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?