Economic and Existential Challenges Facing Journalism

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    This chapter provides an overview of the evolving discipline of journalism and the tensions between its traditional and dominant role conceptions and the reality of the digital market. At a time when the need for quality public interest journalism has never been more important, it finds itself facing both economic and existential challenges that threaten its future. Due to the loss of advertising and a fragmenting audience in an era of information abundance, these pressures force a continual reinvention of business models in response to new technologies. In turn, these pressures force an ongoing re-evaluation of journalism's professional boundaries, and persistent questions about what is journalism and what is a journalist?
    Firstly, the chapter examines the economic pressures that underpin contemporary debates about the future of journalism. In doing so, we briefly reprise the impacts of digitization on traditional news media, loss of advertising revenues, contraction of news outlets, the growth of local news deserts, and the increasing precarity of the journalism workforce. It then discusses the role of the major digital platforms, such as Google and Facebook, in this process of destabilization of the traditional news market and highlights some of the policy debates about attempts to level the playing field between news media outlets and the online giants.
    Secondly, the chapter turns to existential questions about the professional boundaries of journalism, its role and future. While these questions are not new, they have been exacerbated by the rise of digital media and the exponential growth of news information providers, the rise of the audience, and the difficulty of competing for audience attention in the online misinformation environment. Efforts to seek new forms of advertising revenue are also pushing the boundaries of journalistic independence with a rise in camouflaged commercial and partisan content dressed-up to look like journalism. All of which feeds into perceptions of trust in journalism and its role in democracy.
    Thirdly, the chapter turns its attention to emerging trends in journalism, the use of algorithms in news production and distribution, new modes of storytelling, innovation, start-ups, AI and work beyond the newsroom. In the age of AI, existential and economic questions grow even louder as computer algorithms take over traditional journalism tasks from human reporters.
    Next, the chapter reflects on the field of journalism scholarship, which is expanding and embracing other disciplines, in response to these economic and epistemic shifts. The study of news audiences has become more prominent in the discipline as well as a need to incorporate media industry studies within the journalism field.
    The chapter concludes with consideration given to the increasing fragmentation of the online information environment and the issues this raises around the production, distribution and consumption of quality news and journalism. The economic crisis of news industries also calls for new regulatory frameworks and policy interventions to ensure a healthy news ecosystem that is essential in modern democracies.
    The challenges facing journalism outlined here have been exacerbated by the global COVID-19 pandemic, which has had and will continue to have significant impacts on journalism into the future. Firstly, it has accelerated the shift of newspapers to online. Secondly, the global outbreak highlighted the importance of fact-based journalism to society; while, thirdly, simultaneously undermining its financial footing as economies shook from the negative economic impacts of the pandemic.
    The impact on journalism and the news media will be different in each country. In Western liberal democracies, like Australia and the UK, the further contraction of advertising revenues due to the COVID-19 inspired economic downturn accelerated the closure of news outlets that were already on the brink of collapse. In other countries, like India, where there had been strong growth in online journalism prior to the pandemic (Aneez et al., 2019), the impacts will be different. This serves to remind us of the diversity of journalism and its role globally. While journalism scholarship has a distinctly Western liberal bias, its freedom and function vary significantly across countries (Hanitzsch et al., 2011; Waisbord, 2009).
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationThe SAGE Handbook of the Digital Media Economy
    EditorsTerry Flew, Jennifer Holt, Julian Thomas
    Place of PublicationLondon
    PublisherSAGE Publications Ltd
    Number of pages26
    ISBN (Electronic)9781529757170
    Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 23 Nov 2022


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