Stockholm university

Research project ”With an independent editorial staff made up of officials” – public organisations as news producers

Municipalities, regions, and government agencies are increasingly taking on the role of news producers in the new media landscape. The shift is being driven by a number of concurrent trends in society: digitalisation, mediatisation, and the fact that professional journalism is undermined when the resources of the traditional media decline. 

During the first years of our study, we have had a particular interest in Region Västra Götaland’s digital news channel VGRfokus, which was launched in November 2017. In an article under the heading Ledare (Leader) the region’s communications director presented the new channel as a news site with an “independent editorial staff made up of officials”. Our project centres on the impact a new producer of news such as VGRfokus has on the professional identities of journalists and communicators, as well as on the view of journalism and strategic communication and the dividing line between them. We further examine VGRfokus as a written product in order to answer questions about how this new genre – news articles produced by public organisations – can be understood. The project has followed VGRfokus from its launch. A number of data sources have been combined: interviews with staff at VGR, analyses of texts from VGRfokus and texts from other media sources that contain references to VGRfokus (both traditional and social media), analysis of guidelines and other steering documents, and observations (on site in Gothenburg, and through participation in digital editorial meetings).

There are many other examples of how methods and language from the world of journalism have found their way into public activities in Sweden. As far back as 2015, the communications director in the municipality of Gävle declared that local media did not have a monopoly when it came to telling the story of the town (Dagens Samhälle, 2015). In a similar vein, Linköping municipality, which has invested in building up a “news agency”, issued a statement explaining that “no one owns the concept of news” (Journalisten, 2019). The relationship between journalists and local government communicators has also been the subject of frequent debate. At the heart of the debate is the fact that the number of journalists is declining while the number of communicators is rising, something which has among other things raised concerns that the perspectives of the organisations will become dominant at the expense of journalistic scrutiny.

Against this background we have now widened our study to include a national mapping of the extent to which public agencies take on the role of news producers, build up their own editorial staff and start their own news channels, and of how this is viewed by local government communicators. Our mapping enables us to answer specific empirical questions on how the editorial communication work carried out by government agencies, regions and municipalities is expressed, and at the same time serves as a basis for a discussion of broader, fundamental questions about what can be understood as news, as well as the content of the term journalism. The outcome from the mapping will be analysed and discussed with the starting point in the following perspective:  What are the implications of the ongoing change for (the view of) journalism and different types of organisational communication (such as strategic communication, information from the authorities, community information) and the boundaries between them? What are the implications for the professional role and professional identity of the journalist and the communicator? What are the implications for the public discussions and – in the long term – for democracy?

The research project is funded by the Anne-Marie and Gustaf Anders Foundation for Media Research, Journalistfonden, Wahlgrenska stiftelsen, and Åke Wibergs stiftelse.


Conference papers:

Project members

Project managers

Maria Grafström

Docent i företagsekonomi

Maria Grafström