termed a professional ideology for journalists. But as the pressures on news organizations have grown, they have been forced to respond. Some, notably television but also many newspapers, have more or less abandoned investigative journalism. Others attempt to retain the practice, but adopt a very cautious strategy. In some cases, however, the market position of the newspaper and the self-identity of the journalists mean that they retain a strong commitment to investigative journalism. In this, they are aided by the development of the Internet, which provides a good source for stories, an arena in which it is possible to publish material that could not appear in the traditional media, and a way of ensuring that sensational stories gain a wider audience. On the other hand, even those newspapers that pride themselves on maintaining their commitment to this kind of journalism have developed strategies to minimize the negative political and economic consequences of their activity. The article concludes that while investigative journalism in China faces a difficult future, it is very far from entirely defunct.

These and other articles are available from Journalism Studies.