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Political Economy of Journalism

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The 'political economy of journalism' is based on Marx's critique of capitalism. With this in mind assess the following:'... professionals and amateurs can form powerful partnerships to create important journalism' (Jones & Salter 2002: 29)

The term "political economy" originally denoted the study of the conditions under which economic production was organised in the capitalist system. In Marxism, political economy studies the means of production specifically of capital, and how that manifests as economic activity (Marx, 1867).

It's simple, political economy derives many of its analytical insights from the Marxist analysis of capitalism as a "model of production", defined in the first instance by the relationship between the "forces of production", or the technologies and techniques through which material and symbolic goods and services are produced, and the "social relations of production", or the relations between social agents (such as owners, editors and journalists in this case) through which the production of such goods and services are organised, and the associated modes of distribution of the economic product. This coupling of the forces and social relations of production provides the base from which other social processes, and the overall social structure of a historically specific mode of production, are organised. In the political economy of journalism, capitalism is identified as a mode of production characterised by 'unprecedented dynamism, continuously revolutionizing its productive processes with new technologies and new forms of organising the labour process' (Mosco 1995: 43). Karl Marx described in Capital this relationship between the economic base and the social structure in these terms:

In the social production of their life men, enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production that will correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure, the real basis on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life (Marx 1867).

In his three volume work "The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture", the sociologist Manuel Castells has proposed that since the 1980s a new economy has emerged that is global, networked and informational. While this new techno-economic framework remains capitalist in form, it is based upon what Castells describes as an informational rather than an industrial mode of development, which he defines in these terms:

In the industrial mode of development, the main source of productivity lies in the introductions of new energy sources, and in the ability to decentralize the use of energy through the production and circulation processes. In the new, informational mode of development, the source of productivity lies in the technology of knowledge generation, information processing, and symbol communication ... What is specific to the informational mode of development is the action of knowledge upon knowledge itself as the main source of productivity. I call this mode of development informational, constituted by the emergence of a new technological paradigm based on information technology (Castells 1996: 17).

Castells has proposed that the rise of a network society has its origins in some central elements derivatives of the new regime of accumulation, or the nexus between production and consumption, identified by Castells as the "information technology paradigm", which is based upon the mass diffusion of information and communication technologies.

The new economy is networked and it is based upon information networks such as the Internet, as well as the networked enterprise becoming the dominant form of economic organisation, at whose heart is no longer the capitalist firm, but global markets and business projects based upon short-term strategic alliances and partnerships. For Castells, the networked enterprise is a logical corollary of electronic business, as it is based around 'the Internet-based, interactive, networked connection between producers, consumers, and service providers' (Castells 2001: 75).

It has never been so easy to create information, and at the same time it has never been so difficult to make a living off its practice; the market is bigger than ever, but the income is the lowest in history, in relative terms. This trend is clearly visible in the USA, so many times forerunner about what is going to happen with the rest of the western countries. The scene is quite disturbing, at least in the USA, where major newspapers have seen how their diffusion has fallen from 62 million copies to 49 million since the Internet became mainstream with an easy access for most of the citizens of that country 15 years ago. Around a hundred newspapers were forced to stop printing in paper format. During the same period, the number of readers of digital journalism has increased from nought to 75 million. The decrease in advertisements, which represents the main income in paper journalism, has reduced the profit drastically, which subsequently has brought massive lay-offs as read in some of the mastheads of the main European newspapers (1). El Pais, reference Spanish newspaper, fired more than 30 per cent of its staff after announcing a dismissal program. The company notified 129 of its workers that they were fired via e-mail the past 10th of November, while many of them were at their positions. The reason of the redundancy was the mismanagement of Juan Luis Cebrián, CEO of El País, according to Maruja Torres, journalist of that newspaper, in a lecture at University of Barcelona: "Cebrián lost 5 billion euro gambling in casino capitalism, buying radios in Miami and Latin-American TVs that were absolutely worthless. He wanted to be a financial shark in Wall Street, but he actually was a little sardine who made everything wrong. He wasted the profits of our work in the adventure of the best newspaper of the Spanish democracy" (2).

In the last years and due to the systemic crisis experienced by this sector, the main newspapers have faced many problems and several of them have been forced to move totally their paper editions to only On-line editions, like Público, another Spanish newspaper, that stopped printing its paper edition a little longer than eight months ago, because of the decrease in its sales. (3)

Newspapers financially survive in two ways, one is the income generated from advertisings and the other is from subscriptions. Advertising is at the centre of the debate, because,

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