during Bundesliga soccer matches, Germany seems to have 82 million (armchair) coaches. In the pandemic, we had 82 million virologists. And occasionally it seems, especially on social media, that we even have 82 million media critics.
In the face of such competition, professional media criticism gets sidelined a bit, of course. We notice that popular science literature on media criticism is selling extremely well. Titles like Zombie-Journalismus or Die Propaganda-Matrix have found an avid readership. To describe this phenomenon, Siegfried Weischenberg coined the term Alternative Media Criticism (AMC) in his essay »How Deep is the ›Misery of the Media‹?« in this issue of Journalism Research. He deconstructs the »icons« of alternative media critics, from Noam Chomsky to Walter Lippmann, calling for some »linguistic disarmament« in this »ambitious apocalyptic frame«.
Anyone who would analyze and criticize the state of journalism must address its economic framework. Jana Rick focused on the economic context in her study of senior journalists, raising the question of the working conditions for freelance journalists of senior age, for her study found that this group often has a wealth of journalistic experience and professionalism.
Rick explores the following questions: Do senior journalists need the extra income to supplement their retirement? Or do they just love their job so much that they keep going? And what does that mean for the topics they write about? This last question cannot and will not be answered by Jana Rick’s contribution, but it would make an interesting research question because we can assume that experienced journalists contribute attitudes and opinions that are typical for their age group to the professional field. It would therefore be interesting to hear their criticisms of the current state of journalism.
Stephen Thomson’s article »Microphone and Quill« on Norman Mailer is about an unwieldy publicist who »was always somewhat of a loose cannon«. Modern audiences don’t know the US author as well as back in the 1960s and 1970s, when he published bestsellers such as the war novel The Naked and the Dead. It is a little-known fact that Norman Mailer worked as a journalist all his life, and in this role, too, stood out as a rather unusual writer.
Stephen Thomson shows how Norman Mailer systematically crosses the boundaries between news report and novel, non-fiction and fiction. In doing so, Thomson traces the path of »New Journalism« and its principles, analyzing in particular Mailer’s piece on John F. Kennedy, »Superman Comes to the Supermarket«.
As he pays tribute to the eccentric publicist, Thomson would like to see a polarizing figure like Norman Mailer in the present day, »someone who tolerated or even encouraged objections – would be so important in today’s climate, in which anyone can publicize their views in the infinite space of the internet yet no-one seems open to any other opinion, even complementary ones.« To polarize while also accepting complementary opinions – wouldn’t that be helpful for our debate about professional as well as »alternative« media criticism?
My contribution takes a closer look at another media-critical author of the 20th century. My essay titled »Let’s Talk About Utopias« focuses on on Ernest Callenbach’s 1975 novel Ecotopia. Callenbach, whose day job was editor of the renowned magazine Film Quarterly, sends his protagonist, US journalist William Weston, on a trip to the country of Ecotopia in 1999. From there, Weston regularly reports for the Times-Post while concurrently keeping a diary. The increasing discrepancy between Weston’s reporting for the Times-Post and his personal diary entries reveals a multi-layered criticism of the US media system and American journalism in the 1970s.
In addition to the 1970s vision of eco-fiction, I was curious how modern-day students would receive it. And I was delighted to see that Callenbach’s media critique is also understood and received well today, especially in the context of climate change and its representation in the media.
Mandy Tröger is concerned with economic conditions and their effects on journalism in her debate contribution »Journalism in the Age of Tech Sponsorship?«, in which she explores the reasons why corporations like Google or Facebook act as sponsors of digital journalism.
Is it really just a noble-minded effort to improve quality journalism? Mandy Tröger concludes: »The larger objective of these pervasive measures is to mold entire information landscapes in the interests of the corporations.« She demands that dependency relationships be explained in global contexts.
Media criticism reaches its audience in many ways; this magazine is one of them. Precisely because the topic is so important, I am left wondering why professional media criticism by media and communication studies does not reach a wider audience.
Why is »alternative media criticism« so successful? Why are there so few examples of academic contributions that have captured wider public attention, such as Uwe Krüger’s book on the Mainstream Media or Bernhard Pörksen and his media presence? Why is the most visible media criticism voiced in satirical formats like Die Anstalt or Jan Böhmermann’s ZDF-Magazin Royale? Perhaps professional media criticism could learn a thing or two from »alternative« media criticism. Maybe it could be a little more lighthearted, fun, and entertaining.
If you would like to contribute to the academic media discourse in an upcoming issue of Journalism Research, please feel free to send your topic suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am looking forward to fruitful debates!
Translation: Kerstin Trimble