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For a journalism orientated towards the public service that it must be

The end of a year and the beginning of a new one usually represent a good opportunity to think of what has happened, evaluate it, and make predictions/plans about the future. The field of journalism studies does not differ from this tradition and two of its most renowned research centres publish documents on predictions and trends for the year ahead.

While the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism surveys people from distinct countries holding senior positions in publishing companies to predict what will shape journalism[1], the Nieman Journalism Lab adopts a more reflective tone in a series of articles from invited writers[2]. In this text, I would like to discuss the main findings of Reuters Institute’s survey for 2023, connecting them with the Nieman Lab’s provocative article by Professor Victor Pickard: “The year journalism and capitalism finally divorce”[3].

The uncertainty surrounding the sustainability of news media is not a concern that only rose in recent years, but according to Nic Newman, author of the report based on Reuters’ survey, the current context of increasing inflation and squeeze on household spending led news executives to foresee a grim scenario for 2023. Most of them are neutral or pessimistic about the year, and worried about the raising phenomenon of news avoidance, evident in static or falling websites’ traffics. Nevertheless, they expect some growth in subscriptions.

To combat the challenge of news avoidance behaviour, especially in important but also depressing news topics, news executives are inclined to invest in explainers (94%) Q&A formats (87%), solutions journalism (73%) and inspirational stories (66%). The concern with such a phenomenon and the intention to overcome it seem logical not only in economic terms, since the repelling of news ultimately goes contrary to the ideal of journalism: to shed light on issues of public interest.

Along with the critique on technological evolutions that affect publicity’s revenue – the main source of revenue for the news industry in its old days – cultural explanations about audiences’ evolving tastes are also mobilized to make sense of the threat of economic (in)sustainability. This kind of explanations, for instance, is on the base of the strategies to deter the tendency of news avoidance. Although they are not invalid, such explanations let capitalism immune to scrutiny. As Pickard points out: “It is capitalism that incentivizes the degradation of our news media – disinvesting in local journalism, weaponizing social media to capture our attention and data, and devaluing media workers’ labor conditions”.

This critique is not entirely new, and we can find its roots in John Stuart Mill’s examination on free of expression[4] and in the classical analysis of the structural transformation of the public sphere from Jurgen Habermas[5]. Despite the differences and temporal distance between them, the authors share the understanding that the press (commercial media) see journalism more as a mean to produce a product – the news – to sell to consumers and advertisers, and less as a public service for the great interest of citizens.

I humbly align with Mill, Habermas, and Pickard in such analysis of news media, recognizing that the capitalistic goal to maximise profits is irreconcilable with an activity designed to provide a public service that is on the base of democracy. For example, when we observe the contours of news avoidance’s increasing behaviour, it is related to the feeling that “(…) media coverage is overly negative, repetitive, hard to trust, and leaves people feeling powerless” (Newman). In my point of view, this relates less to the evolving tastes and feelings of audiences and more to the general tendency to reduce costs that ultimately sacrifices journalism to explain better, with greater context.  

Considering that “(…) the interests of profit-driven media firms and democratic societies will never fully align”, Pickard invites us to think on the perspective of a post-commercial media system. In this hypothetical scenario, for-profit news media would not disappear but would coexist with public media centres – publicly financed news cooperatives governed by local communities that would have the opportunity to tell their own stories.

Considering the usual absence of the perspectives of minorities in commercial media, as I have been arguing in my articles here, this seems a very interesting proposal, although Pickard is aware that its implementation wouldn’t be easy and immediate. It also needs to be well thought out and carefully developed to prevent the risk to be captured for political purposes.

So, I conclude my first text of 2023 with the appeal to think in Pickard’s idea for the Portuguese context. While the critique of the commercial media system remains necessary and important, I also invite the readers to follow the Portuguese alternative media landscape and learn about the incredible work that titles like the podcast Fumaça[6], the digital magazine Divergente[7], and the digital project Setenta e Quatro[8], among others, have developed. Despite economic constraints, they have helped to give visibility and voice to different minorities in Portugal and shed light on issues hardly covered by commercial media, such as the widespread violent behaviour and hate speech in the policies[9] and the legacies of colonialism[10].

Happy new year!


[1] In the latest report, 303 people from 53 countries were surveyed. Access Journalism, media, and technology trends and predictions 2023 in the link: https://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/journalism-media-and-technology-trends-and-predictions-2023#header–10

[2] Find all the predictions for 2023 in the link: https://www.niemanlab.org/collection/predictions-2023/

[3] https://www.niemanlab.org/2022/12/the-year-journalism-and-capitalism-finally-divorce/

[4] Mill, J. S. (1860). On Liberty (2 ed.). London: John W. Parker & Son.

[5] Habermas, J. (1991). The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a category of Bourgeois Society. Cambridge: MIT Press.

[6] https://fumaca.pt/

[7] https://divergente.pt/

[8] https://setentaequatro.pt/

[9] https://setentaequatro.pt/policiassemlei/

[10] https://por-ti-portugal.divergente.pt/

Please find the Portuguese version of the text in the next page

Por favor, aceda à próxima página para a versão em português da publicação 


OpenEdition sugere que esta publicação seja citada da seguinte forma:
Ester Minga (16 de Janeiro de 2023). For a journalism orientated towards the public service that it must be. Desenvolvimento Humano Integral. Recuperado em 15 de Julho de 2024 de https://doi.org/10.58079/nkvo


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