When writing articles I sometimes return to my dissertation for theoretical input (and nostalgic memories of course). And since it is written in swedish I thought I´d paste the english summary below for those of you who might be interested in the subject. I have edited parts of it but hopefully kept the chain intact./M
”Journalism’s Evolutions – Narrative Strategies in Swedish Television’s Coverage of Domestic Politics 1978-2005” (published 2009)
This thesis considers political reporting on the television news in Sweden, for which information about what is taking place in society at large and in the political sphere in particular is, naturally enough, the central elements in its programming. But at the same time television news, in its capacity as a medium for audiovisual texts, offers a frame of reference that builds on recurring elements that in turn confirm the generally accepted ways of loo- king at society; certain perspectives on democracy and politics; certain no- tions of how things ought to be. News programmes offer a relatively cohe- rent picture of the world around us, and encourage certain ways of viewing or reflecting on it that leave their mark on our consciousness. They supply us with frames of reference that not only help us to define ourselves but also situate us in relation to the society depicted. Through both linguistic and visual narrative strategies, television journalism constructs an account of reality that is the basis for our understanding of reality.
The purpose of the thesis is to analyse the evolution of how domestic political news was construed in television journalism from the end of the 1970s until the present day, and to discuss this in the context of contemporary political–economic changes in society. The aim is to chart the changes to the strategies and forms of expression in television journalism texts, and to explain them in terms of the circumstances in which they were produced. In structure the thesis consists of four sections comprising a total of nine chapters.
The theoretical framework builds principally on notions of power and mediated political discourse. Here the initial discussion of the concept of power owes much to theorists such as Michel Foucault and Jürgen Habermas; it is defined a multi-dimensional phenomenon that exists on several levels within society. When it comes to the empirical material, there are primarily two dimensions to power that call for analysis: a structural level, where the descriptive power of journalism lies; and by reason of this privilege in problem formulation, a textural level where the exercise of power is pursued not only by linguistic choices but also by visual strategies. When it comes to politics on the television news, textual power is most in evidence in interview situations between journalists and politicians. Indeed, it is argued here that the journalistic interview is an expression of a power relationship
The term ‘discourse’ also serves a central function and the analysis originates in a multifunctional view of what a text is; a choice in line with Michael Halliday and Norman Fairclough. Discourse is seen as creating and constituting meaning. Simultaneously constructing and reproducing a social reality, it is thus becomes meaningful to the individual, whose actions in the light of it appear rational. Mediatized political discourses are held to be at the heart of the interplay between citizen, journalist, and politician. Ever since the arrival of the mass media on the political scene, these actors have engaged in a three-way symbiotic relationship in which each is to some extent de- pendent on the others. The relationship between them has taken a variety of forms, changing in step with the technological, political, and economic transformation of society; an elastic mixture that throughout has never lost its coherence – malleable, changeable, and yet constant.
Three distinct methodological approaches have been used. The disposition of the thesis makes use of the same platform used to analyse the empirical material – a critical discourse analysis inspi- red by Norman Fairclough. Moreover, within this broad framework there is an expressly visual analysis of television journalism’s ima- gery, much in line with James Monaco and Gillian Rose, complemented by a descriptive quantitative analysis of the content, intended to serve as the basis for the detailed quantitative analysis of individual television appearances and the disposition of news packages.
The fol- lowing questions were posed throughout the course of the enquiry:
– What characterised Swedish Television’s political coverage during the period in question?
– What linguistic and visual narrative strategies were used by television journalism to construe both specific news texts and general discourses on domestic politics, and how did this relate to the production styles of the day?
– How did journalism and politics interrelate, what was their position in terms of the general public, and how should this be understood in a power perspective on media-based communication?
– What function did television journalism’s political reporting serve in prompting the public debate on politics and democratic society?
The empirical material is made up of domestic politics reporting on Swedish Television’s daily news programmes, Aktuellt (‘Current affairs’) and Rapport (‘Report’), in three different periods. The empirical checkpoints are the autumn of 1978, then 1987, and finally 2005. The choice of these years was dictated primarily by certain general circumstances. By the end of the 1970s, Swedish Television’s new, second channel had already been launched and its news programme, Rapport, had established itself as central to its ope- rations. At the same time, the period saw a rapid acceleration in the profes- sionalisation of journalism, which meant there was a natural contemporary interest in journalistic method, form, and presentation. The next choice, 1987, seemed apposite in view of the rising competition that Swedish Television had begun to encounter. The radio monopoly had already been broken, and television now faced the same challenge. Finally, 2005 was taken as the chronological cut-off point because by this time digitisation had arrived while the competition between media channels had noticeably increased, so that the need to stand out in a crowded media landscape had never been greater. Taking the three years in question, news features on domestic politics over a period of three months – September, October, and November – have been used as the empirical source material.
The analytical model inspired by Fairclough’s critical discourse analysis also determined the internal disposition of the four main analytical chapters. Chapters 5–8 thus constitute the thesis’ empirical and analytical discussion, while the conclusions are presented in Chapter 9.
Chapter 5 details the dominant contemporary discourses selected for an in-depth discourse analysis. The immediate political context is described relative to developments in journalism. Moreover, an overarching analysis of journalistic focus and the narrative strategies that stand out in the empirical material is presented that shows that political television journalism at the end of the 1970s had assumed a didactic mode of narration which evidently was extremely ambitious in the background information and causes provided. In the news features from 1987 this journalistic focus had shifted to the politicians’ actions and policy measures. By the autumn of 2005 it is clear that journalism’s narrative strategies had switched to the consequences of these actions; to how politics influences the citizen in various ways. This shift of journalistic focus is to be seen at all stages of the analysis.
Chapter 6 presents the results of the quantitative study of the individuals who appeared in the various news features, the political parties that were predominant in terms of visibility, and the journalistic packages used to make up the broadcasts. In addition, there is a comparative analysis of the airtime accorded journalists and politicians in the news features. The results show that journalists were increasingly visible the more recent the period studied. Politicians are very much in evidence in the earlier empirical material, but thereafter the number of statement sequences dwindles. In terms of time allocation, journalists dominated throughout the entire period in ques- tion. Moreover, the analysis shows that the framework for journalistic production, in other words the distribution of edited sequences included in the news programmes, followed a standardised pattern. The production framework remained in place, but the picture – the content – was remodelled over time.
The distinguishing features of this remodelling are discussed in Chapter 7, which sheds light on the dominant linguistic narrative strategies to be found in the empirical material. Choice of words, journalistic angle, and linguistic change are discussed with regards to the chosen theoretical framework. It is clear that an increased use of specialist language is evidence of the belief on the journalists’ part that the general public already had the necessary knowledge to be able to understand the jargon of the political sphere. With less emphasis on background information, the educational aspect was toned down somewhat, to the advantage of more popularised approach to news production.
This development is also to be seen in the visual strategies discussed in Chapter 8, where imagery and editing is analysed in terms of notions of legitimacy, authority, and audiovisual interaction. It is shown, for example, that graphics fulfilled a didactic function in all three periods, but that as time went on technical developments and a more pervasive editing style reveal the steady rise of popularisation. The imagery of pre-recorded fea-tures and interviews also underwent a fundamental change. The heavier editorial hand served to strengthen journalism’s interpretive power, and politicians’ statements were cut and woven into journalism’s narrative framework. Journalism’s investigative role, which was previously flagged using hasty camera movements and zooms, appears today to be pretty much a foregone conclusion, while the editing style contributes to an increased distance between politicians and citizens.
The concluding discussion is presented in Chapter 9. The analytical results are collated and placed in a broader social context, charting the thesis’ contribution to a greater understanding of the historical development of television journalism and the techniques and strategies used to preserve its position of power and to establish the legitimacy of its operations. It would seem that the public service tradition remains strong, given the extent to which the urge to edify permeates all the empirical material, even if there is a growing tendency to chase ratings by courting popularity. The interplay between political–economic circumstances and television journalism’s mode of expression is reflected in one of the key arguments of the thesis: journalism is always a cultural expression, and remains a product of its time.