What is the role of emotions in media use? How can you add emotions into political discourse in mass media? How is journalism turning emotional in various countries?

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These are just a few of the questions the VI International Conference in Comparative Media Studies in Today’s World “Emotions vs Rationality in Media Discussions” tried to answer. The event was supported by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, SPbU’s Centre for German and European Studies, and Bielefeld University.

The conference was visited by Cambridge University, Leeds University, Manchester University, Sheffield University, Cardiff University, Pennsylvania State University, University of North Carolina, Free University of Berlin, University of Oldenburg, Hamburg University of Applied Sciences, Ruhr University Bochum, Charles University, and other universities of the UK, USA, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, China, Brazil, Portugal, Czech Republic, and Croatia.

The participants were greeted by the Director of the SPbU’s High School of Journalism and Media Communication Professor Anatolii Puiu.

I am grateful to our international guests for visiting St Petersburg University and taking part in the conference. SPbU is one of the world’s leading centres of education and research that brings together scientists and scholars worldwide. Our international partners collaborate with us in research and education by delivering lectures at our University. We highly appreciate that we are internationally open.

Director of the SPbU’s High School of Journalism and Media Communication Professor Anatolii Puiu

Journalism is turning emotional: The impact of technology on journalism or a political tool?

The key event of the conference was a discussion in Comparative Media Studies in Today’s World with the world’s leading researchers in media from the USA, China, Germany, and Russia: Professor Zizi Papacharissi, University of Illinois at Chicago;  Bess Yue Wang, Hong Kong Baptist University; Caroline Lindekamp, Technical University of Dortmund, and SPbU Professor Dmitrii Gavra. The moderator was SPbU Professor Svetlana Bodrunova.

What drives us more – head or heart – is a hard nut to crack, as we are both emotional and rational being, says Professor Zizi Papacharissi. Emotions, as she has it, is a powerful tool how social groups can say that they disagree, and it makes emotions a powerful tool in politics.

Expressing emotions openly in political discourse implies a shift towards populism, says Caroline Lindekamp. Emotive language plays a role in shaping public opinion, she says. The word ‘crises’, that some of the Germans mass media used to describe a situation of immigrant growth, has become an umbrella term for the whole process of migration of refugees.

The only way how we can be objective, as Bess Yue Wang says, is being neutral. We use the term “emotional intelligence” to approach journalism in terms of how we can translate emotions. For example, today Hong Kong is experiencing a transition period, and it is reflected in mass media, says Bess Yue Wang. On the one hand, Hong Kong is a part of China, according to the official documents. On the other hand, Hong Kong is economically independent. The paradox is that the residents, including the journalists, have a nostalgia for the time when Hong Kong was under British Crown rule.

Historical memory is becoming more and more at the forefront of emotional political discussions, says Professor Svetlana Bodrunova. The historical events are an incredibly sensitive issue to discuss in social discourse, and they more relate to the history of families and genealogical memory. Discussing personal issues in public can increase tension in society, and it makes them a taboo in journalism, says Svetlana Bodrunova.

Today, we are witnessing two key processes in media sphere: on the one hand, the emergence of new tools (new media, social networks, big data) that open new horizons in communication analysis and planning and, on the other hand, political debates are becoming more and more emotionally biased in some countries, says a political consultant and SPbU Professor Dmitrii Gavra.

Neurophysiology has no answer yet as to what parts of the brain are responsible for emotions and logic. It makes our brain a ‘black box’.

SPbU Professor Dmitrii Gavra

Any content analysis of emotions in the texts stumbles over a number of methodological blocks. Being too emotional is a response to the increasingly changing world: physically we are not able to shape our opinion on information we are constantly receiving and is rapidly changing, says Dmitrii Gavra.

Among the key issues the conference discussed were standards in journalism and their transformations. We are living in the epoch with no journalism standards, says Zizi Papacharissi, as the Internet makes the mediaholdings search for new economically beneficial business models, and the very architecture of the Internet can help. Clickability, that is how many times we click to open a message in the Internet, is the key principle that governs both advertising and journalism. The main concern of a journalist, she says, is to make an eye-catching headline to make a user to click it. This is how being emotional helps mass media attract audience.

The experts also discussed “market journalism” that is a situation when mass media have to adapt to what the audience needs, rather than form an agenda, by regularly monitoring its interests and responding to them.

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Audience in the heat of passion

Zizi Papacharissi delivered a lecture on the “affective societies”. She told us through how the researchers from Chicago studied the messages in Twitter during the Egyptian revolution of 2011 and Occupy movement in September 2011.

Zizi Papacharissi is Professor, Director of the Department of Communications, a member of the Department of Political Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The scope of her research interest is social and political consequences of on-line media. Author of over 60 articles, books, a member of the Editorial Boards of 15 journals. She collaborates with Apple, Microsoft, acts as a consultant during election campaigns. She reads lectures at the universities in Europe, Asia, Africa, and USA. Her works have been translated into Greek, German, Korean, Chinese, Hungarian, Italian, Turkish, and Persian.

For the last decades, we have been witnessing how political and social movements have been using digital resources of the Internet to air their opinions and attract the Internet users. Social media create a feeling of engagement by appealing to our senses and creating an impression that we are part of the changing history.

Why is Tweeter? First, Tweeter is a good source of news: the short format of the news is economy of time. Second, you both receive and transmit information by writing the posts. It makes Tweeter an alternative source of information for an increasing number of young and active people.

Being affective, as Zizi Papacharissi says, is a state when you feel forthcoming changes.

Affective society is a mobilized and Internet-connected group of people that feel the same identity and it is associated with emotionally tense and fast-changing political events. The societies communicate with each other, yet they don’t act together, says Zizi Papacharissi.

They mainly broadcast the affective news in a story-telling format. It helps them rhythmically unfold the events and add emotions to make them easily perceived.

Most news on the protests were affectively coloured, the study showed. In other words, they creates an impression of forthcoming changes. Affect is about being passively engaged, readiness and willingness to generate changes.

We feel affectiveness now and again, says Zizi Papacharissi, but it doesn’t necessarily implies real changes. Although being affected is what we feel inside, it is triggered by external factors including journalism. If we don’t’ have what journalism has predicted in real life, we feel disappointment and plead journalism guilty.

Pulitzer Prize and emotions

Karin Wahl-Jørgensen, Professor of the University of Cardiff, studied how emotions are reflected in the the journalist articles that were written in 1995-2017 and won the Pulitzer Prize.

Karin Wahl-Jørgensen is Professor, Director of the Department of Environmental Studies at the School of Media, Journalism, and Cultural Studies at the University of Cardiff. Author of a range of books, articles, and studies on the mass media. She was Principal UK Investigator on European Commission funded project on the European Public Sphere (EUROSPHERE). Since 2012, she has been subject chair for the indexing and abstracting database SCOPUS, in the areas of Languages, Linguistics, Communication, Media, and Journalism, and also serve on the Content Selection Advisory Board for SCOPUS.

For a start, she mentioned that today the media researchers have to answer a difficult question: how emotions can become destructive. Each of us feels a variety of emotions and passions. Yet should we fail to control them, we won’t be social beings. Here she supports Hobbes, Rousseau, Mill, and Kant.

Journalism plays a role. Journalists, according to the standards in the UK and USA, must be objective in how they present information, non-emotional, and refer to the reliable sources. Yet many of the journalist genres express public disagreement, for example, journalist investigations.

The best publications, as the study showed, are emotional in nature. Yet the journalist serves as someone who translate other people’s feelings, rather than his/her own ones. Thus, emotions are implicit in the texts. It is called “outsourcing of emotional labour”. Telling a story is not only about language, but also multimedia formats that are becoming more and more common in journalism.

For journalists, it is a special mission that trespass the professional competences into the personal sphere. Journalists must get an insight what emotions a person feel and be objective in rendering them. It makes journalism a psychologically hard job.