The early twentieth century saw the heyday of “cultural internationalism”, the concept introduced by diplomatic historian Akira Iriye (1997), meaning cross-national cultural communication, understanding, and cooperation, and entailing that a variety of activities link countries and people through the exchange of ideas. Besides such major state-level organisations as the League of Nations, a wide variety of international organisations was founded in the early twentieth century: ideological (socialist, communist, and even fascist), religious, economic, feminist, legal – and journalistic.
The International Organization of Journalists (IOJ), founded in 1946, has its roots in this boom of international organisations of the early twentieth century. Of the many international journalist associations of the mid-war period, the legacy of the IOJ was based on the Fédération Internationale des Journalistes (FIJ), founded in 1926, and the International Federation of Journalists of Allied or Free Countries (IFJAFC), established during World War II.
The founding meeting of the IOJ was held during the World Congress of Journalists in Copenhagen in 1946. The delegates of the Congress committee who decided to establish a new international organisation included nine countries (Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Finland, France, South Africa, the UK, the USA, and the USSR). In addition, another twelve countries, including Norway and Sweden, later joined the IOJ as founding members.
As in international politics, the positive post-war spirit did not last long within the IOJ. Soon after the Second IOJ Congress in Prague, Czechoslovakia, Anglo-American press reports started to accuse the IOJ of “falling under Russian influence”, with the headquarters “taken over by communists” and the organisation being a hard-line puppet of Moscow. After several clashes between Eastern and Western representatives of organisations, including walk-outs from the meetings, the IOJ split when the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) was established in Brussels in 1952. In practice, the major Western national journalist unions had withdrawn from the IOJ before the 1950s, yet there still were representatives from the UK, the USA, and Scandinavia in the Helsinki Congress of 1959.
Belonging to the “Soviet sphere” was manifested in the headquarters of the IOJ, which were situated in Prague, the capital of a socialist Eastern bloc country. Moreover, the major financing source for the IOJ was the Soviet Union. One interesting source of financing of the IOJ was the international lottery, which became an important means of fundraising for the training schools and assistance to journalists in the developing countries. Indeed, the IOJ did not consist only of the East European socialist countries (and Western countries such as Finland, France, and Italy, who all had relatively solid communist parties and trade unions); the countries from Latin America, Asia, and the Arab world had a strong position in the organisation. In that sense, the IOJ remained – and even expanded – a truly international and global organisation. In terms of numbers, the western IFJ was less than half the size of the IOJ. In fact, the IOJ became the world's largest international non-governmental organisation in the media field by the 1970s.
But when the Cold War was heated, the international (geo)politics had an increasingly tightening grip on the IOJ. One milestone in the development was, of course, the Prague Spring and the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, yet the IOJ did not undergo drastic changes. Nevertheless, the promising visions of “socialism with a human face” turned to “normalisation”, also within the IOJ. Moreover, the foxholes of both sides were deepened. As Nordenstreng writes about the relationship between the IOJ and the IFJ, “No doubt the relations between the two internationals resembled a dialogue of the deaf” (p. 76).
Nordenstreng himself was the president of the IOJ from 1976 to 1990. According to his testimony, he saw strengthening “the strategy for East-West détente and North-South cooperation beyond the customary boundaries determine by the Cold War contradictions” as his main achievement as the president (p. 300). Indeed, one part of the global internationalism of the 1960s and 1970s was to export the ideologies of the rival superpowers – to spread the influence and to increase the power of both blocs – to developing nations. Training and other educational programmes were targeted to these countries, financed both by Eastern European institutions and American private philanthropic foundations (Rockefeller, Ford, etc.). In other words, “rival universalisms structed national societies as well as international relations along ideological lines”, as Sandrine Kott (2017: 361) writes in her account on Cold War internationalism.
The lingering end of the IOJ was sad in many ways – the fall of an empire. Not only did the biggest supporter, the Soviet Union, collapse, the “Velvet Revolution” of Czechoslovakia treated the IOJ as an institutional outcast because of its relationship with the former socialist regime. As Nordenstreng writes, “the IOJ became a virtual hostage of the communist system” (p. 222). After 1990, the personal relationships within the IOJ also became toxic. The immediate post–Cold War years were tough for many ex-officials of the IOJ. For instance, Finnish journalists’ unions participating in the IOJ were seen as fostering the “Finlandisation” of Finnish media during the Cold War (see, e.g., Salminen, 1999).
Nordenstreng ponders if he was a puppet of the Soviets – a “useful idiot”, according to Lenin's well-known phrase. He admits he has suffered “from political stigma as a fellow traveller of the Soviets in my Finnish environment” (p. 230). On the other hand, he does not fundamentally regret his time as the president of the IOJ, even though the post took a lot of time and effort, often at the cost of teaching and other tasks he had as professor of journalism and mass communication. Being the head of this kind of global organisation, with the opportunity to travel and meet high-ranked politicians and other leaders, surely was an opportunity difficult to resist, especially for such an active and energetic person as Kalle was (and still is at the age of 80!). All who know him do not doubt his good intentions as an idealist who wants to develop journalism worldwide.
Accordingly, it is good to emphasise that despite the ideological essence of the IOJ in the bipolar world, the organisation was also an important educator of journalists. It also actively highlighted the problems of journalists worldwide, especially the killing and kidnapping of journalists.
This edited volume,
The book is divided into eleven chapters, that is, an introduction by the editors and ten chapters covering four thematic parts. Part one, “Personalized Service Journalism”, consists of two chapters: “Help Yourself: The Individualization of Responsibility in Current Health Journalism” and “Body, Mind and Soul: The Changing Face of Health Issues in the Media”. Part two, “Health, Identity and Stigma”, consists of three chapters: “‘Hit by Life’: Individualisation as (de)stigmatisation in Media Representations of Mental Illness”, “Defining a Fucking Homo: Contesting Discourses of Homosexuality Following a Norwegian TV Series”, and “Dealing with Doping: Representations of Morality and Health in a ‘Forgotten’ Case”. Part three, “Media and Health Politics”, consists of three chapters: “The Baby-Dream Discourse: Individual Exposure Promoting Liberal Reproduction Laws”, “‘Hey There in the Night’: The Strategies, Dilemmas and Costs of a Personalized Digital Lobbying Campaign”, and “Rate Your Health: Finnish Online Media Reports of Digital Innovation in Healthcare. Part four, “Covering and Coping with Crises”, consists of two chapters: “The Public Face of an Epidemic Risk: Personalization of an Ebola Outbreak in Nordic Media” and “In the Aftermath of a Massacre: Traumatization of Journalists who Cover Severe Crises”.
The overall recurring theme in the volume is the question of how journalists and other media actors work within personalised frames and narratives when they represent and convey news about health and wellbeing in online and printed news materials. This question is investigated primarily by analysing selected verbal products in the shape of written news material, and secondly by analysing visual outcomes, such as images from news coverage. Furthermore, one chapter explores the relation between the visual and the texts to see if they are in accordance or express ambiguity (Chapter 10). The motivation behind the book is explained as a combination of the development of health issues being increasingly covered by contemporary media, and the fact that the media are increasingly raising issues traditionally connected to the private sphere in public spaces.
This volume offers readers the opportunity to gain a deep insight into news coverage of a wide range of interesting topics. For example, we are given a historical overview of the development of “soft” and personalised Norwegian health news from 1945 until 2010, pointing to a development in the direction of a more holistic and personal understanding of health (p. 74). We are also introduced to selected personal news articles from two Norwegian tabloid newspapers (including their Facebook updates) and from one Danish broadsheet newspaper. Likewise, different interesting health debates about homosexuals, egg donation, and doping issues are thoroughly presented and analysed based on selected news articles and a Norwegian television series (
In the introduction, the editors point out that they “take a holistic approach by reflecting on a broad range of issues pertinent to the field” (p. 11). This is inspiring, but in a field that has evolved extensively during the last 50 years, it also presents a challenge in terms of what to omit. I find the resulting choice of topics and theoretical and methodological approaches to be somewhat haphazard, and this is a slight drawback of the volume.
The research studies in the volume draw on different theoretical approaches, and several theoretical concepts are applied. It is impossible to mention them all here, but, for example, the concepts of mediatisation and biomedicalisation lead to biomediatisation (Chapter 2), which is applied as a framework for studying how biomedical and news discourses are intertwined. Moreover, theories of sociologists such as Giddens and Bauman are applied to study the discourse of individualisation in health policies and health reporting. Other important concepts include bio-power (Chapter 4); journalistic master plots (Chapter 6); health narratives (Chapter 8); the key news value “shareability” (p. 171); the concept of quantified self (Chapter 9); and the term “emergency news” (p. 212) – just to highlight some of the many interesting theoretical contributions. While one study leans towards the multimodality approach, drawing on Kress and van Leeuwen (Chapter 10), most of the studies perform different types of critical discourse analysis (CDA), one study drawing on Wodak and Meyer, and several others drawing particularly on Fair-clough. For instance, in Chapter 5, three discourses of the homosexual man today (the homopolitical discourse, the homonormative discourse, and the radical queer discourse) are presented, discussed, and linked to the concept of health.
The empirical materials are based on data from the Nordic countries: most of the cases stem from Norway, Finland, and Denmark. In itself, this is a positive step, as media research is predominantly based on Anglo-American material. In terms of the methods applied, most of the chapters take their point of departure from a qualitative approach, but one chapter takes both a qualitative and quantitative approach, namely the content analysis of Norwegian tabloids (Chapter 2). The authors cover many different analytical strategies: thematic analysis, discourse analysis, narrative analysis, text analysis, content analysis, framing analysis, and some studies also include interviews. A more homogenous framework for analysis might have benefitted the volume.
Personalisation and personal narratives are powerful tools in health journalism. And it is thought-provoking how considerable the differences are between how the same media formulate their cases in print and in social media. This volume complements and enlarges our understanding of the personal in public stories in a time where the digitalisation and commercialisation of the news mean that journalistic practices are changing. An important point is raised in that the choice of journalistic discourse affects how health issues are interpreted and negotiated in the public sphere (p. 25). Traditionally, personal stories have not been dominant, and readers have not been addressed in online news stories. In a previous study about online news stories on health in three Nordic countries (Denmark, Sweden, and Finland), it is argued that, by using direct reader address practices, journalists might construct journalistic authority (Andersen et al., 2019). From my perspective, this is part of a new set of practices in parallel with the focal point of personal stories and personalisation. The personalisation of news may mostly be found in so-called soft news stories, and perhaps the practice is used in online news stories as a way of imitating participation and interaction by exploiting the affordances of relating headlines and news stories through clicking and linking. Perhaps we should consider personalisation as a news value discursively, and this volume delivers striking examples that support this argument.
What I find particularly interesting are the principal ethical questions and dilemmas that are not always made visible in these kinds of studies but are explicitly mentioned here, for example, about how to build stories on the narratives of vulnerable persons, or whether egg donation should be allowed. In some cases, the journalist becomes a moral gatekeeper, consciously or unconsciously, as mentioned in Chapter 7. Within the digital media landscape, the emergence of emotional cases is more likely to gain massive exposure, and it becomes more important to be aware of the missing press code on social media (p. 183). Likewise, I enjoyed reading the analysis of the Finnish media coverage of the digital innovations in the healthcare sector, which concluded that the coverage appears to be an extreme case of techno-optimism (p. 198). The Nordic countries have taken different approaches in relation to digitalisation, and to digital health care provision. As a comparative example, in Denmark, the authorities have imposed digitalisation at the risk of excluding some but also serving a majority of the citizens. And for years, the focus within media studies has been on the already digitalised groups.
I warmly recommend the book to media scholars and students from fields as diverse as health, humanities, and social sciences, as well as to professionals working in media, communication, and health. Definitely, readers will find inspiration and knowledge in the very different news cases as well as learn from the many theoretical and analytical angles.
As a concluding remark, I commend the authors and the publisher for their efforts to bring in the many illustrations, screenshots, and images that facilitate the reading process of the volume – in particular, the many depicted front-page news stories come into their own.