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.

Boundaries of Journalism: Professionalism, Practices and Participation

9781138020672I’m excited to announce the publication of Boundaries of Journalism: Professionalism, Practices and Participation (Routledge, 2015), which I co-edited with the immensely talented Matt Carlson of Saint Louis University. The book includes some terrific contributions from an international group of scholars studying boundary work and journalism. It is published as part of the Shaping Inquiry in Culture, Communication and Media Studies series edited by Barbie Zelizer.

Below is the back-cover material, as well as the table of contents and links to more online:

 

BOUNDARIES OF JOURNALISM: PROFESSIONALISM, PRACTICES AND PARTICIPATION
Edited by Matt Carlson and Seth C. Lewis

Routledge, 2015

The concept of boundaries has become a central theme in the study of journalism. In recent years, the decline of legacy news organizations and the rise of new interactive media tools have thrust such questions as “what is journalism” and “who is a journalist” into the limelight.

Struggles over journalism are often struggles over boundaries. These symbolic contests for control over definition also mark a material struggle over resources. In short: boundaries have consequences. Yet there is a lack of conceptual cohesiveness in what scholars mean by the term “boundaries” or in how we should think about specific boundaries of journalism.

This book addresses boundaries head-on by bringing together a global array of authors asking similar questions about boundaries and journalism from a diverse range of perspectives, methodologies, and theoretical backgrounds.

Boundaries of Journalism assembles the most current research on this topic in one place, thus providing a touchstone for future research within communication, media and journalism studies on journalism and its boundaries.

Reviews

“As emerging forms blur the line between media writ large and the realm culturally acknowledged as journalism, the concepts of boundaries and boundary work become vital tools for scholarly sense-making. Carlson and Lewis make an immense contribution to journalism studies, bringing together an international group of scholars to explicate these concepts that both highlight journalism’s universal traits and identify it as contextually unique.” — Dan Berkowitz, Professor, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Iowa, USA

“Carlson and Lewis expertly weave together a variety of thoughtful conceptual and methodological perspectives on boundary work in journalism. The compelling contributions to this outstanding volume offer key insights into cultural, political, technological and economic factors influencing the construction of boundaries between journalists and audiences related to news practices, participants and professional norms.” — Bonnie Brennen, Nieman Professor of Journalism, Diederich College of Communication, Marquette University, USA

“Boundaries of Journalism provides an apposite intervention into the uncertainties surrounding definitions of journalism and journalists. The collection provides an eclectic mixture of perspectives looking at the social and material changes affecting journalism in the 21st century. The book provides a further building block in advancing the maturity of journalism studies.” — Howard Tumber, Director of Research, Graduate School of Journalism, City University London, UK

Contents

Introduction: The Many Boundaries of Journalism Matt Carlson

Part I: Professionalism, Norms and Boundaries
1. Out of Bounds: Professional Norms as Boundary Markers — Jane B. Singer
2. Nothing But The Truth: Redrafting the Journalistic Boundary of Verification — Alfred Hermida
3. Divided we stand: Blurred Boundaries in Argentine Journalism — Adriana Amado and Silvio Waisbord
4. The Wall Becomes a Curtain: Revisiting Journalism’s News-Advertising Boundary — Mark Coddington
5. Creating Proper Distance through Networked Infrastructure: Examining Google Glass for Evidence of Moral, Journalistic Witnessing — Mike Ananny
6. Hard News/Soft News: The Hierarchy of Genres and the Boundaries of the Profession — Helle Sjøvaag
7. Internal Boundaries: The Stratification of the Journalistic Collective — Jenny Wiik

Part II: Encountering Non-Journalistic Actors in Newsmaking
8. Journalism Beyond the Boundaries: the Collective Construction of News Narratives — David Domingo and Florence Le Cam
9. Redrawing Borders from Within: Commenting on News Stories as Boundary Work — Sue Robinson
10. Resisting Epistemologies of User-Generated Content? Cooptation, Segregation and the Boundaries of Journalism — Karin Wahl-Jorgensen
11. NGOs as Journalistic Entities: The Possibilities, Problems and Limits of Boundary Crossing — Matthew Powers
12. Drawing Boundary Lines Between Journalism and Sociology, 1895-1999 — C.W. Anderson
Epilogue: Studying Boundaries of Journalism: Where Do We Go From Here? — Seth C. Lewis

Routledge Site
Amazon
Google Books

“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?

Moderator

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

Panelists

  • 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.