Scholars on Blogging

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Michael Schudson, pictured above, described three models for journalism. (Credit: Columbia University)

In iMediaEthics’ latest study , we looked at ten U.S. newspapers and how they handled their blogs. But, how do scholars treat the blogging medium?

In scholarly work, different approaches are available to define the role of journalists.

One of them was made by Michael Schudson, a communications professor for both Columbia University’s journalism school and for the University of California in San Diego’s communication department.  He argues that three models were in practice when talking about journalism: the Trustee Model, the Market Model, and the Advocacy Model.  (1)

The first model, the Trustee Model, has a strong top-down approach where journalists decide what readers should know to be informed in a democracy.  In this case, journalists see themselves and are perceived as professionals based on the journalistic education system.

The Market Model is based on economic theory and says that the readers and advertisers decide what is news.

The last model, the Advocacy Model, is by now basically distinct in the newspaper sector due to “tendencies of depoliticization, secularization and liberalization”. (2)  In the Advocacy Model, journalists push a certain political or social cause.

How do blogs fit into these models? 

Newsrooms and academia are struggling to figure out how the new media — blogs included — fit into traditional models such as given above, as well as what the future of journalism will be.

News organizations are pressured to keep up with technological advances. Newspapers must have an online presence.  And journalists are being asked to do more and sometimes that includes being active in the blogosphere and on social media sites like Twitter, conflating the once separate trustee, market and advocacy models.

Professionals and scholars have suggested saving journalism with everything ranging from not-for-profit and government funding of newspapers to a take-over from professional journalists by citizen bloggers. But, a recent survey by Lacy et al. (2010) claims evidence indicates that citizen news sites and citizen blogs aren’t ready to take over this role as some forecasted.  The study indicated that citizen sites don’t compete with traditional newspapers in terms of timeliness and the nature of the website.  It’s much easier to predict what types of top stories one can expect in the newspaper than in the blogosphere.  But, both citizen news sites and citizen blogs can and do complement traditional newspapers.

Outside of citizen involvement and general economic factors, job cuts have also affected changes in the media landscape.

Schudson estimated in a Feb. 11 lecture at the University of California that one-third of journalism jobs have been cut since 2000, leaving just 40,000 journalism jobs.   The Pew Research study published in July 2008 reported that the 259 newspapers it surveyed had even higher cutbacks (see figures below).


Figure 1:  How Widespread are Cutbacks in Newsrooms Staffing?

Figure 2: How deep are staff cuts at big newspapers? (Source: Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism’s 2008 “The Changing Newsroom” survey)

See “iMediaEthics Study: 68% Ten Top US Newspapers’ Blogs Are Edited,” a study on newspaper’s blogs, here for more.


1. Schudson, M. (1998). The Public Journalism Movement and Its Problems. In: D. Graber, D. McQuail & P. Norris (Eds.). The Politics of News. The News of Politics (pp. 132-149). Washington: CQ Press.
2. Paulussen, S., Heinonen, A., Domingo, D., Quandt, T. (2007). “Doing It Together: Citizen Participation In The Professional News Making Process.” Observatorio Journal No. 3 (2007). p. 131-154.


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