Tanja Köhler (ed.): Fake News, Framing, Fact-Checking. Nachrichten im digitalen Zeitalter. Ein Handbuch. [Fake news, framing, fact-checking. News in the digital age. A manual]

Reviewed by Stephan Mündges

News can justifiably be considered the very heart of journalism. The role of journalists is to bring anything new, relevant, and topical to the attention of the world as news. But news and news journalism – like journalism in general – are facing enormous changes and threats to their very existence: disintermediation, the rise of digital platforms, the associated revolution in communications processes, and the economic crisis enveloping journalistic media companies, to name but a few. A manual outlining news journalism, analyzing its current problems, and discussing potential solutions is thus undoubtedly a relevant endeavor. The volume put together by Tanja Köhler, who holds a doctorate in Communication Studies and is Managing Editor of Digital News at Deutschlandfunk, makes a significant contribution to this – albeit with a few weak points.

According to its editor, the book considers »the transformation process that news journalism is undergoing from a range of perspectives and presents developments and projects that could set the path for the future of news organizations and editorial offices« (16). The articles within have been written by both practicing journalists and academics in communication studies. In compiling the volume, Köhler has succeeded in bringing together many renowned authors from both professional practice and academia, including Marcus Bornheim, Chief Editor of ARD-aktuell; Tanit Koch, former Chief Editor at BILD and RTL; Hans-Bernd Brosius from the Department of Media and Communication at LMU Munich; and Wiebke Loosen from the Hans Bredow Institute.

The papers are divided into seven sections, covering the key aspects of the topic: news journalism and digital change; fake news and verification; data and algorithms; news and language; formats and projects; media and the audience; and editorial office and management. Some sections contain papers typical of a manual, concisely explaining current academic knowledge on the respective topic and tailoring it to the subject of the volume (one example is the excellent paper by Hans-Bernd Brosius and Viorela Dan on ‘Framing in News Journalism’). Some texts, on the other hand, seem somewhat out of place in a manual, either because they merely describe the concepts of individual editorial offices and formats, or because they extend far beyond the field of news journalism. It is hard to see, for example, why the volume includes a paper on the public service content network funk – after all, its producers explicitly decided not to produce news formats. As a result, in several parts the book feels less like a manual and more like an exhibition of news journalism projects.

The text by Jenny Stern of Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR) on fact-checking and verification demonstrates that the idea of linking workshop reports with more general information on closely defined specialist fields can undoubtedly be profitable. Her paper combines systematic information on her specialist field with specific verification techniques and experience from the work of the Faktenfuchs team, which is responsible for fact-checking and verification at BR.

Not every paper is a success, nor does the book live up to its own billing as a manual in all cases. However, all in all, the volume is a relevant, beneficial read for journalists.

This review first appeared in rezensionen:kommunikation:medien, December 1st 2020, accessible at https://www.rkm-journal.de/archives/22451.

About the reviewer

Stephan Mündges is a research associate at the Institute of Journalism at TU Dortmund, where he conducts research into the digital transformation of journalism. He also works as a reporter and deskman for ZDF, focusing on new technologies.

Translation: Sophie Costella

Book Information

Tanja Köhler (ed.) (2020): Fake News, Framing, Fact-Checking. Nachrichten im digitalen Zeitalter. Ein Handbuch. [Fake news, framing, fact-checking. News in the digital age. A manual], Bielefeld: transcript, 563 pages, EUR 39,-.