AIM
Sixth EU Framework
Programme - Priority 7
 










Short Analytical Study

Alternative Information & Communication Platform

Part A

 

Introductory Analysis

Director of Study and Author:

Gerd G. Kopper

 

Erich-Brost-Institut for Journalism in Europe

University of Dortmund

Germany

2007

 

Content

 

  1. The Study in Context
  2. Background and Context within the AIM Project
  3. Internet Information and the Reporting of Europe
  4. The European Public Sphere and the Reflection of the Internet and its Function in the Reporting of Europe
  5. Alternative Information and Communications Platforms - An Outlook

Literature

 

0. Abstract

This study consists of two parts. Part A puts into a general analytical perspective the working environment of the Internet in view of journalists reporting Europe. The central questions concerns "alternative information and communication platforms", already available or emerging within this sector of work. The findings of the AIM project in general concerning these questions and of a collection of pertinent material collected in Part B of the study are reflected. Included is a debate concerning the implications of Internet based forms of journalism on the discussions concerning a European public sphere.

Part B present the results of an empirical collection of mediating services of information useful within the sector of reporting Europe to be found in the Internet. The search for this material had been based on the reconstruction of information needs of journalists not specializing in European affairs and therefore in need of particularly useful and operationally qualified services. The material was retrieved out of the English, French and German Internet environment. 

 

1. The Study in Context

The study that we have undertaken consists of three steps:

1.1 There has been an empirical pilot study to arrive at a set of mediating services of information useful within the sector of reporting Europe especially for those journalists who are not specialised in European affairs and want to get close to actual information and to background information with the minimum amount of extra searching time and investigative effort to. This collection of material is presented within this report as Part B.   Within this essay (Part A) we will describe the steps of empirical operation.  And we will outline the kind of the position of this type of pilot-research within the overall context of our AIM project ("Adequate Information Management in Europe"). This is the initial chapter "Background and Context within the AIM project".

1.2 In a second step we will try to position the new working environment for journalism reporting Europe in terms of Internet usage within the general context of the reflection that has been the initial aim of the grand-scale project concerning "Adequate Information Management in Europe". This is the chapter "Internet Information and the Reporting of Europe"

1.3 The third step will reflect some insights concerning the fundamental debate about a European public sphere within the context of insights concerning the new approaches with on professional journalism concerning the new universe of information present on the Internet. This is the chapter "The European Public Sphere and the Reflection of the The Internet and its Function in the Reporting of Europe".

1.4 In the fourth and last step we should try to review the insight gained through this pilot project, especially, on the background of the existing scholarly and expert debate concerning the new technological developments within journalism and especially with regard to the services on the Internet. This is the chapter "Alternative Information and Communication Platforms - An Outlook"

 

2. Background and Context within the AIM Project

This study tries to link two elements: on the one hand,  the empirical pilot effort based on a very focused approach of understanding the service quality of information offers for journalism on the Internet, and on the other hand,  the ongoing debate about the impact of the Internet on fundamental questions concerning the European public sphere (EPS).

This study therefore allows a view beyond the empirical field studies of the grand-scale research project. Those studies have focused on classic mass media in terms of their agenda-building power and capacity within Europe. An outlook into pertinent aspects of information and news management based on the Internet, hence seemed, in addition necessary, in this case, in terms of 'adequate research management concerning the reporting of Europe'.

2.1 Introductory Remark

This essay presents an analytical introduction into the results and the main material of a study concerning questions of alternative information and communication platforms in the context of the reporting of Europe - and within the framework of the project "Adequate Information Management in Europe" (AIM) which started in May 2004 and ended in June 2007.

This study, therefore, consists of two parts: Part A offers an introductory analysis and part B presents the collection of websites that are the result of a pilot study to detect the types of information resources available for professional journalism working in the sector of reporting of Europe. The emphasis, here, is on the perspective of journalists not specialized in European affairs.

The initial empirical research was based on the design founded on the working patterns established through the overall AIM project and its series of interviews with journalists, as well as on additional expert interviews. This part A is describing our special project in its essential perspectives. We will convey the major insights and results of the study and, of course, draw some conclusions.

We have arranged the collection of these websites, also, at the end of our project time, for use on the Internet and, there, for the practical handling by journalists working in the field. It had been one of the goals to add an operational and viable instrument based on insights arrived at through the larger  AIM project. The reason to do so is based on the experience during our research and expert debates. It takes enormous time and energy to find the most valuable information source within the universe of the Internet. We had found out, as many find out, all the time, how much energy it takes to distil the valuable type of information, for a given task, when being engaged in practical journalistic work.  Within our study there is additional information available that is based on the answers by the information providers through our survey. Thus, there is, indeed, added value to be returned to the Internet in a very practical manner.

The material of our study includes website with relevance to the reporting of Europe in the English, French, and German language only.  A number of websites invite access in even a wider spectrum of European languages.  The limitation of the research based on the mentioned three languages had only one decisive reason, i.e. the lack of financial and, hence, personnel resources.

The empirical and continuous phase of this study had been during the months of October 2006 to March 2007. A survey was sent out during December 2006. Answers were invited until the end of January 2007. The general input to the study went parallel to the large empirical field studies within the AIM project, i.e. starting from May 2004 onwards.

2.2 Goal of a Study on Alternative Information and Communication Platforms

The fundamental goal of the grand scale AIM project had been to de-construct the invisible machinery (a term we have adapted from Tulloch 1993) that provides daily information and news concerning the decision-making of the European Union and its major institutions. The major regard, therefore, was directed at the sector of the mass media with, still highest impact, i.e. that of newspapers, television and radio. On the other hand the daily and direct information and communication work at the sources, i.e. at the European institutions had been under scrutiny. This way, the implications of information management through Internet-based services were not in the centre of attention.  However, there was a growing necessity, during the course of the large-scale project to better understand the operational value of information placed on the Internet in the context of reporting Europe. The initial vision, when planning the AIM project, had been to arrive at a number of findings concerning practical journalism in the sector of reporting Europe that would allow to conceive, design, and possibly implement alternative information services and, also, new communication platforms. These visions never became real during the major part of the project work because the initial findings in the course of research showed, already, that such a direction would have been rather premature. The amount of structural problems discovered under the auspices of "adequate information management in Europe", as the AIM trailer states it, were much more urgent than individualistic new information and communication designs could have overcome.

The other concurrent major questions of the grand scale project was to better understand the empirical implications of any better understanding of the daily information and news machinery concerning EU-matters in view of the current debate concerning a European public sphere (EPS). This questions can certainly only be partially answered if the general research is primarily oriented after traditional mass media and there type of news management. The side glance on the Internet, thus, also serves to have a look beyond the traditional sector of media information. In view of the small resources available for this parallel study the focus, here, was limited to operational aspects within the practical requirements of that sector of journalism that engages in the reporting of Europe. This way, the scope of the study is limited on purpose. Its main limitation is that of the practical working perspective within journalism engaged in the reporting of Europe.

The platforms that this study has collected and will put into perspective may close some existing information and communication gaps in the European context. It has to be pointed out which these are. Some of these platforms overcome present difficulties within the European information processes.  These are difficulties that cannot be overcome by traditional media. One example is the particular construct of the audience within the set of classical mass media. Here, the Internet overcomes traditional structures and boundaries. Another example is production modes: traditional mass media require exclusive access to production facilities. The kinds of exclusiveness that have existed, and still exist within the traditional mass media, have been overcome by the Internet. This holds, especially true for financial barriers.  This way, the Internet constitutes a completely new sphere of a new type of public. For the general discussion of the fundaments of this epochal turn and of new perpectives there exists a wide-spanning scholarly debate;  cf. Bardoel, (2002), Bimber, Bruce (1999), Blanchard, (2006), Breton, (2000), Dahlberg, (2000), Engel, (2000), Fang, (1995), Flichy, (2001), Gimmler, (2001), Hermes, (2006), Johnson & Kaye (2003), Koopmans & Zimmermann (2003), Loitz (2001), Papacharissi (2002), Plake, Jansen & Schuhmacher (2001), Robinson (2006), Rogg (2003), Smyrnaios (2006), Sternberg (1994), Sung Tae & Weaver (2002). We have added further more specialized literature; again, this list, at the end of this report, only represents a narrow selection within the focus of our study.

Taking the particular advantages of the Internet as open information platform into account it is obvious that it has a general and strong impact on the issue of the European public sphere (EPS). There has already been a long, and impressive debate within the sector of this type of general inquiry. Therefore we can, only, allude to a selection of some key elements within this debate (a much longer list is presented in the attached list of literature): Bennet et al (2004), Calhoun, Craig (ed.), (1992), Curran, James (1991), Dahlgren, Peter (2001), Dahlgren, Peter (2006), Eder, Klaus (2006), Elliott, Philip (1982), Eriksen, Erik O. (2005), Fraser (1992), Garnham (1992, 1993), Gestrich (2006), Habermas (1989, Hanada (2006), Hilton (2000), Kaelble (2002), Kögler (2005), Koopmans, Neidhardt & Pfetsch (2000), McGuigan (2005), Nanz & Steffek (2004), Oliver & Myers (1999), Pellizzoni (2003), Pfetsch (2005), Risse & Van de Steeg (2003), Sparks & Kunelius (2001), Splichal (2006), Thompson (1993), Trenz & Eder (2004), Tulloch (1993), Van de Steeg (2002), Verstraeten (1996),

 

In view of this debate and other research, there is a growing understanding that the Internet will, largely, contribute to an enhancement of  trans-national debates along European themes and issues. One clear indicator of this development is that websites - also in our survey - try to overcome one of the primary and fundamental problems concerning EPS, i.e. the problem of the diversity of languages in Europe.

Furthermore there is a clear indication that  more interactive approaches are on the way. The appearance and flood of Weblogs is just one indicator of this trend. Interactivity has, also, to be seen, as a modus operandi of cross media developments, including telecommunication channels, selected distributive media (e.g. CD and DVD), including a series of hybrid developments, like audio-books, e-reading, TV on mobile phones etc., cf. Danet (2001), Ferber, Foltz, & Pugliese, (2005), Joss, (2002), McClure, (1997), Norris, (1999), Quinn, (2004), Shapiro, (1998), Sousa, (2006), Ursell, (2001).

These new, newest and future platforms will foster a better understanding (information and interpretation) of EU themes and issues. The most decisive two target groups concerning this development are: the media, respectively, the editors and journalists. And it is within their perspective that our study will remain. Of course, the second target group are the information-seeking citizens.

Regarding the first group, alternative information and communication platforms may form a working tool of crucial importance. This holds true, especially, for journalists working on regional and local levels. The study, already, gives some indication that a more direct contact to the European institutions and organisations can be initiated through some of these new services. Furthermore, there is a chance for some expert dialogue between journalists plus editors of various European countries concerning specific regional or local topics, problems, attitudes and opinions within the European reference frame. Thanks to new information technologies (ICT) such future formal or informal networks within professional journalism have a chance to  lead to an exchange of regional-orientated expert knowledge pools - if supported through the proper and well functioning kind of Internet service. There are examples, already, of working models within the area of non-governmental organizations (NGO) relying on this type of service. And there, already, functioning sectors of European journalism participation among these type of information exchanges of NGO. There have even been prize-winning journalistic results being based on such new types of Internet-based and self-organized synergies. From this type of development it is not a very far step to arrive at new types of think-tanks regarding European problem areas and serving as serious exchange and mediating institutions between citizens, NGO and journalism. Some of this, in precursor forms, is already happening at Brussels, however, still, being somewhat detached from the institutionalized forms of the daily information and news machinery, there. Whereas research, so far, has centred on the understanding of the Brussels' press corps and its osmosis with European politics (cf. Baisnée 2001, 2002a, Morgan 1995, including the major emphasis of our AIM project), the study of the emerging new field of information and news operation, as outlined, has not yet really started, or only begun in a subdued manner. Our efforts, within this study, do not claim to be in any kind of launching position; however, the problem under question within this area, hereby, is signalled to be of immediate importance from both perspectives: that of the communicators, and that of journalism. It is, also, of urgent need to be re-considered within the media industry as studies concerning the economy of media correspondence in the age of the Internet, at other posts of international news, have demonstrated (Kopper 2006). 

2.3 The Study and its General Construct

The directive for the initial investigation was based on the kind of investigative search routine that a journalist would be engaged in if, generally, reporting on a European issue. This element of daily work routine had been established during the overall AIM project by a number of observation, but particularly through the series of interviews with practicing journalists. Furthermore a useful platform of material with insight into these investigative routines had been available, on the one hand, through the project concerning journalism training material (Deliverable 10 of the AIM project). And there had been a long history of the leading chair for this study with intense journalism training experience concerning the reporting of Europe, to be of use. Advise as to the major crossroads of investigation was, furthermore, brought in through a survey among the participating teams of the overall AIM project.

As is, usually, the case, the growing collection of Internet sources within this area of investigation augments progressively due to the increasing amount of Internet links accumulating through the very presence of the growing amount of homepages assembled. This surf and search phase extended to about six weeks in total.  At the end a cluster of more than 300 homepages out of the English, German and French speaking universe of the Internet had been collected.  This material was gathered by the research team that, next to its own surfing and searching, collected link lists from journalists, and experts working in the field of European affairs. There had been close to two dozens of such inputs within the early stages of finding selectable material.

In a second round of the study the collection of sources was screened according to four general criteria developed out of a thorough discussion of the possible criteria, also founded on an ongoing dialogue with experts and practicing journalists, to optimize investigative journalism paths on the Internet when reporting Europe. The analytical assumption and central issue of the study had been to better understand the spectrum of alternative information being provided on the Internet and to look after different communication platforms than those provided by classical mass media. This scope, however, had another special focus: the surf and search simulation followed ways and routines not of a specialist, but of a generalist. Furthermore the simulation was based not on the working pattern of a journalist working for some elite medium, but for some mainstream medium or programme and based on only a modicum of transient knowledge of European affairs and insight into the processes of European decision making.  The simulating contours, thus, were set for routines based on journalists working in the field of regional newspapers and/or radio programmes, and on TV magazines more reduced, and less specialized than those of national glitter.

The four criteria for further selection using the initial collection of Internet sources was, thus, based on the simulated re-establishment of an optimizing process within the set of given routines within this segment of professional journalism. This is based on standard behaviour within an editorial working environment relying on technical computer-based instruments and driven by scarce resources of time, spans of item awareness, and topical interest. 


 Optimizing strategy Selective activity 
Credibility of source (Ranking) Eliminating evidently non-credible sources; checking doubtful cases with Y/N in a second round; maintaining sources of opinion only if passing levels 2 to 4. 
Directivity and guidance (e. g. effectiveness of leading to required documents) Eliminating all sources not bound by a modicum of directivity. All sources being in a bad shape of technical maintenance were dismissed. 
Usability (e. g. offer of downloads, usefulness of links offered, easy access procedures etc.) Eliminating all sources with no or almost no extra-value in this category. 
Usefulness (in a broad sense of source value within a journalistic investigation)  Eliminating all offers containing an overload of copies of material available in an operational better fashion at original sources. Eliminating offers with an overload of gross banalities etc. 

The initial cluster of sources (340), this way, had to be reduced to well under 100. Offers that still rewarded some justified doubt in, at least, two of the criteria numbered 2 to 4 (see above table) were kept within the group qualified to be included into the panel. The final presentation of the material displayed in part B is, thus, based on the kind of selective courses, siftings, and screenings that have taken place all along the way.

One essential point of explanation has to be emphasized. The central effort of the empirical operation was not directed at types of content analysis or to arrive at an analytical survey concerning specific criteria. The goal was to establish this type of collection, as a collection in itself. It represents in its present shape a working tool (and in the perspective to be described within this reflective introductory Part A: an alternative platform of information) for practical journalism in view of the standard routines of reporting Europe. It, thus, simulates a generalized working environment within the Internet and one specialized on this type of questions. It is an instrument that could have been developed within every newsroom for the purpose to optimize the knowledge base concerning European matters. This instrument, to be looked at this way, is positioned in contrast to the, still, large area of knowledge deficiency to be detected within journalism quarters concerning Europe (as will be outlined at a later stage within this essay). - It  had turned out during the overall research that this kind of instrumental evidence had been missing, within the scope of the analytical perspectives of the project.  It represents evidence of the fact that there might be barriers to analyse European decision-making, but there are no barriers to become knowledgeable concerning European decision-making.

Based on this background, therefore, it would be of no further use to table measures and calculation out of the handpicked collection of information services. Doing that would invoke difficult methodological problems and questions. The essence of this pilot-project, thus has been to engage in the world of Internet information useful for journalists reporting Europe and to actively compose new Internet information for this target group in a reflective and analytical manner by (a) selecting "in loco", (b) by adding additional information through the electronic survey, (c) by putting the findings of steps a and b into perspectives on the following accounts: (d) the understanding of the working environment Internet for this particular segment of journalism and its development and function in the context of the classical mass media, (e) in the context of questions concerning the European public sphere, and (f) in the context of the scholarly and expert debate, in general.

The survey that was planned at the end of the search and surf phase of the study, was scheduled in the beginning of December 2006 (questionnaires were electronically sent out between December 2 to 12 2006).  The survey was organized in one wave; some staggering, however, was inevitable because of the technical distribution of versions in different languages. A reprint of the questionnaire is reproduced as an appendix to this report.

The return concerning the electronic survey was not larger than one would expect also in a surveys based on posted questionnaires. It did not exceed 20 percent, and it happened to be less than 15 percent within certain language segments ( e. g. German). In cases were no answer was given by the providers minimal relevant information was attached in the display, as could be retrieved directly, through the Internet.

The only observation to be made in terms of the sequence and quantities of return answers was to the effect that smaller and issue-oriented providers were more rapid, and also more precise than, generally, the big players.

A differentiation concerning variants in return in terms of language groups is not possible because of the fact that many providers offer homepages, already, produced as multi-lingual offers.

 

3. Internet Information and the Reporting of Europe

The impression of many experts, foremost among leading journalists working out of Brussels, in fact, is that there exists a European public sphere (EPS), already. This EPS, however, is that within the specially acclimatized zone of people working within and out from the EU political system, including, EU parliamentarians, Commissioners, journalists, industry representatives, the EU institutional staff etc. This is a closely-knit information community representing the entire EU member states including its diverse political and economic and social interests. It is an EPS "in nuce" and, of course, on a somewhat artificial level. Within this community which relies on an extremely high degree of division of labour and on hierarchical administrative working structures, the information based on Internet usage is not worth mentioning because it is part of daily life - even if the individual usage is restricted to personal Email traffic. The organizational environment is constructed in a way to constantly allow for an impregnation by Internet generated information.  

The other end of this scale has also to be taken into account. It became visible within the overall AIM project when the focus during some interview series turned on assessments concerning the training of journalists and on professional knowledge. Despite the existence of the Internet and its magnitude of information services, its opportunities for constant re-learning, for the daily expansion of knowledge and of a multitude of  operational platforms to build up know how - there had been a disastrous demonstrations of plain and maintained ignorance within some quarters of professional journalism working within the sector of reporting Europe.  This implies that the Internet and its options do not automatically serve as  instruments of  professional progress.

The demonstrations during the interviews were based on the fact that one of the central elements of any type of initial training of journalists with regard to European reporting is to arrive at a balanced point of view of the fundaments and processes of the European Union. This is, definitely, something much different from sheer factual knowledge of the existing institutions or of procedural terminology used in European politics. This initial and fundamental element of training is tied in with an important measure of journalistic understanding of weights of importance and of a basic capability of gauging newsworthiness. There are many more elements of know involved to form a minimum competence within this special sector of reporting Europe.  - One expert radio journalists gave a number of examples which made evident that even among senior journalists, e. g. during round table discussions, there exists an unbelievable lack of this kind of fundamental procedural knowledge and competence. The key examples given were: ignorance concerning the comparative scale of the budget of the European Commission in view of that of countries like France, Estonia or Malta.  Another example was the number of the workforce within the European Commission by comparison with that of large communities like London, Paris, or smaller ones like Cologne, Stockholm etc. Many more examples referring to similar types of background and contextual ignorance were stated.  These insights into some grey segments of the trade of journalism involved in European affairs has a direct bearing upon questions concerning alternative information and communication platforms. A vision of those and their possible future effectiveness often leaves out the human implications of which an estimate had been made clear by given examples.

The interviews with expert journalists, both at the national editorial level as well as at Brussels, have indicated that there exist massive and, foremost, negative feedback cycles based on the outlined  kind of  ignorance and knowledge deficits and lack of competence, obviously, not be repaired - even not through the ever present accessibility of the Internet and its mega-magnitude of  available, and even special information, not the least concerning European affairs.

A large number of stereotypes concerning EU politics, this was restated several times during the interview series of AIM,  are constantly recycled within European journalism because of  persisting and prevailing ignorance on the part of the journalists. The angular degree of cucumbers or bananas, thus, supposedly is considered as an indicator of the outrageous absurdities only a bureaucracy like that of the EU can arrange for. This was demonstrated as  one of the perennial living stereotypes, mainly, repeated by journalists who on the grounds of their professional ethics, should be better informed and should actively seek more of the truth.

To put matters straight, at this instance: the introduction of standard trade classification also for fruit and vegetable within all EU member states, in fact, served as an obvious liberation from more than a dozen widely differing and much more complicated trade standardizations on the national level. European trade classifications in this area, actually, served as an initiative to more forceful competition with ensuing price advantages for the consumer. As clear as these facts are, they evidently never enter into the repertoire of journalistic competence within some quarters of the trade - so we learned from journalists.

One impression brought about by the sum of all interviews with journalists during the project is very strong: there does not exist a universal approach concerning the solidifying of background information. And this does not exist despite the pervasiveness of the Internet and its information richness.

One could detect, moreover, an outspoken, in many cases, formulated hesitancy with regard to concepts, ideas and models of any kind of journalism training. In the case of the use of the Internet, however, to reduce knowledge and information deficits, training would not be the proper word to apply. The use of the Internet would, simply, be equivalent to the reaching out for a dictionary or thesaurus. Obviously, neither one happens - according to some of the descriptions within the professional milieu.  With this dark note on the use of the Internet we should like to introduce the contextual reflection on a somewhat modest stance.

Another observation during the project interviews has been a remarkable difference of usage habits concerning the Internet among different segments within the corps of correspondents working out of Brussels. There are at least two large and different groups in this respect. Journalists working within the higher ranking institutions of the national media systems depend much more on the direct exchange within their international peer groups and with direct sources of the EU institutions. Journalists working as free lancers, however, rely much more on the Internet. The Internet in this way also serves as a substitute for deficiencies in the degree of  access to sources. This is an observation to be made in many segments of foreign correspondence; the same phenomenon has been studied in detail in a news capital like Washington, D.C., where European correspondents are completely derived from direct access to higher ranking direct sources and therefore depend on the Internet to an extraordinary degree (cf. Kopper 2006). 

The sector of journalism that is engaged in reporting Europe has, from the very advent of new technical instruments within this special information sector, be it in the segment of databank development or with regard to the Internet,  been using these special instruments and closely following the latest developments. There have been phases and trends especially characteristic for certain era of development within this sector. To mention a few of such phases: before the advent and the popularity of the World Wide Web (www) user surface for Internet usage, and still in the era of Gopher a number of actual databanks had been geared especially to questioning segments attached to European reporting. One of those professional databanks had been a service by the Financial Times; also Reuters provided special databank generated reporting tools with an emphasis on Europe, and there were others. The School of Journalism at the University of Stockholm offered, as one of the first training institutes in Europe a special introductory course in the use of these types of electronic databanks during the first half of the 1990s.

Another trend had been the widespread use of information graphics,  that could be collected through electronic services. Some of these services were operating world wide and used special Internet access protocols, years before the advent of www-services (e. g. Knight-Ridder). One of the early projects of a trans-national and pan-European type of journalism, at that time, had been developed under the tutelage of  the, later infamous, Robert Maxwell. He started "The European",  a competition publication project against the New York Herald Tribune and its reign as a trans-national daily pan-European source of elite information. The editorial concept of "The European", when it started in the early 1990s, included a strong emphasis on info-graphics. This type of  production line, had to rely on quick and easy access to electronic picture and map resources, on new types of software, and, also, on new perspectives in journalism itself, geared to ICT processes and sources. 

Before the widespread introduction and transfer of almost all information services into www-user packages, and, of course, before the gigantic success stories of some singular web searching facilities, during the late 1990s, the professional electronic information services used within the sector of reporting Europe of European journalism had been rather secluded and high-priced specialists' instruments. The rate of penetration of these type of services within the European media world, thus, had remained rather limited. This holds true also for the kind of information services provided by the European institutions during that era. The use of legislative documentation services of the EU e. g. required additional data bank know how, and there were training courses given for this type of information access, also for journalists (cf. Bender 1997 on some of the history).  It is on this historical background which spans only a bit more than one decade that one has to assess the kind of impact that has been taking place by the ease, the usability, the spectrum of offers, and the sheer vastness of information resources that, at present, are available for the daily work of a professional journalist reporting Europe.

A closer look into the production structures of professional journalism within the sector of reporting Europe, thus, has to clearly broaden its view to include the massive and most dynamic tools that complement and even substitute classic mass media information instruments and investigative traditions. It has to be acknowledged, furthermore, that the technical development within the Internet is constantly progressing.  One indicative example is the advent of Web logs (Blogs) which entered into professional and scholarly debate around the year 2001/2002 (Blood 2002; Hourihan 2002, Chapman 2003, Matheson 2004b; Lowry 2006). This new type of interactive presentation of individualized information and its immense spread on the Internet and within the professional information sphere during a period of just a few years, changed the existing scenario of information access, information evaluation, and information usage especially within professional journalism working within international relations to a remarkable, and mostly, unforeseen degree.  The dynamics induced by technical progress is, evidently, constantly on the increase, putting a growing pressure on editorial staff members to accommodate and adapt to new methods.  An empirical survey in 2003 out of a European editorial office (Denmark) states:

"Thus, the major changes in the skills profiles for (name of the newspaper here deleted - GGK = ***) journalists is the ability to act more as librarians. More specifically, journalists need to enhance their information search skills and their archiving skills. In contrast to just 10 years ago, there is a vast amount of information available to journalists, and only those journalists who are able to sort and arrange this information in an intelligent manner will be able to write good articles. The journalistic staff has already developed ICT skills to enable them to search the internal and external databases and use the internal filing systems. However, the internal competence development is not something that has had a high priority at (***). Employees have had to learn 'by doing', and this has created several problems for (***) (especially in the editorial office)." (EMCC 2003b)

The changes of structures and frameworks within the working environment of journalism have been tremendous during the last thirty years. The pressures to conform to the new challenges, routines and technical requirements have concentrated within increasingly smaller increments of time available to adapt. There is no doubt possible that elementary parts of the deficiencies to be discovered within the section of reporting Europe relate to these types of changes that have created problems not being solved over a long stretch of time. 

 

4. The European Public Sphere and the Reflection of the Internet and its Function in the Reporting of Europe

One of the major roles of the Internet in the modern media world is to equalize and to homogenize the information horizons that exist inside the editorial office and among the corresponding offices and, of course, also among the news agencies themselves and the agencies and their media clientele. Everybody responsible in whatever journalistic function does know that the other one depending on him within the routine news production process or in responsibility for others and production decisions has much more insight into the information universe world wide - and much more so on equal accounts.

There exist three major effects based upon these new implications of the use of the Internet.

The first one is a tremendous increase of awareness of events and triggering moments of the news process, in general, on all parts involved. The major effect, hence, is an increased momentum of attention and of pressure to follow in line, of positioning of the daily product. This, again, might lead according to prevailing competition strategies into more mainstream production within a majority element of the news media, or it might lead into more differentiation and a broadening of the overall spectrum of the news offer. These effects depend very much on structural, economic and also historic fundaments within the national media systems in Europe. 

The second effect resides in the increase of the production speed for certain strata of quality of the news product. The services available on the Internet for the news managing journalists allow referencing, precision work and investigation on the spot and within minutes and hours, instead of days and weeks. The major outcome, however, of this workplace revolution is, normally, to let one journalist do the work that some years earlier would have required much more division of labour, longer production spans and, thus, in economic terms, more human resources for the same amount of output. In this way, the Internet triggers a, mostly, hidden type of rationalization within the news production lines. Since there does not exist any kind of qualified controlling based on the journalistic work processes within the European media industry - other than in the USA - these effects have not even entered the status of professional reflection. In some areas of the industry, these underlying changes, are more or less handled as a sort of taboo topic (cf. Kopper 2004). 

The third effect of the functioning systems based on the Internet within the daily news production processes are those of a growing sophistication on the part of the interest groups and power players that are able to provide excellent Internet information services very much triggered at the demand of the news community, including the large segment of professional journalists. New and subtle mechanism of campaigning information, or of the spinning of information details, and of gearing long term attraction to information services that are based on singular interests have come into existence with an increasing impact on the daily work of the news staff in the media. A counterbalancing effort, so far, is only slightly visible under the guise of some blogs, discussion fora and voices of continuous media criticism in some European countries. These elements of critical reflection, though, constitute a seed of journalism training, as well. 

It is interesting to note that in the very beginning of the scholarly, empirically founded debate about a European public sphere (EPS) in the early 1990s, and based on traditional mass media and their functioning within this context, the implicit rigorism of a pointed theoretical model of EPS was early detected. A context-oriented concept (Trenz 2002) introduced during this discussion, took account of language diversity in Europe among its national journalism systems and among  its cultures will prevail as substantial invariants of the European unification process. These less rigorous concepts, thus, accommodated the functioning moments of EPS within these national prerequisites of Europe in view of the classical mass media systems. In view of the present situation of large scale accessibility of Internet services from whatever part of Europe and of the entry into a vast spectrum of mass media content through the Internet, and of the fact that European websites have grown to present their content in a minimum of two to three, and sometimes more than ten languages, those arguments of the old days of the debate look rather outdated - taken from the Internet perspective and its growing amount of acting and interacting spheres (Web 2.0, the blogosphere, videoblogging etc.). 

One has to underline the differences in the development and undercurrents of the debate on EPS with regard to their specific origin, i.e. whether these (a) are attached to theories, functional analysis and empirical evaluations based on the classical mass media or whether there is (b) a reliance on the Internet, its technologies, and specific developments. If one follows, for one moment, the perspective of an acting European parliamentarian and his view on the former debate (type a), one is confronted with a startling amazement on the part of the practitioner of European politics. This puzzlement is induced by the fact that in the early scholarly debate on EPS researchers arrived at mutually exclusive analysis based on the same kind of empirical material (Kuhne 2001). To overcome such contextual barriers and to arrive at a much more pragmatic understanding of EPS a proposal based on given political practice concerning political decision-making has been introduced into the debate (ibid.) that shall be introduced here in view of the present debate concerning the Internet and its effects on the EPS debate (which was not at the origin of the given lecture).

The purpose to do so is to show that - in retrospect concerning arguments on the establishment of EPS that were based on classical mass media - there has been a considerable gap of perspectives, first of all. A gap in terms of the scholarly discussion which, still, ranges very much in the forefront of the European debate, on the one hand, and that of the practical politician being directly involved in the processes of the practice of EPS and to a degree, also, dependent on the functioning of some EPS. We use, therefore, this staggered action concept, as derived within European practical politics and further developed in view of possible alternative information and communication platforms.

The essential  general steps in the European communication process constituting  EPS, as seen from the point of view of active European political decision-making (shared group concept provided by  a member of the European Parliament):

 

(Member of European Parliament -MEP- concept (ibid.):


Step Description of Actions Contextual Analysis 
The communication has to be addressed at a supranational European institution, or such an institution should be at the origin of a message.  This is the primary and fundamental criterion of news selection (also used within the overall AIM project). It is, notwithstanding, also the daily basic selection criterion for the Brussels' correspondents. 
Public discussion within highly specialized networks of European communication (but without mass media activity).  This step takes care of the particular quality of the political process within the European institutions: long preparatory phases, involving all member governments, European interest groups, experts and involving a complex process of networked deliberation. 
Mass media communication within a national media system.  This is considered to be the basic ignition and triggering element of a public debate in the sense of a public sphere involvement. 
Mass media communication within more than one national media system (but not necessarily in a synchronous manner, or based on similar priorities concerning issues and items).  The preemptive consideration here constitutes a big divide of thinking among, on the one hand, political pragmatists, and on the other hand, scholarly experts. There is a measure of understanding within some scholarly sectors that EPS might directly occur, already, as a sum of all results ending at step C. 
Bi-national interaction among the media systems and journalism of the countries involved, based on a minimum of attention and relevance concerning item under debate (with regard to empirical research this minimum would have to be standardized).  This step takes into consideration one fundamental element within the European political process, i.e. conflict of interests, trans-national disputes, supportive action among member states etc. One essential element in this perspective is to remove the accumulation of public interest from Brussels/Strasburg - in the sense of a monopoly location - to the trans-national level concerning public awareness. 
Some spreading of the communicative interaction within Europe beyond the public debate within the mass media systems of mentioned two countries.  This step sets a final hurdle for the establishment of EPS effects: an intra-media debate will not suffice, in the end. There has to be a minimum spill over into the daily discourse, at least, of interested quarters of the entire population. 

Taking the spectrum of services and the usage patterns of the Internet into account it would enhance the functional insight to go back to the political action oriented concept of EPS (called the MEP-concept). If one includes present-day service, information and communication qualities on the Internet into the steps (A-F) outlined earlier, then, one will see how closely this type of action characteristic serves the prerogatives of the political action concept of EPS as well as the inherent (inter-)action options available through Internet techniques.

Some years ago the author of this study introduced the heuristic concept of the "news prism" into the debate about reporting Europe (Kuhne 2001) to strongly focus arguments concerning the professional news management on the principal and elementary insights into the news business which, necessarily, also holds true for European news items. The "news prism" symbolizes the essential selection and awareness modalities on the receiver side. The number one determining element of news selection is "identity".  By positioning him-/herself  in a particular "identity" - citizen of suburb A, driver of mini car, taxpayer, local clerk etc. - the spectrum, strength, and foci of  a set of interests are activated. News that fails to trigger minimal reactions within the spheres of interest determined by the "identity" reflector, will not enter at all.  The second reflective side of the "news prism" is "closeness", in a material, as well as in an abstract understanding. The sheer material distance of a news item might lead to a complete failure of reception. The triggering energy in such a case is, simply, too low. This might also hold true for more abstract measures of closeness vs. distance. European items, by there very nature, have a general tendency to fail reception because they lack "closeness".

The third side of the "news prism" is given by "sense"  (i.e.: does an item of news make sense to me?), this comprises a vast array of categories, normally based on a particular daily life of a citizen and its essentials, in social, economic and cultural terms.  As long as European news items are not produced in a way to adapt to the strict simplicity of this basic "news prism" the effectiveness and impact will be immensely low. All available data concerning audience research show this common laggardness of European news material on the general national appreciation scales. We are mentioning this because within professional quarters, among politicians as well as journalists, the simple wisdom of the "news prism" is immediate and secure immanent knowledge. It is often, only with regard to European news material, that some general wishful thinking asks for exceptions to the basic rules of news reception. And, of course, there are exceptions in the general material, in this case, exceptions re-instating the rule; one example has been the issue of roaming charges for mobile telephony within Europe raised in 2006. This was an item with all the prerequisites of total bouncing reflection within the news prism. 

Taking the elementary news management profile into account comprised within the heuristic formula of mentioned news prism a pragmatic horizon concerning information services on the Internet becomes visible. The three most effective functional elements of the general news presentation in the media are especially prone to Internet services that come 'close' to the users, that develop direct 'sense' and build on 'identity'.  These type of services have, recently, not grown in the news, but rather in the entertainment sphere. Through these kind of developments, however, it becomes even clearer that there is  news and information services, obviously, have not arrived at designs within the Internet that provide news prism qualities which work tremendously successful within the online entertainment world.

 

5. Alternative Information and Communication Platforms - An Outlook

Through new types of mediating services on the Internet new bridges have been put into practice binding together spheres of information that have, hitherto, been separate. The spheres that interest us within this study are those, on the one hand, of professional journalism and on the other hand those of European information stemming from individuals, groups, interest circles and from a broad spectrum of organisations of diverse backgrounds that provided mediating services for the general public that since recently had been coming into use by professional journalism as well. It is this type of information that formerly has been kept far away from the daily operation of the classical mass media. The main reason had been that mass media felt secure in terms of information import by three types of sources, mainly, and with almost no exception.  The sources where (a) news agencies, (b) input by the home or correspondents' staff, (c) press releases and press conferences. Due to the Internet this kind of resistance concerning the spectrum of sources has eventually been undermined and intensely broadened (Downey & Fenton 2003).  Increasingly the kind of content quality also of traditional mass media is relying on Internet services within an expanded scope.  This is to an essential part also because of the fact that major traditional mass media have built up and invested in their own online facilities and in a plurality of Internet services.  This way a new type and a new gallery of competition have been created along some of the standard criteria of the media business.  Some of these major criteria incur measures of quality like actuality of the news, background documentation, cross media enrichment, avenues for interactivity -and, in the end of course, measures of economic productivity like advertising revenue to be brought about in combination with the new services. Thus there is a growing attention to the kind of information being offered through the Internet by the professional staff of classic media.  And of course this holds true also for European information within the segment of reporting Europe (cf. example: Downey &Koenig).

Thus the type and structure of the information process underlying the daily business of the mass media in Europe has changed completely through the Internet, as is the case worldwide.  The traditional mass media still try to keep apart from the world of the Internet on the level of their self-conceptualisation and vision of their high ranking public and legitimate role.  This way they try to maintain their exceptional position of being responsible for the agenda of the day. However, the machinery of daily news processing is much more influenced by online services as we have outlined than is being accepted in many responsible quarters of the mass media industry in Europe. The simple monopoly of some of the leading media, including news agencies, to set the agenda, is crumbling and is gone already in a number of sectors.  One of these sectors evidently is the use of information concerning European decision-making.  Here the scope of actors has enormously expanded.  A new set of types of information mediators has emerged. 

These new types of services are not all situated in the sector of professional journalism as our survey shows.  Many of these services, nevertheless, provide quality information by very knowledgeable individuals and groups. The mere fact that this is the case is made evident by the kind of co-operation that exists among some of the services and professional journalism - especially in cases of some profound need for investigation.  Some of these new mediating services operate in the role of specialists within certain areas of trust also for the general mass media. These areas are for instance environmental questions, energy issues, security questions etc.  and it is obvious that the number of these specialist areas are those with increasing importance of European decision-making.

These changes of background and structure within the sector of professional journalism, hence, implies that the concept of professionalism has to be reconsidered not exclusively from within the traditions of journalism (discussed in: Aldrige & Evetts 2003) but from the structural elements of the information processes underlying the institutional design of sources.  And there is a growing necessity, also, to increasing new understanding of the important elements of technical distribution and content presentation.

Concerning the background of the structural analysis of reporting Europe one of the essential insights at the beginning of the 1990s has been the discovery of national journalism cultures and finding out that these particular cultures form the essential framework of waves and modes of reporting.  This insight went very much at the detriment of some early concepts of understanding the European public sphere.  The new insight in terms of the reporting of Europe in the beginning of the new century, however, is based on the discovery of net cultures (Arns 2000).  The essential vision concerning this new type of universe of information, of course, led to further questioning of the fundaments and processes of a European public sphere.  On the background of the new dimension of netcultures a new insight became prevalent.  There where new kinds of barrier-free and cross-media ways of information access established. And completely new forms of usage and distribution of information emerged within unforeseen carriers of connectivity.  It is on this background that, in fact, numerous new options for alternative forms of journalism came into being.  Those alternative forms go much beyond established kinds of perspectives (Atton 2003).

The fact that Internet services and platforms operate within a complete and different kind of universe and within an environment of much lesser public control than has been tradition within the sphere of classical mass media, also serves as an invitation for fringe kind of types of journalism (cf. Atton 2006).  This is, of course, also an element to be taken into consideration when discussing options of the Internet within this sector of reporting Europe.  These fringe kinds of opinion and information service have already become visible.  And they have become enriched and thus developed attractively through the new techniques of multimedia and cross media like for instance through the implementation of new types of illustration by video.

The options of universalistic use of information on the Internet (Baecker 2000), furthermore, invites, again, many new forms of networking of innovative type that enormously expand the quantity and quality of material available for journalism in general and, also, within the requirements of reporting Europe. An insight into this new phenomenon has been made possible through this study.  And it has to be taken into account that our presentation, for reasons outlined, constitutes a highly selective and, on purpose, rather small spectrum within just three language dimensions of Europe, and composed for the specific use among non-specialized journalists.

The proportion of impact these new developments in the Internet have on the establishment of a new kind of framework, also, of discussions of the European public sphere, is remarkable.  There are two different poles to be observed concerning this development. One is to be seen within the context of the working environment of journalism in general but with an emphasis on the local and regional level within Europe. It is especially on this level that there has been an increasing high pressure during recent years in the direction of fundamental structural changes.  The integration of new modes of journalistic work based on Internet services has had an enormous repercussions especially within this type of journalism (cf. Baas & Raven 2006a, 2006b). It is from this area within the sphere of journalism that the professional position of the Internet within the daily work of general journalism will substitute large segments of former functions and processes.  And it is on the other hand and to be observed from the second pole that the advance of news sources and services on the Internet for instance in the field of European affairs will undermine the traditions of general journalism substantially. Some elements of this process already under way can be detected in the grand scale research done within the AIM project.

There has been for quite some time a particular vision of European information in terms of the type of information that is applicable generally within Europe to represent essential aspects of European decision-making.  One example of this initial modern vision of European information has been developed within the institutional framework of organisations like "Euronews" (cf. Baisnée & Marchetti 2000). The major ingredients of this type of design of European information have been attached to the supposition of a general interest concomitant with the development of a European Union.  However, there have been repercussions concerning this concept realistically to be followed by the conflicts and debates  concerning the daily process of any possible European public sphere. The kind of European information that has been underlying these first concepts of European journalism are very much tied in with the kind of understanding prevalent among European leading elites.  Political journalism in this sense in fact is bound by interests that supersede the national spheres of interest on the one hand, however, will never exclusively remain unattached of national interests. It is from a critical understanding of this inherent and practical element of European information that a number of questions arise for instance in terms of the elements  of political journalism in general at the level of the European Union (cf. Baisnée 2002). And it is on the background of this debate that information services on the Internet arrive at a unique and incomparable position. These sources and services can never be taken into account just on the singular basis as is the case with traditional mass media organisations.  These services, on the contrary, constitute always one fraction of a holist component made solely and independently up through pertinent usage - on a minute by minute basis.

The element of interactivity (Ferber, Foltz, Pugliese 2005, Hujanen & Pietikäinen 2004, Massey & Levy 1999) that now has become one of the moving elements of development within the Internet furthermore constitutes a sphere of information usage and of new types of communication that cannot be matched by traditional mass media and their traditional components of usage patterns.  The former visions of interactivity based on media like television (cf. Barberio & Macchiatella 1992) have not gained much impact.  And the new forms of interactivity like (Bausch, Haughey & Hourihan 2002, Blood 2002, Hourihan 2002, Lowry 2006, Matheson 2004a, 2004b,Pedley 2005) had an impact within the world of media and politics that went much beyond the visions of interactivity of the early 1990s. It is on this background that there is a need for some analysis of the number of functional concepts in the understanding of politics like for instance mediation (Bennet & Entman 2001).

The grand scale project of AIM  - and other research (cf. Berkel 2006) within the context of a better understanding of the European public sphere - has shown that one of the essential triggering elements of information impact in Europe, and coming close to an existing European public sphere, is conflict. And it is in line of this insight that some new notions concerning the concept of the European public sphere emerge.  It becomes clear to what extent the news sphere of the Internet (Dahlberg 2000) is really different in terms of European information from that of the traditional mass media. Looking at the role of conflict and at the forms of impact of conflict reporting in Europe it is obvious that the public is largely generated through classical mass media (cf. Curran 1991).  And it is with this in mind that the differences concerning the spheres of the public in terms of reporting Europe between, on the one hand, the traditional mass media (cf. Dahlgren 1995) and, on the other hand, the Internet can be differentiated (Dahlberg 1998) following empirical criteria: an analysis of conflict reporting within these differences and crisscrossing them provides a picture of the clear-cut difference of public position, but also of the increasing intermingling of information and news among these two separate spheres (cf. for methodological discussions: Oliver, Myers 1999, Dahlberg 2001a, 2001b).

Professional journalism is based on types of information selection routines that clearly show through as social constructs if being deconstructed in analytical manner (demonstrated e.g. by Bennett, Pickard, Lozzi et al. 2004). There is a typical order to things taken up by journalists, and then processed in a typical and routine manner (Kopper 2005b). The Internet and its world of information counteracts these traditional construction patterns inherent in professional journalism.  The weakness of the Internet and its sphere of information on the other hand is quite evident by the fact that a pattern, a system or a way of construction is not available for the information spread out within the entire sphere of information. The structural help in use is based on algorithms supplied by a few search-machines. This type of structural perspective is an extreme opposite to the ways, practices and systems of information structuring used by the mass media. It is because of this inherent type of non-structured information that their is still a hesitant attitude concerning the Internet and its information options - at least, to be remarked within the working quarters of journalism reporting Europe. The newly spreading wave of journalistic blogs  recreates a measure of the old systematic of information structure of the world of the traditional mass media back to the sphere of the Internet. Many interviews during the field studies of the AIM project have made visible the kind of ambiguity of journalists vis à vis the Internet. There is an appreciation of the Internet concerning some few and selected services. The added value of information on the Internet is, this way, primarily seen in connection to a direct instrumental advantage within the daily work routine. It is on this background that the goal of our study has to be seen. It offers direct and instrumental added value to the daily work in the reporting of Europe. But there is a second goal attached to it. The optimizing of this type of reporting, and any measure  within "adequate information management  in Europe" has to reflect the alternative information and communication platforms that are emerging - and are in a stage of further and fast development.

 

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Appendix

Reprint of the Questionnaire Sent out to a Selected Panel of  Website Providers  within the Area of Reporting Europe

Dear Sir or Madam,

Your online publication (URL) was shortlisted by us for an international scientific investigation funded by the European Commission.

In the context of the project "Adequate Information Management in Europe" (AIM, http://www.aim-project.net), a study in co-operation with ten European research institutes, we analyze information platforms about European topics, being complementary or additional to traditional media.

Our investigation focuses on the perspective of journalists, working on a regional or local level, and their demand of EU-specific information.

In order to analyse and categorize your service, we would like to ask you a few questions. Answering them should not consume more than ten minutes of your time. Please insert your answers directly beneath the questions.

Thank you very much for your support!

1) When has your service been established?

2) Which is the main target group?

3) How many visitors and page hits are you counting in average on a monthly basis?

4) What are your sources of information? (If this question is too extensive: Which are the five most important sources?)

5) How often do you update your site?

6) How many authors contribute to your site? Please differentiate between  employees, paid freelancers and volunteers.

7) Which additional services such as Blogs, Newsletters, Chatrooms are you offering to your users?

8) Do you offer any other, non-internet-based services to your readers? (Like SMS, magazines, traditional mailings)

9) If you offer services that require a user registration - how many registered users do you have?

10) Do you plan to introduce new interactive features in the nearer future? In case you do - what kind of?

11) How is your service financed? (For example: Proportion of income through advertisement, subscription fees, sponsorship...)

12) Short self-description: How would you characterize your offer in three sentences?

13) Do you wish a closer connection - and in case you do with which emphasis - to the information centres of the European Commission?

The results of our investigation will be forwarded to you if desired. If you have further questions, please contact (Name) (email), who compiles this survey.

We are very grateful for your cooperation.

Best regards,

(Name)

Scientific Head of the AIM Project

 

The AIM Project Survey

Erich-Brost-Institut für Journalismus in Europa GmbH

Wissenschaftszentrum an der Universität Dortmund

Otto-Hahn-Str. 2

D-44227 Dortmund

Tel.  (Number) (Name)

Fax:  (Number)

Tel.  (Number) (switchboard)