The media are like a carousel which requires a constant stream of fresh news stories to keep it spinning. Some stories result from lengthy background work, whereas a growing portion is created with little journalistic effort. The hectic pace of newsrooms is already a normal part of journalists’ daily life.

For many Finns, the news is the only information channel for following the developments in politics. Newsrooms and even individual journalists have therefore a great responsibility. Journalism has always been used as a channel for political influence. In the 21st century, however, the use of the media as part of political decision-making has increased and become more systematic. This is due to the more elaborate methods and bigger investments in lobbying. It is no wonder journalists have become pawns in political decision-making.

With respect to external influence, newsrooms are now on thinner ice than even a couple of decades ago. In those days, there were considerably more journalists specialised in politics and economics, for instance. Specialist journalism has increasingly given way to general journalism. Journalists’ expertise has diminished. Younger journalists lack experience and perspective on issues. Moreover, an investigative approach to editorial work has become rarer.

In principle, there is nothing wrong with lobbying decisions or exerting influence on the media as such. When done transparently, influencing and journalistic work serve the interests of both sides: the journalist gets a worthwhile story and the lobbyist gets an opportunity to bring the client’s views to the awareness of political decision-makers and the general public.

From the media’s point of view, it is important, however, that the readers and other media audiences have a chance to review how the story was created and who provided the material for it.

In the end, it is a question of what the reader can trust. Among other things, investments in various marketing and communication consultants have increased in recent years. At the same time, journalists are recruited from newsrooms to work as storytellers in companies’ own communication channels as well as to marketing and communications agencies. From politics, in turn, ex-MPs, former civil servants and political assistants are hired at an increasing rate to make use of their own competence and wide networks in lobbying for decisions. Both professional groups understand the logic of the media. Hence, there are now a greater number of lobbyists who are able to use the media in such a way that journalists still think, even if falsely, that they themselves are keeping the decision-making power solely in their own hands.

Transparency is a cornerstone of trustworthy journalism. With regard to news coverage on political decision-making, this calls partly for updating the editorial approach to the 2020s. Journalism research has much to offer for this need.

Markus Mykkänen
Postdoctoral researcher in journalism
Department of Language and Communication Studies.

Lobbying’s influence on journalists is studied as part of a project hosted at the Department of Language and Communication Studies. Information about the progress and results of the project is available at https://www.jyu.fi/medialobbaus.

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