On the evening of 13 November 2015, six coordinated terror attacks took place in different parts of Paris killing at least 130 people and injuring over 350. Three suicide bombers detonated themselves outside the stadium Stade de France, where the national teams of France and Germany were playing a friendly match, with the French President in attendance. At the same time, men with automatic weapons and a suicide bomber attacked bars, restaurants and cafés in a lively district of Paris. The deadliest attack was at the Bataclan Theatre, where heavily armed men opened fire during a Heavy Metal concert, killing 90 people and injuring at least 300.
The terror attacks in Paris were the most lethal since the Second World War and as in the case of many other attacks of the same kind, they targeted symbols of French and Western culture. The immense real-time coverage of these attacks and its connection to shared French and Western values recall the well-known concept of media events (Dayan & Katz, 1992), characterised as mesmerising audiences by focusing attention with a high degree of emotionality on “a thematic core” central to the event’s narrative (Hepp & Couldry, 2009: 20). From this mediated thematic core, local, national and transnational media networks may construct similar or different discourses about the event. The key point here is that since media events are spread beyond their cultures of origin, “All of them potentially become the property of cultural contexts outside their ‘home’ contexts” (Hoover, 2009: 290).
This study of Swedish coverage of the Paris attacks will take as its point of departure that there may indeed be variations in meanings about this event in different national contexts, but less well researched is that there may also be variations of meanings made of this event in different subfields of journalism. Most studies of media and terrorism focus on news journalism in the mainstream media or, more recently, the circulation of stories in social media. However, the rise of terrorist attacks on cultural targets like magazines, music or leisure venues prompts the question of whether cultural journalism as a “specialised subfield” (Kristensen & Riegert, 2017a) provides a different overall perspective than traditional news does.
Attacks on cultural targets make it more likely that audiences search out information from cultural journalism, but Swedish cultural journalism already attracts a significant amount of audience interest. According to the 2017 national Society, Opinions and Mass Media (SOM) survey in Sweden, 46 per cent of Swedes follow cultural journalism in the press, on radio or on television at least once a week (University of Gothenburg, SOM Institute, 2019). The very week of the attacks in Paris, the cultural news programme on the public service broadcaster Sveriges Television (SVT), which is consistently among the top ten rated news programmes averaging between 600,000-700,000 viewers, jumped to over one million viewers (MMS, 2015).
Nordic research on cultural journalism points to its self-described alterity as a subfield, including the prominence of subjective genres, cultural actors and more in-depth reflective perspectives (Kristensen & Riegert, 2017b). This relates to what Swedish practitioners of cultural journalism refer to as “cultural filtering”, that is, the process by which they choose alternative angles when deciding what stories to do out of the daily flow of events relevant to the cultural public sphere (Riegert et al., 2015). For example, if a foreign event is considered important for cultural news, instead of the “rapid news reporting of numbers of dead or the goings-on around the negotiation table” (Riegert et al., 2015: 780), the focus would be on the broader effects of the event, such as on people’s identities or how these are expressed by cultural actors. The cultural filter is thus related to the tendency among cultural journalists to see their professional role as fundamentally different from that of traditional mainstream news. While this tendency is well documented in terms of cultural journalists’ professional values and identities, there is little research on media content, explicitly comparing how the same event is represented in the two journalistic fields.
Clearly, news and cultural journalism have different types of remits and readiness to cover events such as the Paris attacks; however there is increasingly frequent scholarly reference to the “journalistification” of cultural journalism (cf. Sparre & From, 2017). The concept of journalistification focuses on the increased pressure on cultural journalism to work like other beats of journalism. This is reflected in, for example, the increase in descriptive genres such as news reporting and short pieces at the expense of the traditionally dominant subjective and interpretive genres (Jaakkola, 2015; Sarrimo, 2017).1 The aim of the study is thus to critically explore the distinctiveness of cultural journalism in light of journalistification and “cultural filtering” by comparing explicitly to traditional news coverage in the 2015 terror attacks on cultural targets in Paris. We ask:
- How were the terror attacks framed as a problem and what types of actors were given a voice in cultural journalism and news?
- How did the use of descriptive and interpretive styles impinge on the way the attacks were framed and with what consequences for cultural journalism’s alleged distinctiveness in relation to the broader journalistic field?
The article is structured as follows. We start with a literature review, firstly by detailing research on cultural journalism as a specialised subfield, and secondly by pointing to central findings of previous studies regarding media narratives of terrorism. This is followed by a method section devoted to the design of our content analysis and strategies of data sampling. The results section is followed by the conclusion, which contains a broader discussion about the difference cultural journalism makes and what this adds to the public discourse about this terror attack on cultural targets.
The relevance of cultural journalism
Cultural journalism is a subfield where specialised journalists, intellectuals, authors and/ or artists produce criticism, news, interviews, reportages, columns, essays and debate in aesthetic subject areas and on current political and social dilemmas. Swedish cultural journalism also contains these genres, but it has traditionally had a more political and debate-oriented component, lacking, for example, in the arts journalism of Anglo-Saxon countries (Hemer, 2010; Riegert & Roosvall, 2017). According to Sarrimo (2017: 667), Swedish cultural journalists have had the ideals of expert-based punditry, as purveyors of knowledge and meaning in relation to current and historical ideas and events. Nordic cultural journalism has in fact long been a forum for stories and debates relating to ethics and values (Hovden et al., 2017; Kristensen et al., 2017; Riegert & Roosvall, 2017). This is interesting in light of the tendency of journalists and scholars to dismiss cultural journalism as “soft” news – as lacking in public importance and temporal urgency (Kristensen & From, 2012). Studies of the Swedish coverage of the Mohammed cartoon crisis in 2005 (initiated by a Danish cultural editor to debate the limits of freedom of speech) found that the cultural pages contributed “more of a reflective and interpretational or explanatory tone, giving historical references and discussing the political climate” than other sections of the newspapers (Wallentin & Ekecrantz, 2007: 198).
Despite this, European studies show that cultural journalism’s boundaries in relation to other types of journalism have eroded, as the definition of what is included in “culture” became broader and more inclusive of popular culture (Purhonen et al., 2017). As noted above, the “journalistification” discourse charges that there is an increase in cultural news and other factual genres at the expense of interpretive genres, more “promotional”-type event stories and a greater emphasis on immediacy. While it varies according to national context, one trend across numerous Western countries appears to be a general increase in cultural news and “background stories” about media institutions, personas or upcoming events (Jaakkola, 2015; Kristensen, 2010; Verboord & Janssen, 2015). Hellman and Jaakkola (2012) describe this as the increasing dominance of the “journalistic paradigm” over the “aesthetic paradigm” of cultural journalism, where the former denotes ideals and modes of writing closer to journalism (news about culture), and the latter denotes the subjective voice based on epistemic authority, the folkbildung ideal, and the promotion of artistic quality (Jaakkola, 2015). Cultural journalism is a hybrid field, with these two logics found within the same department, but due to the increasing control of the central news desk, digitalisation, conglomeration and economic downsizing, less emphasis has been placed on the aesthetic paradigm and on the academic expertise that accompanied this (Hovden & Knapskog, 2015).
This study builds on some of the findings of an explorative study comparing the cultural news programmes of Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish radio and television public service broadcasters during the same week studied here. For all the broadcasters, genres like news and news flashes accounted for almost every second item, while, for example, reviews accounted for 15-17 per cent in Swedish and Norwegian coverage, whereas Finland had no reviews (Hellman et al., 2017). Swedish content differed the most, due to its broader European geographic scope, the topic of ideas and debate, and its focus on democracy and freedom of expression, compared to the other two countries. While these aspects can be said to be due to the Paris attacks that week, there is other evidence of a greater global interest in Swedish cultural journalism. A longitudinal study of Swedish cultural journalism in press and radio (SR) found a steady and relatively high interest in global and transnational issues over several decades, an example of this is that a majority of cultural articles referred to other parts of the world, or the ways that other parts of world were connected to Sweden (Roosvall & Widholm, 2018). Further, since the 2010s, the Swedish press has been reasserting its role of driving cultural debates on racism, sexism, right-wing populism and freedom of expression. While some practitioners see this as an effort by the cultural desks to get “clicks” (Riegert et al., 2015), a comparative study of editorial debates in the Swedish and Danish press after the Charlie Hebdo and Copenhagen terrorist attacks, showed that the cultural debate articles were less polarising and more agonistic, with references to a wider range of cultural, political and philosophical contexts than the editorial debates (Kristensen & Roosvall, 2017).
The concept of the journalistification of cultural journalism accounts for the pressures of digitalisation, immediacy and an increased focus on descriptive news, but it does not explain the resilience of ethical/ideological debates in the Swedish press, or the presence of interpretive genres in the Swedish cultural news programmes. However, cultural filtering, the practitioners’ descriptions of their efforts to provide alternative accounts of events by “filling a vacuum left open by the narrow remits of political journalism and daily politics” (Riegert et al., 2015: 782), may help to explain some of the differences in content between cultural journalism and traditional news. A more self-evident difference between the two is also that the former prioritises actors and discourses circulating in the cultural and not only the political public sphere.
News coverage of terrorism
There is extensive scholarly work on the complex relationship between the media and terrorism (e.g. Nacos, 2016). However, the purpose here is to highlight studies that show recurring narratives in Western mainstream news media representations and how they may vary according to whether terrorist attacks are domestic or foreign, or according to different types of media. First, terrorist attacks fulfil basic news values such as surprise, negativity, meaningfulness, drama and political relevance (Lewis, 2012). Mediated terrorism tends to call up good-guy/bad-guy stereotypes, emotional reportage and demonstrations of hyper-vigilance from the security services (Lewis, 2012; Nacos, 2016). In the language of crisis communication research, there is a media tendency to focus most of its attention on “the acute phase of the event”, giving “the aftermath phase” far less coverage (Riegert et al., 2010). During this phase, the mediated narrative about the terrorists is heavily reliant on official and expert sources (Terzis, 2014).
While news coverage of terrorist attacks differs according to the case in question, studies document quite stable narratives in the direct aftermath of attacks. Nord and colleagues (2018) study of Swedish press coverage of the Paris and Copenhagen attacks (2015) and the Stockholm attack (2017) showed that for all these cases, there was a heavy focus on news stories of the attacks themselves, the various reactions and the hunt for the perpetrators. All four cases showed a massive dominance of episodic framing rather than thematic framing, meaning that the coverage focused on single actors or events rather than placing them in a broader context, analysing their importance or discussing the long-term consequences (Nord et al., 2018). The authors assert that “the fact that only 15 per cent of the articles/items from the terror attacks had a thematic dimension must be considered remarkable, given the serious character of the events and the complex causes behind them” (Nord et al., 2018: 48).2 They also describe how thematic framing differs from case to case, and in the Paris attacks of 2015, the discussion was focused on the threat of IS and extremist Islam against the Western world, more than in the other cases. That said, the authors note that in none of these cases does Swedish coverage put “muslims as a group in a negative light” (Nord et al., 2018: 40). Neither, they say, does the Swedish press link terrorism to immigration, even though the “migration crisis” was happening at the same time as the Paris attacks. Despite these similarities, the domestic attack in Stockholm differed in three key ways from the cases that took place on foreign soil: the Stockholm attack was covered more thoroughly, the authorities and social media were portrayed more positively and there were more thematic articles relating to solidarity, community and coming together in grief.
Interestingly, Falkheimer and Olsson (2015) looking at the domestic press coverage of the terrorist attack on Norway in 2011, also found a heavily descriptive style in news coverage. Moreover, instead of thematic articles about right-wing extremism, Falkheimer and Olsson found that the episodic frames dominated. They conclude that the style and frames reinforced the focus on the perpetrator as a lone-wolf lunatic, thus depoliticising the coverage and confirming the results of US studies of domestic terrorists as single lone-wolf aberrations, whereas Islamic terrorism is placed in a more systemic “war on terror” frame (Falkheimer & Olsson, 2015: 82).
The effect of cultural proximity and political policy on the mediation of terrorist attacks is investigated in Gerhards and Schäfer’s (2014) study of four cases covered by CNN, BBC, Qatari Al Jazeera English (AJE) and ARD (Germany). While similarities were found in attention, condemnation of the attacks and perpetrators, and portraying the victims as innocent civilians, the European broadcasters put the perpetrators as individual criminals outside civilisation itself – as committing “crimes against humanity”. CNN and AJE, whose regions were at the centre of the attacks, interpreted them in the context of the “War on Terror”, which itself was considered more (CNN) or less (AJE) legitimate. Gerhards and Schäfer confirm Nossek’s (2008) theory that conceptions of “our” and “their” terror attacks influences the media coverage and add that this is connected to the participation of different countries and the position of the political elites. The findings of Nord and colleagues (2018) are congruent with the findings from the BBC and ARD which, “clearly distinguish between the perpetrators and other Muslims” and “are very careful about potential prejudice in their identification of the perpetrators” (Gerhards & Schäfer, 2014: 15-16).
Historically, news journalism has operated in a professional culture of objectivity that should be “cool rather than emotional” (Schudson, 2001: 150), drawing a sharp line between hard news reporting and more “soft” genres (such as cultural journalism) where emotionality has been a more natural ingredient. However, in the aftermath of terrorist attacks and crisis reporting, emotionality can become a key part of news coverage, as journalists on the scene strive to give empathetic framing to the victims. Mervi Pantti (2010) found that television journalists did not think emotionality challenged the ideals of factuality and objectivity. Emotions were generally considered to be part of a “realistic” portrayal of news events in a medium uniquely suitable for conveying complex information and issues more simply. “The conflict between subjective emotions and objective reporting on emotions was resolved, on the one hand, by the rejection of ‘authorial’ emotions (journalists’ own emotions) and ‘artificial’ emotions […] and, on the other hand, by rejecting journalists’ influence on the emotional effects of reporting” (Pantti, 2010: 178). In other words, emotionality, when part of the event itself, was considered an advantage in television story-telling as long as it is not “distorted” by journalistic intervention.
The Paris attacks were not domestic Swedish attacks, but they were considered by the Swedish government as an attack on “us” in the EU. More crucially for the media, the cultural targets were not simply symbols of French culture, they were connected to shared Western values, which may have blurred the boundaries between foreign and domestic news coverage. Research on “disaster marathons” in the news after terrorist attacks show that the coverage may be both divisive or unite the societies against a perpetrator, through shared fear, solidarity and mourning (Liebes & Blondheim, 2005). We are interested in whether Swedish news and cultural coverage of the Paris attacks showed more divisive or cohesive emotionality after the attacks and whether the television coverage was more emotional than the coverage in the other media. Was the coverage as a whole similar to the narratives of a domestic attack or was it more focused on broader symbolic tropes, as in coverage of terrorism as a “foreign event”?
Method and empirical data
This study is based on a quantitative content analysis (Neuendorf, 2017) of one week of Swedish news and cultural journalism coverage of the terror attacks in Paris (N=314). The week examined extends from 15 to 21 November 2015 and the material consists of newspaper articles and newscasts produced by the news and cultural desks of Swedish public service radio and television. We have included the press of different political leanings, both tabloid and quality newspapers, from different geographic regions. Regarding the Swedish public service broadcasters and the press, the cultural desks of the press have a clear opinion-forming agenda, whereas the cultural desk broadcasters are mandated to present an array of different perspectives and engage audiences via visual and audio techniques (Riegert et al., 2015). Although the cultural news of both SVT and SR contain various opinionated segments, format differences between the broadcasts and the press mean that we will approach the coverage by focusing on narrative style rather than genre (see below).
Cultural journalism operates with a significantly smaller staff than traditional news desks. Thus, a primary consequence of these diverging production milieus is that the amount of material produced by the news desks far exceeds the items produced by the cultural desks. Since we are interested in differences in a broad sense (the subfield of news vs. the subfield of cultural journalism), we draw on two different data sampling procedures.
In order to map the subfield of cultural journalism, we sampled all the items of the terrorist attacks published in the cultural sections of Sweden’s six most influential newspapers in terms of circulation: Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, Göteborgs-Posten, Sydsvenska Dagbladet, Aftonbladet and Expressen. These represent both national and regional newspapers in the three major metropolitan areas in the country. In addition, we included the cultural news programmes of Swedish public service radio (Kulturnytt) and television (Kulturnyheterna) as well as their webpages (if they differed from the broadcast news).
The comparatively vast amount of materials produced by the news desks called for another sampling strategy. Since we did not expect there to be substantial differences between the quality newspapers and tabloids with regard to their news journalism, we focused on terror coverage published in the largest quality newspaper (Dagens Nyheter), the largest tabloid (Aftonbladet) and the most watched/listened to evening newscasts of public service television (Rapport) and radio (Ekot). This gives us a comprehensive data set that is reasonably representative of the largest media in the broader journalistic field in Sweden, while going for breadth in the subfield of Swedish cultural journalism.
The unit of analysis was individual articles in the press and thematic programme sequences in radio and television (e.g. news, reviews or commentary, etc.). In order to detail the specificities of both news and cultural journalism in a multimedia oriented way, we constructed six variables outlined below.
As previously mentioned, a common difference attributed to cultural journalism when compared to traditional news is that cultural journalism foregrounds journalistic subjectivity and emotions, while news draws on ideals of objectivity. Based on this, we constructed two dichotomous variables which we call style and emotionality. The style variable distinguishes between interpretative and descriptive styles. An interpretative style means that the journalist emphasises the “why” dimension of events by evaluating situations and pinpointing their historical or future significance through a subjective voice. A descriptive style focuses instead on the “what”, “when”, “where” and “who” aspects of the events through a seemingly factual lens (Salgado & Strömbäck, 2012; Soontjens, 2018). Emotionality refers to the tone and voices of the individuals present in the items. If the item included emotions such as fear, anger or sorrow, it was coded as emotional (otherwise as unemotional). A third dichotomous variable, mode of emotionality, was used to analyse whether emotions were expressed through integrative or disruptive forms of identification. If people primarily were expressed as coming together through shared experiences, solidarity or sorrow, the item was coded as integrative. If people were described in terms of blame, revenge or ethnic animosity, the item was coded as disruptive.
Framing and actors
In order to analyse the various ways in which news and cultural journalism constructed the terror attacks as a problem, we use the concept of framing. To frame, in Robert Entman’s words, is to “select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation” (Entman, 1993: 52). Problem frames in this study are strongly related to terrorism’s causes and consequences. Thus, these problem frames are not directly applicable to other news contexts.
We deployed a multi-frame approach, meaning that a news item potentially could be coded for several problem frames. The following dichotomous variables were used (all could either be present or not present in the text): societal disruption, migration, attack on values, security/surveillance, political incapacity, Islamic extremism, inequality/segregation, racism, or, war and conflicts. Finally, actors were coded only if they were quoted (newspapers) or represented directly with their own voice (broadcasting), as separate continuous variables. The coding was performed by the authors and an inter-coder reliability test (percentage agreement) showed satisfactory levels for the style variable (.92), the emotionality variable (.82), the frame variables (.83) as well as the actor variables (.91).
Table 1 below displays the Swedish media coverage in terms of style and degree of emotionality. Differences cut across different levels, but there are also several similarities. First, as a provider of “alternative perspectives”, cultural journalism deploys, as expected, a more interpretative style.
Style and emotionality in news and cultural journalism (per cent)
|News (n=209)||Cultural journalism (n=105)|
While a descriptive style dominates in 80 per cent of the news, cultural journalism is an evenly distributed mix of descriptive and interpretive content. The scarcity of interpretation in the news coverage is not surprising, given previous research that points to descriptive coverage in the aftermath of terror attacks (Falkheimer & Olsson, 2015). The descriptivity of the news can also be seen as an instance of the strong commitment to ideals of objectivity in the journalistic field, whereas the stronger influence of interpretation in the subfield of cultural journalism reflects its ideals of informed subjectivity and reflection around current events.
First and foremost, the period was characterised by various forms of reactions – from the immediate official responses by French and international political leaders to the reactions by witnesses, victims and citizens of Paris. We found no significant differences concerning emotionality between news and cultural journalism on the general level (Table 1). The degree of emotionality did not differ between descriptive and interpretative styles either (see Figure 1 in the appendix), which underlines how extraordinary events such as terror attacks can destabilise established journalistic conventions and style characteristics. As Pantti (2010) noted, emotionality is found through “emotional sources”, engagement with the story and through the character of the event itself. However, the forms and types of emotionality may, of course, vary depending on the context of the event and what type of actors are being heard.
While we did not find any differences with regard to the degree of emotionality, we did find a difference with regard to the kind of emotionality: integrative emotionality was more prevalent in cultural journalism than in traditional news. The integrative mode means that emotions are more often depicted or heard in stories about solidarity, a sense of community, for example by depicting people coming together in mourning. A disruptive mode sets the focus instead on emotional reactions in terms of anger, revenge and cultural difference. News journalism uses these modes fairly evenly (52% integrative and 48% disruptive), whereas emotionality in cultural journalism is more strongly oriented towards the integrative aspects (82% integrative and 18% disruptive). In general, numerous cultural journalists talked about the fear in Paris and Europe following the attacks, the transnational solidarity shown to Parisians and the defiance against the perpetrators’ intentions in continuing one’s work and life. While traditional news also has these types of stories, more typical stories were of world leaders and politicians’ expressions of solidarity that also expressed outrage, retaliation and promises of assistance in the military preparations ahead.
Understanding cultural filtering
Besides the form differences addressed in the previous section, we are interested in how and in what ways the problems coming to light after the attacks are framed. Table 2 shows the presence of nine different problem frames identified in our material. As noted in the method section, we allowed for multiple frames to be coded for each item, meaning that every single article or newscast could contain several problem constructions at once. Both news and cultural journalism paid most attention to various angles related to societal disruption; for example, the immediate consequences of the attacks and how they affected everyday life in the French capital.
Presence of problem frames (per cent)
|News (n=209)||Cultural journalism (n=105)|
|War and conflicts||26||20|
|Inequality and segregation||12||11|
|Attack on values**||9||29|
The fact that societal disruption was a frame in 42 per cent of the news and 29 per cent of the cultural items is not surprising due to the character of news; however the focus of cultural journalism on immediacy appears unusual. Similarities between news and cultural journalism also manifested themselves in the way the attacks were not often framed as a result of the political incapacity to deal with terrorism among political elites (present in around 11% and 13% of the material).
Some studies of US journalism have shown negative stereotypes about Muslims in media representations of terror events (Kearns et al., 2019; Powell, 2011). We found no examples where Islam or Muslims as a group were considered a central part of the problem. Rather, the coverage pointed to terrorism as a product of extremist Islam and while the flow of migration was a fairly common problem frame in the news coverage, it was less so in cultural journalism (14% vs 5%). When controlling for statistical association between the Islamic extremism frame and the other frames for the entire material, we found significant relationships with social inequality (Phi=.331) and the war frame (.269) but not with migration; instead migration correlated strongly with the security and surveillance frame (.258).3 Thus, worries about the lack of proper border checks across the EU and suggestions for more surveillance measures were central themes in the news coverage, but not so in cultural journalism.
While social inequality appeared as a problem frame in both news and cultural journalism, this frame was not very common in either of the two subfields. Segregation was considered a root problem behind Islamic radicalisation both in France and the neighbouring country Belgium, although articles on the latter came from traditional news rather than cultural journalism. Both news and cultural journalism used racism in French society as a problem frame, discussing aspects such as possible religious stigmatisation after the attacks, the historical colonial actions of the French state and the segregation in French society, where religion plays a role. Cultural journalism, however, employed this frame to a larger extent than traditional news.
As to the most distinctive difference between news and cultural journalism, the results in Table 2 show strong evidence for the central role of values in the latter. Aside from societal disruption, the “attack on values” frame was the second most common frame in cultural journalism, whereas the second most common problem frame in news was Islamic extremism and security. The problem frame in the coverage was that this was an attack on the foundational values of French and Western societies. This frame was less evident in the news (9%), than in cultural journalism (29%). The most common way “the attack on values” problem frame appeared in cultural journalism was by describing Paris as the symbolic centre for values such as “liberty, equality and brotherhood” and by describing the attacks as attacks on “our open society”, on democracy, freedom and humanitarian values. Another way the values frame was mobilised was to define the attacks as being on “multicultural” France or “cosmopolitan” Paris. Finally, there was a series of interpretive items criticising or discussing how these values were manifested in contemporary French society. The attack on values frame in the news was mainly in relation to government reactions, foreign policy analysis and the pan-European problem of IS recruits.
As previously noted, a fundamental difference between news and cultural journalism concerns the stronger role of an interpretative style in the latter (despite the so-called interpretative turn in journalism more broadly). This raises questions as to whether the differences in framing remain if we control for descriptive vs interpretive styles in news and cultural journalism. Table A (in the appendix) shows that most of the differences in frames between news and cultural journalism remain; the differences, thus, do not follow from differences in journalistic style. However, other aspects worth discussing came to light in this control. The disruption to society frame was clearly more common in all texts using a descriptive style, and this was the case in both fields studied. Disruption draws on traditional news values such as negativity, conflict and unexpectedness, and they are also bound to immediacy, rather than more complex long-term effects of terrorism, and are thus more suitable for descriptive forms of storytelling (Lewis, 2012).
Presence of frames in descriptive and interpretative items (per cent)
|Descriptive (n=167)||Interpretative (n=42)||Descriptive (n=52)||Interpretative (n=53)|
|Inequality and segregation||11||14||6||15|
|Attack on values||7||17||15||42|
|War and conflicts||22||43||8||32|
When controlling for style, the differences between news and cultural journalism remain for security, Islamic extremism, migration, political incapacity and attack on values; that is, irrespective of journalistic style, all frames except the attack on values frame were more common in news than in cultural journalism. Noteworthy, however, is that all frames except one (disruption to society) are more common in items with an interpretative style. Thus, interpretative items seem, on the whole, to provide a more complex picture of terrorism than items that are descriptive. The descriptive style in cultural journalism stands out as least informative in this regard, providing a less diverse picture of the events by using fewer frames, particularly societal disruption (40%) followed by attack on values (15%) and Islamic extremism (14%). The interpretative style texts in cultural journalism stand out through the dominance of the attack on values frame (42%), but also through a more multifaceted framing.
Actors in news and cultural journalism
As illustrated in the foregoing section, cultural journalism’s specific contribution to the Swedish public discourse during the Paris attacks relates to a large extent on the more interpretative style combined with a stronger focus on the issue of values. However, the cultural filter is not simply about journalistic style and framing. Rather, cultural journalism’s specificity lies in how these features come to the fore through interaction with sources. In fact, this striking difference between news and cultural journalism is related to what kinds of voices are being heard (see Table 3). Actors representing the fields of politics and the authorities together constitute as much as 42 per cent of the actors in traditional news. To this, we can add the central role of ordinary people as witnesses, victims and representatives of the French, European and Western citizenry (38%), due to the live coverage of the aftermath of the attacks. Although this comes as no surprise, cultural journalism shows a different palette of voices, prioritising actors from the cultural domain (67%) ahead of those from the political domain (10%), to the detriment of ordinary people in cultural journalism. As a specialised subfield, cultural journalism is thus characterised by actor homogeneity due to its narrower thematic scope. This does not imply thematic homogeneity, but it shows, as expected, that voices from the cultural domain are at the heart of cultural filtering.
Quoted actors (per cent)
|News (n=415)||Cultural journalism (n=122)|
Discussion and conclusion
This article explored the distinctiveness of Swedish cultural journalism as compared to news reporting of the attacks on cultural targets in Paris in 2015. Our comparison between news and cultural journalism was motivated not only by Swedish audience interest in cultural journalism, but also by the increasing “journalistification” of cultural journalism (while simultaneously retaining a “cultural filter”). The study demonstrates evidence of cultural filtering through the framing of terrorism as “an attack on values” and through showing more integrative (rather than divisive) emotionality, which is consonant with the role of empathy in the cultural public sphere (Gripsrud, 2017).
The highly descriptive, event-centred nature of the news in our sample follows previously identified patterns of terrorism coverage which point to a heavy focus on the event itself, the reactions and the hunt for perpetrators (Falkheimer & Olsson, 2015; Nord et al., 2018). In addition, although the 2015 Paris attacks is only one case, the relatively low level of interpretative style stories calls into question the idea that interpretative journalism has become “pervasive” (Salgado & Strömbäck, 2012), or that event-centred reporting is in general decline (Barnhurst & Mutz, 1997). Hence, cultural journalism – at least as it is practised in Sweden, where aesthetic, political and ethical perspectives are mixed in evaluations and depictions of current events (Riegert & Roosvall, 2017) – contributes in distinctive ways to public discourse about terrorism, even though such a theme may appear only loosely connected to the realm of “culture” or the field of cultural production. Cultural journalism that goes beyond aesthetic areas in this way is still an understudied phenomenon. This calls for journalism studies, not only of events like terrorism, but of societal and political issues more broadly, to include cultural journalism.
Despite the differences outlined above, our results also indicate that cultural filtering (or “alternative sense making”) is primarily applicable to interpretative styles of cultural journalism. When controlling for style, the framing differences between news and cultural journalism were somewhat less distinctive. A striking difference, however, was that the descriptive items in cultural journalism contained fewer frames than the descriptive items in traditional news. This is an indication that “journalistification” downplays cultural journalism’s claim to alternative sense-making of events.
Lastly, in relation to the differences between domestic and foreign terrorist attacks, the subfield of cultural journalism provides some elements typically associated with domestic news coverage of terrorist attacks, like a focus on values, community cohesion and integrative emotionality, but both Swedish news and cultural journalism in their depiction of Muslim extremism were more similar to coverage of foreign terrorist attacks (Gerhards & Schäfer, 2014). In spite of expectations that television would be more emotional, emotionality appeared just as important for both news and cultural journalism in all the media forms. In this age of blurring boundaries between European countries, different media and different types of journalism, especially online, it may be as well to look further than traditional news for coverage of terrorist attacks.
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