Symposium “Change in Journalism”
16th to 18th of September 2015,
Herrenhausen Palace, Hanover, Germany
Relevance and outline of the conference topic
Journalism is frequently referred to as the “life-blood of a democracy”. As a result of digitization as well as both economic and social influences, it is undergoing a radical upheaval – with as yet unforeseeable effects on democracy. There is a wide range of different opinions on the transformation that is being undergone by journalism – both in public debate and in scientific research: The diagnoses range from major opportunities to demise.
We see two problem areas in research: (1) At international level individual studies on individual phenomena are available that, regarded in an isolated fashion, give rise to more questions than they give answers to the big questions concerning the complex transformation. (2) In view of the different national media systems and journalistic traditions, it is advisable to start by carrying out intensive national investigations of the journalistic transformation in order to obtain a basis for an international comparison. Large-scale research projects are being conducted in the USA, Switzerland and Austria, but these are not linked. There is a complete absence of monitoring in Germany.
Klaus Meier about the conference
These deficits shall be addressed at the Symposium: In the first two days, the urgently needed international networking will take place – with the objective to develop new scientific ideas and innovative research perspectives. On the third day, we shall turn the spotlight on Germany: The aim here is to draw conclusions for the investigation of the change in journalism in Germany, and to develop corresponding methods.
Seth Lewis about Journalism Research
The conference format is designed to allow an intensive exchange of views and information between 27 participants from eight countries who were specifically selected on the basis of their expertise. All (leading researchers, junior scientists) shall participate with input contributions; each panel offers sufficient time for discussion. In the invitations, we have tasked everyone with the preparation of questions and methods that can be used to investigate the change in journalism, and thus with the development of perspectives for the field of research.
The fact that all approached experts spontaneously agreed to participate shows the relevance of this conference format. The symposium will be documented on a conference website and provide input for further research.
Read more about relevance and outline
Journalism has been referred to frequently as the “life-blood of a democracy” (see e.g. Fenton 2010: 3). It is seen as the “key profession” for democracy (Meier 2013a: 15-17) and as “central institutional structure of public opinion in democracies” (Kiefer 2010: 47). As a result of the digitization of the media as well as other economic and social influences, journalism is in a phase of radical upheaval. At this stage, the standard of quality of its offerings and how it is undergoing change, are of major importance – not just for journalism itself, but also for the future of democracy (Lee-Wright/Phillips/Witschge 2012). A large spectrum of media offerings and a wide range of information are essential prerequisites for the functioning of democratic societies, as a diversity of opinions contributes positively to public policy development (Zerback 2013: 89).
A diversity of opinion on the change in journalism
At times of upheaval, there exists a wide diversity of opinion on the change in journalism (see in the following Meier/Neuberger 2013b: 7). For example, there is a school of thought that says journalism must undergo radical change if it wants to prosper, indeed survive, under the new economic conditions: Innovation is seen as the guiding concept (Kramp/Weichert 2012). Others emphasise that the core of journalism, the traditional “idea of the newspaper” must be defended and lived – and if the newspaper is threatened then “we are all threatened” (Schirrmacher 2011: 39). Then again, others are of the opinion that it is not necessary to be an idealist to predict a golden era for journalism, especially in the Internet: “Never before were readers able to consult such a multitude of national and international sources to form their own image of the world. Never before did newsrooms have their attention drawn so quickly and by so many of their readers to new aspects or errors. Never before were so many persons able themselves to act as journalists” (Blau 2010). Nevertheless, increasing numbers of journalists are finding themselves belonging to the “precarious class” (Wyss 2013), working “under precarious conditions” (Piepenbrink 2012) and forced “to sell themselves” (Lilienthal/Schnedler 2012). The following statement goes even further: “The century of journalism is over” (Weischenberg 2010). The public debate on journalism, conducted first and foremost by the journalists themselves, alternates between confidence, willingness to reform, and resignation.
Above all the daily newspaper, as the medium for local and regional information as well as for the forming of public opinion (Hasebrink/Schmidt 2013), has come under considerable pressure. Digital production and publishing techniques, the meta medium that is the Internet with its worldwide service providers, the growing importance of social media and new, participative forms of information communication have taken a major toll especially of newspaper journalism in the last 15 years. The change in the media is having an effect in two respects. On the one hand, from the economic point of view, after one-and-a-half centuries the principle of advertising-financed journalism organised for mass media has become dated. Ads and advertising have been moving en masse for years to the Internet because there, oriented towards digital profiles, they reach the user more efficiently, without distribution losses. In contrast, developing new revenue models involves a major investment of time and resources, as they frequently fail due to the “everything for free” mentality that holds way in the Internet. Apparently the willingness to pay for good journalism is diminishing. On the other hand, journalism has to defend itself against major competition, also in the journalistic respect. Classical media operations are losing control on the marketplace of public opinion, as there it is other operations that are gradually steering the public’s attention: search engines and news aggregators, such as Google, or social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, or corporate communication with new formats such as “native advertising” or “content marketing” (Pulizzi/Barrett 2009). Thus classical daily journalism has now lost its monopoly in the area of forming public opinion and competes with new players for the attention of the general public (Hohlfeld/Strobel 2012). The journalistic quality of these new offerings are of secondary importance in this connection.
A great deal of uncertainty
In the last 20 years, the sold circulation of daily newspapers in Germany has dropped from 26 million to 17 million copies (Meier 2013b; bdzv.de). The situation has become even more dramatic in the last one to two years: Visible indications for this are the insolvency of daily newspapers as well as the widespread merging of previously independent editorial units.
The forecasts that the printed daily newspaper can survive as a mass medium for another 20 years at most (Meier 2012; 2013b) are confirmed or even exceeded by current decisions. But broadcast media are also affected by the structural change in media reception (Wolf 2014). Although the length of media use continues on average at a relatively high level, young users are contributing less and less to this situation: in 2013, the average length of TV viewing was 221 minutes and radio use 186 minutes – in contrast, younger users spend just 92 (basis: 14-19 years of age) and 86 minutes respectively (basis 10-19 years of age) daily of their time on TV and radio (Gattringer/Klingler 2013; Zubayr/Gerhards 2014). Altogether the use of journalistic media today shows a strong downward trend for all media types. The increase in the use of online media (especially mobile) by the younger generation is only compensating for the decreasing use of the daily newspaper in a pro forma manner; where content is concerned, a primarily journalistic medium is being replaced by a communication medium in which journalism is only one among many forms of communication (Wolf/Schnauber 2014), for young users certainly not the most important one. At the same time efforts are increasing to develop journalistic offerings for digital media, such as the Internet, smartphones and tablets, and to make them economically viable. But there is a great deal of uncertainty (Godulla 2015; Wolf 2014).
So what does the journalism of the 21st century look like? Is it a thing of the past, is it flourishing, or is it simply going through a transformation phase such as it had to repeatedly in the past? Can other digital journalism media platforms make good the decline of the legacy media? How is journalism quality changing? What is the state of health of this key profession for democracy? What does this mean for democratic society?
Two deficits in journalism research
Research in the field of journalism has presented several estimations concerning these far-reaching research questions, but is often fragmented in individual projects (see, for example, for an overview of the development in Germany: Meier/Neuberger 2013a; for a retrospective view: Blöbaum 2005; Blöbaum et al. 2011). There exist no reliable current data permitting a global overview of the change in journalism. We observe two trends in journalism research:
- In international research there are many individual studies on individual phenomena of the change in journalism, some of which are carried out in order to provide a benchmark at international level. The many studies that are mostly published in the leading journals, such as “Journalism Studies”, “Digital Journalism”, “Journalism Practice” or “Journalism”, give rise to more questions than they are able to provide answers for to the big questions of the complex transformation. All in all, research is still seeking suitable methods to analyse and track the change that is taking place in the field of journalism; new theories and methods are being developed and tested for individual studies, but are not yet established (see, for example, the special issue of the journal “Digital Journalism“ no. 1/2015, published under the title “Theories of Journalism in a Digital Age” or the articles published recently online first in the same journal on the topic of “Journalism in an Era of Big Data”).
- In view of the different national media systems and journalistic traditions and cultures (Kopper/Mancini 2003; Hallin/Mancini 2004; Meier 2007; Hanitzsch 2013; Blum 2014), it would be advisable to begin by carrying out intensive analyses of the change in journalism in individual countries in order to obtain a basis for an international comparison. In the USA, Switzerland and Austria, extensive research projects are being conducted that at least track and investigate the change in the quality of journalism in a long-term study (see e.g. Pew Research Center 2013; Forschungsbereich Öffentlichkeit und Gesellschaft 2014). In conversations with the persons responsible for these projects, we have seen that they have to date never engaged in joint discussions about their projects for the purpose of benefiting mutually from their findings. In Germany there is a complete absence of any such monitoring of the change in journalism. Moreover, there is no systematic description of the changes on the sidelines of journalism that focus especially on new (digital) service providers and offerings, and therefore allow an evaluation of their professionalism and quality compared to established journalism.
Documentation of the Conference
Panel1: Systemizing and Measuring Change and Innovation in Journalism
Panel 2: The Importance of Innovations for the Journalism of the Future – Content Production and Revenue Models
Panel 3: Measuring National Media Quality – Rating and Ranking Content and Organizations
Panel 4: Value Creating in Journalism – social, cultural and economic perspectives
Who Needs Journalism?
Panel 5: Participation and User Involvement – Challenges for Journalism and Journalism Research
Panel 6: Cross-Media, Transmedia, Co-Creation – Challenges for Journalism and Journalism Research
Panel 7: Herausforderungen für (lokale) Printmedien in Deutschland: Struktureller Wandel und journalistische Qualität
Strukturelle Veränderungen im Zeitungsmarkt analysieren, messen und dokumentieren
Panel 8: Journalismuswandel – Herausforderungen für Theorien, Begriffe, Methoden
The symposium focused on these two deficits in journalism research: The first two days were dedicated to achieving an urgently needed international networking – of top researchers in the field concerned as well as up-and-coming researchers who are making a name for themselves with innovative approaches. The objective was to develop and discuss new scientific ideas in journalism research and innovative research perspectives. On the third day in the morning we examined the prospects for Germany: The aim here was to draw conclusions for the investigation of the change in journalism in Germany and to develop and discuss methods for this.
For these purposes, we had invited relevant researchers from university and non-university research organizations. The participants came from various contexts of communication science as well as in some cases from the related research areas of political science and sociology. Accordingly, the guiding disciple of the symposium was journalism research – with interdisciplinary networking.
The conference format differed clearly from the standard form of international conferences (small-scale studies are presented in random style in compact, 15-minute lectures): The objective was an intensive exchange of views and information between 27 participants from eight countries who were carefully selected and invited. No distinction was made between lecturers and the audience, top researchers and junior scientists: All participated in the panels; sufficient time was scheduled for discussions.
Whereas on the first two days English was the conference language, we wanted to conduct our discussions in German on the third day in the morning session.
Organizers of the Conference
Univ.‐Prof. Dr. habil Ralf Hohlfeld since 2008 has occupied the chair for communication science at the University of Passau, where he acts also as the spokesman for the Centre for Media and Communication. Prior to this, he taught at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich and at the Catholic University Eichstätt‐Ingolstadt. He is heading the EU project “Cross‐media and Quality Journalism”. Research focal points are the development of a public sphere, media change, political communication, mobile communication, communication research and quality journalism.
Jun.-Prof. Dr. Cornelia Wolf is Junior Professor for Online Communication at Leipzig University. Her research and teaching focuses on innovation management, cross-media strategies in journalism and public relations, the digital transformation of legacy media and revenue models as well as the adoption and reception of new media. Cornelia Wolf has specialised since 2007 in the institutionalisation of mobile journalism in newspaper, magazine, radio and TV newsrooms. In addition, together with Dr. Alexander Godulla, she is investigating the production and reception of digital longforms in journalism and corporate publishing.
Univ.-Prof. Dr. Klaus Meier, holds the chair for “Journalism Studies I” at the Catholic University Eichstaett-Ingolstadt (Germany). His research explores innovations in newsrooms and editorial management, convergence, quality and ethics, digital journalism and journalism education. From 2009 to 2010 he held the chair for “Cross-media Journalism and Media Convergence” at TU Dortmund University and from 2001 to 2009 he was professor of journalism studies at the University of Applied Sciences in Darmstadt.
Dr. Melanie Verhovnik is a research associate attached to the faculty of Journalism I at the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt. Her research and teaching focal points lie in the areas of quality and ethics in journalism, analysis and presentation of media contents and their perception through recipients (framing). Melanie Verhovnik has specialized in the investigation of how topics relevant to society are presented in the mass media and in the perspective of the journalists that, for example, documents the change in reporting and shows which improvements at both individual and organisational level are possible and necessary.
Dr. Isabel Bracker is a research associate attached to the faculty of Journalism I at the Catholic University Eichstaett-Ingolstadt (Germany). Her research and teaching focal points lie in the areas of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Corporate Citizenship (CC) of media corporations as well as self-image and outside perception in public relations and journalistic reporting.