Journalism’s Evolutions – summary of PhD

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.

The international news system

Several times, in lectures, presentations and articles, I have commented on the global news system as a technological and ideological context creating an unbalanced view of the world. The international news net is seldom highlighted through the lens of developing nations and the specific contexts existing within. The main challenge for the media in developing countries is the fact that its expansion and growth takes place along (and in relation to) social, political and financial development. As the world of media technology often derives from Western communications and information, it is vital that media improvement is a process starting from within these countries.


At the moment, most newspapers in for example South Asia and Africa, are dependent on news agencies based in Europe to find out what is occuring in their own regions. The major news agencies are not capable of creating a balancing the inequities of the international news system. Rather is it a question of increasing the number of news sources and create conditions marked by variety and diversification. In recent years we have seen major efforts in Latin America, Asia as well as Africa to endorse the establishment of regional news agencies, and of course Al-Jazeera in Quatar has clearly made a mark in the history of news communication. This type of development must be encouraged and politically established.


But there are a number of dimesions to consider before we can see a more balanced news diversity in regions with government-controlled media and in developing countries in general.


One of these is if whether or not governments will show concerns for their own people’s right to know and have access to an impeeded flow of information. As the recent riots and uprising in several Arab nations have shown, the relation between rulers’ and citizens’ use and view of media technology are utterances facing each other through violence and protests.


A second dimension is the nations’ encouragement of more diversity and freedom of news and information. If governments can provide journalists with more autonomy and independence, then a much needed journalistic scrutiny and critical response could be possible.


Finally I believe it is a question of cooperation to develop continental and regional infrastructure for telecommunications (as well as news exchange). We have seen incentives for this in Africa for example, where the sub-Saharan region could be provided systems of telecommunications, including cable systems, Internet connections as well as improved AM and FM broadcasting.


If we are to obtain a reliable flow of information, I believe that current international news communication needs to retain basic structures but modify in terms of adoption of more technological and economic innovations in the media. But also, it needs to be balanced with regional and diverse news sources, non-Western news agencies, and find a way to correspond to global politics and international relations in which the world’s news media play a central role in helping people understand the world beyond their borders. 

Frameworks of journalism

After having completed this weeks lecture on Wikileaks and international political relations at an open event, on behalf of Peace- and Conflict Studies, at Malmö University, I have received some feedback which allows me to reflect upon dimensions within a larger discussion on not only Wikileaks but the journalistic framework in which the organization operates.


Releasing classified material through both and selected traditional newspapers (after highly sofisticated co-operation and negotiations) gives the information a wider spread a possibly a greater impact.  The role of the press is crucial for Wikileaks due to the effectiveness of the combination of output channels. When information is being narrated to gain old media credibility and online publishing in full text, it puts the citizen in a position to make judgement of and discover the editors possible blind spots, hence a more active involvement from citizens.


And this chain of distribution and co-operation between the press and Wikileaks, illustrate a specific new form of power balance. The state (holding secrets however powerless to prevent releases) – Wikileaks or stateless news organization (basically in full control over how to release) – and finally the national newspaper in the middle (trying to negotiate some sort of legitimacy between both the state and Wikileaks, but also towards the citizens. Within this chain, the management and control varies and the impact thereafter. Perhaps the most intriguing question here would be: where do citizens fit in and what do their relation to the State, Wikileaks and the press, say about contemporary information society?


The journalistic intermediary function can be seen from mentioned structural perspective, but also in media texts where it often becomes visible how journalism represents (or portrays itself) as a non biased link between state, organization and citizen. Of course this is based on traditional news media reporting. When entering the world of forums, blogs and tweets, a completely different image of the role of journalism is uttered. Now, this image requires more than some short lines here to comprehend, however when analyzing the usage and expressions within social media platforms, it is fascinating to see a paradoxical approach towards traditional journalism and media channels. And this paradox will be explained and explored in my next contribution here.

New theoretical trajectories on political journalism

At the moment I’m doing the final editing of my article on political journalism in which I use the theoretical discussions in my Ph D thesis and try to enhance them and create new theoretical trajectories. Thoughts from this forthcoming article is presented below.


Discussions on public sphere and public discourse in relation to the role of media and journalism in a democratic society, is basically discussions on how we communicate in the social world and the role the media plays in this communication. Without a doubt, the thoughts of sociologist Jürgen Habermas have formed the basis for desired journalistic ideals such as objectivity and diversity, as well as created a critical point of departure for understanding the role and influence of mass media in social communication. A central part of the public sphere is constituted by journalism in general and news journalism in particular.


As democracy tend to embrace several scholary discussions and debates, both in Social Sciences and in Humanities, the need for a mutual and shared understanding of its premises is necessary. Within Political Science the focus sometimes highlights the governmental function och democratic values. However this is seldom a valid point by itself, since governing and governmental include so many more factors than just political systems or parliamentarism per se. For example, the role of the media (including both pr-industry and lobbying) needs to be included in conceptual understand of governmental systems. For me, as a researcher which derive from both Human Sciences and Social Sciences, it is a rather incomplete view on politics and the governing function which often reaches and is put forward in the academic sphere. Rather than spending effort on discussing the particular system at hand, one should emphasize its actual components and its concequences on society and democracy.

Approaching democracy from the standpoint of Media- and communication studies, recent contributions have developed an integrated view on the participatory function of the media in relation to civic society and citizens. The parametres for understanding the role of media and communication in democratic societies have altered and former ways have been disawowed. The aim with my forthcoming article is to make a new alteration of parameters for integrating theories on democracy, media- and political spheres in order to discuss how political journalism and its modes of representations play an important role for the stability and enhancement of democratic ideals.


As should be obvious, these are all issues in the field of political communication. And to be a researcher and privileged to teach and analyze the rapid development (not only media technology but also socio-cultural changes) in this field, I consider a tremendous joy. We are currently experiencing exciting political and technological changes. The term of interactivity broke new ground as we entered the digital era of ”new media” and the relationship between citizen, media and political spheres was no longer functioning from a one-way communication perspective. The hierachial condition between producer and user shifted and the earlier clear boundaries was now transgressed.


In a political communication context this development has put traditional journalism on the spotlight and brought forward new dimensions of both media and political spheres. Concept like impression management and news management have entered political discourses and the actual impact of external actors in the chain of political communication cannot be neglected. For politicians to be able to engage voters, contemporary social and political climate requires a form of second-hand construction of ideology and message. By internalizing media messages, identities and beliefs are aquired and this process is mainly due to the work of impression managers (insiders) and journalists (semi-insiders). But the internalization also includes citizens in their interpretation of media texts.

In the present digital era of information, as citizens are co-producers of information and have become major components in the chain of political communication, this is more vital than ever. The interplay  between journalists, politicians and citizens has been radically transformed into a more complex, and more intriguing, web of strings where former social institutions of power has been challenged by a growing civic culture. And it is very interesting to try and grasp these developments in a time where democracy and the role of the media, is being discussed more than ever.