Developments in and alternative possibilities for international news reporting of Dutch newspapers

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Developments in and alternative possibilities for international news reporting of Dutch newspapers
Final version master thesis Media & Journalism

Faculty of History and Arts

Erasmus University Rotterdam
By: Anke Vellenga, 311823


Supervisor: Janelle Ward

Second reader: Bernadette Kester

Date: August 14th, 2009

Contents list
Chapter 1 Introduction to production of (international) news 3

1.1 Relevance for research 3

1.2 What is news? 4

1.3 History of international news reporting in the Netherlands 5

1.4 Research questions and method 7
Chapter 2 Production of news in general 9

2.1 Influences on news content 9

2.2 General developments in journalism 14

2.3 Media systems: North Atlantic versus North/Central Europe 17

Chapter 3 New developments and foreign correspondence 19

3.1 Developments in international news production 19

3.2 Types of correspondence 25

3.3 The Dutch case 27

Chapter 4 Research design and methodology 31

4.1 Research design 31

4.2 Methodology 32

4.3 Interview analysis 35

Chapter 5 Analysis: new developments in foreign news 37

5.1 Individual level: Reasons to become a correspondent 38

5.2 Media routines level: Time pressure 39

5.3 Organizational level: Economic situation 41

5.4 Extramedia level: Internet and publishing on multiplatforms 44

5.5 Ideological level: Changing perspectives and globalization 48

Chapter 6 Analysis: current ways and alternative possibilities for international

news reporting 53

6.1 Current ways of international news reporting 54

6.2 Alternative ways of international news reporting 56

Conclusion and discussion 68
Bibliography 76
Appendices 80

  1. Introduction to newspapers and interviewees

  2. Interview guide chiefs

  3. Interview guide correspondents

  4. Interview transcripts (in digital version)

  5. Analysis of interviews (in digital version)

(Audio fragments of interviews available on request)

Chapter 1 Introduction to production of (international) news

The theme of this master thesis will be the international news coverage of Dutch newspapers. The focus is neither the audience nor the content of newspapers, yet it is about how international news is produced at international news sections of Dutch newspapers. For this reason international news sections are the central theme of this master thesis.

The international news sections will be analyzed on how they work and which influences from inside and outside the news organization affect the sections.
1.1 Relevance for research

The reason for this master thesis is the fact that during the last few years there has been a lot of discussion about international news reporting. Joris Luyendijk started the discussion about the simplification and the subjective views of world news. The simplification and subjective way of journalism can be explained by the growing number of news organizations that have to cut down their expenses (Luyendijk, 2006). They have to do so because of the decline in advertisement income and decrease in circulation numbers. This as a result leads to smaller budgets for international news sections. The consequences of smaller budgets on international news coverage will be discovered during the research project.

The main trend is that newspapers produce less international news nowadays. Local, regional and national news have become more important than foreign news. Yet on the other hand the perception of the world becomes smaller and news does not seem to limit itself to within a country’s borders anymore. Recently, the Mexican flu showed that news about this disease is important for countries all over the world. Topics such as the global environment and financial crisis are also concern big parts of the world. According to Hannerz (2004) globalization does not automatically cause an increase in foreign news reporting. He argues we have to be aware that the latter is vulnerable to contemporary pressures. We are in a period that the media landscape is being reconfigured, for example by the rise of new media. Individuals can find more and varied information, by consulting a range of more specialized publications of different kinds, including internet (Hannerz, 2004). So international news reporting is changing, partly because of the development of globalization. But there are more new developments that cause changes in international news reporting.

Furthermore, through the development of new technologies such as satellite connections, laptops and email and the internet journalists are starting to feel the pressure of producing their articles or news items in a faster way. This is also a consequence of a stronger competition in the news world. News has become, even for newspapers, a 24-hour news cycle (Seib, 2004). In short, news organizations have less budget and time to produce news about international topics. On the other hand, the profession of journalism is changing through new social and technological developments.

Before I start to set forth the research questions, I will provide some background information related to international news in general and the Netherlands.

1.2 What is news?

One of the most legendary answers to the question “what is news?” is from John Bogart, editor of The New York Sun in 1880, who said: “man bites dog, that is news” (Serveas & Tonnaer, 1992). This indicates that news is hard to define. Joris Luyendijk (2006) illustrates what news is by using the following example: “if it bleeds it leads. We prefer to open the news with attacks, kidnappings, murders and big accidents, because blood attracts the audience. You have to divide the number of deaths by the number of kilometers from Hilversum. Dead white people are more newsworthy than dead black or Asian people, dead Christians provide more news than dead non-Christians. The phrase ‘Jews are news’ illustrates that an attack in Jerusalem can be an opening while a bomb in Algiers or Delhi not even reaches the news” (Luyendijk, 2006: 91). These examples show how difficult it is to describe what news really is.

A classical study comes from Herbert J. Gans with Deciding what’s news (1979). Gans decided to study how journalists make decisions at Time, Newsweek, the CBS Evening News and the NBC Nightly News. He combined participated observation of the newsrooms of these big media organizations and content analysis of the output. His goal was to find out what these big media organizations consider to be news and why something is news.

In the first place he found that specific groups of actors and activities dominated the news. News turned out to be more about individuals than about groups or social processes. These individuals could be classified into ‘known’ and ‘unknown’ people. The largest part of the news concerned well known people, such as president candidates, and other renowned politicians. The unknown people in the news were mostly individual offenders of laws and practices, such as activists, demonstrators, strikers, and troublemakers. Most of the time these unknown people came into the news as an anonymous group instead of individuals with names (Van Ginneken, 2002).

Gans concluded that certain kinds of activities dominated the news in the United States, such as government commissions, decisions and conflicts, protests, crimes, scandals and investigations and huge catastrophes. Tradition and innovation were also important categories in his study. Gans signaled that the uniformity and discrepancy within the nation and the society were often dramatized by the media. Finally, Gans found that international news was presented from a national viewpoint (Van Ginneken, 2002).

The definition that Gans uses for news is: “[…] information which is transmitted from sources to audiences, with journalists – who are both employees of bureaucratic commercial organizations and members of a profession – summarizing, refining and altering what becomes available to them from sources in order to make the information suitable for their audiences” (Verduijn, 2005). This definition of news is suitable for this master thesis, because it clarifies that journalists are dependent of the journalistic culture. Here, news is not just a phenomenon that stands on its own, but one that depends on and is influenced by several factors. The news organization, for example, depends on the advertisers for income. Journalists depend on sources and there are many other factors that influence the production of news. This will be explored in the next chapter on the hierarchy model of influences by Shoemaker and Reese.

1.3 History of international news reporting in the Netherlands

In the beginning of the 17th century the first Dutch newspapers came up. These newspapers mainly reported about foreign news. In the 17th and 18th century, The Republiek der Verenigde Nederlanden was the newspaper centre of Europe. The daily papers came up in the 19th century when¸ through the failure of the French Revolution, the republic became the Koninkrijk der Nederlanden. The first printed daily paper was Algemeen Handelsblad. The Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant (NRC) followed in 1844 (Bakker & Scholten, 1999).

The social and political developments in the Netherlands from the end of the 19th century till today can be understood in terms of the ‘verzuiling’ or ‘pillarization’ of Dutch society. In this complex process social movements, educational and communication systems, voluntary associations and political parties organized themselves vertically along religious and ideological lines. This resulted in four quite distinct so-called ‘pillars’ of society: a catholic, protestant, liberal and social pillar (Deuze, 2002: 7). The political power was spread along newspapers, magazines, television broadcasters and libraries. National news became more important than international news (Van Wijk, 2001).

After discharging the so called ‘dagbladzegel’, a tax on each newspaper, the Dutch press developed to a mass press in 1869. The newspapers were now also available and affordable to more readers, not just the elite. The newspapers wrote about topics that coincided with the social norms and values of the citizens. The main virtues were decency, self-control, tolerance, willingness for social importance and the duty for the citizen to develop themselves (Broersma, 1999). All in their own way, the newspapers tried to lead their readers and guide them in their personal development; they decided for their readers what was important to know. This journalistic style is also known as the distantly-controlled style. This style was similar to a journal d’opinon instead of a journal d’information.

The newspaper cleared much space for articles about the news, with the result that they created, albeit not purposefully, a distance between the reader and the news. (Broersma, 1999).

The first World War caused a shift in this journalistic style. The Telegraaf was a newspaper that focused on the growing market of ‘new readers’. But the newspaper had also an odd journalistic style, which can be described as emotionally-involved (Broersma, 1999). The Telegraaf did not focus primarily on the ratio of the reader, but played on their feelings. The newspaper focused on the needs of its audience, instead of leading them; the reader had to identify themselves with the news. In comparison with other newspapers, the Telegraaf paid more attention to active newsgathering. This style caused aggravation with other ‘civil’ newspapers and the intellectual elite.

During the war, newspapers started to write more about foreign news and this development continued the years after the war. The most important sources for international news were foreign newspapers and press agencies. Reuters had monopolized the Netherlands with regard to the gathering and selling of news. The selection of news was hard for the editorial rooms, because truth and lies were hard to distinguish. Moreover, the verification of news was in most cases impossible. Hence, most newspapers made no selection at all (Broersma, 1999).

While the ‘civil’, distantly-controlled newspapers were annoyed by the emotionally-involved style, they slowly took over some aspects of this style during the war. They started to use illustrations and drawings and interviews and reports about events were published more frequently in the ‘civil’ newspapers. Newspapers became more neutral and opinions became separated from news in opinion articles.

After the second World War, the pillars lost their formal structure and control over their followers, partly because the Dutch population was growing rapidly. It became hard for the newspapers and television broadcasters to keep their own audience, because the audience wanted freedom of choice of their own needs (Van Wijk, 2001).

The automation of the workplace, the beginning of national television in the 1950s and its breakthrough as a family medium in the 1960s, secularization and decline in political party membership, lead authors to classify this period as one of ‘depillarization’. Right up until the early 1960s, about half of the Dutch press could have been considered ‘pillar-neutral’. This neutrality does not mean that these papers were not strongly biased in any way (Deuze, 2002).

The recent governments are made up of a, once unlikely, combination of a right-wing liberal party, social-democratic labor party and left-wing liberal party. These governments adopted the trends of the time and were generally in favor of a laissez faire-attitude towards society, market and the media, where decentralization and deregulation were the key words of public policy. However, the government aims to play a strong role to support multiformity in the media. This means that the function of the media in society is seen as a reflection of that particular society, as well as allowing equal access of existing views and ideas of different people to the media (Deuze, 2002: 8). Since the beginning of the 21st century more conservative politicians have gained power in the Netherlands, which is causing more national attention instead of an open-minded global view.

1.4 Research questions and method

The central research question of this master thesis is as follows:

To what extent do new developments in international news reporting provide alternative possibilities (for international news coverage) for Dutch newspapers?

By alternative possibilities I mean the other ways of international news coverage besides the already existing or standard procedures of news coverage. An alternative way of international news coverage can be international cooperation between newspapers from different countries. Alternative possibilities can also be the new ways of international news coverage which are not yet used by newspapers, or only to a small extent. This can be for example the use of local citizens in a foreign country to cover a story.

International news reporting is the reporting of information from foreign countries which is transmitted from sources to audiences, with journalists – who are both employees of bureaucratic commercial organizations and members of a profession – summarizing, refining and altering what becomes available to them from sources in order to make the information suitable for their audiences.

The alternative possibilities of international news reporting of Dutch newspapers are going to be investigated. The newspapers that are selected for this are Trouw, Volkskrant, NRC Handelsblad, AD and Telegraaf. These five national newspapers can be compared with each other because they are all distributed throughout the Netherlands, all produce their own international news and are all sold through subscriptions and via the newsagent’s. However, there are also differences between the newspapers: AD and Telegraaf are both popular newspapers, and Trouw, Volkskrant and NRC Handelsblad are qualified as quality newspapers. This may lead to different approaches in producing international news.

The central research question will be answered by the following subquestions:

  1. To what extend do new developments and other influences shape the news in general?

This subquestion will be explored in the first theoretical chapter. Shoemaker and Reese (1996) argue that media content is shaped by several factors which result in different versions of the reality. In their study they focus on the factors inside and outside media organizations that affect media content. Shoemaker and Reese distinguish the following influences: individual media workers, media routines, organizational influences, influences from outside of media organizations and influences of ideology. These influences are monitored in a hierarchical model. This model is useful for investigating the mechanisms of international news production. The model provides factors on the production side which chiefs and correspondents have to deal with. In this way it becomes possible to analyze the production side of international news.

  1. How do new developments in journalism, according to different scholars, affect foreign news reporting?

This hierarchical model will be the central model of this master thesis. However the focus of this research project will be on new developments in and practices of international news coverage. Therefore, the hierarchical model of influences will be adapted by new developments in international news coverage and developments and ways of foreign correspondence. This subquestion will be answered in the second theoretical chapter.

  1. To what extent is international news reporting of Dutch newspapers influenced by new developments in international news reporting?

After the methodology section, the analysis chapters will tackle this subquestion. The new developments in international news reporting, covered in the theoretical chapters, will be related and compared to the situation at international news sections of Dutch newspapers.

  1. What are alternative possibilities for international news reporting for Dutch newspapers?

When the situation of international news sections at the Dutch newspapers is clarified and new developments are analyzed, it is possible to discover alternative possibilities for foreign news reporting. This will be set out in the second analysis chapter.

The hypothesis is that all newspapers have had to cut down on expenses, which will result in changes in the production of international news. Newspapers have to find alternative ways of producing news which are low in expenses, yet maintain a high level of quality. These alternative ways depend on technological developments such as publishing on a variety of platforms. Alternative ways of foreign correspondence can also be useful to save money and still deliver high-quality news articles.

This master thesis will be conducted by qualitative research. The qualitative research method in this research project is the semi-structured interview. The production factors of international news are going to be investigated by interviews with chiefs and correspondents of international news departments of newspapers in the Netherlands. With these interviews the alternative possibilities for the production of international news reporting can be discovered. That is why this master thesis can be called an explorative study, but on the other hand it is a comparative study between mostly American theories and the Dutch situation. Interviews with the chiefs and correspondents will give an insight into the practical possibilities of alternative ways of international news coverage. The chiefs represent the organizational side and the correspondents represent the practical side of the international news production. In this way the total production side of international news is covered.

Chapter 2 Production of news in general

This first theoretical chapter takes the general state of affairs of the production of news into account. The chapter starts off with the hierarchy model of influences of Shoemaker and Reese. Their model shows the influences by which news content is shaped. After that I will discuss developments of the last decades in news production in general. Finally, the difference between American and Western European media systems will be explored on the hand of the concept of Hallin and Mancini. At the end of the chapter it should be clear how news is produced and by what influences and new developments news is shaped. So the following subquestion will be answered in the conclusion of this chapter: To what extend do new developments and other influences shape the news in general?

2.1 Influences on news content

Shoemaker and Reese (1996) argue that media content is shaped by several factors which result in different versions of the reality. Their study focuses on what factors, both inside and outside media organizations, affect media content. Shoemaker and Reese distinguish the following influences: individual media workers, media routines, organizational influences, influences from outside of media organizations and influences of ideology. These influences are monitored in a hierarchical model (Ouwens Nagell, 2006). This model is useful to investigate the background of the process of (international) news production. The model provides the factors on the production side of news which chiefs and correspondents have to deal with. Thus the model makes it possible to map the production side of international news.

The central question in the study of Shoemaker and Reese is ‘What factors inside and outside of media organizations affect media content?’ They stress the importance of understanding the influences that shape content. During their research they performed a literature review, and discussed studies which address questions about the nature of media content, the ways in which such content is manufactured and which interests it serves. Shoemaker and Reese compared and contrasted the existing research of media content. They looked at the factors which shape mass media by comparing their approach with that of the traditional process and effects texts (Shoemaker & Reese, 1996).

The hierarchy of influences model gives an explanation of how several ideological, organizational and extramedia factors, routines and individual pressures influence media content. From macro- to micro-level analysis, the hierarchy of influences approach looks at the forces that shape media messages on separate yet related levels (Ibrahim, 2003, Hafez, 2000).
2.1.1 Individual level

Individual influences are the personal influences of journalists. These can be the background and characteristics of journalists, for example gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, education. But also the personal attitudes, values, beliefs, professional roles and ethics of a journalist can influence the media content (Shoemaker & Reese, 1996). “The individual political orientation, perception, stereotypical thinking and ideologies of journalists all influence media coverage” (Hafez, 2000: 8).

Shoemaker and Reese investigated how the characters, personal and professional backgrounds, personal attitudes and professional roles of media workers influence the media content. They studied several studies which focused on the possible influences of the background and character of a journalist on media content. The studies align on gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and education of the journalists. It was concluded that it was hard to establish in what way these features influence media content. Yet, it can be stated that the experience and knowledge of a journalist influences how he or she sees the world. This can have a potentially far-reaching effect on which news items are selected and how these are reported.

When a foreign correspondent is in the field, he or she carries with him or her all the preconceived notions about the country and his or her positive and negative experiences of it (Ibrahim, 2003). This might lead to different perspectives in news articles when some local reporter would report on the same issue.

Furthermore, the personal attitude, norms and values of media workers were investigated. Because of the abundance of research results, it is difficult to make any clear-cut remarks about the influence of personal attitude, norms and values on media content. However, when a journalist himself decides what he is going to write about and how he is going to accomplish this, chances are that opinion, norms and values will influence his news content. On the other side, if there is more bureaucratic control about the production of media content, the individual influences of the journalist are limited.

The role that a journalist fulfils in the news organization has a certain impact on the media content. The bigger the input of the media worker is, the more influence he can exert on the content. The background, personal attitude and norms and values of a ‘powerful’ reporter can directly influence the content. In general, this power is kept under control by the editors-in-chief, owners, advertisers or the audience.

Shoemaker and Reese believe that ethics of journalists have a bigger influence on content than do personal attitudes, values, and beliefs. For an example of news ethics, look at the way a news organization deals with the publishing of news pictures. Is it justified to publish a picture of a horribly injured person or maybe even a dead person? Some editors might think that the audience has the right to see the truth, others might choose to protect the audience from shocking images. And what about the surviving family members of the portrayed people?

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  • Chapter 1 Introduction to production of (international) news
  • 1.1 Relevance for research
  • 1.3 History of international news reporting in the Netherlands
  • 1.4 Research questions and method
  • Chapter 2 Production of news in general
  • 2.1 Influences on news content

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