The Changing Faces of Journalism: Tabloidization, Technology and Truthiness/New New Media/Arguing for a General Framework for Mass Media Scholarship

Article excerpt

* Zelizer, Barbie (ed.) (2009). The Changing Faces of Journalism: Tabloidization, Technology and Truthiness. New York: Routledge. pp. 174.

* Levinson, Paul (2009). New New Media. Boston: Allyn & Bacon Penguin Academics, pp. 226.

* Potter, W. James (2009). Arguing for a General Framework for Mass Media Scholarship. Los Angeles: SAGE. pp. 394.

An impressive group of scholars weighs in on changing journalistic norms, and Barbie Zelizer does so understanding the challenge: "The very presence of change in academic inquiry has long been seen as a necessary but often risky aspect of the landscape of knowledge acquisition" (p. 1). Drawing upon sociology of knowledge, Zelizer sees "slow and gradual incorporation of change into academic thought" (p. 2). To the extent that we are in the business of creating new knowledge, change threatens to undo our treasured life's work. Thus, Zelizer sees that "degrees of dissonance exist because journalism scholars have not sufficiently navigated pathways between journalism we imagine and journalism we have" (p. 3). The reminder is that journalistic realities may be diverse, even if we have greater consensus on ideals. The organizational structure of The Changing Faces of Journalism: Tabloidization, Technology and Truthiness divides essays along the three dimensions of tabloidization, technology, and truthiness - all popular concepts with limited theoretical development.

Herbert Gans, for example, writes that tabloidization seems to be defined by "alleged deterioration of... content... [and] is meant to be pejorative and is used to blame all the usual suspects for what is viewed as a decline in the news media" (p. 17). The sociologist sees evidence of stratification and popularization: "Although the news media cannot chase away real and imagined demons, and there are limits to what they can do and whom they can reach, they can try harder to get the news out to the people who may unknowingly need it most" (p. 27).

The so-called "tabloidization" of news, Elizabeth Bird finds, is a "distraction" from real "forces" of change: less depth, less independence, and fewer resources. "Journalism is losing the confident sense of authority," as "increasingly the profession seems to be panicking in an era when anyone can set up a virtual shop and claim to be a journalist" (p. 49). She angles away from the idea that journalists should be at sea with nonprofessionals: "One strategy might be a positive embrace of significant, ethnographic stories that invite readers into an experience that is simply not replicable in the point-and-click word of the internet" (p. 49).

Enter technology. For journalists, Mark Deuze frames an important chapter about "Agency Beyond Imitation and Change" (p. 82). He articulates an economy, sociology, and culture of newswork. While it is easy to see the journalist as an individual, it seems idealistic to conclude that, "the cultural use of journalism's occupational ideology can be a tool for individual journalists to strategically resist, modify, or even counteract technology-driven innovation or imposed change in news operations" (p. 93). To the contrary, technology may enable aggressive journalists to own their own media and make content decisions based upon journalistic rather than purely profitoriented values. Presumably, such a model might retreat from truthiness and return us to the search for truth. Michael Schudson boils this down to facts:

We cannot escape trying to make sense of our world. But we are forbidden from trying to do so without making a conscientious appeal to the facts. As imperfectly as we are able to know them. As mute as they sometimes are. It is the least bad system of knowing that we have. (p. 113)

Yet, facts are subject to the online realities. As Peter Dahlgren understands, "amateurs" now have "professional tools" - "there is massive civic information sharing going on in cyberspace that increasingly tends to bypass the classical modes of journalism production and dissemination" (p. …