J-School: Educating Independent Journalists

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

Thinking About Participatory Journalism (Pt. 2)

Posted by chanders on March 12, 2005

Sorry about the delay in posting. If folks are interested in my thoughts from the Indymedia conference they can check out the Indypendent web site.

Anyway, here’s an abstract of a new paper I’m working on:

“Participatory Journalism as Field? Between Empirical and Normative Approaches.”


Media scholars have increasingly begun to analyze the social space journalism as a field, that is, as a  “field of forces within which the agents occupy positions that statistically determine the positions they take with respect to the field, these position takings being aimed at either conserving or transforming the structure of relations of forces that is constitutive of the field.” (Bourdieu 2005, 30)  Nevertheless, to date, there have been few attempts to define alternative media as a field (for exceptions see Klinenberg 2005, Benson 2003), and at least one explicit warning not to (Atton). Nevertheless, while I agree with Atton that defining alternative media through the lens field theory would be unnecessarily restrictive, I contend that by narrowing the scope of our focus we can see participatory journalism as a field and can analyze it as such. In the proposed paper I begin to delineate the field of participatory journalism by situating it theoretically within alternative mediapsace and provisionally mapping its dimensions and its relationships to other social spaces.

I begin by unpacking the relationship between “participatory journalism” and accepted theoretical understandings of “alternative media.” I argue that, although participatory journalism is a distinct a social field “governed by its own ‘rules of the game’ and offering its own particular economy of exchange and reward” (Benson 1998, 465), its relationship to more diffuse types of alternative media has been under-theorized. While Couldry and Curran define alternative media as that media which, regardless of political orientation, challenges existing concentrations of media power (7), Shayne Bowman and Chris Willis define participatory or “open-source” journalism as “the act of citizens playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information.” (Bowman and Willis, 2003). Clemencia Rodriguez (2001) adds an additional wrinkle, writing that citizens media:

is a concept that accounts for the process of empowerment, concientization, and fragmentation of power when men, women, and children gain access to and reclaim their own media (Rodriguez 2003, 190).

After working through and situating these various definitions of alternative media, I examine ways in which traditional sociological methods (particularly those commonly used in empirical field research) can be both applied and adapted to the study of participatory journalism. I undertake a provisional examination of the boundaries of the participatory journalistic field, comparing the mission statements of four organizational participants in the field—Ohmynews, UK Indymedia, Wiki News, and The Northwest Voice– and analyzing their journalistic output along four dimensions: level of participation, adherence to “journalistic” norms, ties to social movements, and networked authority (Marlow 2004). I conclude by resituating the participatory journalistic field within Rodriguez’s conception of citizens’ media, and argue that while traditional understandings of citizen’s media offer a somewhat less-than-satisfactory mode of comparative empirical research, they do provide a powerful normative yardstick upon which to measure the success, failure, and raison d’etre of participatory journalistic projects.


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