Call : Redefining Journalism in the Era of the Mass Press


Redefining Journalism in the Era of the Mass Press

University of Sheffield, 5 July 2013.


This conference seeks to interrogate two key trajectories arising from the change or stasis in the role perceptions of journalism that occurred between 1880 and 1920 with the rise of the mass press. The way we speak of and interrogate this period continues to exert great influence in terms of how we understand contemporary journalism, and how we conceptualize the role of the journalist in terms of its historical, cultural and economic development.

Specifically, this conference aims to discuss how we now define journalism at the end of the 19th century from our  contemporary and comparative perspective.

It seeks to contrast this with how contemporaries defined journalism during this actual period of transition.

Was there an expression of shifting role perception towards journalism and the journalist at the onset of the era of  the mass press ?

We are inviting contributions to help craft a taxonomy of journalism at the cusp of the twentieth century, a chronology of significant indicators that help describe this period and its ongoing significance to journalism scholarship. We welcome papers on various countries, international comparisons or transnational developments.

Abstracts of 500 words are invited for consideration as contributions to this conference, the next event hosted by  the research network, Capturing Change in Journalism : Shifting Role Perceptions at the Turn of the 20th and 21st  Centuries. This network, which is funded by the British AHRC and the Dutch NWO, and run by the journalism  departments of the universities of Groningen and Sheffield has already held a successful launch event in September  2012, which discussed how we can Conceptualize Role Perceptions and Change in Journalism.

Deadline for submission : 31st January 2013.

For more information, please contact : Dr John Steel (


Confirmed Keynote Speakers :

Professor Joel H. Wiener (City University of New York)

Professor Jane Chapman (Lincoln University, UK)

Professor Martin Conboy (University of Sheffield, UK)

Conference Themes :

Journalism at the end of the nineteenth century could be said to have entered an era of creative reformulation. Yet this era was not necessarily one which was marked primarily by technological changes but rather by an accumulation of social and cultural changes in the expectations of what journalism was supposed to deliver.

These shifts in expectation were in turn reconstituting the role of the journalist. This was not a simple trajectory but one which bore the cultural traces of many previous iterations of the role of the public communicator. The changes in perception of the journalist and journalism were not driven by or even most importantly structured by technological changes but perhaps more by the confluence of cultural and political expectations of periodical publications directed commercially towards the masses.

What was the role of the reporter in this new era ? The journalist may be defined at this point onwards by his/her engagement with mass popular audiences and the extent to which these contrasted/complemented/contradicted rival perceptions of the journalist as either a hack or a political publicist. It might be that the technological and infrastructural changes of the late nineteenth century were not as significant as the political and cultural purposes to which journalism was now contributing.

Of course the coming of the mass press was not a phenomenon restricted to the UK and its geo-cultural variations had complex interactions with one another. We therefore encourage various national and international perspectives on change in this period.

Context of the research project :

This interdisciplinary project is made more urgent by the need of scholars, journalists and the media industry to tackle what is often labeled as a growing ‘crisis of journalism’. While there is a certain level of agreement in scholarship on the importance of journalism for democracy and civil engagement, as well as over the existence of a contemporary economic and professional crisis, research that strives to understand the structure of transformation is scarce. Much like its position at the turn of the 20th century, journalism is now forced to reconsider the roles it can play in society and to come up with new justifications for its position. The contemporary influence of digitization, Internet and mobile communications is changing the informational needs of citizens and the news media must adapt. This project argues that crucial to understanding journalism’s future role is looking to previous moments when its position in society was seemingly tenuous. It aims to amplify this research theme by clarifying how journalists themselves perceive their role and their relationship with the public – historically, in contemporary society, and going forward.