In Journal: The remaking of newswork

In a special issue, Journalism examines how transformations in the media business are impacting working conditions and labour practices in journalism. Articles include:

“Between tradition and change: A review of recent research on online news production,” by Eugenia Mitchelstein and Pablo J. Boczkowski

Online news media have become a key part of social, economic, and cultural life in many societies. Research about these media has grown dramatically, especially in the past few years, but there have been few reviews of this research and none of the most recent scholarship. This article reviews scholarship on online news production published since 2000. It examines research on five key topics: historical context and market environment, the process of innovation, alterations in journalistic practices, challenges to established professional dynamics, and the role of user-generated content. A tension between tradition and change emerges from this discussion and is evident at two levels. First, the world of practice seems to straddle the re-enactment of established forms and tinkering with alternative pathways. Second, the modes of inquiry oscillate between using existing concepts to look at new phenomena and taking advantage of these phenomena to rethink these concepts and come up with new ones. The article concludes by identifying shortcomings in the existing scholarship and suggesting avenues for future studies to overcome them. It suggests how scholarship on online news production could contribute to rethinking some of the fundamental building blocks of understanding communication and society in the contemporary media environment.

“Compressed dimensions in digital media occupations: Journalists in transformation,” by Amy Schmitz Weiss and Vanessa de Macedo Higgins Joyce

This study explores how much the concept of globalization via the internet is transforming the occupation of journalists. This research relied on the expertise of online journalists from Latin America, North America and Europe through their participation in three sets of online focus groups. Our findings pointed to a perception by these specific online journalists of a compressed social distance between themselves and the audience, as well as a more compact time dimension impacting the news cycle. This study supports similar findings of the roles, responsibilities and resources of media workers in other digital occupations, where requirements of multitasking and adaptability are necessary. This exploratory study aims to serve as a foundation to explain how this online medium is evolving and how online journalists perform and operate within it.

“An actor-network perspective on changing work practices: Communication technologies as actants in newswork,” by Ursula Plesner

New information and communication technologies (ICTs) such as email and the internet have altered the work practices of journalists. This article introduces Actor-Network Theory (ANT) as a framework for analyzing the relation between new ICTs and changing practices in newswork. It argues that ANT offers an exciting new perspective on ‘holistic’ studies of mass mediation practices, because it calls for a focus on heterogeneous actors: people, ideals, symbolic constructions, and material elements are seen as equally important elements to analyze. The article offers empirical examples of how ICTs have become elements of specific actor-networks, and argues that, at this point, the new aspect of them is their seamlessness. It is argued that while including materiality — technology — in analyses of journalism practices we should refrain from essentializing the ‘effects’ of ICT. Rather, technology should be treated analytically as an actant tightly integrated in networks with other actants, without being assigned particular forces or consequences.

“Token responses to gendered newsrooms: Factors in the career-related decisions of female newspaper sports journalists,” by Marie Hardin and Erin Whiteside

Female sports journalists work as tokens in gendered organizations where masculinity is integral to hierarchical logic and newswork processes. Through in-depth interviews, this longitudinal study explores how women in the industry manage their gendered and professional identities and make career decisions. Our findings suggest that although participants framed their decisions to stay or to leave in idealized terms, their choices were also guided by cultural and structural impediments acknowledged but accepted as natural and immutable. The women noted negative gender-related experiences, but most minimized them and saw their gender as an advantage. They also described their struggles to balance their work and social lives, the latter of which they saw as a necessary sacrifice to become ideal workers. We discuss these issues and suggest that sports media will fail to reach gender parity until these barriers are addressed; until then, the revolving door will keep turning.

“The performative journalist: Job satisfaction, temporary workers and American television news,” by Kathleen M. Ryan

Television news operations are increasingly turning to freelance workers for newsroom staffing. This article traces the economic and industry conditions that led to the rise of a non-staff workforce. It proposes that US freelancers operate under a different paradigm from European or other freelancers, and analyzes results from a survey of news workers (freelance and staff) conducted in summer 2007. The survey uses intrinsic and extrinsic factors to measure overall job satisfaction. While there is little overall difference between either group of workers, freelancers do report greater satisfaction in certain areas, especially those relating to worker autonomy and freedom. The article argues that these results demonstrate how freelancers use adaptive strategies to react to temporary or per diem labor patterns in American news. By complicating the assumptions about freelancing, this article offers a more realistic perspective about the desires of the workers and the jobs which they perform.

“Structure, agency, and change in an American newsroom”, by David M. Ryfe

Building on a prior ethnographic study conducted in the same newsroom, this essay offers a conceptual framework for understanding current efforts to transform metropolitan daily newspapers. At the time of the study, Calvin Thomas, a new editor and executive-vice president of the newspaper, mandated that his reporters produce more enterprise and less daily news. Yet, after a year, not only did reporters’ production of enterprise news decrease, their production of daily news actually increased. I explain this consequence as a result of the deep structure of daily newsgathering, coupled with the inability and/or unwillingness of reporters and editors to bear the costs of altering this structure. I argue that while the particulars of this case study may be peculiar to this newsroom, this conceptual framework is helpful for understanding the general process of transformation in American newspaper newsrooms that is currently under way.

“Watchdog or witness? The emerging forms and practices of videojournalism,” by Sue Wallace

The introduction of new technology into news operations can affect working practices and often raises concerns about the impact on quality of output. Such is the case with videojournalism, an example of multiskilling enabled by new technology, where a solo newsgatherer acts as both reporter and camera operator. This article reports on a study into the introduction of videojournalism into three UK regional television newsrooms. It argues that ‘quality’ is a contested concept, influenced by professional and commercial imperatives. The notion of professional competence is also seen as a site of tension, critical to the discourse of professionalism, affecting negotiations around the values and identities of journalists. New technology is seen to contain the potential to improve as well as diminish quality of journalism and affect interpretations of journalists’ traditional role as watchdogs of society.

“The shaping of an online feature journalist,” by Steen Steensen

This article explores the professional role and normative demands of online feature journalists. Through a longitudinal ethnographic case study of the work practices of feature journalists in the Norwegian online newspaper, the article uncovers how the normative demands of a new professional role are negotiated within the online newsroom of a newspaper. It further reveals how the role of journalists is shaped by two axes: a historical axis of factors that have shaped the role of journalists throughout history, and a contemporary axis of the particulars of labour in modern society at large. The findings suggest that online feature journalists practise a more audience-driven and source-detached kind of journalism than their print counterparts. They further suggest that the remediation of feature journalism online yields increased status to the role of online journalists at large.

“Changing journalistic practices in Eastern Europe: The cases of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia,” by Monika Metyková and Lenka Waschková Císarová

The article deals with changes in the journalistic profession and journalistic practices in the early 2000s in three new European Union member states: the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia. It can be argued that Eastern European journalists face changes and challenges related to the ‘proletarization’ of journalistic work, commercial pressures, and ‘dumbing down’ as well as changing work practices related to new technologies. Yet they face these changes in the specific context of post-communist societies where the links between media and politicians often directly influence the professional practices and standards of journalists. We concentrate on developments in these three countries in relation to three areas: 1) dominant values in the journalistic profession and their change in the past 10 years; 2) influence of structures of ownership and market forces on practices and processes of journalism, and 3) influence of technological changes on journalistic practices and processes.