Postdoctor Helle Sjøvaag
The Impact of Structural Shifts on the News
The Postdoc project “The Impact of Structural Shifts on the News” is part of a larger project “Journalistic Reorientations”, funded by the Norwegian Research Council, located at the Department of Information Science and Media Studies at the University of Bergen, Norway.
The Postdoc project takes as point of departure that journalism is conditioned by a set of framework conditions that influences the organization, practice and output of journalistic work. In particular, the technological, financial and regulatory structures that surround the journalistic institution set certain boundaries regarding media ownership, in turn thought to have an impact on journalistic production and dissemination.
During the past few decades, technological developments have created a new production environment that has affected journalistic practices as well as audience engagement with news. In adapting to the new technological realities, traditional news media organizations have been inspired to alter their production and ownership structures to shoulder the cost of upgrading their technological infrastructures. Hence, technological changes imply a move towards larger, more centralized organizations. Technology has also, augmented by the recent global economic turmoil, firmly shaken the grounds on which traditional news media have based their business models. The financial losses of traditional advertising-based print media thus represent a further trend encouraging the move towards larger organizations. But media regulation does not want media companies to get too big. Principles informing the regulation of media ownership are based on normative ideals of pluralism and diversity to secure democracy, freedom of speech and a vibrant public sphere. These policy aims are most often operationalized as restrictions on ownership concentration.
As an entry point to a larger investigation of the diversity of the Norwegian news landscape, a quantitative content analysis has been performed on the Norwegian media company Schibsted’s four regional newspapers to establish the extent to which this type of chain ownership – and its recent consolidation efforts – can be said to produce homogenization in news content. The analysis fails to confirm such a hypothesis. Instead, the content profiles of the separate titles seem to confirm a hypothesis of market differentiation intent on securing local audiences by affirming local identity. This tendency is even stronger in the online editions than in the printed editions. The predicable mix of local stories, politics, sports and “news you can use” – lifestyle, consumer and leisure topics relevant to peoples’ everyday lives – suggests regional newspapers in Norway are intent on preserving the printed edition as the primary editorial output of the organization, at the same time securing the brand name by attuning online editions to the local and daily needs of audiences for updated information and recreational content.
Results of the analysis are in publication with international journals. The second stage of the project will involve a wider comparison within and between different ownership structures in Norway, with the aim to evaluate the effect of media regulation on media diversity.
In the mean time, he following links might be of interest:
The project “Journalistic Reorientations
Sjøvaag’s dissertation “Journalistic Ideology: Professional Strategy, Institutional Authority and Boundary Maintenance in the Digital News Market”