12/17/13

The deinstitutionalization of journalism

The most important change in news production today is probably the deinstitutionalization of journalism—the separation of journalism from structural arrangements that significantly influenced its development in the twentieth century.

The practice of journalism was heavily influenced in the past century by regular employment in news enterprises, hierarchical arrangements and organized beats, trade unions and professional associations, and common values and training.
 
These created strong institutional influences on journalistic work from employing organizations and professional colleagues. They provided institutional support to journalistic practices, journalistic specialization, and expanded news and information provision. The arrangements provided the foundation on which better journalistic working conditions and compensation were built.
 
The newsroom was a construction of the institutional arrangements and became the focus of journalistic life. The newsroom developed in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century after telephony altered the need for journalists to be constantly roaming the city and it has undergone several conceptual changes since that time.

Ironically, it is the development of better communication technologies and the digital era that are markedly changing the centrality of the newsroom in journalistic work. The number of journalists physically located in newsrooms is diminishing because of the ability to work fully from other locations and because of the reductions in regular employment.
 
In the new environment, the number of independent journalists working as freelancers or journalistic entrepreneurs—or within small journalistic cooperatives—is growing. There is growing pressure to expand the boundaries of the definition of a journalist to include non-professionals who regularly create and disseminate news and informational content.
 
These developments are changing the context of journalism, its norms and practices, the organization and direction of journalistic labor, perceptions of journalists’ identity, and its reward systems and career paths—all of which are visible signs of the deinstitutionalization of provision of news and the profession and trade of journalism.
 
In the twentieth century journalism was provided by insular news organizations that rarely cooperated with other news organizations, detached themselves from the society they claimed to serve, and often relied on news and information clues from elites and official sources. New, more flexible means of obtaining and providing news are emerging in the deinstitutionalized environment that rely on public accounts and data previously unavailable to journalists. Where these are taking us remains to be seen.
 
The deinstitutionalization raises a host of questions: How are these changes altering journalism practice? What does deinstitutionalization means to news, information, and an informed public?  How can and does innovation takes place in non-institutional settings? How do the transformations underway benefit journalism? How does the declining importance of the newsroom affect the institutional nature of journalistic ethics and decision making?
 
These are fascinating questions in an intriguing transformational period.

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