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.

CfP: Special issue of New Media & Society — “Truth, facts, and fake: The shifting epistemologies of news in a digital age”

I’m excited to announce the following call for papers for a special issue of New Media & Society: “Truth, facts, and fake: The shifting epistemologies of news in a digital age.” I will be co-editing the special issue with two terrific partners, Mats Ekström and Oscar Westlund of the University of Gothenburg (the three of us are working on a recently funded grant to study the epistemologies of digital news production). Note that, in addition to the special issue, shortlisted authors will be invited to participate in an online workshop in early 2018 that will allow for feedback on each other’s work as well as a chance to experiment with a virtual meeting format.

Thank you for sharing this CfP far and wide!

CALL FOR PAPERS: Special issue of New Media & Society and related online workshop

Truth, facts, and fake: The shifting epistemologies of news in a digital age

Co-editors:
Mats Ekström, University of Gothenburg
Seth C. Lewis, University of Oregon
Oscar Westlund, University of Gothenburg

Tentative timeline:

  • Abstract submission deadline: Monday, October 2, 2017
  • Notification on submitted abstracts: Friday, October 20, 2017
  • Online workshop focusing on the special issue theme: in early February 2018
  • Article submission deadline: Thursday, March 1, 2018

Verified, fact-based information is presumed to be an important feature in society, for citizens individually and for democratic governance as a whole. During much the 20th century, legacy news media enjoyed a prominent position in attempting to fulfill that role, reporting on happenings near and far. Journalists professionalized over time, developing standards, norms, methods, and networks of sources that enabled them to make knowledge claims. Such epistemological practices—presumed to provide factual and reliable public information—have made journalism one of the most influential knowledge-producing institutions in society.

However, both slow and sudden changes are challenging the role of journalism in society. There is an ongoing but gradual shift from legacy media to digital media. On the one hand, this shift has opened new pathways for news access and distribution across an array of platforms—social, mobile, apps, and the like. On the other hand, this shift has generally undercut the business models of legacy news media organizations, resulting in the weakening and downsizing of newsrooms and the fragmenting of collective audiences for news—altogether raising questions about the continued viability of journalism to produce reliable information. Meanwhile, the more sudden change in the information landscape is the rapid expansion of actors that, in some cases, are intent on providing “alternative facts” or otherwise questioning the accounts of news media. This comes at a moment when many people, particularly in developed countries, appear to have little confidence in the press. While some of these sources seek to verify facts in a journalistic fashion, others pursue a deliberate strategy of disinformation for political or financial purposes. The success of such “fake news” has led to widespread debate about what some are calling a “post-truth” era.

Altogether, these developments point to many opportunities for research and theory. A general question concerns how the epistemologies of journalism—knowledge claims, norms, and practices—are shaped by the changes and challenges in digital news production. How do journalists know what they know, and how are their knowledge claims articulated and justified? To understand the destabilization of the epistemic status of journalism articulated in current debates, what is needed are empirical studies, historical explanations, and theoretical developments. Moreover, it is essential to better understand how news consumers perceive news, “fake” or otherwise; e.g., how do they evaluate and act upon such claims? Citizens also need media literacy skills to assess the quality of information; what constitutes such literacy, and how does it respond to the knowledge conditions of the contemporary digital environment? As a response to the rise of fake news, several groups have mobilized to investigate information. The functioning and implications of such mobilizations (such as fact-checking movements), as well as digital media tools that aid citizens and professionals in verifying information, are important to analyze to develop our understanding of the production and consumption of more or less verified and non-verified information in a changing news media landscape.

For this special issue, the guest editors welcome two kinds of article submissions: theoretically informed and empirically rigorous articles (using quantitative, qualitative, computational, and/or mixed methods), as well as conceptualizations involving systematic and relevant literature reviews. Contributors may address issues including, but not limited to, the following:

* The epistemology of different forms of journalism—such as data journalism, which conveys news through the analysis and visualization of numerical data, and participatory journalism, which involves audiences and communities in news construction;

* Knowledge-oriented norms, values, and practices applied when publishing and distributing news, accordingly to varying socio-cultural, political, organizational, and technological contexts;

* The shifting networks of sources on which journalists and other information professionals rely;

* The discursive construction of “truth” and “facts” in the context of news production, distribution, and consumption;

* Notions of “fake news,” “post-truth,” and related controversies brought to light by the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and which are applicable also in many other countries and contexts;

* The knowledge-oriented practices of news consumers as they encounter purportedly “fake news” and propaganda online (and, by extension, questions of and conceptualizations for media literacy);

* Verification on/for social media as well as related forms of technologically driven means of information assessment;

* Perceptions and practices of professional footage vis-à-vis amateur footage, including issues of authenticity and authority;

* The formation, vision, and practices of initiatives, groups or organizations working toward identifying “fake news,” on behalf of professionals, the public or both;

* Comparative perspectives on news consumers and their relative trust in different forms of media processes and products;

* The development, appropriation, and use of technological systems and tools for verification.

Information about submission:

Proposals should include the following: an abstract of 500-750 words (not including references) as well as background information on the author(s), including an abbreviated bio that describes previous and current research that relates to the special issue theme. Please submit your proposal as a PDF to the e-mail address ekstrom.lewis.westlund@gmail.com no later than Monday, October 2, 2017. Later that month, by October 20, authors will be notified whether their abstract has been selected, and consequently if they will be encouraged to develop and submit an article for peer review.

Please note: Authors whose abstracts are shortlisted for full-paper submission to the special issue also will be committing to take part in an online workshop, hosted by the University of Gothenburg, to be held in early February 2018. This experimental approach will allow for the sharing and commenting on drafts as well as the discussion of more general theoretical issues, future research opportunities, and networking among scholars. Live sessions will be held for portions of two days, in addition to a week period for open commenting and discussion. Further details will be conveyed to shortlisted authors.

Finally, full articles will be due Thursday, March 1, 2018, for full blind review, in accordance with the journal’s peer-review procedure.