When reporting on the crisis at the Swedish Academy in the spring of 2018, Swedish newspapers often reused quotes already published by other media. Such replication can have economic benefits, but can lead to a self-referencing journalistic culture. This is shown in a new study published by Nordicom at the University of Gothenburg.
The study, published in the scientific journal Nordicom Review, examines the extent to which Swedish newspapers have reused quotes already published by other media in connection with the reporting of the crisis in the Swedish Academy in spring 2018. The quotes came from interviews, text messages and social media, and mainly from members of the Swedish Academy, though also from other public figures.
The results show that recycling of quotes is a widely used practice. Author Sanna Skärlund, associate professor of Swedish language at Halmstad University, comments:
In the articles I analysed, almost a sixth of the content is quoted from an already published text. Some articles consist entirely of descriptions of what has been said in interviews from other media, but the most common is that the newspapers mix new statements with quotes from previously published interviews.
The study is based on an analysis of 120 articles published during spring 2018 in Sweden's four largest newspapers: Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, Aftonbladet and Expressen. All articles address the crisis in the Swedish Academy, which began in the fall of 2017 with a prominent artistic director with ties to the Swedish Academy being accused of sexual abuse by several women in connection with the #metoo movement.
Problems with text recycling
Republishing text can save money for the news media in a time of diminishing resources. In addition, the possibilities of copying material from various sources have been facilitated by the use of the Internet and digital publishing. From a larger perspective, however, reuse can lead to problems and cause a "self-referential culture". Sanna Skärlund explains:
The newspapers could become almost like a closed system where the same information is circulated in all media without new facts. There will be a great deal of stagnation [MOU1] in the media if journalists are largely referring to each other instead of doing their own investigations and contacting new sources that can give different perspectives on the events described.
Another risk of the media reusing statements is that second-hand material can easily be misinterpreted and cause inaccuracies to spread.
We can think of the game Chinese whisper: what the first person says is distorted along the way, so that the message – after passing several people – has soon changed to something else. In my study, this is most clear in a one-way analysis, where it appears that journalists at Svenska Dagbladet misunderstood a text message from Sara Stridsberg that Dagens Nyheter published, says Sanna Skärlund.
Text recycling is increasing
Sanna Skärlund emphasises that the articles about the crisis in the Swedish Academy are probably an extreme case, but still thinks that the reuse of published material is something that has increased.
I do not think all newspaper articles contain such a large proportion of recycled quotes. However, I am pretty sure that the reuse of already published texts has increased in the media, as international research has shown. It is much more easy today to cut and paste articles from material found on the Internet than it was before the Internet's impact.
- Sanna Skärlund, associate professor of Swedish language at Halmstad University, Phone: 073-718 47 81, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Karin Andén, communications officer, Nordicom at the Gothenburg University, Phone: 076-618 12 51, e-mail: email@example.com
Title: The Recycling of News in Swedish Newspapers: Reused quotations and reports in articles about the crisis of the Swedish Academy in 2018
Digital publishing: www.nordicom.gu.se/sites/default/files/kapitel-pdf/nor-2020-0005.pdf
Photo: Magnus Göransson