Field analytics: prestige and position-taking among journalistic startups

1. Introduction

Today, journalism is facing fundamental challenges to both its financial viability and its role as society’s arbiter of truth (Singer, 2010; Wahl Jorgenson, 2016). These developments are considered a serious threat for democratic society (McNair, 2013). Particularly the established news outlets are blamed for being complicit in this development. It is the most recent chapter in a broader critique of legacy news media, diagnosing it as an industry that can no longer sustain itself economically, and reproaching it for no longer living up to their self-acclaimed role of informing citizens and monitoring society (Broersma & Peters, 2016).This is attested by the rapid rise of journalistic startups in different countries, such as [example] or [example] in the US, De Correspondent or Follow The Money in the Netherlands, and Krautreporter or Correktiv in Germany. Strategically riding the wave of critique on legacy news media, these outlets claim that traditional outlets are performing below par, simultaneously using this critique to position themselves in the field. They for instance argue that legacy media squandered journalism’s authority by choosing profit over quality, fail to engage the public, are not up to date on the latest technologies to help them (re)structure their journalistic practices, and hold on to a dying business model. The startups present themselves as a much-needed break with the establishment, aiming to restore and reinvigorate journalism both as a commercial industry and a professional practice (Wagemans, Witschge & Deuze, 2016; Harbers, 2016; something more on the commercial side).This project seeks understand this process of in which new players aim to innovate and rethink journalism, while acknowledging the strategic nature of the startups’ ‘discourse of innovation’ (Carlson & Usher, 2015). Moreover, by adopting a cross-national perspective it can discount for the variety of culture-specific ways in which new journalistic startups are organizing themselves institutionally and commercially, and how they are renegotiating their professional practice (Hallin & Mancini, 2004; Hanitzsch, 2007).

2. Facilitators and project members.

The project was led by researchers Michael Stevenson and Frank Harbers. The vast majority of the research was carried out by project members Henrik Bodker, Claire Gersen, Thomas de Man, Lune van der Meulen, Katrin Puvogel, Mariessa Radermacher, Vera Seegers, Sozan Toksoz and Maximilian Zucchet.

Data visualizations and additional facilitation were provided by Andrea Benedetti and Giacomo Flaim. Further tool and method support was provided by Erik Borra, Emile den Tex and Richard Rogers.

3. Research questions and method

The research aimed to understand (1) which startups and other actors are recognized as innovative in different national contexts and (2) how these actors are positioned relative to each other in terms of market success, symbolic power and discursive association. To achieve this, we drew on a mix of digital methods approaches to building source sets and gathering web and social media data, and performed a mix of quantitative and qualitative forms of analysis, most notably content analysis and network analysis.

Our research focused on three national contexts: Germany, the Netherlands and USA. Although this was driven in part by practical considerations, there are several reasons for comparing these:  In all three countries the debates on journalism's future are at the forefront, acknowledging the need for innovation. Yet, their startup climates differ considerably (Bruno & Nielsen, 2012; Witschge & Deuze, 2014). Additionally, the journalistic traditions related to the cultural & socio-political context of the respective countries diverge (Hallin & Mancini, 2004). Comparing startups in these countries can therefore be embedded in existing research into the divergent startup climates as well as into the general differences in institutional organization, journalism’s relation to other cultural domains such as politics or literature, and professional framework. This allows the project to reveal how different national environments shape the discourse on journalistic innovation and the strategies used by startups to position themselves in the field (Benson, 2005; Hanitzsch, 2007).

Compiling lists of journalistic startups

To create source sets of startups and other journalistic actors recognized as being innovative, we performed what Rogers (ref needed) calls associative query snowballing. Beginning with a few organizations we were fully confident belonged in our data set, we queried those organizations in combination to find articles that were (a) about journalism and innovation in a broad sense and (b) included mention of new actors to add to our list. This process was carried out per country and repeated until saturation, producing lists of 43 startups for Germany, 45 for the Netherlands, and 35 for the USA. It should be noted that we were inclusive by design: for example, because the now defunct US gossip blog Gawker continues to be mentioned within the context of journalism and innovation, we kept this in our data set. Likewise, while many of the organizations we found are relatively old (e.g. we included Slate magazine, founded in 1996), we included them because of their continued presence in discussions of the changing journalism landscape. In other words, we see the diversity of the relative ages and sizes of these 'startups' as a feature rather than a bug, as this reflects how definitions of media actors' 'newness' or 'innovativeness' are less about temporal distinctions and more about socially constructed imaginaries in which sets of characteristics and values are discursively attached to 'old' and 'new' media (Stevenson, 2016).

Measuring market success and prestige

- social media metrics - "Innovation Discourse" expert lists of publications, organizations and awards focused on innovation in journalism.

Mapping actor positioning on Facebook

Mapping actors' discursive positions within the innovation discourse

Compiling lists of key innovation terms

Drawing on the innovation discourse mentioned above, we ... (note in the description how the process was inductive and iterative)

Analyzing the discourse associated with individual actors

4. Results and visualizations

5. Discussion and Conclusion


Broersma, Marcel & Chris Peters. 2016. “Introduction: Towards a functional perspective on journalism’s role and relevance.” In Rethinking journalism again. Societal role and public relevance in a digital age, edited by Chris Peters and Marcel Broersma, 1-17. New York: Routledge.

Carlson, Matt and Nikki Usher. 2015. “News Startups as Agents of Innovation. For-profit digital news startup manifestos as metajournalistic discourse.” Digital Journalism

Hallin, Daniel and Paolo Mancini. 2004. Comparing Media Systems. Three Models of Media and Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hanitzsch, Thomas. 2007. “Deconstructing Journalism Culture: Toward a Universal Theory.” Communication Theory 17 (4): 367-385.

Harbers, Frank. 2016. “Time to Engage. De Correspondent’s Redefinition of Journalistic Quality.” Digital Journalism 4 (4): 494-511.

McNair, Brian. 2013. “Trust, truth and objectivity: sustaining quality journalism in the era of the content-generating user.” In Rethinking journalism. Trust and participation in a transformed news landscape, edited by Chris Peters and Marcel Broersma, 75-88. New York: Routledge.

Singer, Jane. 2010. “Journalism Ethics amid Structural Change. Daedalus 139 (2): 89-99.

Stevenson, Michael. “The Cybercultural Moment and the New Media Field.” New Media & Society, vol. 18, no. 7, Aug. 2016, pp. 1088–102.

Wagemans, Andrea, Tamara Witschge and Mark Deuze. 2016. “Ideology as resource in entrepreneurial journalism: the French online news startup Mediapart.” Journalism Practice 10 (2): 160-177.

Wahl-Jorgenson, Karin. 2016. “Is there a ‘postmodern turn’ in journalism?” In Rethinking journalism again. Societal role and public relevance in a digital age, edited by Chris Peters and Marcel Broersma, 97-111. New York: Routledge.
Topic revision: r2 - 17 Jan 2018, FrankHarbers
This site is powered by FoswikiCopyright © by the contributing authors. All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
Ideas, requests, problems regarding Foswiki? Send feedback