The Changing Business of Journalism and Its Implications for Democracy

Article excerpt

The Changing Business of Journalism and Its Implications for Democracy. David A. L. Levy and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, eds. Oxford, UK: Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, 2010. 89 pp. £12 pbk.

Much of what is written today, especially in the United States, about the business of journalism focuses on one of two issues: the significant decline in both audiences and revenue for traditional journalism enterprises, especially newspapers, and the role of the Internet in precipitating or exacerbating these declines. This "crisis" is generally seen as a serious threat to the contribution that these organizations make to democratic societies-indeed, this perceived harm to democracy is the driver of much of this literature. Moreover, there is usually an implicit assumption that what is happening in the United States is also happening elsewhere or soon will.

Enter now this slim new book published by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, a volume that represents the collective effort of a dozen internationally known scholars, mainly European, and part of the Reuters Institute's continuing series. The book's stated purpose is to challenge the doom and gloom that dominates much of the current narrative by offering a systematic overview of what is happening in a diverse range of countries. And it very effectively accomplishes this goal.

The book's global approach adds three important elements to the current discussion about the future of the journalism business. First, it emphasizes the need to isolate the role of cyclical factors in the current crisis-in particular, the impact of the current recession-from more fundamental ones. Second, it provides an approach to distinguishing between challenges that are the result of the Internet per se and those that stem from structural characteristics of the journalism industry in a given country. Finally, by taking a neutral approach to the Internet's impact on traditional news businesses and on the health of democracy, it provides a framework for considering a wide range of possible positive outcomes.

The first three chapters of the book provide the conceptual and empirical foundation for the seven country studies that are the heart of this volume. This introductory section begins with the book's editors-both research fellows at the Reuters Institute- presenting a wide variety of statistics (on advertising and other news media revenues, profits, public funding, newspaper circulation, and Internet usage) to make the point that the current state of news media is very different across the seven countries.

Then Robert Picard, the Reuters Institute research director, offers an excellent summary of the key factors underlying the current crisis in the news media. In doing so, he links two important points: (1) that "serious news" itself has never been profitable as a business and has always required some sort of subsidization and (2) that the decline in newspaper circulation is not the result of a decline in citizen demand for serious news (which in his view has always been limited) nor greater competition in producing it but rather an increase in competition for other types of news (sports, arts and entertainment, celebrity, travel, etc. …