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.

New publication — Reciprocal journalism: A concept of mutual exchange between journalists and audiences

I’m excited to announce the publication of this new piece, “Reciprocal journalism: A concept of mutual exchange between journalists and audiences,” published in the peer-reviewed journal Journalism Practice (a non-paywalled PDF is available here). The article will appear in 2014 as part of a special issue on “community journalism midst media revolution,” guest-edited by Sue Robinson (see her terrific introduction to the issue).

I was lucky to work with two fantastic co-authors in Avery Holton of the University of Utah and Mark Coddington of the University of Texas (all three of us were/are Ph.D. students in the School of Journalism at UT-Austin). We worked together in developing the “reciprocal journalism” concept last spring, drawing on theorizing about reciprocity from social psychology to imagine a way for understanding the evolving relationship between journalists and audiences. While a lot of what is classified as participatory journalism primarily works in the service of the news organization, we see reciprocal journalism as a concept for visualizing a process of mutual benefit between journalists and their communities of readers and followers—whether one-on-one in some instances or more indirectly and sustained over time. Now that we have begun to develop the contours of this concept, the next step is to test it in practice: To what extent does reciprocity—or the perception of reciprocity—factor into the way journalists perceive their relationships with audiences? How are such beliefs about reciprocity connected to certain kinds of news work practices or forms of participatory journalism? and so on. We hope to begin answering those questions via a survey of U.S. journalists that we’re launching soon.

Below is the citation information and abstract. If you can’t access the paywalled PDF, just email me for a copy:

Lewis, Seth C., Holton, Avery E., & Coddington, Mark (2013). Reciprocal Journalism: A Concept of Mutual Exchange Between Journalists and Audiences. Journalism Practice, 1-13. doi:10.1080/17512786.2013.859840 (pre-print version)


Reciprocity, a defining feature of social life, has long been considered a key component in the formation and perpetuation of vibrant communities. In recent years, scholars have applied the concept to understanding the social dynamics of online communities and social media. Yet, the function of and potential for reciprocity in (digital) journalism has yet to be examined. Drawing on a structural theory of reciprocity, this essay introduces the idea of reciprocal journalism: a way of imagining how journalists might develop more mutually beneficial relationships with audiences across three forms of exchange—direct, indirect, and sustained types of reciprocity. The perspective of reciprocal journalism highlights the shortcomings of most contemporary approaches to audience engagement and participatory journalism. It situates journalists as community-builders who, particularly in online spaces, might more readily catalyze patterns of reciprocal exchange—directly with readers, indirectly among community members, and repeatedly over time—that, in turn, may contribute to the development of greater trust, connectedness, and social capital. For scholars, reciprocal journalism provides a new analytical framework for evaluating the journalist–audience relationship, suggesting a set of diagnostic questions for studying the exchange of benefits as journalists and audiences increasingly engage one another in networked environments. We introduce this concept in the context of community journalism but also discuss its relevance for journalism broadly.