The Journalistic Drama

The Journalistic Drama 
English version (translated by Simon van Woerden)
This essay has been edited and updated from the original Dutchversion which appeared Saturday, December 27th, 2014 in the Dutch daily newspaper NRC Handelsblad. In this op-ed piece I discuss the case of Perdiep Ramesar, a journalist of another Dutch Daily, Trouw, who was laid off in November after his colleagues and an external review board found that in at least 10% of his stories sources were unverifiable. This unfortunate incident – quite similar to the situation The New York Times faced in 2003 when Jayson Blair resigned over plagiarizing and faking some of his stories. In my opinion editorial I put the Ramesar case in a broad social context: namely that of journalism as an almost exclusively 'white' profession in an otherwise colorful multicultural society.

The opinion editor of the NRC had requested the piece earlier in the week - asking for my thoughts on the problematic issue of diversity within journalism (something I myself had hinted at in an interview with Trouw on 22 December).

In brief, my opinion - which I render below in the version I originally submitted, translated and slightly edited by freelance reporter Simon van Woerden - considers journalists as well-meaning, hard-working and ambitious professionals - functioning within a journalism that is the domain of a limited social elite, who by their own homogeneity no longer thoroughly criticize themselves and each other. This is mainly reflected in the often spasmodic way journalism deals with the multicultural society - both in the newsroom and in the news. In this manner I attempt to raise the issue of privilege, as obtained by socioeconomic class (within which white skin color is a form of capital). This was not to attack journalists, but to remind them of their social responsibility. Awareness can lead to useful self-criticism and more empathy for others - be it a colleague or a news source.

The many reactions to this piece, which came via email, my blog (where the piece got over two thousand hits), Facebook, and Twitter, can be divided into two groups. On one hand there were those who stated enthusiastically that all this finally needed to be told, it was "heartfelt", "striking", "clear" and "very strong." On the other hand, I received responses, generally from (white, male) working journalists, who accused me of writing "colossal crap", "nonsense", "bullshit" and "bar banter."

These strong responses point to the still going strong success of an opinion section of a newspaper: it gives people the opportunity to stake their claim in a high-profile debate. On the other hand it is a pity that people do not look for arguments and evidence in the content, but directly move to battle positions. That's understandable - and as the author of a newspaper article, I am also not so naive to think that I could effectively encapsulate in 800 words an uncomfortable analysis pointing people to their privileged context.

Apart from this, I should, if I respect the implications of my own analysis, note that these reactions would not have existed - or would have been quite different - if I were someone other than the highly educated old white guy I am. The question is even if I had not been that old, white man, would I have been asked to write the piece? I may have a say now, because of my position in the field and the capital that comes with it. My field, the university, is of course also a domain that is not exactly burdened with a wealth of diversity.

Many critical comments on my article took issue with my characterization of journalists as being part of the 'upper class' or an 'elite' within society. That sounds simplistic (and indeed it is - it is after all a newspaper op-ed, not a scholarly publication). Why is this characterization still correct? First of all, by 'upper middle class' I mean to say that journalists are part of a "professional-managerial class" as elaborated in the studies of Andre Gorz and Barbara and John Ehrenreich. This class is similar to the top layer of society: highly educated, shaped by (and giving shape to) the dominant culture, in terms of values and expectations of self-realization and achievement belonging to the middle class. At the same time, these professionals also have one foot in the working class because they themselves have no control over the means of production of the industry in which they work. Access to this class is open in theory - these are professions where often no formal barriers to entry exist, or to which the entrance requirement seems neutral (such as obtaining a degree in a program for which student grants and loans are available): journalism, science, education, the arts, film and television, the advertising world.

In practice, for the creative industries in general, work in the media in particular and journalism even more specifically, it holds true that these occupations have become less and less accessible over the past twenty years. Previously, these modes of work were already fairly exclusive - until the beginning of the nineties of the twentieth century they were all sectors dominated by white men. This changed later on: there was more space for women, and later for journalists with minority backgrounds. Through the coalescence of several factors - technological innovation, commercial decline, a defensive management culture and the emergence of university level master's degrees as an alternative to the journalistic trade schools - this progression has now come to a halt. The growth of women and minorities in the creative industries has stagnated. Permanent jobs have almost disappeared from the profession, and generally unpaid internships and other forms of free labor now determine access.

All this is accompanied by rising cost of entry into journalism: a trade school diploma is a bare minimum - for jobs in the national quality newsmedia, in practice a high-level university education is required. Student grants have been uniformly cut, their duration has been shortened and they have been converted into loans (in The Netherlands these did not used to be loans, unlike in many other countrie. The vast majority of newcomers in the profession start as a freelancer or otherwise independent journalist. For them, tariffs have declined structurally over the past decade. In The Netherlands in particular, almost half of freelancer journalists depend on the income of their partner, and 60% have monthly earnings well below the minimum wage. Newsrooms are still creating positions, but more often than not these  are temporary structures designed as more or less informal internships, often with little or no pay (particularly in broadcasting and new media). These developments are not unique to journalism. In the US, where I worked from 2003 to 2013, most students andnewcomers (in journalism and other professions) have not been paid a dime for their internships - while an internship is virtually the only way to enter the profession.
These developments makes journalism less accessible to everyone. In fact, it is now the playing field of a wealthy class: those who can afford to work for years or even for the majority of their careers below or around the minimum wage; those who, as a young person, can maintain themselves on an income of a few hundred Euros/Dollars per month (while living and working in the largest and therefore most expensive cities, as this is where the main news media organizations are located).

In my earlier studies among media professionals in journalism, advertising, film,television and video games in countries as varied as the United States, South Africa and New Zealand, I noticed something that I now see in Dutch journalism: journalists are increasingly being exploited by an industry that no longer invests in them. Access to the profession is thus becoming more exclusive. It is becoming impossible, particularly for people in the lower socioeconomic echelons of society, to participate in such professions. In England and elsewhere, this "elitism in the professions" is a source of justified concern about decreasing social mobility in society. Worldwide, we also know this phenomenon from the pioneering work of the French economist Thomas Piketty.

In my op-ed piece I attempt to put this social inequality on the map as a macro level context for the Ramesar affair, besides micro level factors (personal considerations and motives) and meso level factors (editorial context). Please contact me if you are interested in the original data sources for my arguments (see also the links under the original Dutch version of this blog).

Op-Ed for NRC Handelsblad (December 27, 2014)

The dismissal of journalist Perdiep Ramesar from Dutch daily newspaper Trouw caused substantial turmoil in Dutch journalism. For years Ramesar wrote stories about the multicultural society based on fabricated sources. Colleagues had suspicions, but did nothing. Guidance was lacking, supervisors alternated rapidly. Besides personal circumstances of the journalist in question which remain inscrutable for now (as he has refused to speak out on the matter), the context of this scandal points to a both classic and dramatic problem for journalism.

On Monday, November 10th, 2014, journalist Perdiep Ramesar was fired from newspaper Trouw after an internal investigation by the editorial board showed that he had regularly committed a cardinal sin of journalism: using fake sources. An external inquiry was set up which committee presented its report on December 10. It confirmed what editors already suspected: a substantial portion of Ramesar's stories could not be verified. On the sidelines of his dismissal and the publication of the investigation report there were immediate references to his Hindu background - although not as a cause of his behavior, but as an explanation of the way his articles and his presence in the newsroom were handled.

In an exemplary reaction, the Green (GroenLinks) politician Tofik Dibi bloggedon December 22 that the twofold explanation for the scandal can be found in the enormous need of Dutch news media for "juicy stories about the multicultural society", and in the fact that Dutch media have an overwhelmingly white editorial staff.

Dibi is right: newsrooms in the Netherlands are white. Representative studies among journalists in the Netherlands show that two percent of staff are of immigrant origin (compared to twenty percent in Dutch society). Less than four percent of all graduating students of journalism in the Netherlands have a non-western background. End of story - or so it seems: there is little or no diversity in the media, forcing the handful of minority colleagues into the almost impossible position of carrying the burden of representation for the entire multicultural society.

However important, the concern for the extremely low number of minority journalists working in Dutch newsrooms represents a limited view on diversity. It uses a mirror principle: the assumption that a newsroom with a composition similar to that of society necessarily produces more diverse news. Although a more diverse editorial staff is indeed necessary when it comes to daily confrontations with diversity, research invariably suggests that a news organization's culture has a much stronger impact on news values and selection processes than whether or not there are minorities such as women, young people or people with minority backgrounds present. This begs the question: what is really going on at Trouw and in journalism at large? How is such a uniform and one-sided culture maintained in a profession that otherwise claims to work in the service of the public? The answer: journalism is (just like other professions in the creative industries, including science) the domain of a relatively small social elite - people who can afford to choose a career in journalism.

At present, editorial vacancies are mostly filled by hiring people on extended internships and work experience contracts for a minimal fee, and by creating temporary contracts (from several months to a year) with no reasonable prospect of a permanent position. The proportion of freelancers in The Netherlands has risen from 13 percent in 1993 to about half of all newsworkers in 2013. Recent research by the Dutch Association of Journalists ("Nederlandse Vereniging voor Journalisten" or NVJ) shows that rates for freelancers have fallen sharply across the board over the last decade. More than half of the independent journalists earn less than minimum wage, according to the Social Economic Council ("Sociaal Economische Raad" or SER).

Newsrooms are furthermore experiencing an accelrating dynamic of reorganizations and reshuffling, buyouts and layoffs, new owners and managers, innovations and budget cuts. No position remains unaffected, people throughout the organization feel the uncertainty about the future. Partly because of this, the profession (much like the arts and the creative industries generally) has become accessible only to highly educated people with their own sources of wealth, rich parents, and no family or friends to take care of.

Just as in society as a whole, the real tragedy that affects journalism is one of rich versus poor: the profession is the playground of a wealthy class of people that share the same above average socioeconomic status. In such a context, no one effectively scrutinizes each other - not in the least because people tend to steer clear from fundamental self-critique. This is evident from the study on the culture of the newsroom at the Trouw newspaper where Ramesar worked: there was "no tradition of deeply questioning each other", and the culture was characterized as ranging "from credulous and obedient to indifferent and apathetic" (quotes directly taken and translated from the formal external report). This, and the exceptional position of a minorty reporters in a completely white newsroom, meant that no one was fundamentally debating one another. And that is exactly what is at stake when one speaks of diversity: not neatly reflecting a mirror of society, but actively experience and perceive the (wonderful) messiness of diversity. Not only in the streets of particular neighbourhoods (poorer communities often formed the decor for the articles leading to Ramesar's demise), but everywhere - including inside the newsroom. 

Journalism, Media Life and The Entrepreneurial Society

Update [27.02.15]: A version of the English-language paper has been published in the Australian Journalism Review.

Update [18.11.14]: An English-language working paper version can be downloaded through ResearchGate as well as Academia; please send me your thoughts and comments!

Excited to announce the publication of a new essay on journalism, media life and the entrepreneurial society (in Portuguese). This essay is part of a special issue on the labor market of journalism of the Brazilian academic journal Parágrafo, edited by Rafael Grohmann and published by the FIAM-FAAM University in São Paulo.

It is the first of what I hope will be many more forthcoming works on linking the concepts of my earlier work (on media work and media life) to an appreciation of precarious life (and work) in a world that has made all of us into 'entrepreneurs': risk-takers without reliable reward structures, pattern-breakers without trustworhty guardians or mentors, people expected to perform and produce on the basis of less-than-vague expectations and living in the illusion of control that a quantified 'everything' entails... 

Link to the entire special issue: Parágrafo 2(2).
Link to the essay: "Ojornalismo, a vida na mídia e a sociedade empreendedor"

At the moment, I am rewriting this piece for a future publication in English; feel free to contact me for more information. This essay is part of a larger project titled "Beyond Journalism" (together with Tamara Witschge); the project, originally conceived in 2007, has been put on hold for a while - to work on the media life project - but is now back in full swing :-)

On The Road 2014

[last updated: February 5, 2014] As always, if you are around these places and times, please do not hesitate to drop by and say hello. Please note these dates are tentative and will get updated as soon as possible.

Check this previous post for PDF versions of (more or less recently published) work that informs many of these presentations, workshops, seminars and guest lectures.

Speaking dates in 2014 (with first some final dates in 2013):

December 12: Talking about media life at the ZEMKI research seminar of the University of Bremen, Germany (from 6-8pm).

December 17: Talking about managing media work at the Hogeschool van Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

January 23-24: On beyond journalism at the Rethinking Journalism II conference of the University of Groningen, The Netherlands.

January 27-31: Seminar on media life as part of the Media and Global Communication program at the University of Helsinki, Finland.

January 28: Guest lecture on media life at Tampere University, Finland.

February 5 - May 7: Every Wednesday evening a lecture on media life for the Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies of the University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

March 11: workshop on beyond journalism for the Dutch Publishers Association in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

March 13: talk on beyond journalism for the annual ROOS conference of regional broadcasting organizations at hotel De Heerlickheijd in Ermelo, The Netherlands.

March 14: workshop "The Future of Journalistic Work" at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Oxford University, UK. [postponed]

March 17: guest lecture on media life and beyond journalism at the Erasmus University, Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

March 21: talk on media life at the Labyrinth congress at Leiden University, The Netherlands.

April 25: inaugural lecture (part of my installment as Professor of Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam) in the Aula of the Oude Lutherse Kerk in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

May 1-2: talk on beyond journalism at the International Summit on Reconstruction of Journalism in 
New York.

May 8: keynote on beyond journalism at the CIR
COM conference of the European Assocation of Regional Television in Cavtat, Croatia.

May 18-20: talk on media life (and zombies) at the "Oh Man Oh Machine" conference of Tel-Aviv University, Israel.

June 5-6: talk on media work at the "Affective Capitalism" symposium of the University of Turku, Finland.

June 26-27: keynote on media work at the 13th International Conference on Research in Advertising (ICORIA) of the European Advertisting Academy in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

[to be confirmed] August: keynote at the 5º Simpósio de Ciberjornalismo, Brazil.

Presentaties in Juni en Juli 2013

Per 1 juni 2013 ben ik in dienst getreden als hoogleraar Mediastudies aan de Universiteit van Amsterdam. De maand is direct een fijne volle maand met debatten, presentaties, en andere spreekbeurten in en rond Amsterdam over leven in media en de (toekomst van de) journalistiek. Mocht je in de buurt zijn, kom dan graag langs!

4 Juni: presentatie en workshop bij de Grote Freelancersdag 'Fun & Profit' van de NVJ. Locatie: De Observant, Stadhuisplein 7, Amersfoort. Start: 09:30 uur.

14 juni: presentatie en deelname debat in de serie 'De Verkenners' over de toekomst van de publieke omroep. Locatie: De Balie, Amsterdam. Start: 17:00 uur.

16 June: panel presentation at the 10th anniversary conference of the Department of Media and Communications of the London School of Economics. Location: Sheikh Zayed Theatre, New Academic Building, Sardinia Street, WC2A London, United Kingdom. Start: 08:45 am.

17 June: presentation at the 'Beyond The Brand' ICA pre-conference of the Popular Communication Division of the International Communication Association. Location: LSE, room 3.21, Old Building, London (UK). Start: 8:00 am.

19 June: panel presentation on "Post-Institutional Strategies in Media Work" at the International Communication Association annual conference. Location: Hilton Metropole Hotel, Balmoral room, London (UK). Start: 14:00pm.

20 juni: afsluitende spreekbeurt voor de debatavond 'Hoe werkt de journalist van morgen?' van de VOJN. Locatie: Dauphine, Prins Bernhardplein 175, Amsterdam. Start: 20:00 uur.

26 juni: dagvoorzitter van de 'Grote Expertisedag Nieuwe Media' van het Expertisecentrum Journalistiek en de NVJ Academy. Locatie: Universiteit van Amsterdam, James Watt straat 78, Amsterdam (zaal JWS 2). Start: 09:00 uur.

28 juni: presentatie voor de Journalism Studies dag van de Universiteit van Amsterdam. Locatie: Universiteitsbibliotheek.

4 July: two seminars for the World Journalism Education Congress (theme: 'Renewing Journalism Through Education'). Location: the Lamot Congress Centre and the Thomas More Mechelen (Belgium).

Terug In Nederland

Sinds kort ben ik na tien jaar in de Verenigde Staten gewerkt te hebben weer in Nederland. Ook keer ik, als wetenschapper, deels weer terug naar waar ik ooit mee begon: onderzoek en onderwijs over de journalistiek.

Met de ervaringen van Amerika, het schrijven en publiceren van vijf boeken en een kleine vijftig artikelen en hoofdstukken, en het bezoeken van landen en mediabedrijven over de hele wereld, is het een prachtige uitdaging om in eigen land dit alles toe te gaan passen.

In de tussentijd heb ik allerlei dingen geleerd – hoe het dagelijkse leven van mediawerkers in de Amerikaanse filmwereld eruit ziet bijvoorbeeld, of wat er allemaal komt kijken bij het management van een mediabedrijf, en wat de gevolgen (kunnen) zijn van een leven in media.

Het aardige van dit alles is, dat mijn terugkeer naar Nederland niet onopgemerkt is gebleven: verschillende journalisten hebben de tijd en moeite genomen om te informeren naar wat ik nu eigenlijk allemaal van plan ben. In mijn jeugdig (…) enthousiasme ben ik op die interview-verzoeken ingegaan… met interessante gevolgen. Mijn neiging om discussies op scherp te stellen, niet al te moeilijk te doen en vooral mijn openhartigheid hebben sommigen blijkbaar het gevoel gegeven dat ik niet weet waar ik het over heb, of zelfs dat ik geen hart heb voor de journalist(iek).

Dat is een bijzondere uitkomst, na ongeveer een week terug in Nederland. Het geeft aan hoezeer in dit land we op elkaar letten. Dat woorden gewikt en gewogen worden, dat mensen het gevoel hebben dat gemeenschappen met elkaar samenhangen op basis van consensus, dat we’re in this together. Dat is erg mooi en de afgelopen tien jaar was dit nadrukkelijk niet het geval. Dit was ook een van de redenen om terug te komen - maar ik besef dat ik er ook weer aan moet wennen... Dat is een mooie uitdaging.

Ook zie ik wat het verschil is tussen als wetenschapper in betrekkelijke eenzaamheid je werk te doen, en als hoofd van een opleiding – en daarmee een gemeenschappelijke visie en missie vertegenwoordigend – op te treden. Dat is nieuw voor me. Ook al spannend!

Opeens zijn mijn ideeën over de journalistieke arbeidspraktijk – waarin zelfstandig ondernemerschap, freelance werk, en deeltijdscontracten dominant zijn – voor sommigen controversieel. Terwijl dat toch echt de dagelijkse realiteit van meer dan de helft van alle journalisten is.

Een oproep aan het adres van aspirant-journalisten om de journalistiek zo breed en creatief mogelijk te beschouwen is door sommigen gezien als een aanklacht tegen journalisten die op redacties hard werken om mooie verhalen te produceren. Terwijl ik juist respect vraag voor het feit dat op al die redacties (deels vanwege het vervangen van vaste banen door deeltijd- een freelancecontracten) steeds meer werk door steeds minder mensen gedaan moet worden.

Dan is een waarschuwing tegen de neiging van redacties om te vervallen in group think wanneer zij om moeten gaan met maatschappelijke en technologische veranderingen – hetgeen een heel normaal verschijnsel is in alle vormen van collectief opererende organisaties (inclusief de universiteit), en niet betekent dat dit slecht zou zijn of verkeerd is – bewijs dat ik helemaal niets begrijp van de werkelijkheid van het journalistieke werk.

Dat zijn niet alleen begrijpelijke reacties – het zijn ook interessante voorbeelden van precies datgene, waar de kern van mijn uitspraken over gaat. Beroepen in de zogenaamde creatieve industrie – waar de journalistiek deel van uitmaakt – zijn essentieel voor de ontwikkeling, vorming, en duiding van de samenleving. Het zijn ook beroepen die, zowel economisch als technologisch – onder grote druk staan. Dat maakt het zulke bijzondere onderwerpen voor serieuze bestudering, en dit maakt het noodzakelijk om daar een brede, kritische, en open debat over te voeren waarin voor alle perspectieven ruimte moet zijn.

De soms emotionele reacties op mijn uitspraken – zowel in positieve als in negatieve zin – zijn vooral bewijs van de persoonlijke investering en de individuele passie waarmee mensen in de journalistiek hun werk doen. Het is precies die passie, dat plezier, dit oprechte engagement dat mijn onderzoeksgebied is, dat ik in mijn colleges en presentaties probeer uit te dragen, en waar ik als hoofd van de Master Journalistiek aan de Universiteit van Amsterdam voor sta! 

De komende maanden ga ik op bezoek bij de redacties van Nederlandse mediabedrijven, bij nieuwscollectieven en bij ZZP’ers in de journalistiek. 

Ik ga uitgebreid praten met onze docenten, staf, en studenten van vroeger en nu. Samen met organisaties als het Stimuleringsfonds voor de Pers, de VVOJ en de NVJ, het Expertisecentrum Journalistiek en andere organisaties ga ik graag de discussie aan over het vak. 

En ik zoek de collega’s in de wetenschap – te Groningen, Rotterdam, Amsterdam (VU en UvA), Utrecht, Tilburg, Nijmegen, Leuven, Antwerpen en verder – op om te zien hoe we kunnen samenwerken om het vak van de journalist nog beter te bedienen met heldere, kritische, en respectvolle informatie en inzichten.

Iedereen die zich aangesproken voelt is daarnaast van harte welkom om langs te komen in kamer 2.11 van het Departement Mediastudies in Amsterdam. Wacht wellicht nog even tot medio juli - want dan komt mijn meubilair pas aan uit New York...

Los van dit alles zijn alle nieuwsmedia vanzelfsprekend zombie-instellingen en is de beste journalist een DJ. Maar ja, dat spreekt voor zich.

Toekomst van de Krant

LAATSTE UPDATE [donderdag 17.12]: het essay staat nu op de Podium-pagina van Trouw en is, naar ik aan neem, ook vandaag in de papieren krant te vinden. Ik vervolg het debat over de toekomst van de krant graag op de site van Trouw!

DERDE UPDATE [woensdagochtend 16.12]: volgens de krant gaat het stukje "vannacht mee." Dit zou kunnen betekenen dat het dan wellicht ook terecht komt op de Podium-pagina van de website. Het is toch mooi van de redactie dat ze mijn stuk alsnog afdrukken. Indien relevant, zal ik op de site van Trouw verder deelnemen aan het debat over de toekomst van de krant (eigenlijk, of liever: de toekomst van de journalist). Intussen is het ook mogelijk om op het stuk te reageren op de onvolprezen site van De Nieuwe Reporter (waar het essay sinds 14 december doorgeplaatst is).

WEEDE UPDATE [zondagmiddag 13.12]: Iemand anders van de krant heeft me nu benaderd om (nogmaals) te melden dat ze het stukje graag willen plaatsen, alleen:
"we willen wel graag exclusiviteitswaarde. Dus als je het van je weblog wilt halen tot ergens deze week?"
Ben ik nou een enorme arrogante kwal als ik zeg dat ik dit verzoek symptomatisch vind voor het niet begrijpen hoe in een digitale cultuur met informatie en publicatie omgegaan kan/moet worden? Nogmaals: ik weet dat de hardwerkende journalisten bij Trouw het allemaal goed bedoelen en ben oprecht dankbaar dat ze me een kans geven om aan het debat over het vak deel te nemen, maar in de manier waarop zitten voor mij precies die haken en ogen waarbij het in het vak nu zo vaak mis gaat.

Als Trouw nu slim was, zouden ze doorlinken naar mijn stukje, er een kort commentaar van de redactie bij zetten, uitnodigen tot debat, deelnemen aan het gesprek op Twitter (waar Trouw multimediaredacteur Wouter Bax wel al lekker mee praat), indien wenselijk mij uitnodigen voor een uitgebreide reactie op alle respons die ik krijg (vooral via Facebook overigens), andere columnisten in haar dossier over de toekomst van de krant aan het woord laten, enzovoorts. Met andere woorden: deelnemen aan het gesprek in plaats van proberen het te controleren.

EERSTE UPDATE [zondagochtend 13.12]: de krant heeft uiteindelijk gereageerd - het stuk kreeg niet meteen aandacht vanwege alle onrust en tumult op de redactie vanwege de gedwongen ontslagen. Vanzelfsprekend kan ik me bij die onrust iets voorstellen - tenslotte heb ik precies over dit onderwerp de laatste jaren onderzoek gedaan. Deze ervaring geeft een aantal zaken aan, waarbij voorop staat hoe idioot het is voor een werkgever in de media om haar talent te passeren in de overwegingen over de toekomst van het bedrijf.

Werk in de media heeft een sterk informeel en emotioneel karakter. Dat betekent aan de ene kant veel kwetsbare ego's, aan de andere kant staat of valt de kwaliteit van je produkt(ie) bij de gratie van het moreel op de werkvloer.

Een andere kant van deze ervaring is de miscommunicatie tussen een door nieuwe media verwende wetenschapper en de houding van een medium dat gewend is als poortwachter tot opinies en het nieuws te functioneren. De krant is natuurlijk al lang geen poortwachter meer - dat is iedereen. Ik had blijkbaar niet het geduld om rustig te wachten op een gewogen oordeel van de redactie. Het gaat niet te ver om aan te nemen dat in deze kleine miscommunicatie veel van het leed van kranten (niet: van journalisten) besloten ligt.

Tot slot: de krant is alsnog van plan het stukje te publiceren, later deze week. Dat is mooi - ze hadden het, na mijn aktie op deze blog, gerust kunnen versnipperen. Dat strekt de redactie tot eer en bevestigdt in feite mijn argument: de toekomst van de krant is niet aan het medium, maar aan (het talent van) de journalisten.

EERDER OP DEZE BLOG [zaterdagochtend 12.12]: Eerder deze week kreeg ik het vriendelijke verzoek van de opinie-redactie van dagblad Trouw om een Podium-essay bij te dragen aan het dossier over de toekomst van kranten. De krant vroeg me dit
"zo spoedig als mogelijk"
aan te leveren, gezien de actualiteit van het onderwerp en de aanhoudende bezuinigingen en ontslagen in de journalistiek.

Dat is/was een mooie uitdaging, en de dag na de uitnodiging leverde ik een kort stuk (iets meer dan 700 woorden) in. Sindsdien heb ik niets meer vernomen van de krant. Dat kan heel waarschijnlijk betekenen dat mijn bijdrage van een dermate beschamend niveau is, dat deze niet geplaatst kan worden. Prima, maar dan zou het toch netjes zijn zoiets te melden ("Dank voor uw bijdrage, maar helaas zijn er op dit moment andere onderwerpen die onze aandacht vragen").

Of het verhaal sluit niet aan bij wat er van me verwacht werd - ook daarvoor is een standaard-bericht een goede optie. Of de situatie zegt iets over de toekomst van kranten: het, ondanks alle goede bedoelingen, toch onvermijdelijk achter de feiten (en opinie) aanlopen van het medium en het creatieve proces van de dagbladjournalistiek.

Ach, ik vermoed dat mijn verhaal simpelweg niet goed of aardig genoeg is/was. Shit happens.
Omdat ik niet zomaar 700 woorden schrijf, laat ik ze toch maar hieronder reproduceren. Hetgeen ik, zogezegd, ter vernietiging aanbied.

Datum: 9 December 2009

De Toekomst van de Krant

Opiniebijdrage voor: Trouw

Als het gaat om voorspellingen die met technologie te maken hebben, lijden we vaak aan een collectieve bijziendheid: we hebben de neiging om te overschatten wat er op korte termijn zal gebeuren, terwijl we onderschatten wat er op de lange termijn allemaal verandert. Vijf jaar geleden kende niemand YouTube of Hyves, nu kunnen velen niet meer zonder. Het gesprek over de toekomst van de krant is daarmee volstrekt nutteloos. In het kort: over vijf of tien jaar zal er heus nog wel hier en daar een dagblad verschijnen: wat sterk geconcentreerde regionale titels, een enkele dure landelijke kwaliteitskrant, een tweetal gratis bladen op tabloidformaat. Over dertig tot veertig jaar zijn deze allemaal verdwenen.

Niets van dit alles heeft te maken met de kwaliteit van het nieuws, de dwang van de markt, of de alsmaar voortrazende technologie. Als dit wel zo zou zijn, is de toekomst van de krant belachelijk simpel: investeer in nieuwe genres en goede beroepsopleidingen, werk samen met commerciële partners en marktonderzoekers om een aantrekkelijk product aan te bieden, investeer in digitale toepassingen en internet. Oeps. Laat dat nou precies zijn, wat uitgevers de laatste tien tot twintig jaar gedaan hebben.

Zonder enig gevolg.

Wat achter de geleidelijke teloorgang van de krant schuilt is een veranderende manier van samen leven. Het is inmiddels bijna een cliché: we leven een digitaal leven, ondergedompeld in media, zijn altijd en overal bereikbaar. Ons mediagebruik - en vooral dat van jongeren - schuift langzaam maar zeker op naar apparaten en functies, die met elkaar gemeen hebben dat ze draagbaar, draadloos, convergent en genetwerkt zijn: het beste voorbeeld daarvan is wel de eigentijdse mobiele telefoon, waarbij activiteiten als bellen, mailen, chatten, websurfen, fotograferen, televisiekijken en (alleen of samen met anderen) spelletjes spelen volledig door elkaar heen lopen. Het leven is vergeven van al dan niet nieuwe media, welke media steeds dieper doordringen in ons bestaan, variërend van de apparaten die we elke dag gebruiken, via de wijze waarop we communiceren en alledaagse beslissingen nemen, tot aan de manier waarop we de wereld om ons heen zien en begrijpen. We leven met andere woorden niet meer met media, maar in media.

Aan de ene kant draagt ons leven in media bij aan een gevoel van diepe verbondenheid met anderen. Deze gedeelde identiteit is er echter wel een zonder wortels, dat wil zeggen: zonder noodzakelijke band met een specifieke plaats of tijd. Je kunt je uiterst verbonden voelen met mensen en opvattingen waar dan ook - en die verbondenheid intiem beleven via virtuele gemeenschappen en sociale netwerken. Voorheen was dit een min of meer exclusieve functie van massamedia zoals de krant en het NOS Journaal. Niet voor niets werd de journalistiek wel omschreven als het 'sociale cement' van de samenleving. Nu is iedereen in staat om zijn of haar wereldbeeld te delen en vergelijken met een in potentie wereldpubliek.

Aan de andere kant bestaat een leven in media in feite uit een eindeloze reeks hoogstpersoonlijke en gefragmenteerde ervaringen. Al onze technologische apparaten en handelingen zijn er op ingesteld om aangepast te (kunnen) worden aan onze individuele wensen en voorkeuren. Hiermee wordt de ervaring van een leven in media een vorm van 'samen alleen' zijn, waarbij iedereen communiceert en het nog maar de vraag is wie er nog luistert.

De krant verdwijnt, omdat het als medium niet past bij een samenleving van samen alleen zijn. Dat wil echter niet zeggen dat de journalistiek als beroep geen aansluiting bij de burger kan vinden. Dat moet alleen gebeuren in een andere vorm, met een nieuwe organisatie, buiten het bereik en de agenda's van de bestaande instituten die het vak bewaken - en daarmee doel ik met alle respect op de bestaande omroepbedrijven en uitgeverijen.

Wat opvalt bij de studie van nieuwsbedrijven, is dat de meeste journalisten geen zeggenschap hebben of voelen wat betreft de broodnodige creativiteit en innovatie in het vak - terwijl ze tegelijkertijd hun banen (en publiek) zien verdwijnen. Als je met dit vak een salaris wilt verdienen, wacht dan niet (meer) op de enkele teerling, welke je vanuit de gebouwen van Wegener of de Persgroep toegeworpen krijgt. De toekomst ligt bij het zelf organiseren van nieuwe werkvormen en netwerken van journalisten in binnen- en buitenland die alleen of samen werken aan mooie verhalen voor verschillende media. Die toekomst is, met andere woorden, niet noodzakelijkerwijs aan de krant.

Editing Journal Special Issues

During the last three years, I have had the privilege to work together with some of the most amazing minds in the field of media production, management, and work studies: Henry Jenkins (USC), John Banks (QUT), and Tim Marjoribanks (Melbourne). Together with these friends I guest co-edited special issues of what I consider to be among the most inspiring and diverse academic journals in our field:

- Convergence (volume 14/1 of 2008, on convergence culture with Henry);
- International Journal of Cultural Studies (volume 12/5 of 2009, on co-creative labor with John); and
- Journalism (volume 10/5 of 2009 on newswork, with Tim).

If you are interested and active in research, teaching, or taking courses related to media work, labor, production, management, and industries, I hope and suggest you check these special issues out. They feature some of the best scholars in these fields, both upcoming talent and well-established stars. I want to use this blogpost to record my sincere thanks and deep appreciation for the work of Henry, Tim, and John. It has been a tremendous experience editing these journals (which in turn also inspired me to edit a book-length volume, on which you can expect some more info soon (working title: "Managing Media Work"), as its full manuscript has just been sent to the publisher...

Coming Soon: Special Issue on "Newswork"

After two years of exciting work with friend and colleague Tim Marjoribanks (University of Melbourne), our special issue on "Newswork" of the journal Journalism Theory Practice & Criticism is coming out soon; I just got the page proofs this week. As a sneak preview, please find the table of contents below.

By the way: the authors' version of the introductory essay Tim and I wrote for the special issue (on the changing conditions of work and labor in the global news industry) is available for download at IU Scholarworks. It features a broad discussion of the changes and challenges facing journalists in terms of labor, working conditions, and management, as well as a brief summary of all the wonderful articles that are featured in this special issue.

Journalism Volume 10 Number 5 October 2009



Mark Deuze and Timothy Marjoribanks 555


Between tradition and change: A review of recent research on online news production
Eugenia Mitchelstein and Pablo J. Boczkowski 562

Compressed dimensions in digital media occupations: Journalists in transformation
Amy Schmitz Weiss and Vanessa de Macedo Higgins Joyce 587

An actor-network perspective on changing work practices: Communication technologies as actants in newswork
Ursula Plesner 604

Token responses to gendered newsrooms: Factors in the career-related decisions of female newspaper sports journalists
Marie Hardin and Erin Whiteside 627

The performative journalist: Job satisfaction, temporary workers and American television news
Kathleen M. Ryan 647

Structure, agency, and change in an American newsroom
David M. Ryfe 665

Watchdog or witness? The emerging forms and practices of videojournalism
Sue Wallace 684

The shaping of an online feature journalist
Steen Steensen 702

Changing journalistic practices in Eastern Europe: The cases of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia
Monika Metyková and Lenka Waschková Císarová 720

The End of Newspapers

(This post also appears on Polity Press' Digital Media and Society blog)

European and North American newspapers have been in decline for decades. Slowly but surely, all indicators of a more or less healthy product - circulation, audience penetration, advertising effectiveness, credibility and trust - have been eroding to the point where, today, they are in freefall. None of this is surprising given the historical trend, but it still features in feverish debates online and offline as to what the future of democracy is without newspapers.

The link between newspapers and democracy is tenuous, and also rather uninspiring as a basis for debate - as one can find similar discussions in the professional and academic literature in the 1920s (economic depression, general distrust of media as vehicles for wartime propaganda, rise of radio as a mass medium), the 1980s (TV news trumps print news, increased media concentration, decline of political and other forms of civic participation), and the early 1990s.

What seems to be lacking from the current debate - about the end of an era for local newspapers in the UK, or the demise of one or more national newspapers in The Netherlands, and the shutting down of at least 10 or more prestigious newspapers in the US - is a critical awareness of the workforce restructuring of journalism that runs parallel to this process. This process shifts the economy from one based on the production of commodities (such as news) at specific places (as in the office buildings of news organizations) using the skills of specific employees. It is perhaps useful to interpret the demise of newspapers as an important step towards the liquefaction of all these categories.

Economists for years have been predicting or advocating the emergence of a global weightless economy, where ideas are the primary form of capital (rather than, say, machines). Such a weightless economy centered on information and communications technology (ICT), the Internet, and (copyright-protected, trademarked) intellectual assets, in turn produced by immaterial labor. Immaterial labor produces the informational and cultural content of a commodity, which content is valued on the basis of impermanent, unstable, and generally unpredictable categories: creative norms, user preferences, consumer taste, seasonal fashions, and so on.

I would argue that another element defining the "weight" of a weightless economy - next to factories and machines - are people, as in: employees. People that are owned - and taken responsibility for through contracts and other formal social arrangements - by companies. The majority of journalists in countries all over the world has always been employed by newspapers. The newsroom sizes of newspapers can run into the hundreds of reporters and editors, whereas broadcast and online teams tend to be just a fraction of this.

Another difference has been that newspaper staffers generally have had the most stable kind of employment arrangements, often working in fulltime, open-ended contractual capacity. This compared to their colleagues in online, magazine, and broadcast news, which operations are more often than not staffed with contingent workers (parttime, temporary, freelance) in "atypical" or otherwise casualized labor conditions - often even working without a contract. Interestingly, in these areas of the profession the gender balance tends to be almost neutral, whereas in newspapers men dominate the workforce in countries such as The Netherlands, the UK, Germany, Australia, and the US - often by a margin of up to 80%.

At the heart of the demise of newspapers and the restructuring of a global weightless economy is the permanent uprooting and letting go of the majority of employed, contractual workforce in the news industry, and the overall casualization of labor.

Journalism is losing weight. Its weight is its workforce, and with that the remaining labor protections that still governed the profession. That is the real tragedy of the end of newspapers.

The People Formerly Known as the Employers


In 2006, NYU professor Jay Rosen penned an astute observation about the changing power relationships in the media industries - and more specifically, the world of journalism - regarding the impact of internet. His analysis had the catchy title "The People Formerly Known as the Audience", and pointed towards a shift in access to reporting tools (news gathering, editing, and publishing) to what used to be imagined by newsworkers as the audience. Importantly, it is not just the tools of reporting now being available to "We the Media" (such as blogging, podcasting, vodcasting, and other forms of social or "our" media), but also emerging forms of legal protection (Creative Commons licensing), and increasing uses of users by professional media organizations, thereby giving the former audience the semi-official status as competitor-colleagues.

Examples of deliberately turning the media consumer into (co-) producer across different creative industries are viral and word-of-mouth (or: "social") marketing, interactive advertising, computer and videogame modification SDKs (Software Development Kits such as the Source SDK of Valve), and citizen journalism, where news organizations indeed call upon their audiences to reconstitute themselves as journalists - such as Yo Periodista at Spanish newspaper El Pais, iReport at American broadcaster CNN, and so on.

Flat Hierarchies

At the heart of this argument is the recognition of a new or modified power relationship between news users and producers, between amateur and professional journalists. It can be heralded as a democratization of media access, as an opening up of the conversation society has with itself, as a way to get more voices heard in an otherwise rather hierarchical and exclusive public sphere. In this scenario, some of the traditional and generally uncontested social power of journalists now flows towards publics, and potentially makes for a flatter hierarchy in the publication and dissemination of news and information.

By all means, this is an important intervention on the audience side. But what industry observers like Rosen tend to omit, underreport, or dismiss is another equally if not more powerful redistribution of power taking place in the contemporary media ecosystem: a sapping of economic and cultural power away from professional journalists by what I like to call The People Formerly known as the Employers. Employers in the media industries increasingly tend to withdraw from labor, that is, from taking responsibility for their creative workforce - instead giving them the feeling that they are just assets that cost money.

Primarily I owe this insight to my friend and brilliant colleague Professor Leopoldina Fortunati of the University of Udine, Italy (who visited us at Indiana University this week).

[update 27.10.08] Some more or less recent concrete examples of TPFKATE and power sapping away from reporters and other professionals in the creative industries, such as a survey in Summer 2008 among media workers at Fairfax (link to PDF) in Australia. The Fairfax study, similar to a survey last year among members of the US Newsguild, shows how media workers among other things report feel unappreciated, see their colleagues (1 out of 3 in the US) lose their jobs for no apparent reason, and experience early retirements without jobs being replaced (other than by temporary staffers, stringers, and freelance correspondents). One of the most crucial and foreboding remarks in the Fairfax report reads: "[...] younger journalists, in particular, [have] become demoralised. There is no sense that the company values its staff."

Recent news signaling powerdrain also comes from plans for mass layoffs at especially newspapers but also in broadcasting, such as in the American news market, and the media industry generally (see IWantMedia's archive from 2000-2006), as overall one in six jobs in the media has dissappeared over the last couple of years.


Employers in the news industry traditionally offered most of their workers permanent contracts, included healthcare and other benefits (at the end of the 20th century sometimes even including maternal leave), pension plans, and in most cases even provisions sponsoring reporters to retrain themselves, participate in workshops, and serve on boards that gave them a formal voice in future planning and strategies of the firm. Today, most if not all of that has disappeared - especially when we consider the youngest journalists at work.

Today, the international news industry is contractually governed by what the International Federation of Journalists euphemistically describes as "atypical work", which means all kinds of freelance, casualized, informal, and otherwise contingent labor arrangements that effectively individualize each and every workers' rights or claims regarding any of the services offered by employers in the traditional sense as mentioned. This, in effect, has workers compete for (projectized, one-off, per-story) jobs rather than employers compete for (the best, brightest, most talented) employees.

Furthermore, newswork in particularly English, Spanish, and German-speaking countries gets increasingly outsourced: to subcontracted temporary workers or even offshored to other countries, where the People Formerly Known as the Employers practice what has been called "Remote Control Journalism." Journalists today have to fight with their employers to keep the little protections they still have, and do so in a cultural context of declining trust and credibility in the eyes of audiences (the few "audiences" that still exist given the Rosen formula), a battle for hearts and minds that they have to wage without support from those who they traditionally relied on: their employers.


So what we see happening in the context of todays new media ecology and the emerging global creative economy is power slowly but surely slipping away from those who we rely on for our entertainment (ex.: the recent writers' and actor's labor disputes in Canada and the US), our advertising (ex.: the widely reported power shift occuring in agencies from creative towards account managers, media planners, and digital consultants), and - perhaps most disturbingly, our news.

For all the brilliance of those advocating a more democrative media system, there is generally nothing in their analysis that acknowledges this erosion of power, this wholesale redistribution of agency away from those who tend to crave only one thing: creative and editorial autonomy. No matter how excited I can get about user-generated content and the collective intelligence of cyberspace, this power shift erodes the very foundation of the way we know (and thus interact with) the world, and our ability to truly function in it autonomously, and on our own terms.

Perhaps we should take this analysis even further: the only way we can live in the world as this power shift continues, is to rely exclusively on our own terms. This in turn inevitably leads to mass solipsism and paranoia - as the only truth we can still believe in has to be strictly our own, and nothing or nobody can (or should) still be trusted. It is the perfect storm.

Paraphrasing Zygmunt Bauman: I am writing this down in the hope of preventing an inevitable disaster.

Social Theory & Journalism Studies

This post could also be titled Newswork and Holiday II - as we just got back from an amazing trip (the picture is ours this time), and I got some great news about a paper on social theory and journalism studies - the companion piece to the newswork essay published in the WPCC special issue on "News Journalism in Transition" earlier this month - that got published as a feature essay in the International Journal of Communication today.

As some of you have noticed, this journal and WPCC are both academic, peer reviewed, open access (OA) journals. Their content is freely accessible and downloadable online, and is intended for the widest possible distribution, access, and use.

After co-editing (with Henry Jenkins) a special issue for the wonderful journal Convergence earlier this year after which one of the authors, danah boyd, raised the issue of boycotting locked-down academic journals, I made the decision to support the open access publishing system more deliberately. One of the ways I can do this, is to submit my work for peer review much more frequently to these kinds of journals, and to offer such journals - for what it is worth - my assistance as manuscript reviewer or even editorial board member. I realize this "decision" is a cowardly one, perhaps (as I just got tenured here in the US and am a full professor back in The Netherlands), but I genuinely did not reflect much on this issue earlier until danah raised it so pointedly.

Although I do not agree with danah that a boycott is in order, I do think it is healthy and important that open access-publication becomes a completely equal and relevant alternative to this model for academic publishing, especially regarding criteria for hiring junior faculty, and making decisions on tenure and promotion.

Please note that I am not doing this because I feel that corporations or the people working for them (or who are engaged in service to closed journals as editors, staffers, or board members) are evil, or wrong. I am doing this because it is an important and exciting new way of getting taxpayer-funded research and knowledge out in the open, make our work as academics more inclusive and transparent, and because overall it just seems like a really good idea at this time.

Next to these pieces in the International Journal of Communication (IJoC) and the Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture (WPCC), you can expect a third paper I just finished to be published soon in the first issue of what promises to be yet another excellent new open access space: the Journal of Media Sociology. Of course, I have earlier pieces in First Monday, and will be submitting more work there very soon.

Other journals can be found easily, for example through the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). I hope you'll download my work and the works of other authors in these journals, and be able to use it widely in your research and teaching - and as always, I look forward to any comments and discussion.

For now, I'm reprinting title and the abstract of the IJoC piece below. Go check this journal out if you have not already - it is edited by Larry Gross and Manuel Castells over at my old stomping grounds (for a brief while at least) at USC.

The Changing Context of News Work: Liquid Journalism for a Monitorial Citizenry


In this paper, the relationships between theories of (new) citizenship and (new) journalism are explored. The meaning of citizenship has changed in the last few decades. People still tend to be seen by most politicians, scholars, and journalists alike as citizens that need to inform themselves widely about issues of general interest so that they can make an informed decision at election time. However, this model of the informed citizenry is a thing of the past - a prescriptive and rather elitist notion of both how people should make up their minds and what (political) representation means to them. Today's citizen is not only critical, self-expressive, and distinctly anti-hierarchical (Beck, 2000), he is also what Schudson (1999) calls "monitorial": scanning all kinds of news and information sources for the topics that matter to him personally. People are not necessarily disengaged from the political process, they just commit their time and energy to it on their own terms. This individualized act of citizenship can be compared to the act of the consumer, browsing stores of a shopping mall for that perfect pair of jeans — it is the act of the citizen-consumer. In journalism, a similar trend is emerging, where traditional role perceptions of journalism influenced by its occupational ideology - providing a general audience with information of general interest in a balanced, objective, and ethical way - do not seem to fit all that well with the lived realities of reporters and editors, nor with the communities they are supposed to serve. In the context of a precarious and, according to the International Federation of Journalists, increasingly "atypical" professional work life, ongoing efforts by corporations to merge and possibly converge news operations, and an emerging digital media culture where the consumer is also a producer of public information, the identity of the journalist must be seen as "liquid" (Bauman, 2000). Such a liquid journalism truly works in the service of the network society, deeply respects the rights and privileges of each and every consumer-citizen to be a maker and user of his own news, and enthusiastically embraces its role as, to paraphrase James Carey, an amplifier of the conversation society has with itself.

Full Text: PDF

Newswork and Holiday

Two bits of news this week... we're going on a holiday (see the stock photo), and second, the cool open access journal Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture published its new issue - a special issue on News Journalism in Transition. It features several excellent papers - including the always fascinating work of friend and colleague Steve Paulussen from Belgium - and I'm honoured to be included in the line-up with an essay based on the research for the Media Work book (link to PDF: "Understanding Journalism as Newswork: How it Changes, and how it Remains the Same").

Here's the abstract:

For a media profession so central to society’s sense of self, it is of crucial importance to understand the influences of changing labor conditions, professional cultures, and the appropriation of technologies on the nature of work in journalism. In this paper, the various strands of international research on the changing nature of journalism as a profession are synthesized, using media logic as developed by Altheide and Snow (1979 and 1991) and updated by Dahlgren (1996) as a conceptual framework. A theoretical key to understanding and explaining journalism as a profession is furthermore to focus on the complexities of concurrent disruptive developments affecting its performance from the distinct perspective of its practitioners – for without them, there is no news.

Depopulating Journalism

[The following is an essay in Dutch, published at the grouplog De Nieuwe Reporter, serving as the body text of a talk I'm giving in The Netherlands on September 17th, 2007]

"Weg met Journalistiek Talent!" Dat lijken de meeste nieuwe ontwikkelingen op het gebied van media management en digitalisering te zeggen. Zeker, er worden nu kranten op elektronisch papier uitgegeven. Er worden nieuwe multimedia “newsrooms” gebouwd waarin krant, radio, TV en internet samengaan. Nieuwssites breiden uit met Webvideo en burgerjournalistiek. Maar er drijven lijken onder deze woeste baren van innovatie en vernieuwing: die van de nieuwkomers, de jonge talenten, de beginnende verslaggevers. Want daarin investeert niemand meer.


In 2000 opende het The News Center haar deuren in Tampa Bay, Florida: een schitterend nieuw gebouw voor de verslaggevers en redacteuren van Tampa Bay Online (TBO). In it multimediale walhalla werden ondergebracht WFLA-TV Channel 8 (een NBC station), dagblad The Tampa Tribune, en een internetredactie. Ook al ging een en ander niet zonder morren – en zeker ook niet zonder gedwongen ontslagen – werd het project van het overkoepelende bedrijf Media General aangehaald als een succes: het vlaggeschip van innovatieve, “cutting edge” cross-mediaal nieuwswerk.

Nu is het 2007, en kondigde Media General in April aan tientallen van deze fantastische multimedia-mensen te moeten laten gaan (in de context van massaal banenverlies in de Amerikaanse journalistiek). Jammer maar helaas. Direct daarna kondigde het bestuur van TBO opgewonden aan de site voor een wezenlijk gedeelte om te bouwen om burgerjournalistiek mogelijk te maken – “going hyperlocal” heet dat in management-speak.


Eerder dit jaar, in januari, kondigde de Californische televisiezender TV50 (KFTY-TV) het ontslag aan van nagenoeg de voltallige nieuwsredactie. De toekomst is echter rooskleurig, want de zender heeft het plan om het dagelijkse nieuws voortaan door de kijkers te laten maken en bepalen.

In maart 2007 kondigden drie Amerikaanse bedrijven - Fisher Communications, de Journal Broadcast Group, en Granite Broadcasting – aan samen te gaan in de online dienst YouNewsTV, waar mensen worden uitgenodigd zelf videoclips met nieuwsitems in te dienen. De beste inzendingen worden daarna opgenomen in het reguliere avondnieuws op televisie. Prachtig en innovatief, zeker. Wat in al het enthousiasme niet werd bericht, was het feit dat deze bedrijven de laatste jaren langzaam maar zeker de redactionele staf afvloeiden.


Deze maand (september 2007) zijn we opgewonden gaan kijken in Frankrijk, waar het financieel-economische dagblad Les Echos voortaan permanent ververst op elektronisch paper (de iLiad) verschijnt. Wat een triomf. Vooral voor een krant waar de Britse eigenaar Pearson met alle macht vanaf probeert te komen (alsook met haar aandeel in FT Deutschland) om zich meer te kunnen richten op de eigen Engelse uitgave van de Financial Times. De redactie van Les Echos houdt inmiddels het hart vast, want de kopers van hun krant zijn financieringsmaatschappijen (zoals LVMH en Fimalac) die nu niet bepaald bekend staan als enthousiaste investeerders in arbeidskrachten en redactionele onafhankelijkheid. De loyaliteit van dit soort fondsen richt zit op aandeelhouders en investeerders – niet op de structurele steun en ontwikkeling van journalisten.


Ook in Nederland gebeuren spannende dingen in de journalistiek – dit zelfs ondanks onze “zesjescultuur”. Nieuwe kranten met spannende inhoud of vormgeving zien het daglicht, centrale redacties bundelen krachten en komen met knallende inhoud, her en der ziet burgerjournalistiek het daglicht en experimenteren bladen met video en zenders met tekst.

Toch moet ook hier een tweede verhaal verteld worden: het aantal werkzame journalisten in Nederland daalt snel, er komen veel minder jongeren bij dat er ouderen (met alle respect) uitgaan, de meeste nieuwe initiatieven (eerst internetredacties, later nieuwe gratis dagbladen en afdelingen van omroepen en tijdschriften die zich met cross-media bezig moeten houden) worden uitgevoerd door een combinatie van technische stafleden, stagiaires, een enkele vaste redacteur en verder een legertje aan met elkaar en met (gratis) “burgerjournalisten” concurrerende stringers, correspondenten, freelancers en projectmedewerkers. Zie ook de uitstekende verslaggeving van Ineke Noordhoff op DNR voor enkele voorbeelden.


Deze opmerkingen en voorbeelden lichten slechts het tipje van de sluier op. Overal worden journalisten ontslagen, worden jongeren en nieuwkomers op zijsporen gezet, uitgebuit, in wat de International Labor Organization (ILO) “atypical” (link naar PDF) arbeidsverhoudingen gedwongen: onderbetaald, zonder arbeidszekerheid en vooral ook zonder dat het nieuwsbedrijf in hen investeert. Om-, her- of bijscholing? Daar doen we niet meer aan, dat moeten journalisten maar in de eigen vrije tijd doen – en dat in een fase waarin door al die schitterende technologische vernieuwingen “deskilling” en “multiskilling” aan de orde van de dag is.

Dit alles past in een wereldwijde trend waarin flexibilisering van mediawerk, convergentie, technologische innovatie en de toenemende “outsourcing” van nieuwsproduktie naar (onbetaalde) burgerjournalisten hand in hand gaan met de gestage afkalving van investeringen in talent, in jongeren (waaronder verhoudingsgewijs veel meer vrouwen en allochtonen dan de zittende orde), in nieuwe verhalen (voor meer achtergronden, cijfermateriaal en onderzoek verwijs ik naar mijn nieuwe boek. “Media Work”, waarop ik deze conclusies baseer).

Het ergste van dit alles is niet het exploitatiebeleid van de uitgevers, omroepen en investeerders. Tenslotte kunnen we hen het niet kwalijk nemen dat ze proberen het nieuwsbedrijf financieel drijvende te houden – dat is hun kerntaak en zonder dit soort plannen zijn er sowieso geen banen in de journalistiek. Maar het is nog veel erger dat jonge journalisten, nieuwkomers en andere beginnelingen dit alles klakkeloos accepteren. We worden dolblij van nagenoeg onbetaalde stages, van gesubsidieerde “werkervaringsplaatsen”, van minimale aanstellingen, van projectgebaseerd flexwerk, van werkgevers en redactiechefs die ons een stukje laten schrijven of een item laten monteren zonder om zich verder te interesseren in het prikkelen, ondersteunen en verder ontwikkelen van journalistiek talent, originaliteit en authenticiteit.


Om het nog wat harder te stellen: de industrie laat journalisten concurreren met burgers voor de kans om nieuws te maken, gebruikt digitalisering en technologie om te besparen op arbeidskosten (een computer zal nooit zeuren over werktijden, vakantiedagen, bijscholing of opslag), om minder redacteuren meer te laten doen (wat je ook wel het gaandeweg "depopulariseren" van het beroep kan noemen), en om het vak – de ambacht – van de journalist om te vormen van verhalenverteller naar moderator.

(Dit is een verkorte versie van mijn lezing op het congres “Publishing in the Digital Age” dat de afdelingen Boek & Digitale Media en Journalistiek & Nieuwe Media van de Universiteit Leiden maandag 17 september organiseren).

PopUp: Second Printing & eBook

Great news today from my friend and co-author Henk Blanken: our recent book PopUp is currently considered for a second printing by our publisher Atlas, and this edition will be "new & improved"... Also, we heard that the book might be released later this year as an eBook - which would befit a "new Media"-based tome. This is really exciting - and largely due to Henk's awesome storytelling and editing skills. The book is in Dutch and deals with the cultural clash between old and new media. Way cool.

Beyond Journalism

UPDATE [November 2011]: After spending a couple of years first doing other things (most notably working on - and finishing - my book on Media Life, I am happy to report that this project is back on the agenda, starting in Spring/Summer 2012. I look forward to graduate student applications for this work, and welcome any and all ideas for collaboration.

Well, I'm really excited: just signed a contract for a new book, scheduled to come out in 2009 2015, with the working title "Beyond Journalism" (Polity Press). As usual, I'd appreciate any feedback and comments, and will post salient bits & pieces as I move along the creative process. For now, for your (and my) information, this is the rough outline of the writing project:

Beyond Journalism locates journalism in the context of digital culture, as this metaphor most adequately pinpoints contemporary concerns in the industry and academy about the changes and challenges facing the media. The book addresses these concerns in six key chapters:

Introduction: Journalism as Social Cement

I. Network Society, Network Journalism

• Key concept: Journalism as a networked practice of producing, editing, forwarding, sharing and debating public information

• Outline: Society today can best be understood in terms of what Manuel Castells calls a "networking logic", where forms of sociality are arranged and organized through connectivity and access to networks. Journalism in such a context therefore can be seen as a set of practices that provide access to networks both local and global - yet not necessarily national. This because, as I argue with Jurgen Habermas, in today's "post-national constellation" the national implies centralized control reinforced through the social systems of the market and politics communicating messages top-down using journalism as intermediary. A network journalism would be a journalism that defines connectivity and access as its primary goals of providing contemporary citizens with the means to self-govern.

II. Journalists, Citizens, Consumers

• Key concept: Journalism as a set of norms, values, and ideas practiced by professionals as well as amateurs

• Outline: Professional journalism has traditionally cast its publics more or less exclusively in terms of their role as audiences, which process tends to get validated through discourses of democratic empowerment (audiences as citizens) or market rhetoric (audiences as consumers). Contemporary publics are anything but citizens in the limited sense – that is, as voters or as candidates for public office – and in terms of their digital media rituals combine consumption with production. This trends gets amplified by the increasing use of users-as-producers by news organizations in an effort to co-opt the emergence of what Yochai Benkler (2006) calls "commons-based peer production" currently taking place online. A comprehensive articulation of journalists with citizens and consumers must therefore rethink the boundaries drawn between these roles.

III. The Local, the Global, and the Glocal

• Key concept: Journalism as an amplifier of globalization and hyperlocalism

• It is especially through media that for most people the world has become glocalized, as Roland Robertson (1995) would have it, where global products, peoples and ideas are re-appropriated locally and vice versa. In this context Barry Wellman signals a contemporary shift from group to glocalized relationships at work and in the community, defining this "glocalization" as a combination of intense local and extensive global interaction. Regarding the role of media in general and journalism in particular, it must be noted that the more communication happens in this networked electronic space, the more people assert their own culture and experience in their localities (as noted by Castells and others). Journalism can thus be seen both as an agent of local corrosion and global cohesion, and vice versa.

IV. Convergence Culture: Multimedia and Citizen Journalism

• Key concept: Journalism and convergence culture: between media, between users and producers

• Outline: Henry Jenkins (2006) typifies the emerging media ecology in terms of a convergence culture, defining the trend as: "[...] both a top-down corporate-driven process and a bottomup consumer-driven process. Media companies are learning how to accelerate the flow of media content across delivery channels to expand revenue opportunities, broaden markets and reinforce viewer commitments. Consumers are learning how to use these different media technologies to bring the flow of media more fully under their control and to interact with other users." Jenkins' approach aims to build a bridge between two different but equally important strands of thought regarding the way people respond and give meaning to the role ubiquitous and pervasive media play in their daily lives: participatory media production and individualized media consumption. This observation must be linked with an equally transformative process within media industries that convert their outputs into cross-media properties, stretching content across media as well as co-opting the creative acts of what Jay Rosen famously calls "The People Formerly Known As The Audience" (TPFKATA). Journalism thus becomes at once part of a disruptive top-down (multimedia newsrooms, repurposing content) and a bottom-up (participatory/open source/citizen journalism) process.

V. New Capitalism, Atypical Newswork, and Individual Creativities

• Key concept: Journalism as a Creative Industry

• Outline: Journalism has traditionally been considered as a cultural industry, as a profession primarily responsible for the industrial production and circulation of culture (Hesmondhalgh, 2002). In the ongoing academic debate on the definition of culture (or: cultural) industries media production tends to be emphasized as exclusive or particular to the field of action of the companies and corporations involved. In recent years policymakers, industry observers and scholars alike reconceptualized media work as taking place within a broad context of creative industries. John Hartley (2005) explicitly defines creative industries as an idea that: "seeks to describe the conceptual and practical convergence of the creative arts (individual talent) with cultural industries (mass scale), in the context of new media technologies (ICTs) within a new knowledge economy, for the use of newly interactive citizen-consumers." Journalism as a creative industry is an attempt to reconceptualize newswork in more complex terms that would acknowledge the interconnecting roles of commerce, content, connectivity and creativity in the journalistic process.

VI. What is Journalism?

• Key concepts: Ideology, Culture, Identity

• Outline: When discussing journalism, professional journalists tend to define themselves in ideological terms first - stressing their unique role in society as watchdogs, truth-seekers, and providing a public service. This value-system gets meaning through everyday practices and routines, which in turn impact upon the ways in which newsworkers experience or express their agency in making editorial decisions. This final chapter combines insights and primary data from surveys and interviews with journalists around the world in order to articulate the principal components of journalism's ideology, culture, and identity, and to discuss how the reconceptualizations of journalism as presented in the previous chapters may fit with these components. Ultimately this leads to a coherent and comprehensive definition of 'liquid journalism' – a journalism that truly works in the service of the network society, deeply respects the rights and privileges of each and every interactive citizen-consumer to be a maker and user of his or her own news, and embraces its role as - paraphrasing the late James Carey (1992) - amplifier of the multiple and concurrent conversations post-national society has with itself.

Conclusion: Liquid Journalism

UGC initiatives in: Journalism

[REMARK: this is the first post in a series on similar or comparable major issues in the key media professions of journalism, advertising, marketing communications, public relations, radio/TV/film production, and computer and video game development]

User-Generated Content is clearly the buzz of Web 2.o (and the second dotcom boom/bust). Here some recent 'hip' iniatives in US journalism that are making headlines and should be critically scrutinized:

[UPDATE April 17, 2007]: a column in Hollywood Today links User-Generated Content, citizen reporting, the shootings at Virigina Tech and - using Dr.Phil on CNN - violent video games...
CNN: I-Report (used prominently in the coverage on the campus shootings at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007)
Fox News: uReport
USA Today: Network Journalism
Fisher Communications, Journal Broadcast Group and Granite Broadcasting: YouNews.TV
Clearchannel Communications (Santa Rosa's KFTY-TV): Local content harvesting
Reuters: You Witness News
Yahoo: You Witness News
MSNBC: FirstPerson
New West.Net: Unfiltered
MediaGeneral (Tampa Tribune): Hyperlocal
81 US news companies and counting: Citizen Media

And all of this even has layers (11 of them, to be precise)!

...And all of this had media companies worried as well as excited (although the excitement seems to stem more from the promise of cost-cutting rather than the thrill of added value to reporting):

Survey: user-generated content biggest worry, opportunity for media companies

Quote: "Who's afraid of user-generated content? According to data collected for Accenture's annual survey of senior media executives, user-generated content is one of the biggest threats that traditional media companies face in the next few years."

Risk Reduction, Outsourcing, and UGC

UPDATE: this post is part of a international seminar "Towards Participatory Journalism" at the University of Tampere in Finland, where I participated via video uplink today. Check out all the other presentations (PowerPoints) of Thorsten Quandt, David Domingo, Jane Singer, Steve Paulussen, and Esa Sirkkunen here.

Think about the following quote from a story by Kate Kaye for Clickz on the rise of 'citizen journalism' among mainstream news operations (in the US):

For newspaper sites in need of creating more volume, enabling user-generated content "is the cheapest way to foster bigger growth," said Ken Doctor, lead news analyst at media market research firm Outsell. User-created content can double inventory volume at a production cost of one to three percent the cost of staff-produced newspaper content, Doctor added.

Now, consider the recent news about large layoffs at news operations such as Santa Rosa, California-based TV50, and at Florida-based Media General (who started the much-touted converged in favor of what is labeled as "hyperlocal" and "interactive" community websites.

Add to that the increase in outsourcing in journalism, and the reported rise in so-called "atypical" work (as in: temporary, contingent, or otherwise precarious labor) in the media in general - and in journalism in particular.


Outsourcing, layoffs, citizen journalism, user-generated content, and hyperlocalism all correlate.

So who are living in these 'hyperlocal' areas that are now supposed to cover their own news?


The same people that used to be of primary interest to the advertisers sponsoring mainstream news in the first place: affluent, white, middle class and largely suburban households.

Giving voice to the voiceless? Don't make me (horse) laugh.

The Culture of Newswork

As I've touched upon in my 2004 book Wat is Journalistiek? (the red one in the Flickr column to the right), one cannot explain what journalism is or how journalists give meaning to what they do without understanding the culture of newswork.

On Pressthink yesterday a good piece (by Tim Porter (of First Draft) and Michele McLellan (ex-Oregonian) about the fundamental changes underway in American newsrooms, based on an appreciation of the cultural conventions of zombie journalism...

The authors show how in zombie journalism, talented, innovative and critical-reflexive journalists are treated with skepticism and cynicism every step of the way... in newspaper journalism, that is.

Teamwork, innovation and change is much more the norm in TV and especially in online or multimedia newsrooms. It's about time we start thinking outside the print-box, beyond genre conventions, and across media channels.

PS: beyond culture, there is and all-pervasive sense of complete chaos, turmoil and turbulence, and perpetual whitewater throughout the (mass) media industry - as documented once again quite nicely by Bob Garfield over at AdAge. A quote:

"Mass media, of course, do not exist in a vacuum. They have a perfect symbiotic relationship with mass marketing. Advertising underwrites the content. The content delivers audience. Audiences receive the marketing messages and patronize the advertisers, and so on in what for centuries was an efficient cycle of economic life. The first element of Chaos presumes the fragmentation of mass media creates a different sort of cycle: an inexorable death spiral, in which audience fragmentation and ad-avoidance hardware lead to an exodus of advertisers, leading in turn to an exodus of capital, leading to a decline in the quality of content, leading to further audience defection, leading to further advertiser defection and so on to oblivion."

Chaos is (the new) order. Constant change - whether real or perceived (!) - is the guiding light. The skills set of the windsurfer - always catch the next breeze or else you'll drown - dominates the marketplace of ideas. Not sure whether this is a good thing, but let's be optimistic: it opens up creative white spaces left and right.

It has to.

Profile of Media Workers

Mark Fonseca Rendeiro (Bicyclemark), who is a former graduate student at the Department of Communication of the University of Amsterdam in The Netherlands where I used to work before coming to the US, was kind enough to Skype me for an interview on the implications of research profiling journalists.

Find the link to his podcast here , to my original post on the matter here and here, and to the most recent profile of U.S. journalists here. Knowing who the people that make most of our media are is important - not in the least because of the fact that they generally are more or less the same kind of people (and not representative of any kind of diversity yardstick one can come up with).

Indymedia, Journalism, and Digital Culture (part 6)

Final part of ICA paper, #6

For comments, criticism and a copy of the bibliography, please send me an e-mail.


In the final section of this essay I discuss the ways in which digital culture can be seen as a self-organizing property of Indymedia and journalism. With self-organization or autopoiesis I consider the various ways in which social groups (families, neighbourhoods, circles of friends) and social systems (medicine, law, politics, journalism) continually reproduce themselves by internalizing particular values, beliefs and practices operationally independent from the outside world yet at the same time structurally coupled with other groups and systems within that world. This notion was originally introduced in the 1970s by Chilean biologists Herbert Maturana and Fracisco Varela and has been introduced in the social sciences most prominently by German sociologist Niklas Luhmann. Self-organization is not particular to digital culture, as much as distantiation, participation and bricolage have manifestations before or next digital culture as well. Indeed, I consider all (social) systems to have autopoietic properties. Niklas Luhmann (1990) primarily considers the communicative acts and relationships within a social system as self-organizing, rather than the actors (that is: people) themselves. My argument therefore maintains that a digital culture is created, reproduced, sustained and recognized as such through the ways in which people establish relationships and communicate about these relationships. What is amazing about a digital culture - rather than a print, visual or information culture - is that it fosters community while at the same time can be fueled by isolation. In other words: we can be (or feel) connected to everyone else within the system - for example through chatrooms, Instant Messaging, group weblogs, Trackback systems and RSS (Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary) feeds on individual weblogs, Usenet discussion groups, Bulletin Boards Systems, SMS-tv, and so on - while at the same time being isolated as individuals sitting at a desk in front of a computer at home, at the office, in a public library or internet cafe. Yet digital culture is not self-created and self-maintained through connected devices and access alone - it also has self-referential properties in that certain values, beliefs and practices are preferred over others. A good example is the emergence of a Netiquette as an evolving set of ethical guidelines for communicating and publishing online. These values are sometimes formulated in opposition to (and thus distantiated from) those upheld by mainstream corporate media: preferring the personal experiental account rather than professional detached observation, heralding openness for all rather than access based on expertise claimed on the basis of institutional authority, attributing more weight to providing a bottom-up platform for individual voices instead of top-down delivering of messages based on a consensual perception of the common denominator. Again we must realize that such values have not sprung into existence when the first Bulletin Board System went online. What has happened, though, is an acceleration of acceptance of these values through the ongoing proliferation of internet access and usage, and a corresponding process of infusing disparate social systems like oppositional social movements and professional journalism, inspiring the emergence of Indymedia and participatory news. If publics increasingly demand to have a say in the news, even though they do not know what they talk about nor are they generally interested in that news, it must be seen as a communicative act and thus an autopoietic component of digital culture. Digital culture, in other words, can be characterized by participation, distantiation and bricolage as its key elements, whih self-organizing properties are part of online (Indymedia) as well as offline (journalism) news media phenomena.

We live in a digital culture. That culture is still evolving - as all cultures are and always will be - in the directions as outlined in this essay. This will have consequences for the way we work, communicate, give meaning to our lives. We are at once local and global, individual and collective, isolated and connected, engaged and apathetic. I hope to have showed that this seemingly eclectic and paradoxical mix of values and charactertistics are by no means mutually exclusive, but rather must be seen as constituents of each other, and parts of a whole that is digital culture. Some of the most pressing debates of today - about authenticity and originality, self-determination and social cohesion, equity and equality - are already influenced by this emerging cultural system all over the world. Social systems in society are feeling the impact of this emerging cultural consensus as well - especially the traditional institutions of modernity: parliamentary democracy and journalism. With a discussion set against the backdrop of Indymedia and journalism I have aimed to synthesize the core elements of digital culture with the often-voiced concerns about the decline or change of national politics and mainstream news media, in order to show how new types of citizenship, participation, activism, dialogue and interactive communication have emerged. There is a message of hope here somewhere.

This sweeping overview of what in my opinion are the three core elements of contemporary digital culture - participation, distantiation, and bricolage - hopefully shows effectively that the phenomena we observe in daily life online have their emergent properties in the offline of days gone by. I realize I am not suggesting anything new or original here - I am merely offering my own bricolage in order participate in the self-organizing system that is academia, and by referring to authors before me building on their ideas and publications, I hope to become part of a creative commons that inherently consists of multiple authorship and collaborative control over the concepts we discuss.

[The End].