Brussels Center for Journalism Studies


News Photo Graphicness and News Credibility

May Bekaert and Rozane De Cock presented their work on the effects of news photo graphicness at the Etmaal conference for Communication Sciences in Ghent in February 2018. The session on Images, audiences and the suffering other was chaired by BCJS colleague Hedwig de Smaele.

Bekaert and De Cock define news graphicness as : “a detailed visual representation of a striking, touching and compelling event focusing both on physical and emotional pain. This imaging elicits negative emotions as feelings of disturbance, disgust, unpleasantness, sadness and horror.”

Previous longitudinal research has shown that photographs play an increasingly prevalent role in as well Flemish as Dutch newspapers (De Cock, 2007; Hauttekeete, 2005; Schaap & Pleijter, 2012). More and bigger pictures are included as time evolves while the textual contribution is shrinking, leading to photo dominance (Hauttekeete, 2005; MacArthur, 1992).

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Media market logic, technological changes and fierce competition have their part in explaining this visual evolution (Vettehen, Nuijten & Beentjes, 2005). Especially sensational and thus graphic pictures are fit for attracting readership (Goldstein, 2012). Research by Garcia and Stark (1991) already demonstrated that pictures and graphics serve as main entry points to draw readers into news stories. Following eye-tracking studies have confirmed that pictures grab readers’ attention while they are scanning pages and screens (Brantner, Lobinger & Wetzstein, 2011; Holsanova, Holmqvist & Rahm, 2006, Leckner, 2012). Studying this growing importance of visuals becomes especially relevant in the case of explicit and vivid images, often referred to as graphicness.




Agency and power roles in Dutch and Flemish newspaper coverage on refugees

The research of BCJS member Lut Lams has been presented during the Migration and displaced people in the news session at the Etmaal Conference in Ghent. Colleague Stefan Mertens explained the conference public about agency and power roles in the Dutch and Flemish newspaper coverage of the summer 2015 European migration issue. The presentation gave a condense overview of an in-depth comparative analysis of De Volkskrant and De Morgen.


Constructive journalism at VRT

Hedwig de Smaele, Louis Demeyere and Kirsten Van Elsen presented their paper on constructive journalism at Flemish public broadcaster VRT. Their presentation focused on the academic progress in the operationalization process of constructive journalism as a concept.


“We contribute to the deconstruction of constructive journalism by suggesting a comprehensive and distinctive definition as well as an operationalization. We set up a measuring instrument that lists the characteristics and practices of constructive journalism and put it to the test. We conducted both a qualitative and quantitative content analysis of the 7 p.m. news bulletin of Flemish public broadcaster VRT under editor-in-chief Björn Soenens (November 2013 – September 2016). Soenens presented himself as a proponent of constructive journalism, but our findings show he was not able to implement his ideas into practice as his news bulletins were found to be less constructive than those of his predecessor.”

Our findings also suggest that “the layer of constructivity” added to the news can be studied pre-eminently on the level of full coverage of a topic rather than on the level of any individual news item.

“Indeed, few news items show more than one characteristic of constructive journalism (depolarization, future orientation, solutions, restoration) at the same time while spread over the total coverage on a topic all characteristics were recognized. Depolarization is the least found and future-orientation is the most commonly found characteristic.”


KEYWORDS constructive journalism, depolarization, measuring instrument, public broadcaster VRT, qualitative content analysis, quantitative content analysis, restoration, solutions journalism

Photojournalism and visual gatekeeping

Nordicm special issue

Hedwig de Smaele, Eline Geenen and Rozane De Cock published their study on the selection of news photographs at a Flemish quality newspaper in the special issue on photojournalism of Nordicom (last issue of 2017).

As ethnographic studies of the visual gatekeeping process at news rooms are scarce and the increasingly digitised news era demands for reconsideration, this article focuses on the results of a qualitative study at the photo news desk of a Flemish newspaper in Belgium. Our aim has been to provide an update and a broadening of previous studies on visual gatekeeping processes, and the findings are based on observations, in-depth interviews and reconstructions of the visual selection process. Our results show that routine and organisational influences as the ‘newsroom culture’ and the ‘rhythm’ of the newspaper outweigh individual preferences of photo editors. In-house photographers are systematically preferred to wire photographs. The information value of photos prevails, but aesthetics and good taste add another layer of deliberation. In addition, layout policies explicitly steer photo editors in their decision-making process.

De Smaele H., Geenen E., De Cock R. (2017). Visual gatekeeping – Selection of news photographs at a Flemish newspaper. A qualitative inquiry into the photo news desk. NORDICOM: Review of Mass Communication Research, 38 (special issue 2), art.nr. 5, 57-70.

Keywords: visual gatekeeping, news values, news photos, news ethnography, photo editors

BCJS @ Conference on migration and media

BCJS members Rozane De Cock, Lut Lams and Stefan Mertens presented their work on news coverage on refugees at the Diaspora, Migration and Media Conference (ECREA Division) in Bilbao (Spain). There, BCJS had meetings with the other research partners in the IMMEDIATE project.

De Cock R., Mertens S., Sundin E., Mistiaen V., LamBilbao presentation BCJSs L., Joris W., d’Haenens L. (2017). Refugees in the News. Comparing Belgian and Swedish Newspaper Coverage of the European Refugee Situation during Summer 2015. ECREA Diaspora, migration and the media. University of the Basque Country, Bilbao, 2-3 November 2017.

Political humor as social action

Panel participation at the 15th International Pragmatics Conference, Belfast, 16-21 July 2017

Lut congres Dublin1

Professor dr. Lut Lams gave a talk on ‘The pragmatics of humor and ambiguity in Chinese society: political and cultural aspects’. Here you can find one of the slides on neologisms, code words and online censorship in China’s mediascape.

slides Belfast

China: Economic magnet or rival?

Framing of China in the Dutch- and French-language elite press in Belgium and the Netherlands

BCJS member Lut Lams published in the special issue of The International Communication Gazette (78 (1-2), 137-156) on  Mass Communication and EU-China Relations. Given the increasing attention China has attracted on a global scale over the last few decades, ample academic research has been conducted into the types of China discourses, spread through the media.


Studies have pointed at a mounting Sino-phobic discourse in some US media, which prompts the question whether similar attitudes and frames emerge in non-English media narratives. Hence, this study examines how the Belgian as well as the Dutch elite press engage with the new world player. It combines a content analysis, looking into thematic hierarchies and tone/perspective with a critical discourse analysis, retrieving discursive practices, such as evaluative positioning and framing of the country and its main actors.

Refugees in the News: Content Analysis of Belgian and Swedish News Media

BCJS Paper presentation @ ECREA conference Bilbao, 2-3 November 2017.

Diaspora, Migration & Media Conference

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At the beginning of November, BCJS members Rozane De Cock,  Lut Lams and Stefan Mertens will travel to Bilbao (Spain) to present their work on news coverage on refugees at the Diaspora, Migration and Media Conference.  This work is one of the first results of the intensive collaboration with Willem Joris, Leen d’Haenens (IMS KU Leuven) and Ebba Sundin (Halmstad University, Sweden).

As previous research showed, a significant effect of news coverage about the migration issue on the public opinion, it is recommended to investigate how the refugees are portrayed in the news. Our content analysis of Belgian and Swedish newspapers, television news and online news before and after a carefully selected set of key moments between 2015 and 2017 includes responsibility indicators and suggested solution items, the gender structure of news items and news actors, collective actors versus individual actors, and the religious and national identity of the actors covered. Comparisons between the representations of blame attribution, demography, geographic identities, religious identities and degrees of individuation will be compared with real world indicators.

BCJS @ Worlds of Journalism Convention Cardiff

A Diverse View on Diversity:

Four Clusters of the Press

WJS logo

September 16 2017

Mertens S., Standaert O., Löfgren Nilsson M., d’Haenens L., De Cock R.

The Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) gives an account of the level of integration policy in 38 mainly Western countries. A score ranging from 1 to 100 is attributed to each country. The Worlds of Journalism Study presents an analysis of the role conceptions of professional journalists throughout the world, including a variable measuring the extent to which journalists conceive promoting tolerance and cultural diversity as one of their tasks. Our hypothesis that journalists would be more supportive of cultural diversity in societies with a more diversity-oriented policy proves to be untrue, as no significant linear correlation could be found.

Cluster analysis reveals that the inexistence of a linear correlation is the consequence of contradicting profiles among the different countries under study: four distinct clusters emerge from our data. A first group of countries scores very low on MIPEX and has a strong inclination towards promoting tolerance in journalism (Latvia and Turkey), while a second group, consisting of the two countries topping the MIPEX index, also stands out as having a tolerance-oriented journalism culture (Sweden and Portugal). However, a third cluster of continental and Anglophone countries (including Belgium, the UK, the US, Canada, Germany and the Netherlands) known for their fairly strong multicultural policies, does not show a journalistic workforce oriented as strongly in favour of promoting tolerance. Finally, a last group of countries (mainly eastern and central European countries) scores low on both MIPEX and journalistic tolerance orientation.

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