Online Journalism as Market-Driven Journalism

By Cohen, Elisia L. | Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, December 2002 | Go to article overview

Online Journalism as Market-Driven Journalism

Cohen, Elisia L., Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Beginning in the mid 1990s, the news media latched onto the ability of the World Wide Web (WWW) to illustrate news stories once left to magazines, newspapers, and television news programs. News organizations and television networks built virtual newsstands carrying up-to-the-minute headlines (Lasica, 1996). Given this move toward online news production, how does the medium that enables interactive and flexible text change the way news producers disseminate information, initiate discourse to cultivate a readership, and satisfy commercial interests? Traditionally, news media have operated with a logic that treats news as a commodity that sutures audiences with established content and known sets of producers (e.g., Alger, 1998; Anderson, 1995; McChesney, 1997; Webster & Phalen, 1997). The extent to which this logic will transfer to online journalism is uncertain. Additional theorizing on patterns of news production and reproduction is important as changes in audience consumption and viewing patterns alter the news environment.

In his book, Market-Driven Journalism, John McManus (1994) predicted that technology would significantly alter the news environment and the news values journalists bring to new media. McManus maintained that the development of new media would continue to change the way information flows from information producers to consumers. Part of the technological change McManus describes has been realized in the convergence of print and broadcasting technology and advances in digital and interactive media.

The development of new communication technology vis-a-vis the Internet affords scholars the opportunity to again consider how new media will influence the ethos of professional journalism. In order to address this concern, I explore tenets of market-driven journalism to illustrate how theories of market competition and journalism production fare in the commercial environment of the WWW. By examining structural qualities of the WWW, McManus' explanation of market-driven journalism is reconsidered in light of how new technologies are being used for producing and delivering news. In the case of the WWW, it is my argument that tensions between traditional news values of print and broadcast journalism and market values become more apparent. I conclude by considering how these tensions can be reconciled with the pressures of online publishing, and I identify areas for future research.

Tenets of Market-Driven Journalism

In McManus' (1994) account of market-driven journalism, viewers and readers are transformed into customers, news into products, and "circulation or signal areas" into markets (p. 1). Market forces come into play at the macro-, meso-, and micro-levels in McManus's model of journalism, because investors, advertisers, sources, and consumers drive news production processes at different junctures. At the macro-level of analysis, these dynamics can be observed when the financial choices made by larger ownership interests--including the relations between media conglomerates (for example cooperative deals between Microsoft and NBC)--constrain news production (e.g., Bagdikian, 1990). They are also seen at the immediate meso-level when the relations between journalists and their newsrooms constrain newsgathering and investigative practices. Finally, they are seen at the micro-level when journalists are forced to respond to the pressures of the general public (consumer decision-making), often largely cultivated and constrained by larger market pressures. The interactions in the model are "powerfully shaped" by what McManus terms "the news production environment" (1994, pp. 22-23). He argues that this environment fosters a reciprocal relationship where "culture, laws and regulations, even the direction of technology are all influenced by what does and doesn't become news" (1994, p. 22).

Macro-Level Dynamics

Macro-level players such as investors, publishers/networks, and parent corporations direct capital and shape policies in news organizations to generate profits and increase brand influence (McManus, 1994, p. …

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