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Producer-centric versus participation-centric: On the shaping of mobile media



News media are forming omnipresence strategies to become accessible anytime, anywhere and through any device. Mobile news services and mobile applications play an increasingly influential role in contemporary newspapers. This is an in-depth study of a newspaper organization contemplating the challenges coupled with mobile media. It shows how heterogeneous sensemaking processes emerge among media workers from editorial, business and IT departments. Most importantly, it shows two polarized constellations within the newspaper organization when it comes to the shaping of its mobile application. Several arguments were used in their respective rhetoric, and at the loci of their attention was the negotiation of a producer-versus a participation-centric design. An alliance of media workers from the editorial and IT departments won ground for their producer-centric proposal, enacting an iPhone application primarily based on auto-directed flows of traditional news reporting. They produced a self-fulfilling prophecy, creating cues for other newspapers in a newspaper industry characterized by isomorphism.
NL 10 pp. 107–121 Intellect Limited 2012
Northern Lights
Volume 10
© 2012 Intellect Ltd Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/nl.10.107_1
University of Gothenburg and IT University of Copenhagen
News media are forming omnipresence strategies to become accessible anytime,
anywhere and through any device. Mobile news services and mobile applications
play an increasingly influential role in contemporary newspapers. This is an in-depth
study of a newspaper organization contemplating the challenges coupled with mobile
media. It shows how heterogeneous sensemaking processes emerge among media
workers from editorial, business and IT departments. Most importantly, it shows
two polarized constellations within the newspaper organization when it comes to the
shaping of its mobile application. Several arguments were used in their respective
rhetoric, and at the loci of their attention was the negotiation of a producer- versus
a participation-centric design. An alliance of media workers from the editorial and
IT departments won ground for their producer-centric proposal, enacting an iPhone
application primarily based on auto-directed flows of traditional news reporting.
They produced a self-fulfilling prophecy, creating cues for other newspapers in a
newspaper industry characterized by isomorphism.
media production
mobile media
NL_10_Westlund_107-121.indd 107 3/24/12 2:19:06 PM
Oscar Westlund
This is an organizational study focusing on the sensemaking of mobile media
among different media workers on a newspaper. It is a study of how concep-
tions about production and participation come into play in the collaborative
shaping of a mobile application. Newspapers in the old media landscape were
characterized by a strong position whereby they controlled the print and one-
way distribution channel. The profit margins were considerably high due to
little competition, which made it possible for the journalist core to develop
ideals of autonomy. Journalists determined what was newsworthy, and since
their readers provided limited feedback on preferences and behaviour (unless
asked in investigations), most feedback came from colleagues. The high will-
ingness among readers to pay for the newspaper product, accompanied by
advertisers’ interest in paying for access to it, secured their existence, function
and practices for decade after decade.
Newspapers in the new media landscape publish news through several
channels, and have become accustomed to more direct feedback on their work
(through article comments, social media, e-mail responses, etc.). The digital
habitat has stimulated an expanded, ubiquitous, participatory and competi-
tive media landscape. The new media landscape cannibalizes the power of old
media, which has resulted in a cry for the imminent demise of newspapers in
print. While few print newspapers in the western world have ceased to exist,
their readership and revenue figures have declined. At the same time there has
been increasing growth in accessing news through news sites, mobile devices
and tablets. Among some groups, news sites have displaced print, while among
others these are used complementary (Westlund and Färdigh 2011). However,
while the user uptake is growing for digital media, it has not been matched
by equivalent growth in its revenue figures. The advertisement expenditure
figures for digital media are indeed on the rise, but online ventures such as
Google and Facebook have encroached on the budgets advertisers previously
invested in newspapers. In sum, advertising is becoming decoupled from
newspapers, and perhaps even from journalism.
A metamorphosis and convergence of old and new media are taking place
(Bolter and Grusin [1999] 2000; Jenkins 2006). Newspaper organizations have
turned into hybrids between the old analogue and the new digital, being
inexorably involved in contemporary transformations of our media landscape
through their omnipresence strategies. Media workers of newspaper organiza-
tions continuously make sense of how they are to contemplate the transform-
ing journalistic, business and technological conditions for their operations.
Newspapers have typically been portrayed as applying duality manage-
ment, referring to the polarization of duties and interests of the editorial
and the business departments, respectively (Achtenhagen and Raviola 2009;
Küng 2007). With a growing orientation towards digital media, media work-
ers in IT departments are presumably becoming increasingly involved with
the developmental processes. The former relationships and tensions between
these groups are changing, as newspapers are moving towards digital media.
In a similar vein, there is also a changing relationship between the media
producers and their users. Journalism has traditionally involved journalists
filtering reporting only on the news stories found newsworthy. Journalists have
been perceived as the keepers of the gates that encircle what is to become news
or not. Digital media have made it possible for users not only to consume news,
but also to produce and distribute content of their own. Bloggers, for instance,
NL_10_Westlund_107-121.indd 108 3/24/12 2:19:06 PM
Producer-centric versus participation-centric
have been conceived as both sources for and competitors with journalism
(Bruns 2005; Quandt and Singer 2009). Citizens nowadays switch between
roles of consumption and roles of production (Bruns 2010). News media are
becoming coupled with a social sharing ideology that involves social network-
ing sites, wikis, blogs, etc. News media can account for such opportunities
by embedding functionalities enabling sharing, commenting and publishing.
The information society offers endless sources of information and news, avail-
able in different media forms and produced by both professionals and laymen.
News media are increasingly expected to enable users to produce content, an
issue that has also been at the centre of (normative) conceptualizations about
the (preferred) direction of journalism in a digital age. Convergence journal-
ism (Quinn 2004) and participatory journalism (Deuze et al. 2007; Singer
et al. 2011) are some of the labels used in discussions in which users are
inscribed with a largely different set of possibilities for influence and interac-
tion. Citizen journalism refers to practices in which citizens engage in news
reporting. The roles and control over news media production are shifting. This
is challenging the traditionally established gatekeeper role, and journalists are
becoming guardians of open gates (Singer et al. 2011). Contemporary digital
technologies have made it possible to change the traditional dogma of ‘we
write – you read’. However, many journalists do not welcome these changes,
feeling that the benefits are unclear (Quandt and Singer 2009). They prefer to
avoid dialogue (Andersson 2009), and instead strive to preserve their authority
and gatekeeping role. While negative towards citizens becoming involved in
the publishing of news, journalists are more positive towards allowing them
to upload photos and videos, and to comment on stories (Steensen 2011). In
sum, the producer versus user tension has become increasingly present during
the twenty-first century as old producer-centric practices are confronted with
new participation-centric practices.
The bottom line is that contemporary newspapers are transforming,
through an increasing orientation towards digital media and possibly user
participation. When old media organizations expand and develop their cross-
media portfolio they define new boundaries. This article focuses on how the
producer- versus participation-centric positions are accommodated in the
shaping of a mobile application (for iPhone), centred on an interview-based
study with media workers from the editorial, business and IT departments.
Such shaping involves dynamics related to interpretations, negotiations and
actions, and therefore the sensemaking approach (Weick 1995) is applied. The
next section discusses the study rationale, thereafter the thematically ordered
findings are reviewed, before the concluding remarks.
Contemporary research on digital media and news media production shows
that newspapers have reshaped their products, services, content, and organi-
zational structures and cultures through their endeavours with regard to online
news publishing. Digital media have become integrated into the textures of
many newspaper organizations, involving their practices, objects and distri-
bution channels. There are a number of theoretical approaches that both
have been and can be employed for studies on new technology and organi-
zational change, such as institutionalization, affordances, boundary work and
sensemaking. There are several reasons why the sensemaking approach has
been deployed for this study.
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Oscar Westlund
First, acknowledging the importance of studying processes in organiza-
tional change (Achtenhagen and Raviola 2009; Mitchelstein and Boczkowski
2009), sensemaking allows for studying continuous processes of change. In
this way, one at least partly avoids the pitfalls of faltering memories and
respondents consciously or unconsciously improving their stories on organ-
izational developments. Investigations into early innovation processes are
important since these rather quickly become part of organizational routines
and work practices (Orlikowski and Gash 1994). Studying constructions of
the new among news producers, through in-depth studies, makes it possi-
ble to address questions of how news-related technologies are socially
and professionally constructed (Cottle 2007). Later in the process the new
becomes unquestioned and naturalized (Plesner 2009), as it is institutional-
ized with the old. The sensemaking approach is suitable for studying forma-
tive processes of the new and alien to an organization. It allows the study of
how different media workers shape the new through ongoing social proc-
esses involving interpretations and actions. The sensemaking approach
conceives actions as situated in context, studying one or a few cases in
depth, and relying on what participants do and say. Thomas et al. (1993)
define sensemaking as the interaction between information seeking, mean-
ing ascription and action.
In a similar vein, others have emphasized the understanding of the
meaning-making processes that circulate identity, interpretations and action,
studying which events are relevant to sense-makers and how they make
meaning from these (Weick et al. 2005). Weick (1995) emphasizes that sense-
making literally means the making of sense. Sensemaking is a construction-
ist approach, driven by plausibility rather than accuracy, whereby reality is
treated as an ongoing accomplishment of active constructions, classifications,
interpretations and conclusions. Sensemaking is social and grounded in iden-
tity construction. Heterogeneous experiences and interests guide the identifi-
cation and extraction of cues, which form the material people retrospectively
make sense of. Sensemaking involves the enactment of sensible environ-
ments, conceiving action as a precondition for sensemaking. The action of
saying makes it possible for people to see what they think. Enactment means
that people construct the situation they face, creating and receiving stimuli as
a result of their own activity. Organizations discuss to understand what they
are saying, and act to understand what they are doing. Enactment is to act on
the perceptions one has, confirming one’s predictions about how the future
will evolve (Weick 1995).
Studying the processes of mobile media developments in a relatively early
stage opens up the possibility to gain knowledge on the sensemaking of mobile
media (the new) among different media workers. The sensemaking approach
allows the study of how various media workers interpret, negotiate and act
for developments of mobile media. It thereby takes into account how tensions
between departmental boundaries in newspaper organizations (Deuze and
Fortunati 2010; Paterson and Domingo 2008), as well as heterogeneous iden-
tities and interests (Huang et al. 2006; García Avilés and Carvajal 2008) come
into play in the development of new mobile media.
There are a number of reasons behind the focus on sensemaking a mobile
application. One reason is the importance of studying constructions of some-
thing new; a second relates to the absence of research on developments of
mobile media; and a third acknowledges the growing uptake of mobile media.
Referring to mobile media indicates that the mobile device has become coupled
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Producer-centric versus participation-centric
with (multi)media, enabling interaction, content and information processing
through audio, video, graphics, text and animation (Westlund 2008). A mobile
application facilitates content and functionalities through Internet-based
technology. There has been a relatively strong increasing uptake of news and
Internet use with mobile devices since 2008/2009 (Gómez Barroso et al. 2010;
Westlund 2011b; Westlund et al. 2011). News is being accessed with mobile
devices both at home and on the go. It is therefore not surprising to note
omnipresence strategies whereby contemporary news media become accessi-
ble any time, anywhere and through any device. In this context, several studies
have shown that the iPhone has had a powerful impact (Goggin 2009, 2010;
Wilken and Sinclair 2009), motivating a particular focus on the shaping of an
iPhone application.
This article generally builds on a larger research project (Westlund, 2011a),
which involved 62 in-depth interviews conducted from 2008 to 2011 with
26 different media workers from editorial, business and IT departments. It
predominantly builds on the interviews from 2009 and 2010, making it a case
study focusing key processes of sensemaking within a limited time frame. The
interview occasions were approached as a site for sensemaking that involved
the interviewee and the interviewer. This approach has been inspired by
scholars emphasizing joint construction of realities (Rapley 2001) and ongo-
ing mutual articulation of interpretations (Holstein and Gubrium 1995).
Throughout fieldwork, different interview stories were posited to each other in
an ongoing sensemaking process, from which micro events and patterns were
synthesized and thematically arranged based on how tensions come into play.
The research was conducted in Sweden, a country with high newspaper
and ICT diffusion, which contributes to expanding the geographic gaze of
research into journalism, business and technology in the digital era. Sweden
is a culturally and socially homogeneous nation with a prominent system
for social welfare. Similar to other Scandinavian countries, the news media
system has traditionally been characterized by high newspaper readership
and use of public service media. The deregulation in the late 1980s enabled
commercial broadcasters to establish themselves in the Swedish media arena,
which has become a system characterized as involving ingredients from both
market and planned economy ideologies (Hallin and Mancini 2004). The
case under investigation is Göteborgs-Posten (GP), a newspaper company
which has the second-highest print circulation among subscribed quality
print newspapers in Sweden. It is the major newspaper company in one of
the largest media groups in Scandinavia (the Stampen Group). The year 1995
marked its entrance into online news publishing, and from the turn of the
millennium it started experimenting with different forms of news publishing
for mobile devices. In 2008, GP employed a mobile editor and also launched a
one-year project group dedicated to mobile media developments. In the same
year, a project devoted to mobile media developments (MktMobil) was formed
by the Stampen Group together with the four other newspaper groups that it
had partnered for digital developments through a company called MktMedia.
Among the 47 member newspapers, GP constitutes the largest in terms of
circulation, revenue and number of employees.
As of 2008 and 2009, GP focused on making news available through SMS
news flashes and their mobile news site. Simultaneously, the media workers
were extracting cues and making sense of the increasing uptake of mobile
applications, from which they formed different ideas on whether or not GP
were to develop an application for iPhone (iOS). Apple was considered as
NL_10_Westlund_107-121.indd 111 5/15/12 12:10:15 PM
Oscar Westlund
more important than Android (Google) or Symbian (Nokia). With the start
of 2010, GP orchestrated its ambitions to organize rapid and collaborative
digital developments by forming the Digital Developments Group (DDG). At
the time of study, the DDG was mainly composed of media workers from
the editorial and IT departments. Those representing the business depart-
ment in the DDG were at first not particularly involved in mobile media
By the autumn of 2009, the media workers in the three departments had
each come to consider developing an iPhone application as a strategically
important area. They concluded that there was a particularly strong uptake
of mobile news by users with iPhones. There was evidently limited commu-
nication across departmental boundaries on this issue at the time. The busi-
ness department had discussed its ideas for development with a consultancy
firm, but not with the media workers in the editorial and IT departments, who
formed an alliance through the DDG. Intra-organizational tensions came into
play. In what follows, these two propositions will be labelled the DDG appli-
cation and the BD application.
In February 2010, the media workers realized that they had initiated two
parallel tracks, and thereafter their focus shifted from making an applica-
tion to making one application. They decided that this application was to be
developed in-house in collaboration with MktMobil, rather than by involv-
ing a consultancy company as planned by the business department. They felt
compelled to make their application accessible relatively rapidly. They wanted
a strong market position, to offer users more value, but also to enhance their
brand image by promoting their mobile application in a planned summer
marketing campaign. The development of the iPhone application was given
very high priority thanks to media workers from all three departments agree-
ing on the importance of this.
During the spring, the media workers from the three departments became
involved in collaborative sensemaking at numerous meetings, negotiating
their ideas on how the iPhone application was going to be shaped. There
were some important issues that they approached similarly, such as making
both news and utility services accessible. Making the news accessible was to
be managed technically, by programming their editorial content manage-
ment systems to auto-direct content flows from their news site. In terms of
making the application free or fee based, there were various opinions in the
different departments, but they rather quickly decided to favour a free-based
approach for the launch of their first version. They assumed that a free-based
approach would generate the best initial diffusion among users, and then with
future launches of updated versions they could possibly make more use of
their digital repository in order to charge for content or functionalities. The
conception of user participation in the two proposals was on the other hand
relatively polarized, and was negotiated by the three departments. Once they
had shaped a mutual proposal, the members of GP presented and negotiated
it with the members of MktMobil, who were to perform the programming of
the application. The mobile application was launched as planned by the end
of June, and was included in their scheduled summer marketing campaign.
Two areas form the loci of attention for the analysis in the follow-
ing sections. First, the two different proposals are discussed, and second,
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Producer-centric versus participation-centric
the retrospective sensemaking of the outcome. During the spring, the two
proposals were negotiated on numerous occasions for sensemaking, and the
two parties employed a set of arguments in their respective proposal rheto-
ric. The advocates of the DDG application emphasized arguments related to
six topics in favour of their proposal: producer-centric, speed, re-releases, content
volume, content quality and supervision. The first three were explicitly designed
into their original proposal, while the remaining three became explicit as a
response to the BD application. The proponents of the BD application on the
other hand emphasized the brand image, unique and participation centric, with
which they designed their proposition. The bottom line is that the tension
of producers versus users came into play as the editorial and IT departments
essentially positioned a producer-centric rhetoric, which was rather opposite
to the participation-centric rhetoric of the business department. These repre-
sent constructions shaped through the sensemaking of media workers with
relatively heterogeneous identities and interests.
The proposed DDG application was producer-centric in the sense that it
suggested that GP was to focus on the functionalities and content that they
were appreciated for and familiar with. DDG’s stance was that GP first and
foremost had to promote and establish its (old) role of being a news producer
in the context of the (new) iPhone application. The DDG application there-
fore put an emphasis on making their journalistic news content accessible for
the application through auto-direction. The editorial board stressed that as a
local newspaper organization its local news content should constitute the core
for all its channels. The DDG application was proposed as a basic and news-
oriented application aimed to satisfy the users’ need to access GP news on
the go. The DDG application marked an expression of the editorial strategy
of GP, which involved pursuing omnipresence and wide distribution of its
local news content. The proposers of the DDG application acknowledged that
a creative application would be appealing to users, but they preferred to first
launch a basic application that focused on their local news. In terms of speed,
the advocates of the DDG application felt that it was critically important for
GP to make rapid progress, which implied focusing on an iPhone application
that was manageable to develop and launch by the summer in time for the
planned marketing campaign. They emphasized that continuous and subse-
quent improvements to their iPhone application were to come, in which they
were open to integrating more unique and creative functionalities. The DDG
application therefore involved only a limited selection of functionalities for
personalization and location-based services. This positioning to be renewable
corresponds to the Web 2.0 idea of beta versions that are continuously devel-
oped over time. Speed was motivated by the conception of the application as
renewable through continuous development processes.
There were also three arguments among the media workers in the editorial
and IT departments that were considered as they shaped their producer-centric
DDG application proposal. These arguments, content volume, content quality
and supervision, became more explicit as they negotiated their proposal with
the business department, which in contrast favoured a participation-centric
approach. While some of the DDG members were attracted by the idea of
enabling more dialogue between journalists and users, and allowing for user
participation, they argued that there were conditions in favour of not doing so.
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Oscar Westlund
Content volume makes the first of these arguments against the participation-
centric approach. The DDG members reasoned that their various analyses of
website usage patterns implied low expectations of users to generate content
for a mobile news application. Considering the limited incentives for users to
generate content, people were portrayed as the opposite to active participators
and content creators for the mobile domain. They emphasized that promot-
ing user participation functionality involved a great deal of risk. If the interest
in such functionalities was overestimated, and users failed to make contribu-
tions, such sections of the application would not only have little appeal, but
might also have a negative impact on their brand image.
With the second argument, this could also be caused by the inferior content
quality of material produced by citizens compared with that produced by jour-
nalists. The DDG members welcomed only conditioned user participation, as
expected when we consider previously discussed research on journalists’ resist-
ance to such practices. While asserting that people can contribute their impres-
sions, through pictures or comments, these were not conceived of as equivalent
to the ‘very professional perspective’ they believed characterized their own
journalists. They proclaimed that journalists were trained to select and report
on events, which citizens were not. They were concerned that user-generated
content by citizens could potentially be very offensive, for instance citizens
taking and uploading pictures with their mobile device if they observed an acci-
dent. Such pictures could potentially display the faces of people who had been
hurt or even died in the accident, which would harm not only the friends and
relatives of the victim, but also the brand of GP. There were expectations that
citizen journalism by mobile devices could possibly harm the long-standing
credibility of the newspaper. Following this reasoning, the third argument was
that supervision by journalists was a prerequisite if they were to allow for citizen
journalism. Journalistically trained editors were presumed to monitor and edit
potentially offensive user-generated content prior to publishing. The advocates
of the DDG application insisted on avoiding much user participation, as the
supervision necessary would require relatively extensive staff resources.
The business department had designed its proposed BD application in
pursuit of enhancing the company brand image, positioning GP at the fron-
tier compared with other Swedish news media. They pursued a design of
the iPhone application that made it possible to pitch unique functionalities
in their marketing communications. Essentially, this meant that they looked
for functionalities that were easy and valuable to emphasize in their market-
ing campaigns, and that were likely to be noticed not only by users, but also
by advertisers and other news media organizations. The BD application was
therefore designed to emphasize the unique and creative, which involved
developing customized mobile media functionalities, such as personalization
and location-based services. Related to brand image and unique function-
alities, the BD application was for the most part promoted as participation-
centric, with its relatively progressive positioning for citizen journalism and
other sorts of user participation functionalities. Its proponents expected that
many people would appreciate such functionality, while clearly not all of them
would become involved as contributors.
The proposed BD application promoted two equally sized content
sections, labelled GP-news and You-news. The GP-news section was proposed
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Producer-centric versus participation-centric
to contain news produced by GP journalists (auto-directed by their editorial
CMS), applying their old media producer role of publishing and distributing
journalism in one direction. The You-news section on the other hand was
proposed to publish news originating from the citizens of Gothenburg. It was
derived from interpretations that contemporary citizens desired not only to
consume, but also to produce news, with their mobile devices. The members
of the business department anticipated that although not everyone was going
to contribute user-generated content, it was important to make this possible
for those interested in doing so. The BD application also involved a number
of functionalities enabling user-generated content more broadly. For instance,
it allowed its users to submit their personal stories and photos, tagged with
their geographical position through location-sensitive technology. Similarly,
the BD application proposed encouraging the citizens of Gothenburg to use
location-sensitive technology to identify the place they were currently at, and
then express whether they hate or love it. This feature was sensed as promis-
ing, considering its growing popularity on social networking sites.
Throughout the process of negotiating the two proposals, the BD applica-
tion was essentially deserted in favour of the DDG application. The alliance
of the editorial and IT departments had successfully won ground for their
proposition, largely thanks to the long-standing prominent and influen-
tial position of the editorial department. The media workers were generally
satisfied with the outcome of their development work. They had aimed to
reach 3000 downloads from their launch in mid-June to the end of August.
The result was more than 30,000 downloads, and by the end of 2010 they
had reached approximately 50,000 downloads and had 500,000 page impres-
sions per week, and the trend continued upwards. The users of the iPhone
application were more frequent and generated more page impressions than
users of their mobile news site.
A conclusion is that they defined the criteria for success in terms of their
available measurements of users’ uptake, which materialized directly as the
cues extracted for their sensemaking on whether or not their mobile media
endeavours were successful. With figures going beyond their expectations, the
iPhone application was considered a success, reinforcing their sensemaking
that they were making progress. In a similar vein, they evaluated the statistics
for their successes and failures in terms of user participation. All the media
workers concluded that these figures were relatively limited. The media work-
ers of the editorial and IT departments treated these figures as indicators of
having made sound projections. While the media workers from the business
department also noted limited user participation, they insisted that this was
related to the fact that they themselves had shaped their application in a way
that did little to support and promote participation. The business department
had envisioned promoting the mobile application and brand image through
the relatively unique proposition of the BD application. However, the chief of
marketing explained, ‘that is nothing we do now. We rather communicate it
little by little since it is not big and unique enough to blazon’. In other words, as
an effect of choosing the path of the DDG application, the business department
members did not engage in aggressive promotion. As they enacted an appli-
cation, they produced and promoted limited means for participation, creating
a self-fulfilling prophecy that influenced their subsequent sensemaking. The
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Oscar Westlund
outcome matched their expectation-driven sensemaking, strengthening their
conviction that users were not particularly keen on producing mobile media
content for their local newspaper. In contrast to the media workers in the
editorial and business departments, those in the IT department were not satis-
fied with their production-centric design. Their retrospective views on this are
therefore discussed more thoroughly in the following section.
The CEO of GP stated that ‘there was some kind of “I” thinking that was
lost in the process. Something I found very interesting, a very interactive
interface in the application’. He felt that the business department had been
driving change, through an interesting proposition that focused on the users
themselves (i.e. I). He stated, ‘unfortunately it did not get any breakthrough
in the end. A contributing explanation was that it was not anchored with the
editorial part of the organization’. With an influential editorial department,
GP launched a basic and producer-centric news application for iPhone. The
business department had battled for the inclusion of some of its proposed
functionalities, and while these by no means included citizen journalism, they
allowed for some participation. One function allowed users to do restaurant
reviews, while another made it possible to upload pictures of places and define
their location, and then express one’s opinion of them. These were types of
content that did not intrude much on the journalists’ area of expertise, as
discussed by the chief of marketing:
There were no big conflicts really, but as soon as the application came
into the hands of them, the influence we and the consultancy firm had
evaporated. Then our draft was like a fundamental base, but there were
other drafts and activities that were processed, much based on what
the programmers could manage to deliver. And also perhaps a little bit
more from the traditional newspaper way-of-thinking than what the
consultancy firm had. Then it was processed that way instead, instead
of a customer perspective it was processed from a newspaper perspec-
tive. That is what happened. When we develop something, and perhaps
especially when we get it from external partners, then it is much more
customer-oriented. It focuses on utility for customers and also that
there should be something unique, something that can be communi-
cated as distinctive. But when it comes the other way then it is more
like ‘well, how do we usually report on news, and how can we do that
for this new platform?’ In some way the things we usually do are then
supposed to be transferred to a new screen, a new template so to speak.
And then one must battle, we really had to battle to get some of these
things through.
(Chief of marketing)
The chief of marketing explicated how the two propositions were polarized
in terms of their positioning regarding both the tension between old and
new and the tension between producer and user. To her, the DDG appli-
cation derived from the old newspaper way of thinking, which involved
translating old practices of journalism publishing into a new channel. The
business department on the other hand was conceived of as more sensitive to
consumers’ needs. Retrospectively reflecting on the process and outcome, the
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Producer-centric versus participation-centric
brand chief suggested that there were additional arguments for the producer-
centric position of the editorial and IT departments, which had not been made
clear by them.
We wanted to involve the users much more than what they wanted
from the editorial side. They are afraid for this thing of having other
people writing news. That is clear […]. This is a little bit of a competi-
tion situation, user-news versus the editorial department news, if the
user news is faster. At the same time I think this adds to a fantastic actu-
ality in one’s application if one dares to open up in such ways. I mean
the idea that our readers built half of the application in some way really
was an interesting idea.
(Brand chief)
In other words, the brand chief believed that the resistance to the proposed
citizen journalism was related to journalists’ anxiety about being challenged.
She argued that it was a pity that GP did not dare to make the iPhone appli-
cation more creative, and that this was related to their generally prudent
approach to digital media developments and maintenance of control. She
acknowledged that there clearly were ethical concerns with the quality of
content, but nevertheless believed that ways could have been found to inte-
grate such developments. In conclusion, she explicated the tension between
producers and users of news, and assumptions about the unwillingness to
grant too much power to users to manifest their creativity and ideas.
The press is under pressure. Print dollars are slowly being replaced by digital
cents. Subscriptions and single-sold copies are falling on many newspaper
markets, and advertising is increasingly becoming decoupled from newspapers
and journalism as other forms of strategic communications are gaining
momentum. News media organizations have become omnipresent hybrids
between the old analogue and the new digital. As their journalism-oriented
enterprises are changing, there are several tensions that have come into play.
This article has shown how media workers in editorial, business and IT
departments shape journalism and services for mobile media, based on both
their various experiences of old media and their expectations of new media.
The study suggests that duality management of newspapers (Achtenhagen
and Raviola 2009) is now accompanied by the IT department when it comes
to digital developments. Their unified conviction about the urgency of devel-
oping an iPhone application fuelled rapid developments, which presuma-
bly would have been different if dissociated views had been explicated from
their sensemaking. The media workers were satisfied with both the pace of
their developments and the uptake of the mobile application by users. It is
worth noting that they defined their own criteria for making sense of their
performance. They extracted cues from usage pattern statistics to make sense
of. From their retrospective sensemaking they concluded that the figures on
uptake were beyond their initial expectations, which reassured them that their
endeavours were successful.
As discussed in the introduction, there has been a movement that has
normatively suggested increased participation as a preferred direction for
contemporary newspapers working with journalism in the digital age. However,
NL_10_Westlund_107-121.indd 117 3/24/12 2:19:09 PM
Oscar Westlund
journalists have more often resisted than welcomed such suggested practices,
and they have therefore often resulted in giving citizens limited opportunities
to become involved with journalism (e.g. Quandt and Singer 2009). Along
the same lines, the findings of this study show how such demarcations were
shaped by the editorial and IT departments as polarized conceptions of how
to address the producer versus user tension that emerged in the sensemak-
ing process. These conceptions mark an expression for heterogeneous sense-
making, which formed parallel tracks within this newspaper organization, and
which converged through their negotiations in the sensemaking process. The
outcome of their negotiations resulted in the launch of a relatively basic and
producer-centric news application. Those who explicated low expectations
on user participation won ground for their position, which consequently also
meant that the participation-centric rhetoric for the mobile application was
kept at bay. The old producer-centric notion, coupled with journalism in print,
was transferred to the way they shaped their new mobile application.
As a consequence, the business department found few features that
gleamed enough to support extensive marketing communications. With little
promotion of user participation inside the application, and to the public, there
were subsequently also relatively few engaging in such behaviours. This was
explicated as a fact based on their retrospective sensemaking of their statis-
tics on user participation. However, they defined and evaluated the outcome
of the application by extracting cues that largely depended on their own
actions. They essentially produced a self-fulfilling prophecy by designing
limited opportunities for user participation in their application. GP shaped a
situation that fundamentally confirmed the projections of the media work-
ers in the editorial and IT departments, who therefore asserted that they had
made sound projections on participation in the first place. This corresponds to
Weick’s (1995) definition of enactment as confirming one’s envisioning of the
future by means of acting on perceptions.
With its mobile application, GP enacted a new environment, with cues for
sensemaking, for other newspapers in the industry. Following in its path, other
newspapers in the MktMobil group developed similar iPhone applications by
using the shell created by GP. This further enacted mobile media, producing
cues skewed towards the producer-centric approach to a newspaper industry
characterized by isomorphism.
The study shows that this early innovation process, which was socially
and professionally constructed, institutionalized a particular path for a news-
related technology. The newspaper developed a mobile application blended
with technology and commerce in terms of production, presentation and
distribution. They forced convergence of their heterogeneous sensemaking of
mobile media, negotiating the extent to which journalism or user participation
was going to shape their iPhone application. The old and producer-centric
envisioning of journalism came to shape their new mobile application, rather
than the participation-centric approach. Their ongoing and social accomplish-
ment of reality can be taken as an enactment grounded in their identity and
practices coupled with journalism and the old, reinforcing established bound-
aries of journalistic craftsmanship. The results suggest that customization and
shaping of new media logic(s) does not equal developing a different sort of
journalism for the mobile, but rather that journalism was treated as platform-
neutral. Machines were programmed for auto-directing journalistic content
from the news site (old) to the mobile application (new), and customization to
its logic(s) was confined to re-representation through features such as location
NL_10_Westlund_107-121.indd 118 3/24/12 2:19:09 PM
Producer-centric versus participation-centric
sensitivity and personalization. Future research into digital and mobile media
should investigate the sensemaking of diverse media workers, in particular
how they negotiate tensions between production and participation, the old
and the new, as well as journalists and machines.
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suggested citation
Westlund, O. (2012), ‘Producer-centric versus participation-centric: On the
shaping of mobile media’, Northern Lights 10, pp. 107–121, doi: 10.1386/
NL_10_Westlund_107-121.indd 120 4/27/12 10:22:50 AM
Producer-centric versus participation-centric
Oscar Westlund, PhD, is a cross-disciplinary researcher focusing on trans-
formations and relationships between old and new media. During the
autumn of 2011 he was a visiting fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study
of Journalism at the University of Oxford and during 2012 he holds a joint
appointment as postdoctoral researcher at University of Gothenburg and
IT University of Copenhagen. His research has recently been published in
journals such as New Media and Society, Behaviour & Information Technology,
International Journal of Communication, Canadian Journal of Communication,
European Review, International Journal on Media Management and Journalism
Contact: Department of Journalism, Media and Communication, University of
Gothenburg, Box 710, 405 30 Gothenburg, Sweden.
NL_10_Westlund_107-121.indd 121 3/24/12 2:19:10 PM
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... A more holistic approach to studying media innovations and/or cross-media news work would examine the social construction of technology at the intersection of editorial, business, and technology, as Nielsen (2012) did in studying newspaper blogging platforms and Westlund (2011Westlund ( , 2012 did in his analyses of mobile news development. Going forward, such a perspective might help researchers better assess growing forms of coordination between the editorial and business sides, through the collaborative development of information products and services for multiple platforms. ...
... Aitamurto & Lewis, 2013). Research has also shown how diverse social actors negotiate the ways in which actants are to carry out some of their work through automation, as well as how actors inscribe actants with the affordances facilitating the ways that audiences might engage with their products and services (Westlund, 2012). The more specific literature on innovation and media work in news media organizations points to matters of power and influence between different agents in media firms, which may be manifest in tensions between intraorganizational human actors, between humans and actants, and between producers and their audiences (Lewis & Westlund, 2015a;cf. ...
... Ananny, 2013;Westlund, 2013). For instance, newspapers such as Sweden's Göteborgs-Posten use prolific editorial content management systems (CMS) and algorithms for implementing and running mobile news publishing (Westlund, 2011(Westlund, , 2012. ...
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... Research from previous decades has reported on different kinds of walls -visible as well as invisible -having been erected between editorial and market departments within news media companies (Franklin & Murphy, 1991;Underwood, 1993;McManus, 1994). More recent academic studies have reported on "cultural clashes" (Compaine, 2006), and also duality management as a way to organize the cultures and interests of the journalists (e.g. the "words" or the "church") and the businesspeople (the "money") internally in the salient case of news media companies (Achtenhagen and Raviola, 2009;Westlund, 2012). Moreover, an industry report representative to the Nordic countries has shown that four out of ten newspaper managers claimed that it was important to "encourage understanding and cooperation between departments" (Stone, Nel & Wilberg, 2010). ...
... The editorial department, on the other hand, produces and publishes the content, while the business department promotes content and services, generating profits from both business-to-consumer and business-to-business activities (Lewis & Usher, 2013;Westlund, 2011). Qualitative case studies on media innovation for blogs (Nielsen, 2012) and mobile media (Westlund, 2012) have revealed various forms of ongoing negotiations and tensions between these three groups of media workers. ...
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... One of the various reasons that justify the success of smartphones is the fact that they are a mobile way to access the internet (Aguado; Martínez, 2006;Westlund, 2012;Canavilhas et al., 2020). For that reason, it makes sense to start this point with a reference to the internet, which in October 2020 reached 4,929 million users reaching a worldwide penetration rate of 63.2% and registering a growth of 1,266% since 2000. ...
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Research about online journalism has been dominated by a discourse of technological innovation. The “success” of online journalism is often measured by the extent to which it utilizes technological assets like interactivity, multimedia and hypertext. This paper critically examines the technologically oriented research about online journalism in the second decade of its existence. The aim is twofold. First, to investigate to what degree online journalism, as it is portrayed in empirical research, utilizes new technology more than previously. Second, the paper points to the limitations of technologically oriented research and suggests alternative research approaches that might be more effective in explaining why online journalism develops as it does.
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By analyzing the daily work of online journalists, this book investigates the production of online news: how it differs from traditional media production, and its consequences for the character and quality of online news. It advocates revitalization of the ethnographic methodologies of sociologists who entered newsrooms in the 1970s and 1980s, while simultaneously exploring new theoretical frameworks to better understand the evolution of online journalism and how newsrooms deal with innovation and change. This collection fills a gap in the field by offering ethnographic descriptions from sites of online news production in many countries, and provides insider perspectives on the real practices and values of new media production, documenting how these often differ from the claims of both producers and theorists.
The field of media management has grown frenetically. Over the past ten years a rash of courses have sprung up all over the world, two journals have been established, as well as two professional associations for academics working in the field. Yet despite—or perhaps because of—this fast growth it remains a confused field, particularly concerning its scope, purpose and methods. This paper addresses these issues in three ways. First, it analyses the current state of play in the field, with specific reference to the theoretical orientations of key players in the field and the implications these have had for scholarship output to date. Second, it adopts the perspective of the media organization and identifies which aspects characterise, or even differentiate, the management task in this context. Finally, by synthesising these contextual insights with research emphases to date, it makes recommendations for future work in the field, both in terms of theoretical perspectives and methodological orientations.