The newspaper is the oldest and arguably the most important of all media for journalism. More journalists work in newspapers than in any other media. Moreover, dominant ideas of news – as a factual, independent account of the day’s principal events, set out in an ordered way for a geographically defined audience – emerged historically along with the business of the newspaper. Newspapers thus provide much of the form or architecture through which journalists and their audiences recognize news (Barnhurst & Nerone 2001), such as the division of journalism into the categories news, features, and sports, as well as journalistic ideals, including independence from power and speaking to and for a public. Changes in newspaper journalism are therefore the focus of particular scholarly concern, and some commentators suggest that recent changes signal the end of journalism (Hardt 1998).
In countries shaped by liberalism, the ownership of newspapers tends to be in private hands, and journalism experiences the characteristic tension between a dependence upon the marketplace and a jealously guarded freedom from political control which allows newspapers to claim status as the defenders of the public interest. Critics argue that the balance tipped in the 1990s toward a dumbed-down, market-driven journalism, leading local and regional newspapers in particular to employ fewer journalists and to place emphasis on sensation and lifestyle at the expense of serious political news (Franklin & Murphy 1998). Scholars have documented a greater reliance on the information subsidy of public relations and a blurring of the line between advertising and reporting in many western countries.
Wider cultural trends are also likely responsible for changes in some newspaper news values. With the rise of identity politics, particularly the women’s liberation movement, distinctions between public affairs and private lives have become less tenable, and newspaper journalism has responded by replacing so-called women’s pages with large features and lifestyle sections and by moving features to the front of the paper. Historical studies further caution against making too much of declines in specific qualities of newspaper journalism. The ethical standards of the tabloids, for example, have risen and fallen many times (Engel 1996).
The traditions of watchdog journalism, specialist correspondents, and in-depth investigations remain powerful influences on journalists’ idea of the newspaper. Cultural studies of journalism point to the importance of the myths that journalists construct (see Zelizer 2004 for a review), such as exaggerating the role of the Washington Post in the resignation of US president Richard Nixon (Schudson 1995) or celebrating heroes as seen in responses to the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, of Novaya Gazeta (see www.annapolitkovskaya.com). The culture of independent, morally serious, and analytical reporting has found fresh impetus as first television and later the Internet weakened the newspaper monopoly on daily news, impelling newspapers to shift toward interpretation (Barnhurst & Mutz 1997), such as the Independent in the UK or the weekly Die Zeit in Germany, which devote whole pages to in-depth treatment of a single issue. Few newspapers can sustain a business producing such journalism, despite its high value to journalists. Some scholars characterize western newspaper journalism today as polarized between a mass of clerks retyping press releases and a few critical journalists who set news agendas (Bromley 1997).
Questions about what the changes in newspaper journalism mean have grown more complicated as recent scholarship has re-emphasized models not reducible to the liberal one that informs the dumbing-down debate. The variety of models includes the distinctive newspaper traditions of many countries, such as the Italian tradition of politically affiliated newspapers (Hallin & Mancini 2004), the complex democratic politics of popular newspapers (Conboy 2002), and the alternative press as an agent of political change (Downing 2001). Liberal models have also come under question from within, partly in response to a weakening of public trust in the authority of newspaper journalism. In the US, these concerns crystallized around the movement for public or civic journalism, but dissatisfaction exists in many countries over such matters as journalists’ claims to objectivity and their positioning of readers as spectators rather than as participants.
The case for studying newspaper journalism separately from the rest of the media is steadily weakening as news businesses and technologies converge. Converged digital newsrooms, with journalists producing news for multiple platforms, are emerging particularly in the US. Journalists rarely celebrate newsroom efficiencies, but the evidence of the impact on news quality is conflicting. Some analysts note that digitization has increased editorial control and facilitated more in-depth reporting (Avilés & Léon 2002). Journalists’ relationships with the news public have changed across all media with the rise of the Internet, increasing the public demand for instant news and for greater participation in news-making.
- Avilés, G. J. A., & Léon, B. (2002). Journalistic practice in digital television newsrooms: The case of Spain’s Tele 5 and Antena 3. Journalism: Theory, Practice and Criticism, 3, 355 –370.
- Barnhurst, K. G., & Mutz, D. (1997). American journalism and the decline in event-centered reporting. Journal of Communication, 47, 27–53.
- Barnhurst, K. G., & Nerone, J. (2001). The form of news: A history. New York: Guilford.
- Bromley, M. (1997). The end of journalism? Changes in workplace practices in the press and broadcasting in the 1990s. In M. Bromley & T. O’Malley (eds.), A journalism reader. London: Routledge, pp. 330 –350.
- Conboy, M. (2002). The press and popular culture. London: Sage.
- Downing, J. D. H. (2001). Radical media: Rebellious communication and social movements. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Engel, M. (1996). Tickle the public: One hundred years of the popular press. London: Gollancz.
- B., & Murphy, D. (1998). Making the local new: Local journalism in context. London: Routledge.
- Hallin, D. C., & Mancini, P. (2004). Comparing media systems: Three models of media and politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Hardt, H. (1998). Interactions: Critical studies in communication, media, and journalism. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.
- Schudson, M. (1995). Watergate and the press. In The power of news. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, pp. 142 –165.
- Zelizer, B. (2004). Taking journalism seriously: News and the academy. London: Sage.