New publication (and the story behind it): “Journalism Studies and its Core Commitments: The Making of a Communication Field”

I’m excited to announce this publication as the lead article to the latest issue of Journal of Communication, the flagship journal of the International Communication Association:

Carlson, M., Robinson, S., Lewis, S. C., & Berkowitz, D. A. (2018). Journalism studies and its core commitments: The making of a communication field. Journal of Communication, 68(1), 6-25. doi:10.1093/joc/jqx006 (PDF)

Here is the abstract:

This article conceptualizes the distinctiveness of fields of scholarship within the discipline of communication through particular normative assumptions and identity practices defined here as commitments. A case study of journalism studies results in the postulation of six conceptual commitments that define its core ontological and epistemological premises: contextual sensitivity, holistic relationality, comparative inclination, normative awareness, embedded communicative power, and methodological pluralism. These interrelated features articulate the central dimensions of journalism studies, establishing the boundaries of the field and its relational, cultural, holistic, ecological, and contextual acts of scholarship. This article provides a blueprint for other communication scholars to address assumptions and commitments that situate and define their subdisciplines as distinct fields.

And here is the story behind the publication…

At the AEJMC conference in San Francisco in 2015, we began discussing: What is journalism studies, anyway? What demarcates it as a “thing” in communication research? And so, the “Iowa Group” was formed: in February 2016, Matt Carlson (Saint Louis University), Sue Robinson (University of Wisconsin), and I (representing University of Minnesota at the time) drove exactly four hours each to centrally located Iowa City, where we met up with Dan Berkowitz, a longtime traveler in this line of thinking and our host at the University of Iowa.

The four of us spent a Friday hashing out various dimensions, orientations, and predilections in journalism studies—what made it interesting, even unique, as a domain of research within the larger study of communication. How can we take this field of research, which has grown so fast and traveled so far in less than two decades, and apply to it a sense of contour and identity? How might we build upon the distinctiveness of journalism studies—a domain with an emerging set of core dimensions—to outline a pattern for how other scholars might address the underlying assumptions and epistemologies that define other subfields?

At the end of our daylong discussion, we shared our (very preliminary) ideas with faculty and graduate students in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Iowa. They offered a number of key comments and suggestions. Later, we settled on six interrelated commitments that speak to core dimensions of journalism studies:

• contextual sensitivity
• holistic relationality
• comparative inclination
• normative awareness
• embedded communicative power
• methodological pluralism

As we say in the paper: “None of these dimensions is unique to journalism studies. Many other fields espouse similar commitments as part of their own efforts to identify the normative assumptions embedded in their research. But, as a whole, these commitments coalesce into a particular perspective optimized for the challenges of studying the complexities of contemporary journalism. They commitments comprise the heart of journalism studies scholarship.”

After explaining each of the six commitments, we write:

“Taken together, these commitments indicate, first, a shift away from the analysis of journalism according to assumed normative perspectives or as an unexamined actor whose texts have effects on audiences and social institutions. Journalism—or news, more specifically—is not reduced to the independent variable, but instead invites scrutiny as part of a holistic system of interlinking institutions. Second, these commitments reject simplified perspectives that reify journalism as a single ‘thing’ to instead situate journalism within the larger ecological conditions of media, culture, and society. Finally, they indicate a critique of universal principles, celebrate nuance with contextualization, and emphasize an intense awareness of relationality while still foregrounding a concern with power. If journalism studies is to be a useful field, it must recognize what its commitments are and how they contribute to an understanding of journalism that helps make sense of its symbolic power.”

We won’t pretend that this is the final word about journalism studies—and undoubtedly there will be differences of opinion about the commitments we have outlined. Debates are most welcome! They are good for the continued development of journalism studies as a field.

News: I’ve been elected Vice Chair of the Journalism Studies Division of ICA

I learned this week that I’ve been elected as the next vice chair of the Journalism Studies Division of ICA (International Communication Association). I’m very excited to serve this division—a wonderful, inspiring, and truly global mix of friends, colleagues, collaborators, and scholars with a shared passion for studying news and journalism. The Journalism Studies Division, which has grown tremendously in its roughly 15 years, becoming one of the largest ICA divisions, has been such a central part of my progression from PhD student to professor during the past decade, so I’m excited to give back and help the division move forward.

I will assume the new role at the end of the Prague conference in May 2018, and will be the program planner (lucky me, ha!) for the Washington, D.C. (2019) and Australian Gold Coast (2020) conferences. Then I’ll serve as chair of the division for two years, including the Denver (2021) and Paris (2022) conferences.

I’m excited to work with such a great Journalism Studies leadership team: the outgoing chair Henrik Örnebring, the incoming chair Keren Tenenboim-Weinblatt, secretary Nina Springer, and the newly elected graduate student representative Alla Rybina.

Below is the candidate statement that I put together for the election.

I feel a real kinship with the Journalism Studies Division, my home base in the academy. Through this division, I have met such wonderful people, built collaborative networks, and learned to sharpen my research. I owe a great deal to this vibrant and growing area of the communication field. I am pursuing a leadership role in the division to do my part in continuing that growth. My goals in helping the division move forward include: (1) balancing concerns about quality with the need to include a broader range of voices, particularly from regions less represented at ICA annual conventions; (2) expanding mentoring initiatives for graduate students and early-career scholars; (3) developing forms of outreach to help members stay better connected to the division outside of the conference; (4) exploring ways to improve the standing of journalism studies, by more effectively communicating to journalists, funders, and other scholars who we are, what we do, and why our work matters; and (5) continuing to provide space for important conversations about journalism and its future.

Regarding my experience, I am the Shirley Papé Chair in Emerging Media in the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon. Previously, I was an associate professor at the University of Minnesota, held visiting appointments at Stanford and Yale, received my Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, and was a journalist at The Miami Herald. My empirical and conceptual research, focusing on the sociotechnical dynamics shaping journalism in the digital age, has been published in nearly 50 journal articles and book chapters. I have twice received the division’s award for Outstanding Journal Article of the Year in Journalism Studies (in 2013 and 2016). I actively serve the Journalism Studies Division as a paper reviewer, session chair, and respondent.

Introducing a new course for a critical moment in media literacy

Today we debut an exciting new course at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. It’s called “Fact or Fiction?” and it comes at an appropriate moment for many ongoing conversations about media and information literacy in a so-called post-truth era. Threats from mis/disinformation, fake news, and propaganda are problems not only of supply but also of demand—we need to better understand social and psychological forces that contribute to the take-up of such material, in addition to the economics of clicks and currency of likes that drives much of this information profusion and media confusion. This is class is about all that and more, including a dive into data literacy and numeracy for journalists and strategic communicators.

The Fact of Fiction course description and learning outcomes are below, and the syllabus is available via Google Drive and as a PDF.

Course Description

Fact or Fiction is a course about making sense of information in the digital age. In a supposedly “post-truth” moment, how can media creators and consumers alike evaluate information to determine what’s credible? More broadly, what are the forces and factors that shape how we come to understand what’s “fake” and what’s “factual” in an increasingly complex media environment? Now more than ever, amid declining trust in professions and institutions, it matters to understand dynamics of trust, verification, misinformation, propaganda, and the social spread of information. This course will focus on two key areas: (1) an explanation of key cases and controversies—from fake news to the complicated role of Facebook and other platforms—that shape how people perceive matters of fact, and which are relevant for journalism, public relations, advertising, and other media domains; and (2) an introduction to data literacy and numeracy, or the ability to apply basic numerical and statistical concepts. These two broad areas will be applied in evaluating how media workers, such as journalists and strategic communicators, develop notions of truth, ethics, and transparency, among other things. In all, our goal is to equip you with a foundation in media literacy and statistical literacy such that you can avoid being duped and help others to do the same.

Course Learning Outcomes

This course is designed to help students achieve certain learning outcomes and competencies. At the conclusion of the term, you should be able to:

  • Describe and explain key concepts, cases, and controversies related to the creation, circulation, and consumption of news (fake and otherwise), both historically and contemporaneously.
  • Identify and interpret key debates regarding objectivity, propaganda, mis/disinformation, news literacy, verification, trust and accountability, and other concerns relevant to media work and media life.
  • Articulate and evaluate similarities and differences in approaches to truth among media occupations (e.g., journalism, PR, advertising) and media practices (e.g., documentary filmmaking, photography, data visualization).
  • Evaluate the relative benefits and drawbacks of digital media technologies—algorithms, platforms, social media, etc.—for the spread of facts and fakes.
  • Define and discuss notions of numeracy, statistical literacy, logical reasoning, and scientific methods.
  • Apply class concepts in conducting original research (a digital ethnography) to assess the techniques that media actors use to portray reality.
  • Interpret findings from research, apply them to cases that interest you personally and/or professionally, and report and present on these to your colleagues.

Three Cheers for a Steve Reese Style of Advising

Steve Reese and Seth Lewis, AEJMC annual convention 2017, Chicago

A true highlight of the AEJMC convention that I attended recently was being invited to present on a panel that reflected on the lifetime scholarly achievements of my PhD advisor Stephen D. Reese, who received the 2017 Paul J. Deutschmann Award for Excellence in Research. The award isn’t given every year—28 have received it since 1969, including the likes of Chaffee, McCombs, Gerbner, and Schramm—and it recognizes scholars who have distinguished themselves for pathbreaking research in many phases of their careers. Steve certainly fits the bill, having produced key insights in each of the past four decades.

It’s rare that we get to be so personal in our remarks at an academic conference, but this was just the right venue and the right moment to offer these heartfelt sentiments, including quotes graciously shared by my “academic siblings.” I have included here my talk in PDF form and below:

Three Cheers for a Steve Reese Style of Advising

Seth C. Lewis

Remarks on the occasion of Stephen D. Reese receiving the 2017 Deutschmann Award for Excellence in Research

August 11, 2017

Chicago, IL

Good afternoon. I am truly honored to have this opportunity to speak about the life work and impact of my dear advisor, mentor, and friend, Dr. Stephen D. Reese.

Lest this sound like a eulogy, I promise that Dr. Reese is very much alive and well, and in fact currently engaged in some of the most ambitious and globally focused research of his career.

But, in the spirit of saying good and important things about people while we have the opportunity to do so, I’m grateful to share a few such things with you today.

On this panel, we have heard much about Steve’s field-defining contributions in the areas of media sociology and framing research, and those simply cannot be overlooked. But I’d like to deviate a bit and focus my remarks on what it means to be taught and advised by Steve Reese.

Let me begin by describing some of my own experience with Steve. I consider myself one of the lucky ones. When I left The Miami Herald to pursue a PhD, I had little idea of what I was doing. Because my masters was a professional degree in business, I knew almost nothing about communication research when I stepped onto the campus at UT-Austin in 2006. Somehow, by sheer luck of taking Dr. Reese’s seminar in framing in the spring of 2007 and managing to not embarrass myself in that class, I landed on his radar and eventually was fortunate to have him advise me through my dissertation completion in 2010.

Easy, he was not. He had very high expectations. But he was encouraging, and he instilled confidence — he treated you as a potential equal, even if it took a few years after graduation before you felt truly comfortable to call Steve by his first name.

He taught me how to think conceptually. (And if there is one paramount skill that every aspiring scholar must learn, it is to think conceptually — in terms of relational concepts, the stuff from which theory is organized and tested.) Virtually all that I do today as a scholar, all of the conceptual work that is so central to my research, can be traced back to Professor Reese’s instruction in the essential work of concept development.

In teaching me how to think conceptually, he continually pushed for concept explication. The more thorough, the better; the more careful the definitions, the better. And he pushed not only for more precise abstract thinking, but he was especially concerned that we made the connection between scholarly concepts and public life broadly. Really, why should people care about this research, beyond the boundaries of our campuses and conferences? Who are the “bad guys” and who are the “good guys” in your research story? He wanted to know.

The proverbial “so what?” question may be every advisor’s favorite question, but no one seemed to ask that question with quite the frequency or profundity as Professor Reese. And he wasn’t about to give you the answer to that “so what?” question — you were going to work it out on your own. Ever patient, he was in no rush, content to let students think long and deep, in the most classic tradition of what a PhD education ought to be. In short, he embodied then all that I try to be as a scholar and faculty advisor now.

*   *   *

To adequately capture the experience of being advised by Dr. Reese, I wanted to draw insight and corroboration from some of my “academic siblings.” It’s quite a family tree after all! Professor Reese has supervised 21 dissertations and participated as a committee member on 43 others. In addition, he has led nearly two dozen master’s theses. Think of the thousands of pages littered with “So what?” scribbled in the margins!

So, I reached out to a half-dozen former PhD advisees like myself, spanning a 10-year period, and asked them to describe what it was about Dr. Reese’s advising that most influenced them. What I found, through a rigorous content analysis of these responses, reinforced my own experience. What emerged was a picture of an advisor who cared about the whole student: who taught us how to work hard and discover on our own; who showed us how to be productive intellectual craftsmen; and who modeled something of a Zen approach — a low-key demeanor and steady way of being to withstand the ebbs and flows of academic life.

I will briefly organize these three impressions into what I call “Three Cheers for the Steve Style of Advising.”

Cheer #1: A Steve Style of Advisor makes his students earn it

Some doctoral students leave a visit with their advisor with a list of highly specific to-do items: fix this, fix that, go and do this, and so forth. Not so with Steve Reese. As one advisee put it:

He is a relatively hands-off advisor. I’ve heard stories about advisors themselves making changes to dissertation drafts or telling students what to do in very specific ways. He didn’t do that. He mostly pointed out broad issues and concerns, but that was it. He mostly didn’t even tell me how to address those concerns. That meant I had to think a lot myself, to try to figure out what exactly he wanted. To be honest, at times I did wish he would be more specific. But ultimately, I did manage to figure things out, and the fact that I did it without hand-holding made me a lot more proud of my achievement.

And another student described it this way:

Steve is the opposite of your typical advisor. He asks you to tell him what your project is, and then he just asks questions. Such as: “Well, what about these cases rather than those ones?” Or: “So, is this really the case?” Clearly, those questions are intended to tease out the weaknesses in your idea, without coming out and saying, “Here is where your idea is weak.” He would ask you questions that would help you figure it out yourself.”

The result, we found as students, could be a bit maddening: We wanted direction. We wanted to finish our dang dissertations! But a Steve style of advisor is in no particular hurry, not because he doesn’t care about his students — on the contrary, because he knows that the hard work of thinking, of thinking with a depth and intensity that perhaps is only possible during the dissertation phase of one’s life, will pay dividends throughout a scholar’s career.

As one student put it:

He liked to play with ideas like silly putty: “Can I stretch it this way? How does it work that way?” … He was interested in engaging with you as a fellow intellectual, rather than a go-and-do automaton. When I went into his office, I knew that my ideas would get tested. He wasn’t playing games — he was trying to help us figure things out.

Finally, another student said:

His advising helped me to think more for myself and find the right answers without assistance. This helped me a lot throughout my graduate years. Even now, I keep trying to ask questions and answer myself: why is such an issue important… and so what?

So, making students earn it, for their own good — that’s Cheer #1.

Cheer #2: A Steve Style of Advisor teaches his students to be intellectual craftsmen

Professor Reese cares deeply about bringing order and structure to intellectual work. He is a devoted outliner in all of his writing, and for years has tried, sometimes in vain, to get his students to adopt similar methods of setting up the scaffolding for a well-organized paper, rather than just opening an empty Microsoft Word page and dumping in whatever comes forth.

Indeed, I would argue that one of his most important though little-known contributions has been the teaching documents that he has posted to Among these documents is a research paper organization guide, a how-to for putting together a systematic journal article. It has been downloaded nearly 7,000 times. In my own teaching, I have shared that organization guide with scores of students, and the level of organization and coherence in their writing has improved because of it.

Also among these teaching documents is a piece called “The intellectual craftsman in a digital world.” Drawing on the sociologist C. Wright Mills and his famous articulation of the “intellectual craftsman,” Steve argues that the life of the mind, under attack from all directions, requires a concerted effort to be maintained and cultivated amid a growing sea of distractions. He writes:

What does Mills mean to be an “intellectual craftsman”? This seems like a term better suited to manual, blue-collar work than the rarified space of the academic professional. According to him, for those who feel themselves “part of the classic tradition, social science is the practice of a craft” (p. 1). The craftsman in this sense does not fetishize theory and methods but absorbs and puts them in the service of “problems of substance.” The intellectual craftsman does not separate work from life but has been given the privilege and opportunity to design not just a career but a life. To fully take advantage of the potential for this life, one cannot shirk the responsibility to be constantly managing one’s self, and must take seriously the need to construct one’s character based on the “qualities of good workmanship.” Thus, craftsmanship, the careful curation and awareness of one’s intellectual capital, is at the center of all one’s projects.

And so, with his students in class and his followers online, Professor Reese shares what he has learned about productivity. In another one of those teaching documents he posted, you’ll find one called “profhacks strategies for the busy academic”: a guide to software tools, time-saving tricks, and other sound advice on how to capture key information, retrieve it when you need it, and tame the nasty beast that is email. A key element in this productivity push is the “Getting Things Done” method by the management guru David Allen. While it sounds like a tool for corporate types, the GTD approach, as it’s known, is hugely relevant for academics — we who often find ourselves drowning in too many different projects that need such different forms of attention, never quite accomplishing as much as we’d like. I learned about GTD from Steve early in my doctoral studies, and my own work-life productivity has never been the same.

As one of his former advisees put it:

[Dr. Reese] was constantly trying to help us organize our time: showing us how he used email, how he chose to check it at certain times during the day, and how to manage information. It was part of his “in-touchness” with the student, trying to help us become the best we could be.

Cheer #3: A Steve Style of Advisor has a sense of balance and perspective

Now, amid all that talk of productivity, you should know that no one has more clearly cautioned the field against hyperactivity than Steve Reese. Quantity, he taught us, is not equivalent to quality. And too often young scholars lose sight of that in their flailing scramble to submit five conference papers or squeeze one more article out of a dataset wrung dry. As he wrote:

a bias toward action is a good thing, but academic achievement ultimately requires a careful coordination of reflection and action — not stalling out while waiting for the perfect insights and yet not rushing ahead with poorly thought out ideas.

That type of balance, of continually progressing while not running faster than you have strength, is perhaps the hallmark of Steve Reese’s career. To look at his CV is to see a scholar in full. Someone who produced groundbreaking insights in every decade of his career. Someone who was productive but steadily so, without the boom-and-bust cycle too often seen in tenured faculty. Someone who wrote quite a lot in his life — but only that which was truly worth saying.

And most important is what will not show up in his CV: that Steve Reese has a real sense of purpose in life, a healthy balance of work and family life, a scholarly career grounded in spiritual depth.

In those ways, in every way, his style of advising is one worth honoring today and emulating for decades to come.

Thank you.


We’re hiring five new faculty at Oregon, including in Games and Emerging Media Technologies

Here at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication, we have five(!) tenure-line faculty openings — in Science Communication (open rank); Social Media and Data Analytics; Media and Intersectionality; Media Studies: Global Media, Technology, and Social Justice; and Media Studies: Games and Emerging Media Technologies (see all the position descriptions here). I’m chairing that last one; the full description is below.

I’ll be at AEJMC this week, if folks would like to connect and chat about this position or the other opportunities at SOJC.

And please spread the word to anyone you think may be interested in these openings. Thanks!

University of Oregon

School of Journalism & Communication

Assistant Professor in Media Studies, in the area of Games and Emerging Media Technologies

Position Announcement

The School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon seeks a tenure-track assistant professor in media studies, with an emphasis in game studies and related issues for digital media and society, to join a nationally recognized program that emphasizes critical thinking, media literacy, experiential learning, and a commitment to social progress and diversity.

Digital games are one of the fastest­growing sectors of the entertainment industry, generating both enormous profits and emerging forms of influence in media, culture, and society. Related developments in mobile applications, virtual reality, and augmented reality likewise are shifting how we think about the nature of media technologies, the philosophies and ethics associated with them, and relationships between humans and machines. The ideal candidate should be poised to help position the SOJC at the forefront of research in game studies and digital studies more generally.

Ideal assistant professor candidates will have a Ph.D. (ABD considered), a well-defined research agenda with evidence of scholarly publication, and a demonstrated teaching ability at the collegiate level. Experience with applying for and securing external grants from relevant government and private sources is especially desired. Professional experience in game design/development and/or other relevant forms of digital media work is desired but not required. The ideal candidate will offer the ability to research, teach, and lead in an innovative fashion.

The candidate should demonstrate the ability to teach courses in game studies, digital media and society, and other areas of the media studies undergraduate area. Teaching opportunities in the candidate’s additional areas of specialization (if applicable) are potentially available across the undergraduate curriculum, as well as in our academic master’s and doctoral programs in Media Studies and our graduate professional programs in both Eugene and Portland. Additionally, the ability to teach courses in ethics and media law may be given special consideration.

We value candidates who share the following school priorities: attracting undergraduate and graduate talent, offering relevant experiential learning opportunities, and academic excellence through enhanced research productivity.

The SOJC is an ACEJMC-accredited program with a century-long history at the University of Oregon, which is a comprehensive research university and a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU). Our program thrives as a journalism and communication school known for innovation, ethics, and action. We offer four undergraduate concentrations (in advertising, journalism, media studies, and public relations), four professional and academic master’s programs, and a doctoral program in media studies.

We invite applications from qualified candidates who share our commitment to a diverse, equitable, and inclusive learning and work environment. Employment begins September 16, 2018. To ensure consideration, please submit application materials by October 2, 2017. The position will remain open until filled. Interested candidates should submit a letter of interest, CV, and the names of four academic references to

For inquiries about the application process, please contact or the HR Manager at 541-346-2369. Specific inquiries about the position may also be directed to the search chair: Associate Professor Seth C. Lewis, Shirley Papé Chair in Emerging Media,

The University of Oregon is an equal opportunity, affirmative action institution committed to cultural diversity and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The University encourages all qualified individuals to apply and does not discriminate on the basis of any protected status, including veteran and disability status.