• Gregory Perreault

News culture in Austria and America

When I proposed my Fulbright project, part of my argument was that there are meaningful similarities and differences between Austria and American news culture.

The 2019 Reuters Digital News Report indicates that the Austrian government reviewed the media landscape in 2018 and is actively working to counter the effects of digital media on local news. Yet the report highlights that Austria’s conservative government has been on a collision course with independent journalism as it attempts to control the agenda and reform public service news media. By contrast, in the United States an increasing number of local communities have lost news coverage (1300 since 2004) and revenue for digital news is more elusive.

Development in digital technology and changes in digital culture affect not only the practice of journalism but also the underpinning paradigm of journalism. Digital media influences how journalists conduct their work. Digital journalism is now primarily what is consumed by audiences, replacing newspaper and broadcast as the preferred medium.

American and Austrian journalism bears similarities in the effects of digital technology. This is perhaps unsurprising in that “past international studies have found remarkable similarities in journalists’ professional role conceptions, ethical views, editorial procedures, and socialization processes” (Hantizsch et al, 2011, p. 2). In both countries, there has been a shrinking number of professional journalists, a rising number of freelancers, and changes in news culture that influence both the production and publication of news. These news culture changes include an increasing emphasis on journalists privileging their use of social media to reach their audience, an increasing marketing role, an increasing global focus in news, and an increasing trend toward superficial topics (Kirchhoff et al., 2013; Tandoc & Vos, 2015)

That said, it remains true that there are “considerable differences in journalistic practices and orientations across countries” (Hantizsch et al, 2011, p. 3). For example, in the Austrian context, citizens are less and less “aligned to political parties that can less and less count on traditional voters and therefore compete to persuade the increasing number of free-floating voters” (Magin & Stark, 2015, p. 419). Meanwhile, in the American context, citizens increasingly attach themselves to political parties even if they don’t always acknowledge their affiliation (Dalton, 2016). Furthermore, the media systems operate in comparatively different manners given the market orientation in the US system and the citizenry orientation in the Austrian system (Hallin & Mancini, 2004). While these differences in political climate and system structure may seem minor, given that digital journalism tends to be responsive to audience considerations, it makes sense that the shape of journalism differs as a result.

So what does this look like? Well for one thing, the realities of having everything shut down on Sundays is that people tend to stay home and read. There are news stands on most corners where newspapers can purchased about a Euro. Sunday mornings, it's common in my neighborhood to see people going down the street to pick up a newspaper that they then will read in their flat.

Cafe culture in Vienna is very rich and indeed is one of the things Vienna is known for. Like in the US, cafes in Vienna commonly have newspapers available. The key difference is that the newspapers are free to read and return. As a result you find people sipping espresso and leisurely reading through Der Standard or Falter at cafes. The need to purchase a newspaper at cafes in the US means that people pick up the newspaper, look at it, and then put it back down because they don't want to pay $4 for it (I'll admit being guilty of this myself). The reality, I suspect, is that if the newspaper were free at cafes more people would read them, but then of course that would require some level of support for the news either governmentally or from the businesses and that's often a non-starter conversation in the US.

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