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Looking back on ICA preconference on normative theory

Together with Chris Anderson, Daniel Kreiss, Dave Karpf, and Matt Powers, I organized an ICA pre-conference on the role of normative theory in communication research May 25.

It made for a day of really interesting and stimulating conversation, thanks to the presenters, our discussants, invited panelists, and everyone who attended. (I was on a panel of journal editors along with Barbie Zelizer, Claes de Vreese, and Silvio Waisbord talking about the role of  normative theory in the journals we edit — photo below from  Erik Bucy.)

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I won’t try to summarize the many interesting points made, but instead highlight what I though were some of the most important and interesting disagreements where people held different views —

  1. At a most basic level, people embrace different traditions of normative theorizing, mostly deliberative democracy, liberal democracy, and radical democracy. Most of the traditions explicitly mobilized are (a) tied to democracy (and not other normative questions like, say, justice) and (b) are strongly tied to Western countries (with a few notable exceptions), something Barbie Zelizer has pointed out in the past.
  2. There is an implicit and rarely explicitly discussed tension between people who prefer what political theorists would call ideal theories and those who prefer non-ideal theories — illustrated elsewhere by the debate between for example John Rawls (as a strong proponent of ideal theory) and Amartya Sen (as a proponent of non-ideal theory). (I found Zofia Stemplowska’s book chapter a useful guide to the issue.)
  3. Considerable disagreement around what role question of what democratic realists like Bernard Williams call “realisability” should play in normative discussions. What some think of as what Ian Hacking calls “elevator words” that raise us to higher levels of discourse, others think of as being so abstract and distant from reality as to be near-irrelevant. (I have written about this issue here.)

So, the conversations, and the disagreements continued. In advance of the pre-conference, we drafted a reading list (here), ,and I’ll add some things to after the discussions we had.

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Digital news as forms of knowledge

I have written a somewhat nerdy (but hopefully still interesting) book chapter that is basically a challenge to any kind of generalization of the type “digital news is like X” for Remaking the News, a terrific new book edited by Pablo Boczkowski and Chris Anderson.

The chapter is a “yes, but” response to people who associate digital news with “churnalism” that tries to take seriously that we are seeing a boom in superficial, instantly produced and published material (some of which is valuable) as well as more and more really detailed journalism that enrolls data visualizations, interactives, mapping, etc. to enrich both the content and the storytelling.

I play of Robert Park‘s classic chapter on news as a form of knowledge and argue that  what we see today is an increasingly diverse polarization of news that include both much more content that enable knowledge as what the pragmatic philosopher William James called “acquaintance with”, focused on impressions of the world as well as content that enables “knowledge about” that  help us understand relations.

Buy the book here, read a pre-publication version of my chapter here, and see the full abstract below.

“Digital News As Forms of Knowledge: A New Chapter in the Sociology of Knowledge”

Forthcoming, Pablo Boczkowski and C.W. Anderson (eds.) 2017. Remaking the News: Essays on the Future of Journalism Scholarship in the Digital Age. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

What kinds of knowledge might news be said to be? And how is news as knowledge changing as the social practices, organizational forms, and media technologies that create and constitute it change over time? The purpose of this chapter is to address these questions and to offer a contemporary sequel to what Robert E. Park called “a chapter in the sociology of knowledge”. I am concerned with what changes in news content, the organization of news work, and the technologies involved in producing and disseminating news means for how we think about news as knowledge, and will discuss this more general issues on the basis specifically of past and present examples from the United States. I suggest that much news today is still frequently characterized by many of the traits Park identified, but that our increasingly digital media environment offers far more diverse forms of news and also includes a growing amount of substantially different kinds of news closer to the philosopher William James’ extremes of “acquaintance with” and “knowledge about”. Today, as we see simultaneously an increasing emphasis on presentist, minute-by-minute and second-by-second breaking news and the growth of various forms of long-form journalism, explanatory journalism, and data journalism designed to overcome some of the perceived epistemological shortcomings of older forms of news, new forms of news as knowledge that have greater staying power as content, but also because of certain affordances of digital media. Drawing on Park and his inspiration from James, I suggest we can think of digital news as involving at least three different ideal-typical forms of mediated, public knowledge today. First, we see the growing importance of forms of news-as-impression, decontextualized snippets of information presented via headline services, news alerts, live tickers, and a variety of new digital intermediaries including search engines, social media, and messaging apps. Second, a recognizable descendant of the archetypical late-20th century form of news remains important, news-as-items, published as in principle self-contained discrete articles and news stories bundled together in a newspaper, a broadcast stream, on a website, or in an app. Third, at the opposite end of James’ spectrum from acquaintance-with to knowledge-about, we see the rise of news-about-relations, combining elements of long-form “contextual” or “explanatory” forms of journalism well-known from some 20th century newspapers, magazines, and current affairs programs with new forms of data journalism, visualization, and interactivity afforded by digital technologies. Digital news may be associated with the rise of news-as-impressions and a potential hollowing out of inherited forms of news-as-items—with more transient information for what Park in 1940 called a “specious present”. Certainly many critics amongst journalists, academics, and other public figures complain about its “churnalistic” qualities. But digital news is far more than this and we should be suspicious of overarching generalizations about the nature of news today, which also involves a remarkable growth in news-as-relations more oriented towards providing what James called knowledge-about, and news that today is more accessible, more timely, and more detailed and data driven that probably ever before. Recognizing the properties of digital news as different forms of knowledge—rather than a form of knowledge—will help us understand how journalistic self-understandings, popular conceptions of journalism, academic hypothesis about journalism, and normative theories of journalism might require rethinking as the basic connection between news and knowledge they all implicitly rely on change over time.

Keywords: journalism, news, knowledge, sociology of knowledge, media

Summer school on comparative qualitative research on journalism and news media

I’m organizing a summer  school at the Reuters Institute in Oxford September 11-12 with Lucas Graves and Annika Sehl. It’s going to be great. Apply by May 31 to join. Full info below.

Some of the most important research on journalism and news media has been based on qualitative studies, including in-depth interviews, ethnography, historical studies, and other qualitative methods. Such work has generated lasting empirical insights as well as many of the foundational concepts in the academic study of media and communications.

Qualitative research has, however, tended to produce insights which are less ‘portable’ to new research questions and contexts. Too often the impact of this kind of scholarship is limited because findings are highly specific to the case and/or country studied, because engagement with theoretical work is not explicit, or because the logic of generalisation and the standards of validity have not been made clear.

These hurdles are especially pronounced in the vital emerging domain of comparative international media research. Well-designed qualitative work — whether carefully situated case-studies or explicitly comparative projects — has the potential to significantly advance our understanding of, for example, the economic and professional forces reshaping news production today — changes which are playing out very differently in different organizations and media systems. But we have so far seen far less systematically comparative and internationally oriented qualitative research on journalism and news media than what has been pursued by, for example, researchers focused on content analysis, role perceptions, and the like.

The purpose of this two-day summer school for advanced doctoral students and early career researchers, hosted by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, is to explore the unique promise of qualitative methods for comparative scholarship in journalism and media/communications and to help the participants connect their individual projects to wider discussions to in order to increase their substantive contribution and impact.

Through a combination of seminars led by Oxford-based researchers and workshop discussions of work-in-progress from the participants, the aim is to:

  1. Significantly advance our shared understanding of the methodological issues involved in advancing genuinely comparative and internationally-oriented qualitative research on journalism and news media,
  2. Explicitly engage with theoretical discussions that can help structure such work and clarify its contribution (beyond describing interesting and sometimes intrinsically important cases), most notably recent work drawing on institutional theory and science and technology studies.
  3. Help the participants think about their own individual research as contributing to a collective and cumulative attempt to understand the evolution of news and journalism, and to identify potential collaborators for cross-country studies.

Seminars at the summer school will be led by Lucas Graves, Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, and Annika Sehl.

All participants will be provided with a reading list in advance for the seminars and will be asked to submit a draft article or chapter that they would like to workshop and get feedback on from the organizers and the other participants at the summer school.

The participation fee is £149 per person, covering the summer school itself as well as lunch both days and dinner at an Oxford college. The participation fee does not cover transport and accommodation (which each participant will be responsible for organizing on their own).

We will accept a maximum of 12 participants for the summer school to ensure that we have an intimate and constructive forum for discussion and that everyone can get detailed feedback on their work. We will aim for a diverse group to advance our goal of building towards more comparative, international qualitative research on journalism and news media.

To apply to take part, please send an abstract of no more than 500 words outlining the central research question, empirical basis, and driving hypotheses and intellectual stakes of the work that you would like to present to Philippa Garson at philippa.garson@politics.ox.ac.uk no later than May 31. Please direct practical questions to her, and substantive questions about the program to Lucas Graves at lucas.graves@wisc.edu.

We will notify those accepted before the end of June.

About the summer school organisers

Lucas Graves is Assistant Professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen is Director of Research at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford and Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Press/Politics.

Annika Sehl is Research Fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford.

About the Reuters Institute

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism is based in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford. The Institute was launched in November 2006 and developed from the Reuters Fellowship Programme, established at Oxford more than 30 years ago. The institute is committed to connecting timely and rigorous research from a range of different disciplines to the substantial issues facing journalism and news media around the world.

Reading list on innovation and organizational change in news media/journalism

Below a reading list on academic research on innovation and organizational change in news media/journalism that Alessio Cornia, Annika Sehl and have developed for our ongoing work on how public service media and legacy private sector media across a range of countries in Europe are adapting to a changing media environment.

Thoughts/recommendations? Email or comments for suggestions!

NERD ALERT — this particular list is focused on academic research. Obviously there is much excellent writing elsewhere.

READING LIST ON INNOVATION AND ORGANISATIONAL CHANGE IN NEWS MEDIA/JOURNALISM

The list covers the following theoretical/thematic areas:

  1. Comparative research on media systems
  2. Institutionalism (general theory)
  3. Institutionalism applied to change in news organisations
  4. Newsroom ethnographies and journalism studies
  5. Media management
  1. Comparative research media systems

 

Key readings

  • Hallin, D. C. & Mancini, P. (2004). Comparing media systems. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Brüggemann, M., Engesser, S., Büchel, F., Humprecht, E., & Castro, L. (2014). Hallin and Mancini revisited: Four empirical types of western media systems. Journal of Communication, 64: 1037-1065.

 

  1. Institutionalism (general)

Key readings

  • DiMaggio, P. J., & Powell. W. W. (1983). The Iron Cage Revisited: Institutional Isomorphism and Collective Rationality in Organizational Fields. American Sociological Review, 48 (2): 147–60.
  • Scott, R. W. (2008). Institutions and Organisations: Ideas and Interests. Third edition. Sage. 7 “Institutional Processes and Organisations” (pp. 149-180) (Simple and clear explanation of issues such as: legitimacy, isomorphism, organisational structure and institutional context, strategic responses and sources of divergence) (available at: GTC Library, HM 786 Sco).
  • Fligstein, Neil, and Doug McAdam. 2012. A Theory of Fields. New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press, chapters 1 and 4.

Other readings

  • Reed, M. I. (1992). The Sociology of Organisations: Themes, Perspective and Prospects. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf. Cap 4: Theory Groups and Research Programmes (pp. 172-176, ‘Institutionalists’) (Focus on institutional isomorphism). (GTC Library, HM 131 Ree)
  • Powell, W. W. & DiMaggio, P. J. (1991) The New Institutionalism in Organisational Analysis. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 13 ‘The Structural Transformation of American Industry’. (empirical application of the theory focusing on Institutional Change). Chap. 14, ‘Institutional Origin and Transformations’. (see previous point) (GTC Library, HM 131 Pow).
  • Padgett, John Frederick, and Walter W. Powell. 2012. The Emergence of Organizations and Markets. Princeton, NJ; Woodstock: Princeton University Press.

 

 

  1. Institutionalism applied to change in news organisations

Key readings

  • Lowrey, Wilson. 2011. ‘Institutionalism, News Organizations and Innovation’. Journalism Studies 12 (1): 64–79.
  • Lowrey, Wilson, and Chang Wan Woo. 2010. ‘The News Organization in Uncertain Times: Business or Institution?’ Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 87 (1): 41–61.

Other readings

  • Nordqvist, M., Picard R. G., & Pesamaa O. (2010). Industry associations as change agents: The institutional roles of newspaper associations. Journal of Media Business Studies. 7(3): 51-69.
  • Cook, Timothy E. 1998. Governing with the News: The News Media as a Political Institution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Chap. 4 ‘The institutional news media”.
  • Ryfe, David M. (2016). News Institutions. In T. Witschge, C. W. Anderson, D. Domingo, & A. Hermida (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of digital journalism (pp. 370-382). SAGE.

 

  1. Newsroom ethnographies and journalism studies

 

Key readings

  • Boczkowski, Pablo J. 2004. Digitizing the News: Innovation in Online Newspapers. Inside Technology. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
  • Mitchelstein, E. & Boczkowski, P. (2009). Between tradition and change: A review of recent research on online news production. Journalism, 10(5). Section on: “The process of innovation in online journalism” (pp. 566-568).
  • Weiss A. S. & Domingo D. (2010). Innovation processes in online newsrooms as actor-networks and communities of practice. New Media & Society, 12(7): 1156-1171. The article explores two different theoretical approaches to frame innovation in online media: actor-network theory and community of practice.
  • Ekdale et al. (2015). Making change: diffusion of technological, relational, and cultural innovation in the newsroom. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, pp. 1-21. DOI: 10.1177/1077699015596337

Other readings

  • Anderson, C. W. 2013. Rebuilding the News: Metropolitan Journalism in the Digital Age. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
  • Usher, N. (2014). Making news at the New York Times. Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press.
  • Paterson, C. & Domingo, D. (Eds.) (2008). Makin online news: The ethnography of new media production. New York: Peter Lang.
  • Lewis, S. C., & Westlund, O. (2015). Actors, actants, audiences, and activities in cross-media news work. Digital Journalism, 3(1), 19–37.
  • Gillespie, Tarleton, Pablo J. Boczkowski, and Kirsten A. Foot, eds. 2014. Media Technologies: Essays on Communication, Materiality, and Society. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
  1. Media management

Key readings

  • Küng, L. (2008). Strategic management in the media. London: Sage Publications.
  • Küng, L. (2015). Innovators in digital news. London: I.B. Tauris.

 

Other readings

  • Maitlis, S. & Christianson, M. (2014). Sensemaking in organisations: Taking stock and moving forward. The Academy of Management Annals, 8(19): 57-125.
  • Teece, D. J., Pisano G., & Shuen A. (1997) Dynamic capabilities and strategic management. Strategic Management Journal, 18(7): 509-533.
  • Lischka J. A. (2015) How structural multi-platform newsroom features and innovative values alter journalistic cross-channel and cross-sectional working procedures. Journal of Media Business Studies, 12(1): 7-28.
  • Courtney, Hugh, Jane Kirkland, and Patrick Viguerie. 1997. ‘Strategy Under Uncertainty’. Harvard Business Review. November 1. https://hbr.org/1997/11/strategy-under-uncertainty.
  • Christensen, Clayton M., Michael E. Raynor, and Rory McDonald. 2015. ‘What Is Disruptive Innovation?’ Harvard Business Review. Accessed November 22. https://hbr.org/2015/12/what-is-disruptive-innovation.

CfN: 2017 International Journal of Press/Politics Best Book Award

IJPP

Nominations are invited for the annual International Journal of Press/Politics Best Book Award, to be sent to IJPP editor Rasmus Kleis Nielsen by email no later than February 15.

Rationale

The International Journal of Press/Politics Best Book Award honors internationally-oriented books that advance our theoretical and empirical understanding of the linkages between news media and politics in a globalized world in a significant way. It is given annually by the International Journal of Press/Politics and sponsored by Sage Publications.

The award committee will judge each nominated book on several criteria, including the extent to which the book goes beyond analyzing a single case country to present a broader and internationally-oriented argument, the significance of the problems addressed, the strength of the evidence the book relies on, conceptual innovation, the clarity of writing, and the book’s ability to link journalism studies, political communication research, and other relevant intellectual fields.

Eligibility

Books published within the last ten years will be considered. Monographs as well as edited volumes of exceptional quality and coherence will be considered for the award. (Books by current members of the award committee are ineligible and committee members will recuse themselves from discussion of books by members of their own department, works published in series that they edit, etc.)

Nominations

Nominations including a rationale of no more than 350 words should be emailed by February 15 to Rasmus Kleis Nielsen at rasmus.nielsen@politics.ox.ac.uk.

The nomination must specify why the book should receive the award by outlining the importance of the book to the study of news media and politics and by identifying its international contribution and relevance. Please include links to or copies of relevant reviews in scholarly journals.

Arrangements should be made with the publishers of nominated books for three hard copies to be sent by February 15 to the Rasmus Kleis Nielsen at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, 13 Norham Gardens, OX2 6PS, Oxford, United Kingdom.

Award committee

The award committee consists of Rasmus Kleis Nielsen (the editor of the International Journal of Press/Politics), Peter Van Aelst (chair of the Political Communication Division of ICA), and Henrik Örnebring (chair of the Journalism Studies Division of ICA).

Presentation

The award will be presented at the 2017 ICA Annual Meeting and will be announced on the IJPP website.

What will news look like after advertising?

The most recent round of year-end predictions is out on the Nieman Lab site, always full of really interesting and inspiring reads. Joshua Benton has done an amazing job again.

I wrote mine on the question of what news will look like after advertising. Full piece here.

The link between advertising and news that has for so long provided so much of the money invested in professional journalism is coming apart. […]

Beyond the job cuts, this presents journalists with a challenge and an opportunity.

The challenge is that a profession that has taken pride in its detachment from commercial considerations will increasingly be asked to be more directly involved in developing new potentially profitable products.

The opportunity is to rethink what value looks like when the business models underlying news production change. At end of the day, most journalists would probably rather work for their readers than for their advertisers.

Platforms and publishers – my 2016 ECREA keynote

I was honored to be one of the keynote speakers at the 2016 ECREA conference in Prague. I spoke on the basis of research I am doing with Sarah Ganter on the relationship between news media organizations and digital intermediaries like search engines and social media.

Extended abstract and my slides below.

Publishers and platforms

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, keynote lecture at ECREA 2016 in Prague

What does the continued, global rise of platforms like Google and Facebook mean for public communication in a new digital media environment, and for how we research and understand public communication? That is one of the central questions facing the field of communication research today. In this lecture, I examine the relationship between publishers and platforms as one key part of how the rise of digital intermediaries is playing out, and show how news media—like many others—are becoming simultaneously increasingly empowered by and dependent upon a small number of centrally placed and powerful platforms beyond their control (and with whom they compete for attention and advertising). I develop the notion of “platform power” to begin to capture key aspects of the enabling, generative, and productive power of platforms that set them apart from other actors. As a range of different intermediaries including search engines, social media, and messaging apps become more and more important in terms of how people access and find information online, and in turn restructure the digital media environment itself, communication research is faced with a set of interlocking questions concerning both our intellectual work and our public role. The intellectual questions include the need to understand how people use these platforms to engage with public communication, but also institutional questions including how different platforms engage with other players (like publishers) and how these other players in turn adapt to the rise of platforms, as well as political questions concerning the implications of their rise. The question concerning our public role concerns how existing ways of doing and communicating communication research fits with our ability to understand—and help others understand—an opaque and rapidly-evolving set of processes profoundly reshaping our media environments.