Academic journal article Teaching Journalism & Mass Communication

Dismantling the Crisis of Journalism: Outline of an Analytical Approach

Academic journal article Teaching Journalism & Mass Communication

Dismantling the Crisis of Journalism: Outline of an Analytical Approach

Article excerpt

Today, the word "crisis" is prominently used to address changes in journalism, the media, economy, and society. However, due to a dispersed and diluted use of the term, a differentiated analysis of the concept is required, particularly for journalism education. Taking this challenge as a starting point, this article provides a conceptual analysis of crises in order to arrive at a pedagogical perspective of addressing the crises of journalism in a more informed and diverse way. Having discussed the spatio-socio-temporal dimensions of the concept, the functions of crises are then discussed from the point of view of change, continuity, metacriticism, and ethics. These perspectives underscore the need to raise journalists' and journalism students' awareness of their own role as defining their position through crisis discourse.

Keywords: crisis, change of journalism, professionalism, metadiscourse, metacriticism


"Crisis" has become a widespread term used to address the recent changes in communications, media, and journalism. In scholarly literature, the crisis of journalism is widely discussed in terms of the political economy (see Barnett, 2002; McChesney, 2003; Kaye & Quinn, 2010); professionalism and journalistic identity (Peters & Broersma, 2013; Reinardy, 2011); and journalistic quality (Franklin & Carlson, 2011; McDonald, 2007). In the framework of late modern society, these accounts have been accompanied and fueled by ideas of "post-journalism" (Altheide & Snow, 1991) and "post-industrial journalism" (Anderson, Bell, & Shirky, 2012).

Considering the frequency of the term's use in the context of media, journalism, and mass communication today, the meanings and functions of the term crisis are too infrequently questioned. Crisis is often defined in a narrow or haphazard way, without fixing its meaning or the motivation behind its use. A "crisis" may even be used to denote a crisis in or beyond the journalistic field itself. The metaphorical flexibility of the term makes its semantic references ambiguous. By referring to a crisis, a communicator often has his or her issue legitimized. A crisis is something that requires attention and consideration. Besides this political dimension, the concept of a crisis has meanings that, according to Koselleck (2006), have etymologically imposed "choices between stark alternatives: right or wrong, salvation or damnation, life or death" (p. 358). The concept has taken on the meaning of historical assessments and judgments; medical diagnosis; theological entreaties; and political struggles (Koselleck, 2006). Due to these layers of meaning, the concept's flexibility may explain its prevalence; however, it has also resulted in imprecise, vague, and unclear uses of the word. As Koselleck (2006) declares in his conceptual analysis of the term, "The concept of crisis, which once had the power to pose unavoidable, harsh and non-negotiable alternatives, has been transformed to fit the uncertainties of whatever might be favored at a given moment" (p. 399).

With this proliferated discourse on crisis in the media and its allied fields, the theoretical and practical need to redefine journalism has increased. In this article, I intend to scrutinize the concept of a crisis1 of journalism to develop a critical approach towards greater understanding of the concept. Drawing on various fields of study to triangulate different ontologies of crisis, I will analyze the di ff erent meanings to determine perspectives and relevant dimensions of crisis for an educational treatment of the term. To delimit the discussion, I will focus on a single type of journalism thought to be in crisis: arts and culture journalism (see, e.g., Jaakkola, 2014). Discussions on the multiple meanings of crises are often deemed central to understanding the current state of journalism and its metacriticism. Discussions around the idea of crises may provide students with a tool for further examining of the field. …

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