2
0
1
9

Reimagining the media for post-institutional times

“To put it bluntly, the media do not mediate as they used to.”

The news media are knowledge machines which make a distinct product: accounts. From a multitude of potentially newsworthy events happening in the world, these machines produce reports of the facts that count and explanations of why they count.

One of the challenges of making this machine work properly is that while the world is quite unpredictable, the journalistic report has to be produced predictably on time — every hour, day, week, or month. A key way in which media organizations have historically overcome this challenge is by relying heavily on the institutional apparatus of the societies they cover.

Governments, large corporations, political parties, major nonprofits, and so on have been the leading providers of the raw materials that often form the basis of the media’s accounts. During the course of the 20th century, representatives of large bureaucracies became accustomed to furnishing information in a rational and dispassionate manner to journalists, usually with an aim towards reaching consensus on important societal issues.

Positioning themselves as the critical mediator between institutions and the public has been the foundation of the media’s cultural power in society. In the idealized form that is often taught in journalism schools, the mainstream media have tried to enact this role by presenting bureaucratically oriented accounts, filled with verifiable facts, explained in rational terms, and rendered in dispassionate language.

Because institutions are stable entities interested in their own self-preservation, the media accounts have also more often than not nudged the polity in the direction of consensus and greater social cohesion — even though this picture has been problematized by an increasing prominence of incendiary rhetoric in some quarters of the news ecosystem.

But if the past couple of years have made something clear, it’s that we live in an era in which the power of institutions is in decline and that of social movements is on the rise. As if the economic crisis of the media wasn’t enough to cast dark clouds in their future, the weakening of the institutional apparatus of society threatens to erode the cultural infrastructure of how the media has made knowledge in recent history.

Can journalism reinvent itself for a post-institutional era?

The contemporary challenges to the strength of institutions have come primarily from social movements. From #MeToo to the Yellow Vests movement, this form of social organization has been gradually becoming the main conduit to express a mounting generalized disenchantment with the ability of existing institutions to adequately address systemic inequities in critical dimensions of social life.

The Yellow Vests movement in France is a particularly telling illustration of declines in institutional strength. A self-organized collective, heavily reliant on social media, expressing its claims vehemently, and seemingly not geared at reaching consensus has been forcefully testing the limits of a president supported…by a two-year-old political party!

Social movements are not a new collective actor, of course. Their existence long predates the contemporary moment, and the media used to be instrumental to relay a movement’s message to the citizenry. But social media have made it easier for movement leaders and members to communicate among themselves and with the population at large, bypassing journalistic organizations.

To put it bluntly, the media do not mediate as they used to.

What makes the current scenario so tricky for the modern journalistic machine is not only that movements are challenging institutions, but also that this trend has been coupled with foregrounding in public discourse a rhetoric centered on claims often expressed and interpreted with high levels of emotionality and shared primarily on social media platforms.

Taken together, the rising roles of movements, claims, emotions, and social media create the opportunity to reimagine journalism for this post-institutional moment.

This process might lead media organizations towards a path relying less than before on the issues, information, and perspectives provided by elite institutional players. This might open up spaces in the news for voices representing the interests and concerns of a greater variety of groups increasingly dissatisfied with the traditional institutions of society.

Incorporating a greater array of voices not necessarily aligned with longstanding institutional actors might lead to an editorial product more prone to interpret claims and conflict in a systemic manner — rather than as episodic anomalies to be solved by institutionally-oriented consensus.

Claims and conflicts are usually conveyed with a heightened affective tonality. Foregrounding them would also invite a shift from rationalizing to legitimating emotion as a core element of how the news is made, received, and interpreted.

In a world in which billions of people spend a major portion of their days not only informing but also expressing themselves on social media, media organizations might want to explore a shift from solely providing news accounts to also hosting the conversations that those accounts — and the perhaps alternative ones generated by a portion of their audiences — might trigger.

Even though many leading online news organizations give their users the possibility of reacting to the news on their respective sites, this often appears to be more the side dish than the main course. Perhaps shifting the mindset from telling the authoritative account to listening to the voices from the crowds might be an effective way of harnessing the energy of the contemporary cultural moment, in 2019 and beyond.

Pablo J. Boczkowski is a professor in the School of Communication at Northwestern University.

Andrea Faye Hart   Doing less harm, not just more good

Greg Emerson   Power to the user

james Wahutu   Think 2018 was bad? Wait until you see 2019

Matt Skibinski   Quality and reliability are the new currencies for publishers

Ariel Zirulnick   Participation gets professional

Jonathan Stray   More algorithmic accountability reporting, and a lot of it will be meh

Rebecca Searles   From silos to Swiss Army knife teams

Dan Shanoff   Bet on sports gambling

Victor Pickard   We will finally confront systemic market failure

Linda Solomon Wood   The year of the climate reporter

Gideon Lichfield   Goodbye attention economy, we’ll miss you

Nathalie Malinarich   Video — yes, video

Matt Waite   “I went to Node.js because I wished to live deliberately”

Patrick Butler   Measuring impact will increase audience trust

Rebecca Lee Sanchez   We are all actors in the running rampant of political theater

Eric Ulken   The year you actually start to like your CMS

Rick Berke   The year of loyalty

Logan Molyneux   Seeing social media for what it is

Justin Kosslyn   Text hits a tipping point

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   A long, slow slog, with no one coming to the rescue

Whitney Phillips   Our information systems aren’t broken — they’re working as intended

Chase Davis   We can acknowledge what we don’t know

Adam B. Ellick   Video forensic reporting goes mainstream — and local

Rubina Madan Fillion   Fighting the reality of deepfakes

Shannon McGregor   More bogus embedded tweets in our stories

Josh Schwartz   A pullback from platforms and a focus on product

Joshua Darr   The nationalization of political news will accelerate

Elisabeth Goodridge   Yes, they signed up — but our job’s not over

Ben Smith   The pendulum starts to swing back

Amy King   We should listen to the kids (especially on Instagram)

Sarah Stonbely   Mapping the local news ecosystem — with scale but detail

A.J. Bauer   The coming splintering of conservative media

Jennifer Dargan   You don’t build diversity through one-off training sessions

Angilee Shah   The year news orgs say “yes” to real leaders

Julie Posetti   The year of the fight back

Simon Rogers   Data journalism becomes a global field

Ole Reißmann   The rise of vertical storytelling

Elizabeth Bramson-Boudreau   A more sincere definition of “community”

Masuma Ahuja   Make foreign coverage less foreign

Robin Kwong   Tech shouldn’t be the only field pollinating “news nerds”

Pia Frey   You can’t solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis

Alexis Lloyd & Matt Boggie   The year product leads media

Kyra Darnton   A shift to depth in video

Millie Tran   There is no magic — you’ve got this

Borja Bergareche Sainz de los Terreros   Entering a more balanced era

Adam Thomas   In Europe, foundations invest in news

Reyhan Harmanci   Selling more stories to Hollywood

Francesco Zaffarano   Towards a rethinking of journalism on social media

Sarah Marshall   A return to destination journalism

Heather Chaplin   Agree we’re partisan — for the democratic system

Kevin Douglas Grant   A year to embrace journalism as public service

Taylor Lorenz   Personal branding is more powerful than ever

Ruth Palmer and Benjamin Toff   From news fatigue to news avoidance

Mike Rispoli and Craig Aaron   Government funds local news — and that’s a good thing

Elizabeth Jensen   Going where the Acela can’t take you

Ståle Grut   A new dawn for 3D tech in journalism

Nico Gendron   Reaching Generation Z beyond the coasts

Rachel Davis Mersey   Local news goes minimalist

Jesse Brown   Canada’s subsidy for news backfires

Angèle Christin   Algorithms and the reflexive turn

Manoush Zomorodi   Tech will do for information overload what it did for mindfulness

Peter Bale   Venture capital runs out of patience

Francesco Marconi   The year of iterative journalism

Celeste LeCompte   Local news needs local conversation to survive

Matthew Pressman   The battle over objectivity intensifies

Lauren Katz   Community becomes a core newsroom value

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams   Podcasting battles East Coast bias

Tushar Banerjee   Interactive ads will be the new face of display advertising

Tyler Fisher   This is journalism’s do-or-die moment

Jonas Kaiser   Catching up with “Neuland”

Joel Konopo   Influencers become the new liberated power in Africa

John Garrett   You can’t raise prices forever

Gabriel Snyder   Journalism doesn’t fit well in a funnel

Tamar Charney   Seriously: What do you do for people?

Nisha Chittal   The homepage makes a comeback

Jesse Holcomb   We’ll get better at making the case for local journalism

Moreno Cruz Osório   Damaged credibility and a new threat in Brazil

Stephanie Edgerly   It’s time to understand the un-audience

Andrew Ramsammy   The great re-pivot to audio

Cătălina Albeanu   Being responsible for what we don’t know

Robert Hernandez   Racists and sexists get replaced

Zuzanna Ziomecka   News leadership gets an overdue upgrade

Jim Friedlich   Meet Citizen Kane 2.0

Mariana Moura Santos   From pageviews to impact

Sue Robinson   Reporters go on the offensive

Ben Werdmuller   The platform tide is turning

Meredith Artley   Huge demand for…anything but politics

Axie Navas   The traffic hunt, CMS battle, and magazine identity crises loom

Cory Bergman   Journalism as a technology service

Claire Wardle   Forget deepfakes: Misinformation is showing up in our most personal online spaces

Jeremy Gilbert   AI finally becomes helpful

Joanne McNeil   Building a digital hospice

Alexandra Svokos   Good luck convincing us millennials to pay

Mandy Jenkins   Fight the urge to run away from social media

M. Scott Havens   Time to swing for the fences

Steve Grove   A reckoning for tech’s work with news

Amy Schmitz Weiss   Local news isn’t where you thought it was

Seema Yasmin   We will create our own spaces

Renée Kaplan   Our future could lie within our own organizations

Knight Foundation   A year of local collaboration

Jared Newman   AI-generated fakes launch a software arms race

Nicholas Jackson   More transparency around newsroom decisions

Jake Shapiro   Podcasting is media’s slow food movement

Umbreen Bhatti   The story doesn’t end for the people we quote

Rachel Glickhouse   Newsrooms will prioritize audience needs

Alyssa Zeisler   We expand what (and how and who) we serve

Jeff Chin   We detox from Chartbeat

Carrie Brown-Smith   Advocating a healthy civic life is no journalistic crime

P. Kim Bui   The misfits become the bosses

Hearken   Pivot to people

Talia Stroud   Engaging people across lines of difference

Michael Rain   The year of the culturally relevant curator

Adam Smith   Platforms will have to help rebuild trust in news

Cherian George   Fake news wins in Asia

Sue Cross   Return of the water cooler

Kawandeep Virdee   Media wants to take care of you

Steve Myers   From trying to cover it all to covering what matters

Julia Rubin   Meeting people where they are

Zizi Papacharissi   Old interface, say hello to the new interface

Bill Grueskin   Toward a symphony model for local news

Nikki Usher   Three ways national media will further undermine trust

Geetika Rudra   The year of actionable (local) journalism

Tshepo Tshabalala   Ahead of African elections, unlock partnerships with fact-checkers

Charo Henríquez   Pivot to journalism

Mario García   The rise of content “pilots”

Frank Mungeam   Tonight at 11: News, sports, and climate change

Mike Isaac   The old exit doors for digital media companies are closing

Mike Caulfield   Ditch the media literacy cynicism and get to work

Alexandra Borchardt   Newsrooms need to build trust with their journalists, not just the audience

Marie Shanahan   Newsrooms take the comments sections back from platforms

Dheerja Kaur   A focus on problems, not platforms

Colleen Shalby   Representation becomes more than a talking point

Tim Carmody   Unlocking the commons

Kristen Muller   Local news fails — in a good way

John Saroff   The pivot to reader revenue’s unintended consequences

Libby Bawcombe   Haikus of the news

LaToya Drake   Listen up: New stories, new storytellers

Eric Nuzum   The year of the DIY podcast network

Kate Myers   Journalism continues to be bad for democracy

Don Day   Timewalls and other reader revenue experiments

Cindy Royal   For journalism curriculum to change, its faculty needs disruption

Jenée Desmond-Harris   It finally sinks in that some people aren’t white

Ernie Smith   The year we step back from the platform

Steve Henn   Smart speakers get smarter

Carolina Guerrero   Spanish-language audio blows up

Sarah Alvarez   Simplify and redistribute

Renan Borelli   Developing loyalty means developing your talent

Matt Karolian   Publishers come to terms with being Facebook’s enablers

Michael Grant   More newsrooms experiment their way to success

An Xiao Mina   The death of consensus, not the death of truth

Efrat Nechushtai   Journalism wants to be your friend, not your teacher

Kainaz Amaria   We consider who’s behind the camera

Callie Schweitzer   The rise of the conveners

Shalabh Upadhyay   A culture clash on India’s growing Internet

John Biewen   Podcasts keep getting better

Thomas Hanitzsch   The rise of tribal journalism

Elva Ramirez   News — but make it cinematic

Kjerstin Thorson   Time to get mad about information inequality (again)

Raney Aronson-Rath   We learn “digital” doesn’t have to mean “short”

Becca Aaronson   From bridge roles to product thinkers

Seth C. Lewis   The gap between journalism and research is too wide

Carl Bialik   Fatigued news consumers will pay more for less news

Kelsey Proud   Journalism becomes the escape

Laura E. Davis   More access, but not that kind

Andrew Donohue   Voting rights becomes the new climate change

Cristi Hegranes   A year to invest in the security of local journalists

Betsy O'Donovan and Melody Kramer   The most beautiful sentence in 2019 is “No.”

Annie Rudd   A more intimate aesthetic of politics — on Insta

Johannes Klingebiel   We all grow hooves

Jack Riley   Facebook refugees, from ad revenue to news habits

Errin Haines Whack   Say it with me: Racism

Winny de Jong   Data journalism goes undercover

Craig Newmark   The end of “loudspeakers for liars”

Heba Aly   The rise of international nonprofit news

Bill Adair   Another year fighting Trump’s falsehoods

Hossein Derakhshan   The news is dying, but journalism will not — and should not

Darryl Holliday   Let’s talk about power (yours)

Mandy Velez   Putting the social back in social media

Soo Oh   Just showing our work isn’t enough

Pablo Boczkowski   Reimagining the media for post-institutional times

Jean Friedman Rudovsky   Cross-newsroom collaborations strengthen communities

Salem Solomon   Correcting our corrections

Glyn Mottershead and Martin Chorley   When a tech company pulls the plug on your story

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Readers are only getting started

Zainab Khan   Publishers whose products can stand up to social media giants will win

Brian Moritz   The subscription-pocalypse is about to hit

Emma Carew Grovum   The year of the loyal reader

Almar Latour   Reported facts, weaponized in service of action

Frank Chimero   Leave the phone at home and put news on your wrist

Rishad Patel   A design system for responsible publishing

Joe Amditis   Give the audience a seat at the table

Mat Yurow   Content competition from the tech companies

Rodney Gibbs   A bright — and young — year for audio

Candis Callison   Learn from Indigenous journalists on covering climate change

Simon Galperin   After capitalism’s fire, journalism’s secondary succession

Dave Burdick   Seeing our blind spots

Christa Scharfenberg and Vickie Baranetsky   The year of the lawsuit

Elizabeth Dunbar   Local reporters reflect on what’s not important

Stefanie Murray   Local news wakes up and starts collaborating

Peter Cunliffe-Jones   The focus of misinformation debates shifts south

Heather Bryant   We are responsible for how we use our power

Alberto Cairo   A year of uncertainty and confidence

Monique Judge   Committing to the truth, calling out lies

Jonathan Gill   Publishers build a common tech platform together

Elite Truong   What do we owe the next generation?