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.

Discussing open innovation and open source at the Future of Journalism 2011

Hello from Wales! I’m here at the biennial Future of Journalism Conference, put on by Cardiff University (which has a powerhouse journalism studies program, the likes of which I wish we had in the States) and the Journalism Studies / Journalism Practice academic journals (of which I’m a fan).

I’m presenting two papers representing my research on innovation in journalism: the first, co-authored with Tanja Aitamurto, looks at how the concept of open innovation can be applied to R&D challenges in the news industry; the second draws from my dissertation to examine the relationship between the professional ideology of journalism and open-source software and culture. Here are the citations and abstracts:

Aitamurto, T., & Lewis, S. C. Open Innovation, R&D, and the News Industry. Paper presented to the third biennial Future of Journalism Conference, Cardiff, Wales, September 2011.

The news industry, particularly in developed countries, has an R&D problem: It needs an infusion of innovation, and yet many news organizations lack the wherewithal to accomplish that in an era of diminishing resources and growing competition. This paper explores one potential solution—the open innovation model, articulated by Chesbrough (2003, 2006) and popularized in the technology sector. This theory suggests that a company can more readily innovate by opening up its R&D processes to enhance the flow of knowledge to and from the firm. This paper applies this concept to journalism by examining three empirical case studies: the Knight News Challenge, the impact of open APIs at news organizations, and the crowdfunding startup Spot.Us. We find that open innovation accelerates the learning process within and beyond these organizations, creating new opportunities for revenue, partnerships, and fertile innovation networks of feedback. This indicates that news industry players, like the digital media industry broadly, can benefit from implementing open innovation principles.

Lewis, S. C. The Open-Source Ethos of Journalism Innovation: Between Participation and Professional Control. Paper presented to the third biennial Future of Journalism Conference, Cardiff, Wales, September 2011.

This paper examines the intersection of journalism and open-source software, in the context of the ongoing tension between professional control and open participation in digital media. Through interviews with key winners of the Knight News Challenge innovation contest, this article explores how open source, as a technological framework and a socio-cultural ethic, serves to legitimize and facilitate participation in journalism. News innovators are found to see journalism as an open-source practice to be shared, rather than a proprietary profession to be protected—and news not as a professional product alone, so much as a process of iterative, collaborative de-bugging. The implications of this shift are discussed in light of journalism’s changing occupational boundaries.

Email me for a copy of either paper (sclewis AT umn DOT edu), and the slides for the open-source paper are below:

A good dissertation is a …

… done dissertation, as the saying goes, and I was thrilled to finish mine this summer. I defended it on July 15, made some final revisions in the weeks after, and finished up all the paperwork by early August. The diploma should be in the mail later this week. Now, that’s a good feeling!

As noted on my dissertation page, I conducted a case study of the Knight Foundation and its Knight News Challenge grant-funding contest to examine what’s happening with journalism innovation—or, to be more precise, to explore how change can occur within professions through the influence of a boundary-spanning agent, an embedded institutional player like Knight that can operate both within and apart from the professional field, thus “opening up” journalism to bring change back in.

I realize that no one—and I mean no one, not even the parents of Ph.D. students—reads dissertations, in large part because of the clunky format, but I’m making mine available online and would welcome any feedback you might have to offer as I revise this for academic publication. E-mail me at sclewis@umn.edu. Here’s the title and abstract, and a link to the full PDF:

Citation: Lewis, Seth C. (2010). Journalism Innovation and the Ethic of Participation: A Case Study of the Knight Foundation and its News Challenge (Unpublished dissertation). University of Texas, Austin.

The digitization of media has undermined much of the social authority and economic viability on which U.S. journalism relied during the 20th century. This disruption has also opened a central tension for the profession: how to reconcile the need for occupational control against growing opportunities for citizen participation. How that tension is navigated will affect the ultimate shape of the profession and its place in society.

This dissertation examines how the leading nonprofit actor in journalism, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, has sought to help journalism innovate out of its professional crisis. This case study engages a series of mixed methods—including interviews, textual analysis, and secondary data analysis—to generate a holistic portrayal of how the Knight Foundation has attempted to transform itself and the journalism field in recent years, particularly through its signature Knight News Challenge innovation contest.

From a sociology of professions perspective, I found that the Knight Foundation altered the rhetorical and actual boundaries of journalism jurisdiction. Knight moved away from “journalism” and toward “information” as a way of seeking the wisdom of the crowd to solve journalism’s problems. This opening up of journalism’s boundaries created crucial space in which innovators, from inside and outside journalism, could step in and bring change to the field. In particular, these changes have allowed the concept of citizen participation, which resides at the periphery of mainstream newswork, to become embraced as an ethical norm and a founding doctrine of journalism innovation. The result of these efforts has been the emergence of a new rendering of journalism—one that straddles the professional-participatory tension by attempting to “ferry the values” of professional ideals even while embracing new practices more suited to a digital environment.

Ultimately, this case study matters for what it suggests about professions in turbulent times. Influential institutions can bring change to their professional fields by acting as boundary-spanning agents—stepping outside the traditional confines of their field, altering the rhetorical and structural borders of professional jurisdiction to invite external contribution and correction, and altogether creating the space and providing the capital for innovation to flourish.

ISOJ 2010: Talking about the Knight News Challenge and news innovation

It’s been a very full two days of the International Symposium on Online Journalism here in Austin. This afternoon I got a chance to unveil some key findings from my ongoing dissertation research, which analyzes the Knight News Challenge in particular and the Knight Foundation more generally. It was a lot of fun, problems with the microphone notwithstanding!

My interest was in assessing how News Challenge winners negotiate the tension between professional control (embodied in the “occupational ideology” of journalism described by Mark Deuze) and open participation (see “participatory culture” described by Henry Jenkins). This question of professional-vs-participatory tension isn’t all that new to the literature on online journalism, but the unique placement of the Knight News Challenge — having something of a participatory bent, while being funded in a nonprofit/alternative fashion (see Quadrant 4 in PowerPoint slide #4, below) — makes it an interesting case study because it’s so different from the legacy press that usually gets so much attention in the sociology of journalism. Let me put it more simply: Knowing how “news innovators” wrestle with issues of control, and how that relates to the way they define journalism, may begin to tell us something about the assumptions (or “logic”) of journalism innovation as a whole.

In summary, I found that news innovators (i.e., KNC winners who intended to start news organizations/platforms) were able to render unproblematic the tension of professional control vs. open participation because they had made a key shift in mind-set: They saw journalism as an open practice to be shared rather than a proprietary profession to be protected. By making this profession-to-practice shift in perception, news innovators could “pull apart” journalism (rhetorically speaking) to preserve its best principles while discarding outmoded practices, all while embracing a new ethic of participation — this idea that journalism not only can be participatory, but actually should be. I saw this in the way news innovators talked about their confidence in crowd wisdom (or collective intelligence) and their interest in “community management”; this emphasis on collective knowledge, as opposed to the gatekeeping expertise of an individual professional, emerged as a key theme. However, I also found that certain challenges have made it difficult for news innovators to achieve these aims in practice, raising questions about sustainability beyond the life of nonprofit grant funding.

There’s much more to this, so if you’re interested check out the crib notes, or coverage from Alfred Hermida. A number of folks have asked for the full paper — and I sure appreciate the interest! — but I need a bit more time to tidy things up. These findings represent one chapter of my dissertation, which in its entirety should be finished in a month or two.

In all of this, the best part is this little anecdote: When I got home tonight, I learned that my 7-year-old son watched my talk via the live webcast. But, after just a few minutes into the presentation, Jackson turned to his mom and said in exasperation, “I haven’t understood a word Dad has said!”

Finally, the slides are below: