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Journalism research wins international award

A research paper co-authored by a School of Social and Political Science academic, Dr Kate Wright, has been named as the most outstanding article published internationally on journalism in 2019.

The article, ‘Foundation funding and the boundaries of journalism’, has won the 2020 Wolfgang Donsbach Award, presented by the Journalism Studies Division of the International Communication Association. It reports the findings of a study looking at how funding by private foundations is inadvertently changing the international journalism it supports.

The study was lead-authored by Dr Martin Scott of the University of East Anglia’s School of International Development, together with Dr Mel Bunce from City, University of London, and Dr Kate Wright, who is the Academic Lead of the Centre for Data, Culture and Society’s research cluster in Media and Communications at the University of Edinburgh. The article is based on a five-year research project, funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Board and the Independent Social Research Foundation.

Published in the journal Journalism Studies in 2019, the researchers found that journalists change the ways they understand, value and carry out their work when supported by organisations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Ford Foundation.

The authors concluded that foundation funding unintentionally reshapes international journalism to favour outcome-oriented, explanatory reporting in a small number of niche subject areas.

Dr Scott said the current coronavirus crisis made it even more important to understand the relationship between journalists and foundations: “The COVID-19 pandemic is threatening the survival of news organisations around the world, even potentially triggering a 'media extinction event' in many countries."

Dr Wright said: “This research shows that, although foundation funding is crucial to the survival of many forms of non-profit journalism, journalists and funders need to be more aware of the unintended consequences of their actions.”

To qualify for the award, articles must have been published in English-language peer-reviewed journals and have made a substantial contribution to the understanding of the ever-changing role of journalism in societies. 

The Chair of the award committee, Dr Matt Carlson, said: “The nuanced picture that emerges is that of journalists shaping their practices to meet both the spoken and tacit demands of their sponsors. The authors connect this to deeper issues of journalistic autonomy in ways that improve our appreciation of how all journalistic practice is contingent on structural forces that ultimately shape what news looks like.

“This study provides an excellent basis for future research on the economics of news, boundary work, and conceptualizations of journalistic autonomy.”

Previous winners of the award have been:

2019: Henrik Örnebring, Michael Karlsson, Karin Fast, Johan Lindell “The space of journalistic work: A theoretical model” in Communication Theory.

2018: Richard Fletcher and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen “Are news audiences increasingly fragmented? A cross-national comparative analysis of cross-platform news audience fragmentation and duplication” in Journal of Communication.

2017: Matt Carlson “Metajournalistic discourse and the meanings of journalism: Definitional control, boundary work, and legitimation” in Communication Theory.

2016: Oscar Westlund and Seth C. Lewis Actors, “Actants, Audiences, and Activities in Cross-Media News Work” in Digital Journalism.

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