Journalism in the “Western world” of high-income democracies is seen by many as being in a crisis. This, in itself, is nothing new. Because it is important and imperfect, journalism is almost always seen by someone somewhere as facing some sort of crisis. But the scale, scope, and societal consequences of crises changes over time. In the early twenty-first century, Western journalism faces a series of specific and quite different potential and real crises, only some of which are directly inherited from the twentieth century. Current crises are in part a result of the ongoing fundamental structural transformation of our media systems, where economic and technological forces in combination generate ever more intense competition for attention, for advertisements, and for audiences’ media spending. These developments put existing forms of journalism as well as the institutions that sustain and constrain journalism under considerable pressure across the Western world. But the crises are also tied to inherited differences in how journalism and the news media organizations that have historically hosted the journalistic occupation developed in the post-war period, the ways in which journalism as a profession was defined, and its status in a wider – changing – society. This means that different countries face different crises of journalism.
The main real and potential crises of today can, I will suggest, be seen as three distinct kinds: first, an economic crisis concerning the very existence of the news media industry that underwrites journalism as an occupation, a form of salaried employment, second, a professional crisis concerning the demarcation of journalism itself, its separation from other kinds of work, and, third, a crisis of confidence concerning the relations between journalism and the people who make up the public that journalism claims and aims to serve (cf. Gitlin 2011). One could imagine other crises too, and journalism has historically been seen as facing a range and succession of different crises at various points (Breese 2012). But there does not, for example, seem to be a crisis of demand, as most people continue to use news and name it their most important source of information about public affairs. Similarly, phone hacking revelations in the UK, examples of plagiarism in many countries, and similar instances might suggest journalism is facing an ethical crisis.