New article out “Political communication research: New media, new challenges, and new opportunities”

A new special issue of MedieKultur has just been published.  It includes an article by my based on a keynote lecture I gave in November 2012 at the Danish Association of Media Researchers’ Annual Meeting.

The talk and the article deals with how the field of political communication research might benefit from embracing the theoretical and methodological diversity that characterize the broader field of media and communications research, including intellectually adjacent and overlapping “sibling” fields like journalism studies and audience research.

It builds on the same line of thinking I’ve developed with David Karpf and Daniel Kreiss elsewhere (including our chapter in this book, based on our paper from ICA 2013) and that was part of the motivation for the preconference on the role of qualitative methods in political communication research that we organized with Matthew Powers for ICA in 2014.

As always, I’m grateful for our ongoing conversations.

Abstract below–full text (PDF) here.

Political communication research: New media, new challenges, and new opportunities

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen

Abstract

The rise of new media and the broader set of social changes they are part of present political communication research with new challenges and new opportunities at a time when many think the field is at an intellectual impasse (e.g., Bennett & Iyengar, 2008). In this article, I argue that parts of the field’s problems are rooted in the way in which political communication research has developed since the 1960s. In this period, the field has moved from being interdisciplinary and mixed-methods to being more homogenous and narrowly focused, based primarily on ideas developed in social psychology, certain strands of political science, and the effects-tradition of mass communication research. This dominant paradigm has contributed much to our understanding of some aspects of political communication. But it is struggling to make sense of many others, including questions concerning people’s experience of political communication processes and questions concerning the symbolic, institutional, and technological nature of these processes—especially during a time of often rapid change. To overcome this problem, I argue that the field of political communication research should re-engage with the rest of media and communication studies and embrace a broader and more diverse agenda. I discuss audience research and journalism studies as examples of adjacent fields that use a more diverse range of theoretical and methodological tools that might help political communication research engage with new media and the new challenges and new opportunities for research that they represent.

Keywords:political communication, new media, digital politics, theory, method

“The Unlovable Press” – Schudson goes to Groningen

Just back from Groningen and “The Unlovable Press”, a two-day event with more than forty scholars presenting work that builds on and engages with the work of Michael Schudson, my PhD advisor at Columbia.

I was a proud part of a panel with three other Schudson-Columbia alumni, C.W. Anderson, Julia Sonnevend, and Lucas Graves (the center of attention on the picture below), moderated by Silvio Waisbord, who worked with Michael at UC San Diego.Schudson

Each of us talked about a piece of Michael’s work that had been particularly important for us, Chris about the Origins of the Ideal of Objectivity in the Professions (parts ofwhich later became Discovering the News), Julia about Watergate and American Memory, Lucas about The Good Citizen, and myself about Why Democracies Need an Unlovable Press.

As so often before, I found it extremely useful to go back and read Michael before taking a stab at staking out a clear position on a big topic—here making the case for a “minimalist approach” to the role of journalism in democracy (outline below).

It was a great event, no doubt slightly uncomfortable for Michael, who never seems entirely at ease when the center of attention, but a real testament to his scholarship, which was also honored by the University of Groningen awarding him an honorary doctorate for his work.

There is a nice video of Michael talking about the “Saving Grace of Journalism” here, made for the occasion. The conference line-up is here.

Our (Anderson/Sonnevend/Graves/Nielsen) panel outline is below.

“Four Approaches to Michael Schudson”

CW Anderson, Lucas Graves, Rasmus Kleis Nielsen & Julia Sonnevend

Panel proposal for “The Unlovable Press: Conversations with Michael Schudson”

PANEL DESCRIPTION

In his introduction to The Good Citizen, Michael Schudson analogizes his approach to political history to that of a child learning the game of baseball for the first time. The point, he explains, is to understand past modes of citizenship not through timeless democratic theory, or even long-­‐standing political institutions, but by “directing attention to the instructions of the game itself”: the values and habits and rules, written and unwritten, that have guided everyday citizens today and in the past. This is a characteristic metaphor from a scholar who wears theory lightly but probes deeply into abiding questions of democratic life and culture. And it suggests a fitting approach to understanding the course of Schudson’s own scholarship, and how it fits into in the world of ideas — by setting aside broad labels to try to read the values and concerns reflected in three decades of writing on the media and the public sphere.

What is the “Schudsonian” approach to doing sociology and history? This panel offers four provisional answers to that question, each an attempt to define and then respond to the wider theoretical framework or political commitments one may read in Schudson’s work. The presenters, all former advisees, will organize the discussion as engagements with four key texts from Schudson’s work on the media and politics: his doctoral dissertation, “Origins of the Ideal of Objectivity in the Professions: Studies in the History of American Journalism and American Law, 1830-­‐1940” (originally 1976); Watergate in American Memory: How We Remember, Forget, and Reconstruct the Past (1993); The Good Citizen: A History of American Civic Life (1998); and the essay “Six or Seven Things News Can Do For Democracy,” in Why Democracies Need an Unlovable Press (2008).

These four texts span more than three decades of thinking about the press, politics, and public culture in the United States and more broadly. As entry points along that span they illuminate the range of methodologies and literatures that have informed Schudson’s scholarship — as a sociologist of public institutions, as a social and cultural historian, and as an observer of political life whose views incorporate classically liberal notions as well as the many critiques liberalism has invited. These texts offer a window onto Schudson’s engagement with questions at the center of intellectual inquiry: How should we as citizens and scholars understand the status of objective truth? What is the relationship between individual events and wider social forces, in a day’s news or a nation’s history? And finally, how should we read the long bend of democratic history, and the possibilities it suggests for meaningful action today by citizens, journalists, and scholars?

PAPER ABSTRACTS

Schudson as a Sociologist of Knowledge: Revisiting the Origins of Objectivity in Journalism (and Law)

CW Anderson

Excavating a doctoral thesis — even a published one — is a dangerous business for both thesis author and archaeological digger. Nevertheless, this paper revisits Schudson’s original doctoral work, “Origins of the Ideal of Objectivity in the Professions: Studies in the History of American Journalism and American Law, 1830-­‐1940,” half of which became Discovering the News. In part drawing on interviews with Schudson, this paper argues that “The Origins of the Ideal of Objectivity” places Schudson more firmly in the sociological tradition and serves as a useful, though occasionally problematic, resource for the current wave of studies on digital expertise.

On the Social Significance of the Statistically Insignificant: Michael Schudson’s Social Theory

Julia Sonnevend

In Watergate in American Memory, Michael Schudson argued that the social sciences avoid history, both the exceptional and the small-­‐but-­‐memorable moments of human existence. In contrast, Schudson’s writings carefully observe and somewhat anxiously admire the power of the singular, the earth-­‐shattering as well as minor events in public life. But is it possible to build a social theory dedicated to the “social significance of the statistically insignificant?” This is the central challenge of his scholarship and the topic I will explore in this paper.

The Monitorial Citizen in the Age of Fact-­Checking

Lucas Graves

In The Good Citizen, Michael Schudson argues that the politics of past eras have to be understood in their own terms — while also painting a picture of broad progress towards a democratic citizenship that is both reasoning and humane. This paper uses Schudson’s “monitorial citizen” to consider recent changes in the media-­‐political world, particularly the rise of professional fact-­‐checking groups. These developments are analyzed in light of two large questions: How does the monitorial citizen fair in a moment of abundant information but little consensus? And, what language does Schudson’s work give us for talking about moments or ways in which things seem to get worse?

The One Thing News Might Just Do for Democracy

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen

In an influential essay in Why Democracies Need an Unlovable Press, Michael Schudson outlines “Six or Seven Things News Can Do for Democracy”. In this paper, I will suggest that Schudson — who is more often attacked by radical democrats and critical theorists for being a timid liberal who demands too little — is in fact far too ambitious. I will argue that journalism, especially in its (in the Western world) increasingly diminished institutional state, can probably do only one truly distinct and important thing for democracy, namely make relatively accurate, accessible, relevant, and timely independently produced diverse information available about public affairs.

2014 Tietgen Award

20140527_235111(1)At a splendid event Tuesday May 27, I was the proud recipient of the 2014 Tietgen Award.

It is awarded annually by DSEB in recognition of a significant contribution to by young researchers in the field of business-oriented humanities and social science. It has been awarded since 1829 and is the oldest prize in the social sciences in Denmark.

The award is accompanied by the splendid Tietgen Gold Medal, funds to support international research work, and was celebrated in style with a very nice dinner in central Copenhagen where HRH Prince Joachim presented me with the award.

2014 Doris Graber Award for “Ground Wars”

“Ground Wars” has just been announced the winner of the 2014 Doris Graber Award, given by the American Political Science Association for the best book published on political communication in the last ten years.

This is what Susan Herbst, chair of the award committee, wrote to me.

“Our committee voted for your book unanimously, finding it to be innovative, engaging and of very high quality relative to the terrific pool of nominee books.”

I’m very proud of this. Previous Doris Graber Award winners include some of the political communication scholars I admire the most, and I’m honored to see my work in this company (especially since so many good books have come out in the last years).

The book is based on hundreds of hours spend in campaign offices (like the one below in Stamford), talking to staffers, being on the phone with volunteers, canvassing with part-timers knocking on doors for $10 an hour, talking to voters all over Connecticut and New Jersey for months on end.

Himes photo 4

As I write in my acknowledgments, “I have learned more from the people involved in campaigns than I can ever hope to teach them, and I thank them all for letting me into their world.”

That’s worth repeating—I’m grateful that people let me in, had the patience and inclination to talk about their work.

For those interested in a taste of the book, the first chapter is available for free here [pdf] on the Princeton University Press website, and the book can be found through Amazon etc.

Danish discussion of surveillance by NSA and others

Spoke yesterday at a debate hosted by the newspaper Information, the Danish Journalists’ Association, and the IT University about the NSA scandal, including its Danish subsidiary (spying during the COP15 negotiations, a story broken by Information working with Laura Poitras on the basis of documents leaked by Snowden and subsequently covered around the world).

I focused on how journalists are not only reliant on brave individual wRKN(1)histle-blowers like Snowden and Manning in covering these kinds of stories, but also enabled and empowered by real political debate and popular interest.

This we have in for example Germany, but is all-too-often often absent when the political elite close ranks or some top news organizations chose not to pursue a story.

It was a great event overall with Ewen MacAskill from the Guardian and a host of Danish journalists and others commenting, coinciding of course with the publication of Glenn Greenwald’s book.

Video of the here (all but Ewen MacAskill in Danish), more on Twitter at #nsadk

Crisis of Journalism Reconsidered—Barcelona workshop

Just arrived for “The Crisis of Journalism Reconsidered: Cultural Power” (May 2- 3), organized by Jeffrey Alexander, Elizabeth Butler Breese, and Maria Luengo at the Social Trends Institute.

The workshop aims to bring more culturally-oriented and sociological perspectives into play to understand contemporary journalism, and move beyond the tendency in some circles to focus mostly on economics and technology.

Not done reading all the papers yet, but a couple of highlights from the program (I’m sure there are other gems)—

  • Daniel Kreiss on journalism as “organized skepticism”. Work in progress, but I’m curious to hear more about this, not sure the profession is particularly skeptical, or even that we should wish it to be primarily skeptical.
  • Nikki Usher on how journalists’ professional preoccupation with scoops may be at least as much to blame for “hamsterization” as new technologies that enable more immediate publication, akin to Rod Tiffen’s work on what he calls journalism’s sometimes “institutionally perverse” competitive ethos.
  • Chris Anderson on how professional journalism in the US, in the 20th century almost aggressively ignorant of its audience, is coming to terms with an ever-growing number of forms of audience metrics, forms of audience engagement, etc that complicates it’s relation to the public it claims to and aims to serve.

My own paper is called “The Many Crises of Western Journalism” and presents a big-picture comparison of economic, professional, and symbolic crises in journalism across six affluent democracies.

The figure below summarize the general thrust of the empirical argument—Northern European countries like Finland and Germany do not yet face the economic and professional crises seen elsewhere, but there too, journalism faces a symbolic crisis as many people have low confidence in news. Mediterranean European countries like France and Italy have both an old and a new economic crisis to contend with (already weak industry hit hard by digital), a profession that has never developed the same kind of occupational autonomy from politics and proprietors seen elsewhere, and low confidence in news. In the US, journalism faces a new economic crisis connected to the rise of digital over the last years, challenges to the status of the profession itself, as well as a decades-old symbolic crisis of confidence as many people have little confidence in news.

In short, different kinds of crisis and different degrees of crises, but a common theme running across these otherwise different Western countries being low public confidence in much journalism (I rely on World Values Survey data for this, see also Jonathan Ladd’s detailed analysis of why American’s don’t trust the news).

I’ve left out of this whether some Western governments behavior towards journalism in itself represent a distinct additional crisis, see for example the report by the Committee to Protect Journalism “The Obama Administration and the Press: Leak investigations and surveillance in post-9/11 America” and the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers’ Report “UK Press Freedom Report”, also concerned with monitoring and pressure on journalists. Both makes for very worrying reading.

Who should we invite to the Oxford Editor and CEO Forum next year?

Good company...

Good company…

Re-reading summary notes from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism’s Oxford Editor and CEO Forum last week. Chatham House Rules etc, so I will just quote the official RISJ post about the event—

Editors in Chief and CEOs from 10 countries for 24 hours of in-depth and off the record discussions on some of the key opportunities and challenges involved in running a news organisation in the 21st century.

The forum included participants from India (the Hindu), Japan (the Asahi Shimbun) and Latin America (La Nacion from Argentina) but with the majority from Europe (the Irish Times, Le Monde, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Berlingske, the Huffington Post Italy, the Guardian and the Financial Times.)

Issues covered included the implications for journalism of the Edward Snowden affair, different approaches to paying for news online, the challenges of innovation in legacy news organisations, to the debate around sponsored content and the rules that should surround that.

I thought it was a very good discussion, but we are always looking for ways of improving.

We plan to arrange another Forum next year, so the question really is, who should we invite?

The focus will remain on private sector news organizations and retain at least a partial emphasis on the business of journalism, but as long as it doesn’t bring together people so far apart it reduce the conversation to conflict, it would be good with more disruptors to add to what legacy media bring to the table.

I’m thinking maybe someone from the advertising world, certainly someone from tech, and more pure players.

Email, DM, etc me with ideas—all welcome.