Economic theory of journalism


Just published… in Journalism, Vol. 9, No. 6, 667-690 (2008), Journalists and the information-attention markets. Towards an economic theory of journalism, by Susanne Fengler (TU Dortmund University, Germany) and Stephan Ruß-Mohl (Università della Svizzera italiana, Switzerland).

In this article we suggest economic theory (specifically rational choice theory) as a promising approach to analyze the dramatic changes journalism is currently going through. Referring to the model of the ‘homo economicus maturus’ as well as to previous research by a small but growing number of scholars of mass communication, we describe journalists as rational actors seeking to maximize materialistic and non-materialistic rewards (e.g. attention, reputation, fringe benefits). We explain why, how and under what kind of restrictions journalists trade information for attention with their sources, calculating risks and benefits. Further, we apply economic concepts (free-riding, external effects, and principal-agent theory) to journalism to provide more in-depth explanations for specific developments in journalism such as ‘pack reporting’. We conclude that assuming self-interested behaviour of media professionals will enable scholars of journalism to identify and predict more systematically the failures of journalism and blind spots of media coverage.