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Society’s watchdog in danger?

| By Berit Kvam

When journalists and spin doctors swap jobs, should we worry? If professional advisors and communications workers have more influence than politicians, is it a risk to democracy? When journalism becomes a victim to cuts, what happens to quality? And when there are two communicators for each journalist, what happens to society’s watchdog?

In this issue The Nordic Labour Journal looks at a theme which not only affects us as professionals, but also as citizens. There is unease over a development which could weaken media’s role as critical observers. 

Media in the Nordic region and elsewhere are hit by falling revenues and electronic media is taking over from print. A radical change is taking place which could pose a threat to quality journalism. We know from previous research that change and jobs cuts influence work environments. A new report form the Norwegian Work Research Institute shows the work environment in editorial offices influences the quality of the journalism. If quality suffers, it could affect journalists’ chance to perform their social role.

Swedish researchers led by Professor Stefan Svallfors are due to publish a study of policy professionals: professional advisors and communicators. Stefan Svallfors is himself surprised with the results after mapping the group using interviews of 70 people. In our story we learn that policy professionals are involved in policy making with a dodgy mandate. Some of them are skeptical to elected representatives, they know they have power and they can say: “yes, I have more power than an MP”. At the same time communicators and advisors are experts who have become invaluable to nearly all organisations. Svallfors is worried about what this means for the media and warns against what has happened in Gothenburg, where the number of journalists has been halved and the number of communicators doubled in the past ten years, leaving two communicators in the municipality and in companies for each journalist at the city’s largest newspaper.

We might be witnessing a convergence in the trade. The Finnish Union of Journalists is considering inviting communicators as members. In Denmark former spin doctors have returned to work in the media, which used to be considered impossible. This shows attitudes are changing even though some editors still consider such a switch to be dubious.

Dubious or not, what is important is whether the quality of the journalism is weakened, putting credibility at risk. In that case society’s watchdog is in danger.


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