Carolyn Kitch

9Journalism as Memory

Abstract: This chapter considers journalism as an agent and a product of public memory – a social understanding of history that is communicated among members of a community united by identity or experience. After surveying the theoretical and disciplinary emergence of academic research on news and memory, it offers a series of definitions of journalism that illuminate the symbiotic relationship between journalism and memory. This discussion explores how historical consciousness and references to the past serve the needs of journalism, and in turn how journalism serves broader societal needs for shared memory, identity, and history. The essay closes with a consideration of how these definitions may be impacted by new technologies and with a call for greater convergence of memory theory and journalism theory.

Keywords: memory, journalism, commemoration, narrative, witnessing, history, remediation

This chapter considers journalism as a constructor and a product of public memory – a social understanding of history that is communicated among members of a community united by identity or experience. It assesses how journalism functions as an active agent in historical documentation, in social and political change, and in debates about national and transnational identities. It also explores the ways in which news organizations use references to history in order to make sense of disturbing events and to affirm their own corporate status in the 21st century. This essay, like memory itself, is about the present more than the past: it is an exploration not of journalism history but of historical consciousness in journalism.

The chapter begins with an overview of the theoretical and disciplinary emergence of academic research on news and memory, along with a brief discussion of terminology. The next two sections offer a series of definitions of journalism through which we might understand aspects of the symbiotic relationship between journalism and memory. The final section discusses some current trends in both journalistic and academic work that may suggest future directions for scholarship.

1Theoretical premises, themes, and terms

Whether geographic, familial, or “imagined” (Anderson 1983), a “mnemonic community” (Zerubavel 1996) interprets its present based on shared beliefs about its past. Those beliefs are communicated and enacted over time through narrative and ritual. While this general idea was advanced more than a century ago by sociologist Emile Durkheim ([1915] 1973), his student Maurice Halbwachs (1950) more often is credited with defining “collective memory”. In their collection of key texts, The Collective Memory Reader, Jeffrey Olick, Vered Vinitzky-Seroussi, and Daniel Levy (2011) make the point that there were many possible “fathers” of memory studies among 19th- and early 20th-century thinkers. Nevertheless, in just a handful of essays, Halbwachs articulated definitions of social memory that remain especially useful to scholars today.

Social memory’s central premise – that our understandings of the past are constructed through social interaction – was reinforced by mid-20th-century developments in sociology and social history, as scholars grappled with global events of the modern world. The circumstances and consequences of the World Wars produced calls not only for deeper understandings of social and political identity but also for a new kind of historical thinking. Yet the word “memory” was not widely used in academic work until the 1980s and 1990s, when the growing field of Holocaust studies reinvigorated interest in memory and when cultural-studies scholars began to apply Halbwachs’s ideas to new concerns such as globalization, postmodernity, and the heritage industries (for a fuller explanation of this “memory boom”, see Huyssen 2003).

Since its emergence as a significant area of scholarship some three decades ago, this type of inquiry has spread rapidly across disciplines. Initially based in sociology, memory studies now occur in fields ranging from art history and performance studies to cultural geography and urban planning. Some critics claim that this broad conceptual embrace of memory has diluted the term’s meaning and that the field has become a loosely organized enterprise without a center. An alternative view is that the factor of memory, once a seemingly novel concept of phenomenology, has become widely accepted as an important theme of research across disciplines. Astrid Erll takes this more optimistic stance, writing that “the most promising and challenging fact about memory studies is that it is developing steadily into a true convergence field. Memory research has not only inspired new alliances between the humanities, social, sciences, and natural sciences. Slowly but palpably, it is also bringing together the knowledge and approaches of scholars from very different parts of the world” (2011a: 175).

As Erll and others have noted, mediation is essential to the formation and communication of memory, and since the early 1990s, memory has steadily attracted the interest of researchers in media and communication studies (for a summary, see Hume 2010). While much of that work has focused on film and popular culture, a growing subfield of interdisciplinary and increasingly international research has more closely investigated the distinct functions of journalism in the creation and cultivation of ideas about the past. That scholarship tends to share several assumptions stemming from Halbwachs’s original premises. One is that there can be no shared memory without language (communication), and therefore that communication researchers have much to contribute to memory studies. Another is that memories take the mental shape of narratives. Whether or not explicitly about memory, a large body of cultural research on journalism has explored the narrative nature of news (for instance, Bird & Dardenne 1997; Carey 1989; Eason 1981; Fisher 1985) and the routine recurrence of such structural frameworks, a practice historian and former New York Times journalist Robert Darnton described as “making cookies from an antique cookie-cutter” (1975: 189). Memory scholars have built on this premise, tracing the repetition and reinforcement of those journalistic narratives over time.

A third common assumption is that social memory is closely related, theoretically and logistically, to social identity, and that shared memory is an expression of shared identity. Therefore, much scholarship on journalism and memory has considered the role of news media in constructing various types of social identity. That identity may be intentional (e.g., among fans of certain celebrities or sports teams) or circumstantial (e.g., among victims of war, disaster, or persecution), but in either case it is socially constructed through narratives that define experience as a shared foundation for future memory.

Although of course memory also is studied as a cognitive phenomenon in individuals, “memory studies” scholars, including those who study journalism, are most interested in how human interaction and social structures shape memory. It is to this social phenomenon that the word “memory” refers in the discussion that follows, and for the most part, the word memory is used alone, without a modifier. Yet it is worth briefly acknowledging that scholars preface the word “memory” with a variety of adjectives. Most common are “collective”, “social”, “cultural”, and “public”. Some writers use particular modifiers – “cultural” vs. “communicative” (Assmann 2010) or “strong” vs. “distributed” (Wertsch 2002) – in order to differentiate between memory’s formal narratives and its dissemination through people’s behavior. Others (for instance, Landsberg 2009; Sturken 1997) use the word “cultural” to refer to communication that includes but can transcend direct social interaction. More recently, the term “connected memory” has become a way to describe “the radical networking and diffusion of memory ushered in with the advent of digital technologies” (Hoskins 2011: 23, 24; also Garde-Hansen 2011). Journalism scholars (such as Volkmer 2006) often use the word “public” in describing memories that are acquired and shared through news media. It is the public nature of news media that most interests these researchers: after all, journalism is an act of publication in a public forum meant to serve the public interest.

Memory-studies research has emerged as a field of scholarship during a period of global proliferation of mass media and the emergence of new kinds of technological mediation. Media texts are commonly used as evidence in memory research. Yet too often such research addresses a memory issue – a theme of public memory – while ignoring the process of its mediation. This is especially true when the media in question are journalistic ones, regarded as merely a “window on” or a “mirror of” reality, as a “container” but not a constructor of the news (Zelizer 2004: 30–31). Journalists themselves tend to encourage this view, which is baked into normative professional beliefs that, due to their objectivity, reporters merely reveal or convey the outside world. Journalism is seen as simply a delivery vehicle for the subject that is of interest.

The vehicular metaphor hints at a contradiction, however: if journalists “bring us” the world, then they must be in it, not outside it; they are its translators and our active conduits to the events of both the present and the past. Indeed, it is within its avowed role of “bringing” the world to “us” that journalism makes its grandest claims to history.

2How journalism makes use of history and memory

History and memory appear within journalism in a number of ways. This section considers how the past is employed to enrich news content, bolster the authority of journalists, lengthen the lifetime of news products, and extend the brands of news institutions.

2.1Journalism as familiar explanation

Because historical precedent for an event is a factor in its newsworthiness, reporters routinely make references to the past in order to “intensify the importance of [a] story”, notes Michael Schudson (2014: 88). Yet history is most helpful in covering truly unexpected events, shocking or chaotic occurrences that at first seem inexplicable. To make sense of such events, journalists, along with other kinds of cultural leaders, search for historical analogies (Edy 1999) and “frame images” (Schwartz 1988) in which current narratives and images recall earlier ones. One example is Bergen (NJ) Record photojournalist Thomas Franklin’s photograph of three firemen raising the American flag on the site of the rubble of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001; while Franklin presumably did not intend to replicate Joe Rosenthal’s iconic 1945 photograph of American solders raising the flag on Iwo Jima, photo editors and news audiences quickly recognized the reference and understood its meaning.

Something similar happens with the words of news articles, with journalists’ choices of recognizable narrative frameworks for explanation, especially in cases of morally disturbing news. Sometimes, as Dan Berkowitz (2010) found in his analysis of coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings, these references are mythic in nature. Studying a wide variety of types of major news stories, from natural disaster to celebrity scandal, journalism scholar and former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Jack Lule (2001) identified seven mythical “archetypes” through which such events are culturally explained. In providing narrative templates for the unexpected present, historical references may also anticipate the telling of future news, “premediating” explanation of events that have not yet occurred – a process that Keren Tenenboim-Weinblatt (2013) calls “prospective memory” (also Erll 2011a: 142).

2.2Journalism as historian

References to the past also create an opportunity for journalists to narratively insert themselves into the historic moment at hand, making future memory in which their own coverage will be conflated with the event itself. This is especially true of television news, which often becomes a text of public history. Historical explanation enhances the cultural authority of journalism as those events are revisited on anniversaries and in coverage of subsequent similar events. In those retellings, journalists are transformed into historical actors who “were there” as “eyewitnesses to history”.

The advantage of hindsight further strengthens journalists’ historical authority over time, as they recall their younger selves’ prescience and intent. Through multiple retellings, a chaotic episode is narratively transformed into an inevitable chapter in a larger story of progress. Eventually, certain journalists may become the preferred (or only) tellers of the historical tale, rather than just one of many, as they were when the event took place (Zelizer 1992). Recalled retrospectively, eyewitness status endows journalists themselves with a kind of artifactual status, as if the past remains within them. Some figures, such as Walter Cronkite, become strongly associated with the reporting of particular events (Carlson 2012); others, such as Tom Brokaw, take on a broader mantle of cultural historian, speaking for generations and for a nation.

Sometimes a particular journalist actually was there on the scene of “history unfolding”. More often, however, the journalist who gains the status of the chief “eyewitness” of a historic event was not in fact at the site of the event – yet was “there” with us in the moment of its public perception. Memory scholars who research audiences repeatedly find that most people’s “experience” of an event is the experience of having heard about it from a particular journalist or within a particular media context. Although the news coverage is not the event itself, the news coverage is the main public memory of the event, affectively and sensorially embedded in audiences’ perceptions years later. These are what Roger Brown and James Kulik (1977) call “flashbulb memory” moments, in which what is illuminated is not the event but its conveyance. Such journalism becomes a memory text in the moment of its unexpected creation.

2.3Journalism as keepsake

Other journalistic memory texts are planned, containing overt references to their own historic function. Newspapers and magazines long have published “special” or “commemorative” issues after major events, and not always disastrous ones: on happy occasions, too, such as the local team’s World Series win, commemorative journalism generates material keepsakes that connect the news institution to its community’s identity and memory. Like other types of material culture, news media can become memory objects, touchstones to past experience and feeling. Just as eyewitness reporting confirms that journalists “were there”, keepsake media products attest that we were there.

Keepsake journalism is routinely created on ceremonial occasions such as inaugurations, coronations, anniversaries, and memorials. These media products tell definitive stories that situate both the journalists and their audiences within future memory of the special event. Some scholarship has explored this ceremonial dimension of journalism – building on and extending Daniel Dayan and Elihu Katz’s (1992) concept of “media events” – by examining news coverage of, for instance, Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee (Wardle & West 2004) and the inauguration of Barack Obama. The election of the first African-American US President inspired a large number of keepsake news-media products, some of which made sweeping statements about “the American dream” and the culmination of the American Civil Rights movement (Stiles & Kitch 2011). Broadcast television networks (and some newspapers) produced keepsake DVDs, while The New York Times repackaged its campaign coverage in a four-pound coffee-table book titled The Historic Journey.

The day after Obama’s election, The Washington Post announced that it had sold out in record time, and, thus, that print journalism still mattered to people. In fact, this special event was not any real indication of the health of the newspaper business. Some keepsake journalism is a gesture of farewell. When newspapers close, they publish ritually designed final editions that tell their institutional histories as part of community history and that reflect on the meaning of journalism within those communities, offering “intriguing examples of metajournalistic discourse”, writes Nicholas Gilewicz (2015: 685).

Keepsake journalism was plentiful at the end of the 20th century, as newspapers and television-news networks produced century-summary “specials”. Anniversaries of major events also are triggers for the production of keepsake journalism, as are the deaths of prominent figures; both types of events allow journalists to speak on behalf of not only history but also the social group (however that is defined) – to assess what the moment says about “us” – in rhetoric that unites journalists and audiences in one mnemonic community (Kitch 2005).

2.4Journalism as brand

Repackaging news coverage, whether as memory objects or as “historic” documents, has become a cottage industry for legacy media companies. This practice literally brands the news institution onto the memory and while reminding us of the brand’s own historical status. The online New York Times Store sells historic photos and customized reprints (which for several years they also offered as part of a “keepsake legacy” package using Ellis Island records). Life magazine, which now provides free online access to thousands of its photographic images, exists only as a brand; its archival photos, rearranged thematically, draw audiences to an advertising-supported web site that also promotes the Time brand. Indeed, beginning with its 1930s newsreel and radio productions called “The March of Time”, magazine publisher Time Inc. pioneered branding convergence and has been perhaps the most active corporate packager of memory (Kitch 2006).

Some memory-making projects that start in journalism turn out to be businesses with lives of their own, even while reflecting status back onto the news brand. One example was television-news anchor Tom Brokaw’s celebration of the “Greatest Generation” who fought in World War II, a series of tributes that took shape in television specials, books, and events and that conferred upon Brokaw the status of cultural historian. Most scholarship on that particular media project has focused on its ideological messages (for instance, Biesecker 2002), yet it also is noteworthy for the way in which it embedded the NBC News brand into American popular memory of “the good war”. The same branding marked Brokaw’s subsequent book-length and television-program tributes to the Baby Boom generation, coinciding with 40th anniversaries milestone events of the 1960s.

3How journalism extends or denies history and memory

In its most basic definition – as a record of occurrences – journalism is inherently historical in content and function. That record is preserved and publicly available, and in these senses journalism has a preservative and didactic role similar to those of archives, libraries, and museums. That record also is communicable and useful, and in these senses journalism can be an active political and social force in an increasingly networked world. This section considers various ways in which journalism serves the purposes of history and memory.

3.1Journalism as library and museum

When media-memory products are saved and used years after their production, they can become a form of public history and education. Such status shifts are solidified, literally, when the physical form of the media-memory object changes – for instance, from newspaper or magazine or television program to hardcover book, as happened with many of the century summaries, or from a television program to DVD, as happened with some of Brokaw’s memory projects. What began as journalism enters a collection, a library or an archive, in homes or in schools and universities. It is ironic that historians, who take such a dim view of the authority and intent of present-day journalism, so often rely on news content as factual primary-source material … once it has reached a certain age.

Just as saved journalism products can become personal or educational resources, they are common kinds of historical evidence within museums. Old newspaper front-pages and newsreel or television-news footage are privileged forms of documentary truth in museums, especially those that retell dramatic events of the 20th-century decades that coincided with the heyday of mainstream news media. A striking example can be seen in museums about the American Civil Rights movement, in which news photos and news film have a double function: they document the scenes of violence and protest, while also reminding us how we came to “see” those events in the first place (through media), confirming the historical importance of news coverage itself in this chapter of American history. These news artifacts often are narratively and technologically “remediated” (Bolter & Grusin 1999; van Dijck 2007), shown within and repurposed by digital representations in ways that bring the old images newly alive without diminishing their status as authentic proof.

3.2Journalism as archive

Digital storage capabilities have greatly enhanced journalism’s archival function, transforming media education and media research. The digitization of print and broadcast journalism has lessened the problems of its physical decay and its loss as companies fold. Digitization also has revolutionized accessibility, which no longer is limited by geography or institutional access. In these ways, digital archives faithfully preserve the content of historic news media while radically changing the potential circulation of that content.

Photojournalism is of particular interest in this regard. Photographs are, in one sense, memory objects, thought, by some, even to contain the past moment, having frozen it in time (for instance, Hirsch 2001; Sturken 1997). That quality makes them a powerful medium for documentary truth. Yet they also are a powerful medium for persuasion. Photographs combine information and emotion: they are “representations of important historical events” while also “evok[ing] strong emotional and symbolic connections” (Hariman & Lucaites 2014: 132). Because of their affective power, many news photographs have been repackaged in books and shown in museum exhibits, becoming art and history as well as journalism. On one hand, the recirculation of photographs across cultural forms can enhance their power, their reach, and their memorability; on the other hand, certain images may be recycled to the extent that either they lose their original meaning (Zelizer 1998) or they come to dominate media memory and thus exclude other images from the visual narrative.

While some scholars are concerned about the promiscuous and theoretically endless recirculation of images, other see possibilities for writing a new kind of history. When digital photographs are freely available to the public, they can enable scholars (and others) to reclaim lost historical details and weave them into new memory narratives (Fabos 2014).

3.3Journalism as national identity

The global circulation of media images, especially those depicting crisis and atrocity, is one factor in the growing interest in international, “transnational”, “transcultural”, and “multidirectional” memory studies (see, respectively, Volkmer 2006; Erll 2011a; De Cesari & Rigney 2014; Rothberg 2009). Following a call to abandon “methodological nationalism” (Erll 2011a: 62; Levy & Sznaider 2002: 103), such work explores both the continuity and the hybridity of memory narratives and their complex circulation within and across national borders.

At the same time, however, there has been a resurgence of nationalism in journalistic memory narratives, especially in postcolonial, post-Communist, and post-conflict societies. Some recent examples illustrate not only the staying power of this traditional theme in memory research but also its nature and range: Julia Sonnevend (2013) studied how Communist newspapers in Hungary later reconstructed national memory of that country’s failed 1956 revolution; Zala Volcic and Karmen Erjavec (2012) interviewed journalists about their own memories of the wars in Bosnia and Herzegovina; Alina Hogea (2010) analyzed two decades of post-Communist political rhetoric in Romanian newspapers; Charles Villa-Vicencio (2012) and Susana Kaiser (2014) explored the role of print and broadcast news media in publicly disseminating victim testimony to truth commissions in, respectively, South Africa and Argentina; Chiaoning Su (2012) assessed definitions of Taiwanese national values in news coverage of natural disasters over time; and Andrew McNeill, Evanthia Lyons, and Samuel Pehrson (2014) analyzed press discourse about the British government’s apology nearly four decades after the events of “Bloody Sunday” in Northern Ireland. In certain countries, collective remembering is a central aspect of citizenship, expressed across media platforms in ritual ways; Oren Meyers, Motti Neiger and Eyal Zandberg (2014), for instance, have comprehensively examined the key role of media in Holocaust Commemoration in Israel.

3.4Journalism as social justice

In some places, the resurgence of nationalist concerns is linked to a social and political need for restoration of previously silenced histories. In post-Communist and post-dictatorship countries, the recent democratization and proliferation of news media have positioned journalists as central tellers of these new stories about the past. Susana Kaiser notes the importance of “activist journalists” who, “as professional witnesses, amplify” (2014: 255) the accounts of survivors by interviewing them, investigating their experiences, and printing official victim testimony. In gathering and publicizing victims’ stories, these journalists are building “collected” (rather than “collective”) memory, which Jeffrey Olick defines as “the aggregated individual memories of members of a group” (2007: 23). Through such reporting, some journalism has become a forum for achieving reparative justice for victims of past oppression or abuse.

This new role for news media builds on the concept of “peace journalism” (Lynch & McGoldrick 2005), and its study aligns journalism scholarship with trends in other fields such as development communication and social justice. Public conveyances of memory are understood as a form of justice because reparative narratives are meant to restore lost voices and experiences to the historical record, as well as to affirm the legitimacy of survivors’ stories. In this view, journalists can be key actors within “an ethics of public memory” (Lee & Thomas 2012: 205).

Academic inquiry into this phenomenon, too, can be seen as a form of activism, illustrating the way in which memory studies can provide a “rare combination of social relevance and intellectual challenge” (Kansteiner 2002: 180). Such work may be the kind of transcriptional amplification described above, or it can resurrect perspectives that challenge the conventional historical wisdom constructed by mainstream news media. Suhi Choi (2008), for instance, interviewed elderly Korean survivors who had been attacked by American soldiers during the Korean War, an event that was either denied or forgotten in American journalism for half a century. As a topic of research, the relationship between newswork and “the right to memory” (Reading 2011: 380) is a fertile area for future scholarship that could dovetail with researchers’ growing interest in journalists’ own experiences with trauma (for instance, Rentschler 2010).

3.5Journalism as moral witness

While the “right to memory” debate is relatively new, the idea of journalism as a moral witness is not. Documenting injustice is a long-held value of mainstream as well as alternative news media. News images of atrocities have an especially high truth status – creating a system of “truths” in which moral truth sometimes eclipses factual truth (Zelizer 1998) – and their public dissemination invokes the witnessing obligation of audiences.

Moral witnessing in journalism is more than documentation; it is testimony. It is a translation of the event and a statement about the event’s significance. In those senses, then, it is a form of memory from the start: as John Durham Peters explains, “the curious thing about witnessing is its retroactive character” (2009: 39). Journalism, and especially photojournalism, long has facilitated moral judgment by audiences (for instance, Maurantonio 2014; Zelizer 1998), but new technologies have revived academic interest in this phenomenon and inspired new theorizing. Updating literature on the ceremonial and pastoral role of television during major news events, Paul Frosh and Amit Pinchevski describe present-day “media witnessing” as a multimediated process involving audiences as well as journalists within a society “testifying to its own historical reality as it unfolds” (2009: 12).

Moral witnessing requires audiences’ and journalists’ affective engagement with the subjects of news, creating a sense of “responsibility” and “an awareness of ourselves as historical actors”, writes John Ellis (2009: 86). Journalistic and scholarly debates about memory rights and ethics are linked to ideas about cross-cultural empathy, or cosmopolitanism, of which journalism can be an important conveyor. Alison Landsberg’s concept of “prosthetic memory” – in which, through media, we can “feel” what we ourselves did not experience directly – involves this kind of empathy, a form of “ethical thinking” and “an intellectual engagement with the plight of the other … others who have no relation to us, who resemble us not [at] all, whose circumstances lie far outside of our own experiences” (2009: 223).

3.6Journalism as historical denial or revision

Conversely, journalism has the power to ignore or deny events or social conditions. Judgments about what constitutes newsworthiness (or is “tellable”) affect the creation and survival of cultural knowledge. Journalistic “gatekeeping” thus shapes not only our perceptions of present reality but also the record that will, in time, be the material of memory and history. For these reasons, the news-selection process has been a central critical concern in the literature on framing and newsroom sociology, inquiry that considers not only what “makes” the news but what does not. That process has historical consequences. Although it is not the only institution that shapes public memory, journalism is an influential force in what Peter Burke calls “the social organization of forgetting, the rules of exclusion, suppression or repression, and the question of who wants whom to forget what, and why” (1989: 191).

Of course the very process of remembering requires decision-making; we cannot remember everything. In order to be comprehensible, news explanations of events must be structured and simplified in a way that the events themselves are not, a reduction exacerbated by further “loss of detail” over time (Schudson 1995: 348). Even later, summary (or retrospective) journalism narrates only those memories that make positive sense together, resulting in what Paul Connerton calls “structural amnesia” (2008: 64; also Davis 1984; Kitch 2005). On an operational level, “forgetting” is an inevitable aspect of journalism.

Some journalistic forgetting occurs through the process of news reporting of strategic communication with an agenda. One example is political candidates’ inaccurate characterizations of the past in ways that position themselves as the natural outcome of historical change (Kammen 1995), rhetoric that is routinely repeated in news coverage of their campaigns. Other forgetting is more of a choice, a refusal or reluctance to “see” certain disturbing occurrences or non-normative identities, resulting in what Gaye Tuchman calls “symbolic annihilation” in news media (Tuchman 1978: 7). Such memory distortion, in which the past is cherry-picked to serve powerful people or institutions (including news institutions) of the present, has received a great deal of scholarly attention.

Yet, as Connerton notes, “forgetting is not always a failure” (2008: 59), especially in populations that must look forward rather than backward in order to survive or heal past traumas or divisions; indeed, what he calls “prescriptive forgetting” (2008: 61) may be an explicit goal of journalism that promotes conflict resolution among previous enemies who must now co-exist. Such a strategy is not necessarily permanent. Forgetting, like memory, is a fluid process, and what is “forgotten” at any point in time may be retrieved and brought back into “working memory” (Rigney 2005) when it again serves the needs of a future present.

4New directions: Memory and journalism on a post-scarcity media landscape

Scholarship on the relationship between journalism and memory began in earnest during the 1980s and 1990s, a time when both cultural meanings of news and definitions of social memory tended to focus on particular media platforms (especially television) and on the construction of national identity. Since then, several factors – chiefly, globalization, the emergence of digital technologies, and the economic and professional erosion of mainstream journalism – have refocused much inquiry in this area.

Current scholars of journalism and memory must understand “new connectivities and assemblages of memories” (Reading 2011: 380) within a “new transnational public sphere” of “networked” memory (Volkmer & Lee 2014: 50). Social media have been key to these shifts, enabling the crowdsourcing of memory construction within a “new circulatory memory-scape” (Andén-Papadopoulos 2014: 150) in which journalism is not only connected to but also transformed by other sources of memory as it “travels” in sometimes unpredictable ways (Erll 2011b; also see Hajek, Lohmeier & Pentzold 2016; van Dijck 2007).

Many scholars are optimistic about the expanded reach and interactivity afforded by globalization and digital technologies, which have transformed “long-held ideas about what constitutes community” so that the concept is no longer “limited by geographic, religious, or ethnic borders,” writes Janice Hume (2010: 192). The “connective turn” of memory construction (Hoskins 2011) has greatly expanded the range of memory constructors, made historical resources more accessible, and fostered dialogue between previously unconnected audiences.

Other scholars predict negative memory consequences of new media technologies and trends. Jill Edy warns that the proliferation of specialized news in a “post-broadcast world” has the potential to create “memory silos generated by selective exposure” (2014: 76). Conversely, predicts Andrew Hoskins, the vast distribution of information within a “post-scarcity” media ecology threatens to eviscerate its impact, resulting in “a new careless memory” (2011: 19). In somewhat more positive terms, Joanne Garde-Hansen writes that YouTube “offers viewers an ongoing transformation of collective memory as a mosaic of media” in which “alternative versions of history connect and disconnect” (2011: 107, 108). These words appear in Garde-Hansen’s study of video remediation of war, a topic that once was the purview of only the largest, mainstream news organizations.

Today, the technological capability of ordinary people to produce and circulate information, especially in video form, parallels the traditional witnessing function of news media. When such material is incorporated into journalism, it may bolster the authority, authenticity, and “moralizing force” of journalism, thus enriching the historical record that journalism creates, “expand[ing] journalism’s power to relay the human drama that enhances our understanding of and engagement with the past” (Andén-Papadopoulos 2014: 149). In other cases, however, citizen video replaces the work of professional journalists as “the first draft of history”. This is true of breaking-news events as well as the more systematic watchdog function of groups that organize to document injustice and to hold powerful people and institutions accountable on an ongoing basis. The words in the previous sentence used to be shorthand for journalism; now they apply equally to media-producing groups such as Witness, which verifies and curates citizen videos for the Human Rights Channel on YouTube, as well as the growing number of “cop-watching” organizations that publish citizen reports online and organize the physical monitoring and filming of police in public space (Bock 2016).

Whether used within or existing externally to the content produced by traditional news organizations, journalistic reports made by non-journalists using YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and other social-media platforms now circulate widely and unceasingly. Both this content and its circulation do more than merely challenge journalistic authority: they raise questions about what (and who and where) “journalism” actually is.

That is a central question in current journalism scholarship, against the backdrop of profound shifts in the profession’s structure, products, and audiences. This chapter has explored the intersections of journalism and memory construction, assessing how each serves the other. A similar meeting of scholarship may be profitable.

As many critics have noted (though chiefly Zelizer 2008), there is a large body of academic literature about journalism and there is a large body of academic literature about memory, and the two rarely meet, at least in any sustained analytical way. So far, the main question has been why memory scholars don’t take journalism seriously enough. At a time when journalism theory is in flux and researchers seek new models for understanding the forms and functions of news media in the 21st century, perhaps it makes sense to pose the question the other way around, asking why journalism scholars don’t engage more often with the factor of memory. Many key concerns of memory scholarship – explanation of disturbing events, witnessing of injustice, preservation of multiple accounts of important events, articulation of national identity and international connections – are also key concerns of journalism and journalism scholarship. As this chapter has sought to illustrate, studying journalism’s uses of the past may help us to think in new ways about the field’s future.

Further reading

No one has written more about journalism and memory than Barbie Zelizer, and her recent book Journalism and Memory, co-edited with Keren Tenenboim-Weinblatt (2014) offers a thematically wide-ranging discussion among scholars who are actively involved in this field.

The Collective Memory Reader (2011) provides a broad and historical view of the theoretical foundations of memory scholarship, along with a comprehensive introductory essay by editors Jeffrey K. Olick, Vered Vinitzky-Seroussi, and Daniel Levy. In Astrid Erll and Ansgar Nünning’s A Companion to Cultural Memory Studies (2010), the editors’ analytical overview of cultural-memory studies is followed by essays in which contemporary scholars offer various disciplinary perspectives. A third valuable edited collection is On Media Memory: Collective Memory in a New Media Age, edited by Motti Neiger, Oren Meyers and Eyal Zandberg (2011), which elaborates on several of the themes discussed in this chapter, including national memory, technological “connectivity”, and transcultural or globalized memory.

Those three scholars’ own study of Israeli national memory of the Holocaust – Communicating Awe: Media Memory and Holocaust Commemoration (Meyers, Neiger & Zandberg 2014) – is a rare example of work that examines how the same memory goals are accomplished across different media platforms, while reminding us that certain types of media have special communicative properties. Another innovative work, considering the interplay of news content, media technologies, and national and generational memory, is News in Public Memory: An International Study of Media Memories across Generations, Ingrid Volkmer’s (2006) edited collection of interviews with news audience members in nine countries.

Finally, several individually-authored books, while not explicitly about journalism, offer thoughtful, forward-looking views of memory studies. Astrid Erll’s Memory in Culture (2011a) is an intensely rich theoretical overview of the landscape of memory studies, embracing media as cultural forms that are connected with other ways of remembering. Joanne Garde-Hansen’s Media and Memory (2011) supplements a theoretical discussion of the field’s main debates with engaging case studies on fresh themes (ranging from YouTube mashups to the affective power of ambient sound). In Mediated Memories in the Digital Age, José van Dijck (2007) explores the ways in which digital mediation and remediation are woven into everyday, “personal” culture such as family photo albums, diaries, and music collections, blurring the analytical distinctions between public and private, and making us all constructors of media memory.


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