Political Economy of Journalism Essay

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Political Economy of Journalism

The ‘political economy of journalism’ is based on Marx’s critique of capitalism. With this in mind assess the following:‘… professionals and amateurs can form powerful partnerships to create important journalism’ (Jones & Salter 2002: 29)

The term “political economy” originally denoted the study of the conditions under which economic production was organised in the capitalist system. In Marxism, political economy studies the means of production specifically of capital, and how that manifests as economic activity (Marx, 1867). It’s simple, political economy derives many of its analytical insights from the Marxist analysis of capitalism as a “model of production”, defined in the first instance by the relationship between the “forces of production”, or the technologies and techniques through which material and symbolic goods and services are produced, and the “social relations of production”, or the relations between social agents (such as owners, editors and journalists in this case) through which the production of such goods and services are organised, and the associated modes of distribution of the economic product. This coupling of the forces and social relations of production provides the base from which other social processes, and the overall social structure of a historically specific mode of production, are organised.

In the political economy of journalism, capitalism is identified as a mode of production characterised by ‘unprecedented dynamism, continuously revolutionizing its productive processes with new technologies and new forms of organising the labour process’ (Mosco 1995: 43). Karl Marx described in Capital this relationship between the economic base and the social structure in these terms: In the social production of their life men, enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production that will correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure, the real basis on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life (Marx 1867).

In his three volume work “The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture”, the sociologist Manuel Castells has proposed that since the 1980s a new economy has emerged that is global, networked and informational. While this new techno-economic framework remains capitalist in form, it is based upon what Castells describes as an informational rather than an industrial mode of development, which he defines in these terms: In the industrial mode of development, the main source of productivity lies in the introductions of new energy sources, and in the ability to decentralize the use of energy through the production and circulation processes. In the new, informational mode of development, the source of productivity lies in the technology of knowledge generation, information processing, and symbol communication … What is specific to the informational mode of development is the action of knowledge upon knowledge itself as the main source of productivity. I call this mode of development informational, constituted by the emergence of a new technological paradigm based on information technology (Castells 1996: 17).

Castells has proposed that the rise of a network society has its origins in some central elements derivatives of the new regime of accumulation, or the nexus between production and consumption, identified by Castells as the “information technology paradigm”, which is based upon the mass diffusion of information and communication technologies. The new economy is networked and it is based upon information networks such as the Internet, as well as the networked enterprise becoming the dominant form of economic organisation, at whose heart is no longer the capitalist firm, but global markets and business projects based upon short-term strategic alliances and partnerships. For Castells, the networked enterprise is a logical corollary of electronic business, as it is based around ‘the Internet-based, interactive, networked connection between producers, consumers, and service providers’ (Castells 2001: 75).

It has never been so easy to create information, and at the same time it has never been so difficult to make a living off its practice; the market is bigger than ever, but the income is the lowest in history, in relative terms. This trend is clearly visible in the USA, so many times forerunner about what is going to happen with the rest of the western countries. The scene is quite disturbing, at least in the USA, where major newspapers have seen how their diffusion has fallen from 62 million copies to 49 million since the Internet became mainstream with an easy access for most of the citizens of that country 15 years ago. Around a hundred newspapers were forced to stop printing in paper format. During the same period, the number of readers of digital journalism has increased from nought to 75 million. The decrease in advertisements, which represents the main income in paper journalism, has reduced the profit drastically, which subsequently has brought massive lay-offs as read in some of the mastheads of the main European newspapers (1).

El Pais, reference Spanish newspaper, fired more than 30 per cent of its staff after announcing a dismissal program. The company notified 129 of its workers that they were fired via e-mail the past 10th of November, while many of them were at their positions. The reason of the redundancy was the mismanagement of Juan Luis Cebrián, CEO of El País, according to Maruja Torres, journalist of that newspaper, in a lecture at University of Barcelona: “Cebrián lost 5 billion euro gambling in casino capitalism, buying radios in Miami and Latin-American TVs that were absolutely worthless. He wanted to be a financial shark in Wall Street, but he actually was a little sardine who made everything wrong. He wasted the profits of our work in the adventure of the best newspaper of the Spanish democracy” (2).

In the last years and due to the systemic crisis experienced by this sector, the main newspapers have faced many problems and several of them have been forced to move totally their paper editions to only On-line editions, like Público, another Spanish newspaper, that stopped printing its paper edition a little longer than eight months ago, because of the decrease in its sales. (3) Newspapers financially survive in two ways, one is the income generated from advertisings and the other is from subscriptions. Advertising is at the centre of the debate, because, among other things, is the main source of funding and therefore for the survival of traditional newspapers. As noted in The Economist in its special report called “Bulletins from the future” (4), the bulk of the revenues had descended while at the same time the income of On-line media grew enormously. It is not only that the model of business has changed but also the model of consumption has changed.

The Internet has brought an unprecedented revolution in the way we create, handle and spread information. It has demolished the old methods and has opened unlimited possibilities for the elaboration of a top-quality product with information. Brian Winston (1986, 1998), argues that, in contrast to claims that we are currently in the midst of an ‘information revolution’, the historical development of technologies such as telephone, radio, TV, satellites, computers and Internet are marked far more by continuities rather than epochal transformations. Winston also argues that, insofar as technologies may still contain potential to challenge the dominant pattern of social relations. That it’s what we are seeing in the actual performing of relationship between citizens and journalism, where citizens are acting as journalists contributing content that is published on traditional media.

This form of citizen journalism includes things like publication of photographs or video taken by amateurs who happened to be at the right place at the right time, such as the London bombings in July 2005 or London Riots in 2011. It could also include comment and opinion by a blogger that later appears on a mainstream media news site. Most of the time these people are not paid for their contribution. Citizen Journalism in this context is nearly always contextualized, edited and proofread by professional journalists (Quin & Lamble 2008). The website OhmyNews is one of the pioneers of citizen journalism, having more than 50.000 citizen reporters as of March 2007. Jean Min of OhmyNews International said every story went through an extensive screening and copyediting process before it was published. Although sometimes good quality blog content appears in mainstream media.

The key word is quality. UK journalist Jemima Kiss concedes that the “cream” of bloggers will be experts in their field. “Blogs are often an extension of people’s job or their passions” (5). It is logical that traditional media should seek out their skills, but traditional gatekeepers have important skills that should not be underestimated. Min of OhmyNews concurs: “We believe bloggers can work better with professional assistance from trained journalists. On the other hand, we also believe professional journalists can expand their view and scope greatly with fresh input from citizen reporters. News media as a whole can offer more diverse and rich content to readers by tapping into the wealth of Netizens’ collective wisdom” (Quin & Lamble 2008). However, citizen journalism assume the role of journalists and that necessitates a debate about who is a journalist. Citizen Journalism sites succeed because they are easy and cheap to set up. Salaries are often not an issue because people volunteer their time.

This means these bloggers or citizen reporters don’t want to be journalists, they just want to be heard and respected. (Min 2007) The first form of citizen journalism is likely to continue because traditional media need quality content, and in many cases they are not paying for it. The second form requires energy and passion to sustain itself, and a form of revenue or business model. Arash Amel, a senior analyst for the media analysis company Screen Digest, said “The business model for user-generated sites has been ‘build it and sell it and let someone else worry about the business model’.” News Corp admitted early in 2007 that its Fox movie studio and television content would be more important than home made clips for capturing online video advertising. Screen Digest expects this market to expand for billions before 2012 (Edgecliffe-Johnson and van Duyn 2007).

Bowman and Willis see collaboration as the driving force behind the “explosion of citizen media” as passionate and motivated people produce new forms of media. “The democratization of media has levelled the competitive landscape and forced dramatic changes in the news business (Bowman and Willis 2005: 7). They reject the notion that citizen journalism means the ends of the new media companies or journalism. However, in the last few years, the journalism has been through a lot of troubles because of Internet, but also thanks to the Network and how was changed the pattern of consume information, a lot of possibilities has been disclosed. One of them is “crowdsourcing”. Jeff Howe (2006) was the first person who has coined its definition, he describes crowdsourcing as a process that distribute problem-solving and production model.

In the classic use of the term, problems are broadcast to an unknown group of solvers in the form of an open call for solutions. Users—also known as the crowd—submit solutions. Solutions are then owned by the entity that broadcast the problem in the first place—the crowdsourcer. The contributor of the solution is, in some cases, compensated either monetarily, with prizes, or with recognition. In other cases, the only rewards may be kudos or intellectual satisfaction. Crowdsourcing may produce solutions from amateurs or volunteers working in their spare time, or from experts or small businesses which were unknown to the initiating organization (Howe 2006).

Concluding remarks: the global production of information and mass media is not built over the grounds of objectivity and the quality of a truthful information, as they would make us believe. Journalism in this case is not any different from any other capitalist industry. The production of information follows the laws of political economy, that is to say, the maximization of profits and thanks to that fact the media owners trade freely with information like any other commodity on the market that is at the service of the capitalist system.


AXFORD, HUGGINS 2001, New Media and Politics, Sage Publications, London. BENDER, DAVENPORT, DRAGER, FREDLER 2009, Reporting for the Media, Oxford University Press, Oxford. CASTELLS, Manuel 1996a, The Rise of the Network Society, vol. 1 of The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture, Blackwell, Malden, Mass. – 2001. The Internet Galaxy: Reflections on Economy, Society and Culture, Oxford University Press, Oxford. COTTLE Simon 2003. News, Public Relations and Power, Sage Publications, London. FLEW, Terry 2002, New Media: an introduction, Oxford University Press, Oxford. JONES, SALTER 2012, Digital Journalism, Sage Publications, London. MARX, Karl 1867, Capital, Verlag von Otto Meissner, Hamburg. MOSCO, Vincent 1995, The Political Economy of Communication, Sage, Calif. QUINN, Stephen; LAMBLE, Stephen 2008, Online Newsgathering: Research and Reporting for Journalism, Focal Press, Elsevier, Burllington. SALWEN, GARRISON, DRISCOLL 2005, Online News and the Public, Lawrence WINSTON, Brian 1986, Misunderstanding Media, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London. Erlbaum Associates, Publishers, London. BOWMAN, WILLIS 2005, The Future is Here, But Do News Media Companies See It?, Nieman Reports. Available from: http://www.nieman.harvard.edu/reports/article/100558/The-Future-Is-Here-But-Do-News-Media-Companies-See-It.aspx [cited 2012] EDGECLIFFE, JOHNSON & VAN DUYN 2007, Murdoch is sight of Dow Jones. 21 June 2007. Available from: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/cde8a968-2016-11dc-9eb1 000b5df10621.html#axzz2CPrMqwcR [cited 2012] HOWE, Jeff 2006, The Rise of Crowdsourcing , Wired Magazine. Available from: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.06/crowds.html MIN, Jean 2007. Interview. 29 May 2007. Available from: http://laazotea.blogspot.co.uk/2007/05/entrevista-jean-k-mings-ohmynews.html [cited 2012] CARLING, John. El momento crucial. El País. 10 May 2009. Available from: http://elpais.com/diario/2009/05/10/domingo/1241927553_850215.html [cited 2012] TORRES, Maruja. Preguntes que els periodistes ens hauríem de fer cada

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