Call for papers: Journalism in an Era of Big Data (special issue)

rdij20.v001.i01.coverI’m excited to be guest editing a special issue of Digital Journalism, an international, peer-reviewed journal (new in 2013) that is led by the same editor (Bob Franklin at Cardiff University) who produces the well-renowned Journalism Studies and Journalism Practice journals. The topic, we believe, is a timely one: “Journalism in an Era of Big Data.”

The full Call for Papers can be found here and below. The deadline for abstracts is July 1, 2013, with eventual publication in 2015 (though online-first publication earlier than that, I’m sure; still, as with any academic publishing, there’s a certain time lag involved).

Please spread the word to colleagues, and let me know if you have any questions. Thanks!

• • •

Call for Papers for a special issue of Digital Journalism:

Journalism in an Era of Big Data

Deadlines: July 1, 2013 (abstracts); January 1, 2014 (full papers for peer review); June 1, 2014 (revised full papers due)

Guest Editor: Seth C. Lewis of the University of Minnesota, USA (Digital Journalism Editor: Bob Franklin)

The term “Big Data” is often invoked to describe the overwhelming volume of information produced by and about human activity, made possible by the growing ubiquity of mobile devices, tracking tools, always-on sensors, and cheap computing storage. In combination with technological advances that facilitate the easy organizing, analyzing, and visualizing of such data streams, Big Data represents a social, cultural, and technological phenomenon with potentially major import for public knowledge and news information. How is journalism, like other social institutions, responding to this data abundance? What are the implications of Big Data for journalism’s norms, routines, and ethics? For its modes of production, distribution, and audience reception? For its business models and organizational arrangements? And for the overall sociology and epistemology of news in democratic society?

This special issue of the international journal Digital Journalism (Routledge, Taylor & Francis) brings together scholarly work that critically examines the evolving nature of journalism in an era of Big Data. This issue aims to explore a range of phenomena at the junction between journalism and the social, computer, and information sciences—including the contexts and practices around news-related algorithms, applications, sophisticated mapping, real-time analytics, automated information services, dynamic visualizations, and other computational approaches that rely on massive data sets and their maintenance. This special issue seeks not simply to describe these tools and their application in journalism, but rather to develop what Anderson (2012) calls a “sociological approach to computational journalism”—a frame of reference that acknowledges the trade-offs, embedded values, and power dynamics associated with technological change. This special issue thus encourages a range of critical engagements with the problems as well as opportunities associated with data and journalism.

The special issue welcomes articles drawing on a variety of theoretical and methodological approaches, with a preference for empirically driven or conceptually rich accounts. These papers might touch on a range of themes, including but not limited to the following:

  • The history (or histories) of computational forms of journalism;
  • The epistemological ramifications of “data” in contemporary newswork;
  • Norms, routines, and values associated with emerging forms of data-driven journalism, such as data visualizations, news applications, interactives, and alternative forms of storytelling;
  • The sociology of new actors connected to computational forms of journalism, within and beyond newsrooms (e.g., news application teams, programmer-journalists, tech entrepreneurs, web developers, and hackers);
  • The social, cultural, and technological roles of algorithms, automation, real-time analytics, and other forms of mechanization in contemporary newswork, and the implications of such for journalistic roles and routines;
  • The ethics of journalism in the context of Big Data;
  • The business, managerial, economic, and other labor-related issues associated with data-centric forms of newswork;
  • Approaches for conceptualizing the distinct nature of emerging journalisms (e.g., computational journalism, data journalism, algorithmic journalism, and programmer journalism);
  • The blurring boundaries between “news” and other types of information, and the role of Big Data and its related implications in that process

Articles should be no more than 8,000 words in length, including references, etc. Please submit an abstract of 600-800 words that clearly spells out the theoretical construct, research questions, and methods that will be used. Also include the names, titles, and contact information for 2-3 suggested reviewers. Abstracts are due by July 1, 2013, to (with “DJ special issue” in the subject line). Providing the abstract meets the criteria for the call, full manuscripts are due by January 1, 2014 (also to, at which point they will be peer-reviewed and considered for acceptance. The proposed date of publication is 2015. Please contact guest editor Seth C. Lewis with questions: Manuscripts should conform to the guidelines for Digital Journalism.

New research publication: Content analysis in an era of Big Data

hbem20.v057.i01.coverMy latest article—along with Rodrigo Zamith, my Ph.D. advisee, and wonderful colleague Alfred Hermida—has been published in the most recent issue of the Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic MediaWe discuss the challenges of doing content analysis in an era of Big Data, and suggest a hybrid approach that blends computational and manual methods of data collection, filtering, coding, and analysis.

Here’s the full citation, including a link to a preprint version:

Lewis, S. C., Zamith, R., & Hermida, A. (2013). Content Analysis in an Era of Big Data: A Hybrid Approach to Computational and Manual MethodsJournal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media57(1), 34–52. doi:10.1080/08838151.2012.76170 (preprint version)

What’s especially exciting is that the paper is part of a special edition of the journal that examines emerging methods in digital media research. A great team of guest editors, led by Jean Burgess, lead off the issue with this introduction.

Our paper shows how we used a combination of algorithmic and human-driven kinds of techniques to analyze Andy Carvin’s Twitter coverage of the Arab Spring—first by computationally parsing and cleaning the data, second by manually identifying source types, and also by developing a Web-based interface to improve the accuracy of coding. As Alf mentioned on his site, a separate paper on our findings, “Sourcing the Arab Spring: A Case Study of Andy Carvin’s Sources on Twitter During the Tunisian and Egyptian Revolutions,” is forthcoming in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, sometime in 2013.

Here’s the abstract from our JOBEM piece:

Massive datasets of communication are challenging traditional, human-driven approaches to content analysis. Computational methods present enticing solutions to these problems but in many cases are insufficient on their own. We argue that an approach blending computational and manual methods throughout the content analysis process may yield more fruitful results, and draw on a case study of news sourcing on Twitter to illustrate this hybrid approach in action. Careful combinations of computational and manual techniques can preserve the strengths of traditional content analysis, with its systematic rigor and contextual sensitivity, while also maximizing the large-scale capacity of Big Data and the algorithmic accuracy of computational methods.

“Why are you going to Africa?”

I’ve heard this question a lot in the past few days. So, let me try to explain.

sunset Masai Mara

Sunset over the savannah in Masai Mara, a famous park reserve in Kenya. Gorgeous.

Angela Sevin via Compfight

The short answer: I’m going to Nairobi, Kenya, to conduct research (“fieldwork”) on three case studies at the intersection of journalism and open source / hacking / computer programming.

The longer answer: This work figures into the ongoing research that I’m doing with Nikki Usher on the rise of programmers and programming in the world of news and information — a book project we call “Hacking the News.” (Hey, we even have a working logo, designed by one of my research assistants, Jeff Hargarten.)

These three cases that I plan to study are positioned at this nexus of news and code in different ways:

(1) Ushahidi (Swahili for “witness”) is a non-profit tech organization that famously has developed a free and open-source platform for crowdsourcing crisis information across media channels and visualized in different ways — perhaps most notably via “crowdmaps” like these. (Incidentally, Ushahidi was an early Knight News Challenge grantee, so I interviewed founder Ory Okolloh during the course of my dissertation work.) The Ushahidi platform has gained all kinds of attention (Clay Shirky talks about it prominently), but for my purposes it’s interesting because it has elements of participatory news, user-generated content, and a civic information mission to go with a good dose of open-source and technological activism — so, a useful study of media + code. Ushahidi’s team is spread throughout the globe, but its heart and soul is in Kenya, including its headquarters at …

(2) the iHub, which describes itself as “Nairobi’s Innovation Hub for the technology community [and] an open space for the technologists, investors, tech companies and hackers in the area. This space is a tech community facility with a focus on young entrepreneurs, web and mobile phone programmers, designers and researchers. It is part open community workspace (co-working), part vector for investors and VCs and part incubator.” That about sums it up, and should explain why I’m interested in observing and participating in this space — particularly in meeting with hackers (et al.) who are developing projects with a news/media focus. Why are they interested in news/media/journalism?

(3) Last, but certainly not least, I’m excited to learn more about the newly launched Code4Kenya initiative, co-sponsored by the World Bank and the African Media Initiative. This program embeds developer “fellows” in media organizations, including newsrooms. What’s interesting about this case is how it blends an emphasis on open data and coding technologies with the context of media and journalism. As one fellow (see them all) puts it on his LinkedIn profile: “I am embedded inside a host organisation and knighted with the ground shifting task of changing hack journalism. Incorporating developing applications that will increase public data awareness and disseminating to the citizens as well as improving data journalism skills and approach.” These fellows are being coordinated through a startup incubator called 88mph, which should be an interesting site for study all its own!

From the website for 88mph, a startup accelerator (a la Y Combinator) that "makes investments in early stage mobile-web companies targeting the African market; focusing purely on ideas with potential to scale across Africa."


Oh, and in addition to all this, there’s a new Nairobi chapter of Hacks/Hackers. Hacks/Hackers — i.e., “hacks” for journalists, “hackers” for technologists” — is a grassroots global network that obviously, in its very name, captures the intersection of journalism and hacking, and so it has been an important case that I’ve been studying during the past year.

They say that Nairobi is becoming the Silicon Valley of east Africa, and I’m excited to see why. So, 11 days, 3 cases to study, and 1 amazing trip ahead!

(I should add: This research — like previous fieldwork in London at Mozilla Festival and in newsrooms and at hackathons in New York, Chicago and elsewhere — is being funded by a generous grant from the Office of the Vice President for Research at the University of Minnesota. Thank you, UMN!)

Journalists, technologists, innovation and participatory news: Two papers and a panel discussion at AEJMC 2012 in Chicago

It’s the second week of August, so it’s time for the annual AEJMC convention. It should be a busy one for me, leading off with two papers to present. Both are variations on a key theme of my present research with Nikki Usher: exploring the rise of technologists (hackers, coders, web developers, what-have-you) in the world of news and information—and what this “hacks and hackers” moment means for shaping the nature of news in relation to technology. At the bottom of this post are the 75-word abstracts for the two papers being presented—one on Aug. 9 to the Newspaper and Online News Division, the other on Aug. 11 to the Communication Technology Division.

I’m also leading a panel discussion (Aug. 9, 1:30 p.m.) on the future of scholarly research on participatory journalism; the panel includes Jane Singer and Sue Robinson, both widely published in this area (e.g., see Jane’s book and Sue’s articles), and two up-and-coming researchers in Avery Holton and Bart Wojdynski. My interest in bringing together grew out of my dissertation on the Knight News Challenge and its connection with what I called an “ethic of participation.” I tried to explain this concept a bit better in a piece published this year:

By dropping its patrol of traditional professional boundaries, Knight has sought to create space for external actors (like technologists) to step in and bring innovation to journalism—while at the same time allowing concepts on the periphery of journalism, like citizen participation, to be embraced as founding doctrines of news innovation. The result, I argue, has been the emergence of an ‘ethic of participation’, seeded in a hybrid resolution of the professional–participatory tension, that envisions audience integration as a normative goal of a truly digital journalism. In short, Knight is helping to further the idea that journalism in this space not only can be participatory but indeed should be.

Journalism studies, in the aggregate, thus suggests that the fundamental tension between professional control and open participation, or between producer and user in news, is one of mismatched ethics and expectations: Journalism’s identity and ideology remain rooted in a one-way publishing mind-set at a time when media are becoming a multi-way network (Singer 2010). The sociology of professions framework predicts that occupational actors do not easily abandon jurisdictional claims once they are established, much as journalists have been reluctant to relinquish the gatekeeping control so central to their identity and purpose. And yet, a trickle of empirical data is beginning to suggest a ‘slow philosophical shifting’ (Robinson 2010, p. 140) that could portend a resolution to the professional–participatory tension. This is more than simply making peace with participation as a fact of life on news websites (Singer et al. 2011), but hints at a deeper rethinking that may be occurring—among journalists and their organizations, and among institutional actors like Knight that help shape the profession’s discourse and culture. This, then, may lead to a revised logic for journalism: one that preserves certain ethical practices and boundaries that lend legitimacy, abandons jurisdictional claims that have lost their currency in the new environment, and embraces fresh values, such as open participation, that are more compatible with the logic of digital media and culture. (pp. 851-2)

But the problem, as I pointed out next in the article, is to develop better research approaches that assess an ethics of participation in action.

Going forward, the challenge for researchers will be to track the contours of this nascent boundary work: How (in what kinds of discourse and practice), where (virtually in digital niches, spatially in newsrooms, or geographically across regions and media systems), and why (under what normative considerations) does the professional logic of control become rearticulated (or not) in relation to the participatory logic? This broad framing of the question encourages us to consider both the cultural/rhetorical and structural/material nature of this boundary work (in line with Abbott 1988), and to do so using traditional research methods such as newsroom ethnography (Cottle 2007; Domingo & Paterson 2011) as well as alternative approaches attuned to the many splintering forms of journalism as media work becomes increasingly precarious and contingent, detached from the stability afforded by institutions (Deuze 2007; Deuze & Marjoribanks 2009). (p. 852)

Those are the kinds of questions that I hope we can begin to address in tomorrow’s panel. (See more below.)

Should be a great time in the lovely city of Chicago!

Yet another bean photo

Justin Kern via Compfight

An Analysis of News Innovation Contest Submissions to the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership

Lewis, S. C., Zamith, R., Kominak, T., & Usher, N. (2012). An Analysis of News Innovation Contest Submissions to the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership. Paper presented to the Newspaper and Online News Division of AEJMC, Chicago, August 2012.

Abstract: This paper examines how journalists and technologists are re-imagining the intersection of news and technology through a qualitative study of 234 idea submissions to a popular news innovation contest. We consider these submissions in light of three distinct concepts: interactivity, the public sphere, and normalization. We find in these submissions a break from the normalization hypothesis—a vision of journalism adapting to technology, rather than technology being configured to suit the legacy patterns of journalism.

Imagining the Future of Journalism Through Open-Source Journalism: A Qualitative Study of the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership

Usher, N., Lewis, S. C., & Kominak, T. (2012). Imagining the Future of Journalism Through Open-Source Journalism: A Qualitative Study of the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership. Paper presented to the Communication Technology Division of AEJMC, Chicago, August 2012.

This paper examines how journalists and technologists engaged in a high-profile partnership to re-imagine news for the digital age. We qualitatively analyzed a series of online videos (N=49) pitching group members’ open-source solutions for news. In light of the literature on journalism innovation and open-source technology and culture, and in the context of this connection between “hacks” and “hackers,” we identify key themes that articulate the future of news as process, participation, and social curation.

What’s Next for Research on Participatory Journalism?


  • Seth C. Lewis, assistant professor, School of Journalism & Mass Communication, University of Minnesota


  • Jane Singer, associate professor, School of Journalism & Mass Communication, University of Iowa
  • Sue Robinson, associate professor, School of Journalism & Mass Communication, University of Wisconsin
  • Avery Holton, doctoral student, School of Journalism, University of Texas at Austin
  • Bartosz W. Wojdynski, assistant professor, Virginia Tech University

Abstract: There is now a large and growing body of academic work on participatory journalism (e.g., as manifest in studies examining citizen journalism, user-generated news content, social media and journalism, newsroom practices oriented to civic/citizen engagement, and so on). This provides a good moment to reflect on lessons learned, themes developed, and (most importantly) areas yet to explore. This panel aims to generate discussion around the next steps for research on participatory journalism. Panelists will address questions such as: What kinds of spaces (literal / virtual / figurative) should we, as researchers, be exploring? What kinds of theoretical connections should we be making? What kinds of questions have gone unaddressed? And what kinds of methods and tools should be deployed in improving this line of inquiry?

Plugging my new journal articles, via the Culture Digitally blog

I’ve been lucky to have two new journal articles, both originating in some fashion from my dissertation, get published in recent weeks. They were plugged today on the Culture Digitally blog. Cross-posting it here…

Announcement: Two journal articles from Seth Lewis on the discursive work of journalism and participatory media

 Seth Lewis has just published two new articles of interest to Culture Digitally readers. The first, still in iFirst online form, appears in Information, Communication & Society, in a coming special issue on tensions in digital media work. The article is titled The Tension Between Professional Control and Open Participation: Journalism and its Boundaries. (If you can’t access the official version, there is a pre-print available here.) This literature synthesis attempts to articulate journalism’s norm of professional control over content, exploring its boundary work and its “ideological incompatibility” with the norms of open participation online. While the literature suggests that journalists have struggled with the architecture and culture of the social web, Seth argues for the possibility of an “ethic of participation” — a hybrid logic of adaptability and openness within and through journalism — that is emerging to resolve this tension going forward.
 Also just published is a related piece of interest: Seth’s case study of the influential Knight Foundation and its efforts to shape how the journalism field perceives digital media, participation, and innovation. The article is titled, From Journalism to Information: The Transformation of the Knight Foundation and News Innovation, and leads off the latest issue of Mass Communication and Society. (If you can’t access the official version, try this pre-print version.) Of note for Culture Digitally is the rhetorical shift that Knight underwent to focus less on “journalism” and more on “information” as a boundary-shifting strategy, allowing this major nonprofit foundation to connect with a wider range of fields and actors beyond journalism. This is akin to what Tarleton Gillespie found in his study of the politics of “platforms” — the careful invocation of that term to elide underlying tensions in the role that digital media firms play in mediating public discourse.