J-School: Educating Independent Journalists

“If tools could make anyone who picked them up an expert, they’d be valuable indeed.” Plato, The Republic

Where to Study Journalistic Work?

Posted by chanders on July 14, 2008

I noted in my post below that I was “in Philadelphia to study journalistic work in one mid-sized metropolitan area.” But the whole reason I’m interested in studying journalism —  the fact that the question of “who counts” as a journalist is now very much unsettled– makes my research harder. If I’m interested in journalistic work, then where do I go to see it being carried out? In the old days, the answer to this question was easy: to see journalists at work you went into the newsroom, into the factory where journalstic “products” were “assembled.”  These days, though, it’s not so simple: if bloggers are journalists (sometimes), and the newsroom is under incredible economic pressure to change, than we have to go outside the newsroom in order to understand what journalistic work is. Journalism is what bloggers and freelancers and web editors do, not just what paid reporters do, which means journalism occurs in all sorts of places.

That said, there are two caveats. First caveat: newsrooms are still important. Indeed, I’m spending the bulk of my time in the “traditional” Philly newsrooms — the Inquirer, the Daily News, and Philly.com. But, I’m also going outside them, to talk to bloggers like Citizen Mom and Young Philly Politics and the Phildadelphia IMC, and conservative bloggers (hello! conservatives! where are you??) and hopefully many others (Philebrity … if they would only answer my emails…).

Second caveat: even if you’re going to temporarily suspend judgment and assume that anyone is a journalist until they say or show you they aren’t (which is what I think getting outside the newsroom means) you still have to pick your limits. I can’t just show up at the local laundromat and look for journalism there … (well, I could, and I would probably find some, but still…). So, how do I keep my boundaries open and still act like a researcher, which means picking and choosing what to study?

I already made one choice: to study journalism in Philadelphia. A second way to pick and choose where to go is to get assistance from a sociological tool called Social Network Analysis. To understand my use of Social Network Analysis, think “six degrees of Kevin Bacon” and then imagine it applied to the internet (in particular, applied to the Philly blogosphere). Then, imagine it mapped out on the computer. Assisting me in coming up with a “network map” of the Philly blogosphere were John Kelly of Morningside Analytics and a fellow Columbia PhD student, and the fine folks over at IssueCrawler. When they performed all their statistical alchemy, I got maps that looked like this:

courtesy of Morningside Analytics, a map of the Philadelphia Blogosphere

courtesy of Morningside Analytics, a map of the Philadelphia Blogosphere

And like this:

And courtesy of Issue Crawler, here's a second take on the same online space.

So that’s one way to figure out where to start and where to go: basically, if something is in the center of the map, it is “more important.” If it connects to something else, then the two items are linked in some way. The more connections, the “more important” an object (in this case a url or a website) is.

I wasn’t happy, though, just using these maps. Without going into a ton of detail here, I’m ultimately a qualitative researcher (because I can’t do math, it makes me suspicious), and so I wanted to complement the maps with something else. And so the second way to figure out  where to go involved much less number crunching and a lot more talking. I began with something called the “Norg’s conference,” which was a major 2006 gathering of old and new Philly media makers, a conference specifically designed to break down the walls between bloggers and journalists. Beginning with the NORG gathering, I’ve been following the networks of actors who were there (there’s that N-word again) all over the place. Wherever they go, I try to follow them, and try to see if there’s someone doing journalism in the different places they end up.

One more note: I’ve been surprised about how little I’ve used the SNA maps since I got to Philly. That’s not to say they weren’t essential in helping me get my bearings, but I was worried early on that the very visual nature of them would dominate my thinking — would become a statistical screen that got in the way of the people. So far, hasn’t happened.

So. That, it seems to me, is a good plan for figuring out where to go to watch journalistic work.

Coming next time: what is journalistic work, anyway?

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4 Responses to “Where to Study Journalistic Work?”

  1. [...] at the International Communications Association conference in Chicago. The research comes out of my dissertation fieldwork, and I’m quite proud of it; it may be one of the best things I’ve done so far in my [...]

  2. [...] but also utilized the latest in social network mapping technology. In essence, I was able to “blow up” the traditional newsroom ethnography by also studying Philadelphia bloggers, independent journalists, and foundation funders, in [...]

  3. [...] but also utilized the latest in social network mapping technology. In essence, I was able to “blow up” the traditional newsroom ethnography by also studying Philadelphia bloggers, independent journalists, and foundation funders, in [...]

  4. [...] but also utilized the latest in social network mapping technology. In essence, I was able to “blow up” the traditional newsroom ethnography by also studying Philadelphia bloggers, independent journalists, and foundation funders, in [...]

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