News-making is a key site for making and maintaining power.
What are the sites and routines used to manage the production of news?
What are some of the power relationships that characterise news-making?
How has access to large troves of data changed journalism?
How have mobile devices like smartphones changed journalism?
In this chapter we:
- Examine the sites and routines of news-making.
- Account for the relationships between journalists and powerful groups in the production of news.
- Explore how news-making has changed in the information era.
- Examine how interactive mobile devices have changed news-making.
Cases & Activities
Representation and ethical codes
The ethical codes of journalists’ professional associations point to the values that journalists aspire to in their representation of social life.
You can find links to the ethical codes of journalists in the US Society of Professional Journalists, the UK National Union of Journalists and Australian Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance on the Media and Society website.
Reporting on crisis events in Australia
Muller and Gawenda (2010) interviewed journalists who reported on the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Australia. The wildfires, common to Australia during the summer, swept through regional areas burning out whole towns and killing 177 people. Following the fires police and emergency services established blockades around towns because the hundreds of burned out homes and buildings needed to be searched and assessed. This ‘restriction’ of access to the fire zone conflicted with journalists’ impulse to ‘report’ from the scene and inform the public about events. Journalists positioned themselves at the centre of events, seeing themselves as responsible for providing information to the public and the many people who had fled their communities and were anxious to find loved ones or to know what happened to their homes.
Muller and Gawenda found that many media practitioners responded to the roadblocks in a variety of ways. While journalists wouldn’t deliberately ‘run a roadblock’ because it was illegal, they would justify other ways of circumventing them. For many journalists, ‘finding a way in that was not blocked was considered not only ethically justifiable but positively required by the countervailing ethical consideration of doing one’s duty to the public’ (Muller and Gawenda 2010: 75). This might involve being ‘fortuitously mistaken’ as an emergency worker or resident, or for some even deliberately misrepresenting their identity. While journalists had a range of positions on the lengths they would go to bypass roadblocks, what underlay their justifications was a sense that as journalists they had a responsibility to the public to access these closed areas in order to ‘represent’ them. That is, their belief in the importance of the media rituals they facilitated, guided their justification of their actions. This belief though, also fit with the commercial imperatives of their media organisations, ‘media people tended to place a higher value on successfully meeting the competitive pressures under which they worked, and on carrying out what they saw as their duty to inform the public, than on the counterveiling ethical duty to respect the law’ (Muller and Gawenda 2010). Here we can see how representations of events are constructed through rituals and actions in the world, and those rituals are undertaken by people who make and justify decisions based on a variety of factors: their sense of the value and meaning of their work, power relationships between media and other actors like politicians and emergency services, and commercial pressures.
Examine how significant crisis events are represented in your country. Who do journalists interact with to represent the event and tell stories? Consider their coverage in relation to the ethical codes of their professional association.
In Australia, or elsewhere, do journalists reporting on crisis events:
Use fair, responsible and honest means to obtain material?
Do they exploit people’s vulnerability or ignorance of media practices?
Do they respect private grief and personal privacy?
US Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics.
UK National Union of Journalists’ Code of Conduct.
Australian Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance: Journalists’ Code of Ethics.
The changing news business
The emergence of interactive media has fundamentally changed the revenue streams and structure of commercial news organisations.
Go through the Nieman Lab’s multimedia essay Riptide for a chronological examination of how industrial and technological change has changed journalism’s business model.
The essay charts how interactive technologies, search and content aggregation, online classifieds, blogging and social media have impacted the news business model.
Draw up a timeline that maps the changes chronicled in the essay. Identify the key moments and consider their specific implications. What does this timeline suggest about the future of journalism?
Consider how journalists’ values are impacted by a changing news business.
Nieman Lab’s Riptide.
Journalists and Leakers
A key representative, legal and ethical dilemma journalism has had to contend with in recent years has been the interaction of established journalism organisations with internet-based organisations and individual leakers like Wikileaks, Julian Assange, Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning and Edward Snowden. These interactions have embedded journalists and news organisations in new networks through which information and news is created and disseminated. These engagements have led to a vibrant debate about the role of journalists in ‘publicising’ secrets.
Below are a number of quotes from the editors of news organisations defending the publication of leaks. These endorsements were published by The Guardian newspaper in October 2013 after The Daily Mail accused the paper of helping ‘Britain’s enemies’. You can find a link to the endorsements on the Media and Society website.
‘The story, we believe, is an important one. It shows that the expectations of millions of Internet users regarding the privacy of their electronic communications are mistaken. These expectations guide the practices of private individuals and businesses, most of them innocent of any wrongdoing. The potential for abuse of such extraordinary capabilities for surveillance, including for political purposes, is considerable. The government insists it has put in place checks and balances to limit misuses of this technology. But the question of whether they are effective is far from resolved and is an issue that can only be debated by the people and their elected representatives if the basic facts are revealed. There are those who, in good faith, believe that we should leave the balance between civil liberty and security entirely to our elected leaders, and to those they place in positions of executive responsibility. Again, we do not agree. The American system, as we understand it, is premised on the idea -- championed by such men as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison -- that government run amok poses the greatest potential threat to the people’s liberty, and that an informed citizenry is the necessary check on this threat. The sort of work ProPublica does -- watchdog journalism -- is a key element in helping the public play this role.’ – Pro Publica.
‘In a democracy, the press plays a vital role in informing the public and holding those in power accountable. The NSA has vast intelligence-gathering powers and capabilities and its role in society is an important subject for responsible newsgathering organisations such as the New York Times and the Guardian. A public debate about the proper perimeters for eavesdropping by intelligence agencies is healthy for the public and necessary. The accurate and in-depth news articles published by the New York Times and the Guardian help inform the public in framing its thinking about these issues and deciding how to balance the need to protect against terrorism and to protect individual privacy. Vigorous news coverage and spirited public debate are both in the public interest. The journalists at the New York Times and the Guardian care deeply about the wellbeing and safety of their fellow citizens in carrying out their role in keeping the public informed.’ – Jill Abramson, The New York Times.
‘The utmost duty of a journalist is to expose abuses and the abuse of power. The global surveillance of digital communication by the NSA and GCHQ is no less than an abuse on a massive scale with consequences that at this point seem completely unpredictable.’ – Wolfgang Beuchner, Der Spiegel
‘Journalists have only one responsibility: to keep their readers informed and educated about whatever their government is doing on their behalf – and first and foremost on security and intelligence organisations, which by their nature infringe on civil liberties. The Snowden revelations, and their publication by the Guardian, have been a prime example of fearlessly exercising this journalistic responsibility.’ – Aluf Benn, Haaretz.
‘The Guardian's work in the Snowden case is an example of great journalism, the kind that changes history and the kind that citizens need more every day, in a world where the powerful are increasingly trying to hide information from their societies. The real danger is not in the so-called "aid to the enemy" denounced by the hypocrites, but in the actions of governments and state agencies that citizens cannot control. To fight it we need newspapers willing to do their job, rather than those ready to cheer on the self-interested deceptions of the powerful.’ – Javier Moreno, El Pais.
Consider how journalists and their news organisations explain and justify their relationships with leakers and leaking organisations.
What arguments do they employ?
How do other powerful actors (like governments) attempt to constrain relationships between journalists and leakers?
How do journalists engagements with leakers reinforce and challenge their professional ethics, codes and values?
Newspaper editors’ statement to The Guardian about leaks, journalism and democracy.
Pro Publica’s statement defending publication of leaks.
Alan Rusbridger’s statement on The Guardian’s publication of NSA material.
Alan Rusbridger’s explanation of The Guardian’s association with Wikileaks.
The New Yorker’s profile of The Guardian’s investigative journalism.
Committee to Protect Journalists’ special report on Obama Administration and the Press.
The Guardian on the relationship between Edward Snowden, Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald.
The New York Times on the relationship between Edward Snowden, Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald.
The readings below examine how journalists give meaning to their work (Deuze 2005, North 2009), how journalistic norms and routines frame representations of events (Kitzinger 2000, McKnight 2010), and how technologies change how conflicts are represented (Alper 2013, Anden-Papadopoulos 2013). Deuze (2005) examines how the professional ideologies of journalists inform their practice. North (2009) examines the role that gender plays in the production of news. Kitzinger (2000) describes the role journalism plays in representing and managing crisis events. McKnight (2010) examines how News Corporation represents climate change. Alper (2013) and Anden-Papadopoulos (2013) each examine the role that mobile media technologies play in representing conflict.
Alper, M. (2013). War on Instagram: Framing conflict photojournalism with mobile photography apps. New Media & Society.
Andén-Papadopoulos, K. (2013). Media witnessing and the ‘crowd-sourced video revolution’. Visual Communication, 12(3), 341-357.
Deuze, M. (2005). What is journalism? Professional identity and ideology of journalists reconsidered. Journalism, 6(4), 442-464.
Kitzinger, J. (2000). Media templates: patterns of association and the (re) construction of meaning over time. Media, Culture & Society, 22(1), 61-84.
McKnight, D. (2010). A change in the climate? The journalism of opinion at News Corporation. Journalism, 11(6), 693-706.
North, L. (2009). Rejecting the ‘F-word’How ‘feminism’and ‘feminists’ are understood in the newsroom. Journalism, 10(6), 739-757.