chapter
12 Pages

Introduction: From mediation to mediatization

The relationship between news and politics is considered intrinsic to democratic life. After all, news is routinely made up of political actors and parties, a place where their decisions, actions and motivations are most likely to be featured. Since most people in advanced Western democracies rely on the news to understand the world, politics is largely understood by what appears in it, whether learning about a new health policy, an imminent war happening or a politician resigning. Of course, citizens can personally interact with their elected representatives at town halls, say, or constituency surgeries and campaign events. Or by other means, such as writing, emailing or “tweeting” their thoughts and concerns to politicians. But while there are opportunities for citizens to meet and greet politicians,

for the vast majority of people politics remains a largely mediated experience, something they do whilst watching television, listening to the radio, reading the newspaper or browsing online. More recently, citizens have been encouraged to participate in news formats, be part of this experience and inform news content, such as being an audience member of a TV programme, writing a letter to a newspaper or commenting upon a Facebook wall. Yet again the vast majority remain satisfied with watching, reading or listening to the news, rather than making or shaping it. In other words, most citizens in advanced Western democracies live in mediated democracies, engaging with and being informed about politics by competing news outlets. Put simply, most citizens rely on the news to tell them what is happening in the world of politics. The ability for news outlets to control and influence how politics is medi-

ated has been brought into sharper focus by scholars over recent decades and is reflected by their respective book titles. So, for example, Mediated Politics (Bennett and Entman 2001) andMediating Politics (Washbourne 2010) explored – from a range of perspectives – how contemporary political communication is shaped by an ever-expanding landscape of mainstream and alternative media. Mediated Access (McNair et al. 2003), meanwhile, examined political debates in broadcast news programming and how they are structured to allow audience members to participate. The Mediation of Power (Davis 2007), by contrast, focused on political and media actors, unpacking the forces that construct

the presentation of politics. Likewise, The Mediated Presidency (Farnsworth and Lichter 2006) charted the relationship television news has had in representing past presidents of the United States (US). And there are many, even broader inquires, from Mass-Mediated Terrorism (Nacos 2007) to Mediated Cosmopolitanism (Robertson 2010), that have interpreted political issues through a mediated prism. Taken together, all these studies and many more aim to understand how politics is defined by an increasing range of news media. However, in more recent years it has been claimed the term mediation has

only limited conceptual use and application. As Lundby (2009a: 13) observed, mediation is a “general concept applied to acts and processes of communication with technical media … [but] will not, in the long term, transform institutional practices and modes of social interaction”. Likewise, Mazzoleni (2008) has argued that defining “politics as ‘mediated’ is a simple truism, in that communication and mass media are necessary prerequisites to the functioning of political systems”. In other words, mediation is viewed as being a more descriptive than analytical concept, scratching at the surface of media power and influence. To gain a deeper insight, it is argued a more holistic grasp of the relationship media have with key institutions in society is required. As a consequence, the concept of mediatization has gained greater purchase

in academic debates. It is used to explore the antecedents of media power and influence in respect of impacting or transforming wider society in areas such as religion, art, culture, politics, fashion or marketing (see Hepp 2013a; Hjarvard 2008, 2013; Lundby 2009b). This is in recognition of the suffusion of media culture into almost every facet of people’s lives and routines, taking on the role other institutions previously had in building social relationships. As Livingstone (2009: 5) has pointed out, “today … the media not only get between any and all participants in society but also, crucially, annex a sizeable part of their power by mediatizing – subordinating – the previously-powerful authorities of government, education, the church, the family, etc”. But in exploring the mediatization of different aspects of society or culture, it can be sometimes difficult to ascertain with any kind of substance where and how a mediatizing process has taken place, meaning the concept can appear somewhat elusive, a broad historical transition rather than something empirically transparent. Indeed, Livingstone (2009: 5) has cautioned that “The question of how far the power of traditional authorities has in fact been annexed by the media is an empirical one as yet unresolved”. The aim of News and Politics is to shed empirical light on mediatization

debates by examining the changing nature of news and, more specifically, political reporting over recent decades. In doing so, the intention is to enter into debates about the mediatization of politics, an increasingly popular scholarly pursuit in journalism studies and political communication studies that, put broadly, interprets how far media shape how politics is practised (Mazzoleni

2 Introduction

and Schulz 1999; Strömbäck 2008). It is viewed as a necessary conceptual tool to understand the changing political landscape because, as Mazzoleni (2008) has pointed out, “politics and the way it is performed and communicated have been widely affected by the rise of mass media between the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries. Such media-driven influence in the political environment is the core of the concept of mediatization.” This influence manifests itself in an underlying media logic, a driving force that – it is claimed – alters the behaviour of political actors and coverage of political news. Media logic, in other words, is shaped by the norms and routines of journalists as opposed to the principles and priorities of politicians. Moreover, it is driven by a media format subject to professional, commercial and technological demands that, taken together, influence the practise of politics (Altheide and Snow 1979; Esser 2013a). The primary focus taken in this book is to explore a specific format of news –

the television news bulletin, the most consumed form of news in most countries spanning many decades – and to empirically ask whether its underlying logic has changed the way news generally and politics specifically is reported over time. However, when interpreting media logic, ‘the media’ tend to be viewed as a singular force, rather than a medium that offers multiple ways of influencing the process of mediatization. Or, put differently, a shared media logic exists. And yet, as Lundby (2009a: 113) has suggested, “The sweeping concept of ‘media logic’ hides… the constraints of specific formats and the transformations that are shaped in concrete social interactions and communication processes”. In respect of understanding a shared logic in news media, there are of course competing and contrasting ways in which the structure, form and style of journalism operate to produce, amongst other things, political news. But this is largely accepted in the mediatization of politics literature because, as Strömbäck et al. (2011) explain, mass media is seen as a system or institution. They suggest that while “different media organizations and their formats, practices and contents constitute the building blocks of this overall system … the sum is greater than its parts, and the norms and logic(s) that govern the media overall are considered more important than what distinguishes one media over another” (Strömbäck et al. 2011: 162). This book argues that this approach to interpreting news media coverage of

politics limits our understanding of how the process of mediatization can impact on the media itself over time. For if only one media logic is used to interpret the changing nature of political coverage it prevents competing logics from being theorized that operate simultaneously across and between different media outlets and systems. Or, put another way, it means the media cannot be subject to the process of mediatization. Of course, proposing the media can mediatize itself has more than a faint whiff of tautology. After all, how can the media mediatize itself? But in the chapters that follow the premise of the book rests on the fact that the culture of news production and presentation has itself undergone significant changes over time. This is not to imply media have independently changed. Far from it, since changes in media can be explained

Introduction 3

by a multiplicity of external influences: in the stock market, for example, in state regulation, technological advancements, consumer preferences and public attitudes. Understood from this perspective, this book argues that the process of mediatization can be applied to specific media formats – including television news bulletins – in order to interpret whether their underlying logic has been influenced by broader journalistic influences and changed the way in which politics has been reported over time. The next chapter will explain in more detail how the concept of mediatization

will be applied to television news bulletins. While debates in mediatization tend to deal with media influence generally, the approach taken in this book will be to identify empirically what changes have emerged on a specific format of television news – fixed time evening bulletins – and to examine, in detail, political reporting. In so doing, the study is primarily informed by empirical studies that have explored the mediatization of politics in media content. For now the relationship between television news, politics and competing media logics is introduced.