transfer 25(1) » Journalismus

„We are the goalkeepers“

Subediting and fact-checking in times of economic crisis and societal pressures

Amidst the financial and structural crisis affecting most established newspapers and online media in Europe, credibility represents a central aspect for the status of these outlets among the public. In the rapidly changing environment of print and online media newsrooms, two main journalistic tasks are tightly connected to the credibility of an outlet: subediting and fact-checking. However, these fields are often under-researched. This thesis investigates the current situation of these two tasks and the extent to which they are undertaken in the context of the crisis and the societal pressures coming mainly from far-right movements and social media. This study analyses how journalists from established newspaper, magazine, and online brands perceive and fulfil subediting and fact-checking at the moment, and how economic and societal components affect their jobs.

Drawing upon Hallin and Mancini’s media systems model, the thesis focuses on three European countries – one from each of the three models: Germany, Great Britain, and Italy. Based on a theoretical framework around the two analysed tasks and the historical developments of the media landscape in the three countries, qualitative interviews with nine journalists working in subediting and/or fact-checking were conducted. The results show that the task of subediting is in a deep crisis in all three countries and that journalists perceive a decline in subediting standards as a result of the cutbacks that were undertaken in recent years. On the other hand, the fact-checking movement led to an increased focus on transparency and credibility within quality outlets. This shows the contradictory environment in which subeditors and fact-checkers operate. While factual correctness and accuracy are upheld as the most important values of (quality) journalism, the editorial staff is being reduced.