String Quartet on the Titanic: Are journalists covering their own demise or rowing to safety?
Karin Assmann, “String Quartet on the Titanic: Are journalists covering their own demise or rowing to safety?,” accepted for presentation at the 2023 Future of Journalism Conference (Cardiff University).
Abstract: In the weeks and months following the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election, the role of the news media in what appears to be an increasingly unstable democracy, became a contested topic among journalists, media critics, and scholars. One of Nieman Lab’s predictions for the year 2021 was “the rise of the democracy beat,” as a necessary consequence following ongoing attempts to overthrow the election results (Donohue, 2020). The same prediction appeared one year later, this time expecting the news industry to embrace more regulations, as well as institutionalized protections of both democracy itself and of the press (Brannon, 2021). Indeed, in the months leading up to the 2022 Midterm Elections, U.S. news outlets announced the creation of democracy beats and the hiring of democracy reporters (e.g., Brod, 2022; Henkel, 2022). The debate around the tension between the normative role of the press as defender of democracy on one hand (Christians et al., 2010), and as objective documentarian on the other (e.g., Schudson, 2001), became part of the metajournalistic discourse (Carlson, 2016) that absolved the U.S. news media from adhering to the myth of objectivity (Hounshell, 2022; Sullivan, 2021). This study examines the metajournalistic discourse in the United States around democracy beats. The analysis of the discourse around this explicit shift will contribute to our understanding of how journalistic ideals, norms and practices are being reshaped.