International journalism is crucial to our understanding of the world beyond our own borders. Such understanding is increasingly important because modern societies are deeply interconnected. For example, an earthquake near Indonesia matters to a mother in Brazil not just because she (hopefully) cares about her fellow humans. It also matters because it can have cascading effects that impact supply chains and results in a shortage of a medicine her son relies on. Moreover, as the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us, it is impossible for a country to fully isolate itself. And, some of our most pressing challenges (like climate change) hardly limit themselves to national borders.
However, international journalism is not just about the events and developments that begin outside of our own borders. It’s also a way to learn about how people in other parts of the world chronicle those developments, make sense of what is happening, and present information in a truthful and clear way. Put another way, it offers us the chance to imagine how journalists here, at home, might think about (and perform) their jobs differently. It’s a chance to recognize that, maybe, the way(s) in which journalism is enacted in one place could be enriched if it whisked in some ingredients from another place. Conversely, it’s also a chance to recognize the pitfalls of adopting certain ideologies and practices.
This book is designed to explain key theories and concepts that allow us to understand the general practice of journalism around the world, and to illustrate some of the challenges that arise from practicing journalism in those contexts. It begins by providing a theoretical foundation that helps us understand why international journalism matters and the key forces that shape what it looks like; highlights some of the key challenges to bearing witness to developments, sourcing information, and simply doing ‘the job’ of journalism; and describes important similarities and differences in how journalism is imagined and performed in different regions of the world.
Unit I establishes a conceptual foundation for understanding journalism. This requires defining terms like “news” and “journalism,” and reckoning with implications of the fact that such terms mean different things to different people. For example, if a person considers something to be “journalism” (rather than just simple “news”), they may be more willing to accept its author’s version of events. This unit also explores the broad constellation of entities involved in journalism, such as its social actors (e.g., journalists and software developers), technological actants (e.g., news recommendation algorithms), and audiences (e.g., news consumers and policymakers). Finally, the unit illustrates the rather large array of potential journalistic activities involved in the practice of journalism.
Unit II introduces multiple theoretical frameworks for understanding the potential impacts of journalism. It begins by discussing media dependency theory, which helps situate journalism within a broader system of information and identifies the conditions that make some people more dependent on journalism to make sense of the world. It then evaluates framing theory, agenda-setting theory, and priming theory. These three frameworks offer sociological and psychological explanations for how news content can impact individuals’ evaluations of, and attitudes toward, a topic or issue. They are also useful in illustrating some of the limits of journalism’s impacts on individuals and on society. The unit concludes with an examination of the phenomena of news avoidance and fatigue, helping to explain why some people choose to opt out of consuming journalism.
Unit III begins to flip that script around by examining journalism through the lens of journalistic cultures. The unit draws heavily upon the outstanding work done by the Worlds of Journalism research team, who have spent almost two decades systematically breaking down some of the similarities and differences in how journalists in dozens of different countries think about and perform journalism. The unit begins by introducing the notion of journalistic cultures and why they matter. It then focuses on three particular intrinsic dimensions of journalistic cultures that shape how journalists think about their jobs (and, to some extent, how they perform them). These dimensions are: their role orientations (how journalists think about their social purpose), their ethical considerations (what journalists believe to be appropriate responses to tricky situations), and their trust in institutions (journalists’ willingness to believe information provided by important public actors).
Unit IV continues flipping that script by introducing theoretical frameworks that help explain some of the extrinsic dimensions of journalistic cultures that shape what journalistic content is produced, and how it is produced. The unit begins by describing the Hierarchy of Influences Model, which is a useful framework for describing the many forces that affect the news content that audiences see, hear, and read. It then examines some of the news values that are factored into journalists’ determinations of newsworthiness. The unit then critically evaluates the notions of truth, bias, and neutrality by highlighting that facts are not ‘natural’ things that just ‘exist’ and underscoring the value of truth-seeking in journalism. The unit concludes by examining the increasing fragmentation of a mass audience into many smaller audiences as a result of diverging media consumption habits, which has resulted in greater competition and optimization for audience attention.
Unit V explores the economic aspects of journalism. It begins by chronicling the commodification of news in the United States and discussing the role that advertising has played in subsidizing journalism over the past century — a role that it is arguably no longer able to play as effectively. The unit then examines the impacts of audience measurement, highlighting how new technologies have enabled broader and more immediate quantification of audience wants. It then describes the influence of third-party platforms (e.g., Apple News) on journalism, highlighting the structural roles they now play as intermediaries in the information ecosystem. The unit concludes by describing two alternative economic models for supporting journalism: non-profit journalism and state-supported journalism.
Unit VI centers on global journalism, or journalism that is intended to cross borders and reach audiences around the world. The unit begins by describing what is unique about international news coverage, both in terms of what influences its production as well as the distinct impacts international news can have on citizens’ understandings of public affairs. The unit then illustrates some different kinds of global journalistic outlets and describes how they can be instrumentalized by governments to increase their power. It then explains what foreign correspondents and news bureaus are, and highlights some of the challenges they face in modern times. The unit concludes by explicating the practice of parachute journalism, highlighting some of its problematic tendencies while also challenging some critiques lodged against it.
Unit VII examines the practices of news sourcing as they commonly manifest in the context of international journalism. It begins by conceptualizing news sources, examining the exchanges of power that are involved in the act of news sourcing, and describing common news sourcing biases. Then, the unit describes a key conduit foreign correspondents turn to in order to source information and gather information abroad: the fixer. The unit proceeds to describe a crucial type of typically reliable source that correspondents turn to for information: non-governmental organizations. The two following chapters describe another type of source (and sourcing practice) that correspondents are increasingly turning to: user-generated content and crowdsourcing information. The unit concludes with an explication of misinformation and disinformation, terms that help us better capture the range of inaccurate information that pollute information ecosystems.
Unit VIII evaluates the challenging labor conditions that modern journalists face, especially when working abroad. It begins by offering a primer on the legal landscape for journalists around the world, highlighting trends in legal frameworks and how laws are sometimes applied selectively to silence critical journalists. The unit then describes how modern laws and technologies are being used to surveil journalists and, in the process, make potential sources think twice before communicating with a journalist. It then highlights the acute challenges faced by journalists who report on war and conflict, from truthfully depicting the events to managing their own physical and psychological health. The unit concludes with a chapter on the increasing incidence of violence against journalists — a phenomenon we have seen more of in the United States in recent years but that journalists abroad have experienced for a long time.
Unit IX concludes the book by examining the press freedoms and constraints, professionalization and labor conditions, and sociotechnical trends being experienced in five different regions around the world. While the unit is not intended to be comprehensive — neither in terms of all the regions around the world nor in the countries within each region — it does help to concretely illustrate some of the diversity in the ways journalism is thought about and practiced around the world.
I hope this book proves useful to anyone who is curious about what journalism is and how it is practiced around the world. I also hope that it inspires you, the reader, to want to be better informed about developments around the world and about how the rest of the world sees the developments happening here. I believe information is central to communication, and communication is key to approaching our future collective challenges as a community. I hope you will join me in helping make that happen.