J-School: Educating Independent Journalists

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Archive for the ‘Agenda’ Category

Moving from a Distributed Assignment Desk to a Mid-Range News Story (Thoughts About Andy Carvin’s Work)

Posted by chanders on May 1, 2011

I feel like the brilliant Andy Carvin (@acarvin) needs a helper. Or at least someone to take his distributed assignment desk aggregation and move them to what I might call a “mid-range” news story (not a finished, final product, but something in between tweet verification and the final story). Sometimes, the current process seems too fragmented for me to follow it easily when I’m not paying rapt attention. 

As part of as yet unpublished academic paper (hey! any body have any journals I might send this too?) I have written about this very process a it was practiced by Indymedia in 2004. The following paragraphs may help flesh out what I mean by “mid-range news story):

Indymedia Journalism and the Aggregation of News Objects 

For RNC-IMC organizers, assembling location-based infrastructures was clearly subordinate to the production of journalism. Spaces were built in order to make journalism possible. But what kind of journalism?  How did the RNC-IMC coordinate its network of decentralized citizen reporters, both organizationally and with regard to the production of news content? What was the relationship between physical space and editorial practices? Following our discussion of the process by which the Indymedia newsroom was built with an analysis of the means by which the organization coordinated its network of citizen reporters and the production of news drives home the point that the assemblage of news is socio-material. Indymedia did not just build a newsroom– it built the news, every single hour, of every single day, during the Republican National Convention protests. It did so by coordinating both people and technologies. ‘Building the news,’ now takes on a double meaning: it refers to the process by which institutions build spaces, and also to the process by which they build news outputs within those spaces.

(the different parts of the IMC website in 2004. Note how the facts move across the site, from least to most verified)

During earlier periods of protest coverage, Indymedia’s citizen journalism methods were deceptively simple. ‘I’m pretty sure we distributed a high volume of paper cards [to would-be protesters], saying ‘call this phone number’’ If you have information about something that happened at the protest. ‘And so we had people sitting by the phone typing up reports that would come in over the phone,’ and entering them into our website’s breaking and open newswire (interview, 3/19/2010). Only in retrospect does this method seem intuitive; the near-instantaneous transmission of news online is a recent (though now ubiquitous) phenomenon ,never mind the collection and distribution of that news by volunteers and, in many case, by strangers.

Information provided by protester-journalists was materially inscribed[i] on the http://nyc.indymedia.org website in a fashion that allowed for the visual display of facts and stories in a hierarchy of both importance and verifiability. On the far right side of the website was column labeled ‘Open Newswire,’ which consisted of reverse chronological order news and opinion submissions from anyone who had a story or news item to share. At the top of the center of the website, in a red-bordered box labeled ‘Critical Mass Arrests and Other Updates’ were a series of time-stamped updates on the protests as they unfolded. While both the ‘open newswire’ and the ‘breaking newswire’ contained bits and pieces of news, they also differed in significant ways. The open newswire was  ‘open, ‘ as the name implies, to anyone and everyone who had something to say, with content ranging from video, audio, and pictures of demonstrations to political rants to comments from  ‘trolls. ‘ The breaking newswire, on the other hand, was directly controlled by editors affiliated with RNC IMC, usually located in a room at the convergence space called the dispatch center, which itself was equipped with a series of telephones and computers. Its updates were far terser than the content posted to the open newswire. These updates contained no multimedia, and directly related to the unfolding protests. Most importantly, perhaps, they drew directly on the user-generated content provided by citizen journalists, all the while subjecting this content to an initially ad-hoc (but eventually systemic) process of editorial fact checking and verification:

 ‘When we got information you can’t totally trust or is conflicting with other information then you make some calls. You call back people that called before and say, ‘Where are you now? What are you seeing now? This is something we’ve heard.’ ‘ … Part of it was verifying and part of it was asking ‘how important is this?’ and ‘is this news?’ It’s, like, this is a big news story, then you want to get it to all of your outlets as fast as possible. Obviously you want it verified, but if you’ve got verified information and it’s of journalistic importance, you want to tweet it because it gets on the website as fast as possible. What I just called Tweeting, we didn’t have that then, we used to call it breaking news or breaking updates. We’d put it in the center column in the breaking news box. (interview, 3/19/2010).

Moving news from the right-hand column to the breaking news box in the center column signaled an increase in that news item’s importance, veracity, or relevance, a hypothesis further confirmed by the existence of a third category of Indymedia content, called the  ‘center column feature. ‘ (fieldwork, 2001-2008). The top feature in Fig. 4, located below the breaking news box, is an example of this particular piece of editorial content. Headlined  ‘First Notes on the Critical Mass, ‘ and authored by  ‘NYC IMC, ‘ the post went on to report:  ‘the first wave of posts on tonight’s Critical Mass have come in. The ride was New York’s largest critical mass, with well over 5,000 bikes. Gathering at Union Square in the middle of Manhattan at 7 p.m. and departing at 7:30, oil-free transportation stretched across all horizons around Union Square… ‘ (NYC Indymedia, 2004) The center column feature obviously marked an editorial consolidation, overview, and summary of already reported news content located on the open and breaking newswires; in this case, information about a particular bicycle protest called  ‘Critical Mass ‘. It also demonstrated an additional layer of verification on the part of editors, who were once again responsible for the decision to write and place an aggregated feature in the center column. The changing hierarchy of news objects within the Indymedia reporting infrastructure was thus inscribed directly on the RNC-IMC website itself. News reports and  ‘journalistic objects ‘ moved from the scene of the protests, to a phone, to the web, to the breaking or open newswire, and, occasionally, to the editor-controlled center column, in a pyramiding system of increasing veracity.

While the process by which website editors and citizen journalists worked together to report news was somewhat formalized by the summer of 2004, an additional journalistic feature of the RNC IMC— reporting on the protests via the utilization of real-time radio updates—was new, and directly related to the previously analyzed infrastructure of the RNC convergence space. As one Indymedia volunteer recalled, the fact that the  ‘breaking news team ‘ was physically located in a dispatch room directly across the hallway from the room in which the IMC was recording its live radio show allowed for online breaking news and radio programming to be fused in a new way (interview, 3/19/2010).  During earlier protests, Indymedia radio programming was primarily confined to after the fact interviews with eyewitnesses and protest organizers (fieldwork, 2001-2002). During the actual protests themselves, on the scene reports were mostly confine to text updates on the website. At the Republican Convention, the architectural layout of the convergence space helped facilitate breaking radio updates in real time (fieldwork, 8/2004). As one volunteer remembered:

Indymedia had, as long as I had known, done an audio web stream. But, as far as I knew, there’s never been an integration of [the radio stream with breaking news on the website]. I don’t know when the moment was when we decided to do that, but I think it was the moment when we saw the physical setup of the space. It was like,  ‘Well, radio is going to go in there and dispatch on the room right next to it. ‘ Oh, then I think it was also the Merlin phone system, which allowed us to rollover calls. I asked [another volunteer], ‘Wait. Does this mean we can take our phone and put somebody on hold here, then they can pick it up… ‘ You know, making it so our callers could get on the radio — people were like,  ‘Well, wait, so we can take a call in dispatch, put them on hold and then they can pick a call over at radio? ‘ … So seeing the physical setup and having the phone capability and knowing enough about radio allowed us to really merge breaking news and the radio (interview, 3/19/2010).

Volunteers with the breaking news team could verify the newsworthiness of updates from the street and prepare callers who had important information to share for inclusion on the radio show. Because of their proximity to the radio room, they could easily communicate with members of the radio team to prepare them for incoming calls. And the utilization of the  ‘Merlin ‘ phone system would allow for the rollover and transfer of calls from the dispatch room to the radio show, which would summarize and contextualize the situation for listeners. There was a relationship, in short, between the editorial processes of the RNC media center and the idiosyncratic infrastructures within which it was embedded.

Of course, analyzing the production of news during the 2004 Republican National Convention as the production of media frames is not excluded by the method of analysis utilized above. Indeed, one of the most useful aspects of a research focus on journalistic assemblage is the manner in which it can be used to compliment an analysis of media frames. What I hope the discussion above demonstrates, however, is that focusing on the socio-material processes by which the news is built is a distinctly different endeavor than focusing on the construction of media frames. It asks different questions and delivers different results. The next section will further  elaborate this difference between framing, assemblage, and coordination.

[i] Here, I draw on Actor-Network Theory, particularly Latour and Woolgar’s notion of the inscription device.  ‘Particular significance can be attached to the operation of an apparatus which provides some sort of written output … inscription devices transform pieces of matter into written documents. ‘ (B. Latour and Woolgar 1986)


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A Scholar Stares at the Exploding Newsroom

Posted by chanders on November 6, 2006

What a  coincidence! Just as I was starting to try and get my head around all the issues related to ethnographing the "new newsroom," I read on multiple blogs about the major restructuring that Gannett is undertaking. Jeff Jarvis thinks it’s a great idea and quotes the relevant Wired story this way: "starting Friday, Gannett newsrooms were rechristened “information centers,” and instead of being organized into separate metro, state or sports departments, staff will now work within one of seven desks with names like “data,” “digital” and “community conversation.”"

Other reaction in the blogophere? The go-to place on this story is Wired author Jeff Howe’s blog, crowdsourcing.com. Dan Gilmor, though also enthusiastic, notes, in an understated manner, that "a major part of this initiative is to save money," and Andrew Cline reminds us that "it was Gannett that played a big role in damaging print journalism with the introduction of USA Today–the paper that convinced print it should be like TV," though he adds hopefully that perhaps the crowdsourcing initiative will make up for Gannett’s earlier sins. The best roundup and discussion of the paradoxical financial implications, however, is at Seth Finkelstein’s Infothought blog where he asks:

"Who thinks unpaid (or very poorly paid) easily-replaceable labor is just the greatest thing ever? Who finds that exciting and innovative? There’s not a lot of discussion of that issue."

I set down some of my own thoughts about these complexities and contradictions a few months ago with regard to the Inky/DN sale and I wont repeat them here, as I have other things I want to get to. I’ll just note that, at some point, the cheerleaders for citizen / pro-am / networked / independent / indymedia journalism– and I’m one of them, for the most part– are going to have to start grappling with this stuff. Now seems as good a time as any.

But on to other questions. To start, I’d like to point out the irony that, just as sociologists are starting to revisit the notion of the newsroom ethnography, the very concept of the newsroom is "exploding," as Jeff Jarvis would put it, or at least changing in a fundamental way. So, how do we study the newsroom of the future?

Its useful here to tell a simplified story. In the mid- to late-1970’s, sociologists such as Herb Gans, Gaye Tuchman, and others turned their ethnographic lenses on the American newsroom. The insights gained by Gans and others did much to flesh out the emerging notion of the journalist as a social actor, and have remained the stock in trade source for common concepts about the news media: now boilerplate notions of news routines, journalists "fear of the audience," the importance of peer approval, etc., first made their appearance in books like Deciding What’s News. For the last twenty-five years, though, there has been a relative dearth of ethnographic analyses of the newsroom. (I think. Actually, I’m not entirely sure. From what I’ve seen, there isn’t a main bibliography which lists the major newsroom ethnographies, or quasi-ethnographies since 1970. So its needed, or, if its out there, I need to find it.)

But assuming, for the time being, that the story is one of limited, productive interest, followed by neglect, the last five years have seen a resurgence in the sociology of news more generally, and the newsroom ethnography in particular. Benson’s argument to "bring the sociology of the media back in," Klinenberg’s work on the converged newsroom, and Boczkowski’s examination of multi-media adoption in three newsrooms are all good cases in point.  But it seems that the newsroom has gone beyond being a newsroom, an actual, physical place where the news gets processed, or made, and is now something far more networked, and less bound by physical constraints. So how do we study this? After all, as Bourdieu would note, the gaze of the researcher helps define the identity of what she researches. So how long will academics keep reinforcing the definition of the "newsroom" (and with it, the definition of the journalist it helps support?) But at the same time, how do we  conduct deep, empirical research on unbounded space?

Here’s a clue: "Actor-Networking the News," by Fred Turner. [PDF] And here’s another clue: Chapter 4 of Science in Action, "Insiders Out," by Bruno Latour.

Deciphering these clues, and other alternatives, in a later post.

[For an earlier post hitting on many of these same themes, see ‘Outsiders In’: Yearly Kos, Boundary Lines, and Border Zones]

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Does it Matter What Bloggers “Do?”

Posted by chanders on July 20, 2006

The easy answer, is, "of course it does." And indeed, it would be foolish to say otherwise. Nevertheless, I still argue that "of course it matters what bloggers do" is an easy answer, and that there are things that matter as much, if not more.

OK, so I started this post in the middle of my train of thought. Lets back up to the beginning. The most recent Pew Poll, "Bloggers: A Portrait of the Internet’s New Storytellers", merited mention in a number of blogs in my blogroll– Buzzmachine, CJR Daily, Cyberjournalist , Dan Gilmor’s blogThe Editors Weblog, and the Beltway Blogroll— as well as an article in the New York Times. The Times sums up the report  as a "study of the blogosphere," relying on two telephone surveys that asked a representative sample of bloggers about what they do online and what they think about what they do.  Much of the reaction to the report is framed in terms of "bloggers don’t do what we always thought they did– they don’t see themselves as journalists, and they don’t do journalism, either in a formal or informal sense." The Editors Weblog sums it up this way:

US: Most bloggers don’t consider themselves journalists– We’ve been hoping for some time that the "bloggers vs. journalists" debate would just go away. We finally may have reached that point. A report done by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 66% of people maintaining blogs don’t label their acts as journalism. The other 34% considered their blogging as journalism because they engage in journalistic functions like fact-checking and linking to sources.

Or, as the Washington Post put it on the front page of its website: "’The average blogger is a 14-year-old girl writing about her cat,’ said Alexander Halavais, an assistant professor of interactive communications at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut."

Behind all of this there seems to be a general sense of relief: "At last! Data! Hard numbers through which we might glimpse reality rather than endlessly engage in speculation!" I must admit to some sympathy with this perspective– after all, one of the vices of the (quasi) social scientist is a love of a cold, hard "social facts." But this is only part of the story, and the results of the survey represent only one facet of how the importance of blogs and bloggers get figured out by society. In fact, I’d go so far as to argue that the release of this survey itself — and the way it has been picked up, filtered, and discussed by bloggers, academics, and the mainstream press– is far more important than the data in the actual survey. Blogs and bloggers acquire meaning through social processes, of which "social facts" form only a small part.

Here’s what I mean: while what bloggers do matters, what bloggers think about what they do matters more, and what other powerful, reality framing institutions think about blogs matters just as much, if not more, than any of them. In other words, as long as mainstream journalism continues to primarily discuss blogs in terms of their journalistic content, it won’t matter that  only 34% of bloggers think of themselves as journalists (and actually, as an aside, that seems like quite a lot). Rather, the social perception of bloggers as journalists is affected more by journalism treating blogs as journalism than whatever bloggers think about themselves. And as long as blogs continue to play a major role in the shaping of politics, it wont matter that 11 percent focus on politics, or that the Democratic netroots actually appears to be rather small.

Blogs are what people think they are, are what people treat them as– and what powerful people and institutions think they are matters, to be blunt, more. Reality matters, of course, but in a secondhand sense, it matters  to the degree it impacts  other things. The social definition of blogs depends more on how they are treated by schools of journalism, how they are regulated by the government and the courts, and how (and if) they establish their "base of knowledge" in conjunction with networks of other knowledge producing actors (including academics, think-tanks, and Pew Surveys) than the very real and empirical fact that the average blogger is a fourteen year old girl blogging about her cat. What blogs "are" matters more than what they are.

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Thinking Ahead: Turning All this Work into A Dissertation Proposal

Posted by chanders on April 20, 2006

Thinking ahead to this summer, how should I start turning all this semster’s work– my massive paper on journalistic expertise; my comprehensive exam readings– into a dissertation proposal?

The lit review, drawing on both comps. and my expertise work, could possibly be strucutred something like the following:

  • Early empirical work on the Internet. (Lih 2004; Jones 2004; Shirkey 2003;
    Herring 2005; Lowrey 2004;, Kumar 2005)
  • Early claims and empirical work about the impact of the Internet on journalism.
    • The "this changes everything" hypothesis. (Bowman and Willis 2003; Jones 2004; Gilmor 2003; Rhiengold 2002; Blood 2002; Neiman Reports 2003, 2005)
    • The normalization hypothesis. (Barnhurst and Nerone 2001; Boczkowski 2004; Singer 2005; Van der Wurff’s collaborators 2005)
    • Fischer and "social construction of technology" thesis. (Fischer 1992)
      • Technologies impact on the field of journalism. (Benson 200x; Klinenberg 2005; Singer 2005; Matheson 2004).
      • Technologies impact on notions of journbalists professional identity. (Lowrey and Anderson 200x; Deuze 2005; Singer 2003; Roth 2004; Deuze and Dimoudi 2002; Rosen 2005)
  • Historical studies of journalism and professional identity. 
    • The sociologies of the professions, knowledg and expertise. (Durkheim 1957; Parsons 1954; Hughes 1963; Friedson 1970; Larson 1977; MacDonald 1995; Abbott 1988; Fournier 2000; Eyal 2005)
    • 1970’s "critical organizational analysis." (Epstein 1973; Tuchman 1978; Gans 1979; Gitlin 1980)
    • Historical overviews of "objectivity." (Carey 1974; Schudson 1978; Whalgren-Summers 1994; Dicken-Garcia 1994; Minditch 2000; Kaplan 2002; Ward 2006
    • Zelizer, narrative, and rhetorical construction (Zelizer 1992; 2000)
    • Field analysis of journalism. (Bourdieu 1999; Benson 1999; Champagne 2005; Klinenberg 2005; Benson 2005)

—> Then would then lead into the methods section.

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Revising “The Deprofessionalization of Journalism”

Posted by chanders on February 9, 2006

This semester I’m begining what (I hope) will be my last major revision to "The Deprofessionalization of Journalism", an essay which began as an MA Thesis and then, under the stimulating and productive influence of my readings in the sociology of the professions,  morphed into the draft paper you see linked above. The current (and last?!?) revision will take into account my growing interest in a specific domain of the sociology of the professions– professional claims to expert knowledge– my current (and last!) class on the sociology of expertise, comments from various readers of the previous paper, and a few weeks to refect on the previous draft. With any luck, the latest draft might be publishable (or at least conference-presentable) and might serve as the general theoretical backdrop to my dissertation (ie, Chapter One).

As a side note: I am really starting to feel the need and the urge to put this theoretical mumbo-jumbo behind me and get a plan together to get out into the field and actually start to "find things out." I suppose this is at it should be– a prof. once told me that its easy to get lost in "theory" and eventually you just need to stop thinking and start working.

The (new-ish) outline of my latest draft go something along thse lines (I want to get this outline written before I heavily reexamine my draft so the outline will guide my revisions, rather than the other way around):

A. Introduction

B. Journalism as a Profession and Object of Study
    1. Journalism as a profession (mostly the professional literature itself)
    2. Journalism as an ethnographic domain
    3. Historical perspectives on profession of journalism
    4. New approaches to the journalism profession
        a. Journalism as a field (Benson, et. al.)
        b. Rosen
        c. Singer
        d. Deuze
C. Sociological Perspectives: From "Professions" to "Expert Knowledge."
    1. Functional perspectives
    2. The stuctural / monopoly perspective
    3 . Professions as a claim to expert knowledge
D. Journalism and the Epistemology of News
    1. Does journalism make a claim to expert knowledge?
    2. Erkstrom
    3. Matheson
    4. Lowry
    5. Reexamining journalism and the professions through the "epistemological lens."
E. Avenues for Future Research: tying work into theory

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Posted by chanders on January 3, 2006

This Spring (late May, probably) … comprehensive exams!! My categories and the various readings:

Objectivity in Philosophy, Science, and History

* Obejectivity, Relativism, and Truth, Rorty

* Construction of Social Reality, Searle

* The Social Construction of What?, Hacking

* Truth, Blackburn

* "The Image of Objectivity," Daston (from the Journal Representations, 1992)

* Haskell vs Novick on objectivity in history): Novick, That Noble Dream (selections) and Haskell, Objectivty is Not Neutrality: Rhetoric vs. Practice in Peter Novick’s That Noble Dream (ch. 6 from the book).

*"Reason, Politics, and the Politics of Truth: How Science Is Both Autonomous and Dependent," from Sociological Theory (2004)

<The second half focuses more on objectivity in journalism. Many of these come courtesy of Michael Schudson …

* Origins of the Ideal of Objectivity in the Professions, Schudson (this is actually the original version of Discovering the News that I thought would be interesting because it looks at law as well as journalism)

* Politics and the American Press: The Rise of Objectivity, 1865-1920, RL Kaplan

* The Invention of Journalism Ethics, by Stephen Ward

* Just the Facts: How Objectivity Came to Define American Journalism, DTZ Minditch

* “In Defense of Objectivity,"  Lichtenberg

Journalistic Authority: A Cultural and Historical Overview

* Summers, Mark Walgren. The Press Gang: Newspapers and Politics 1865-1878.

* Tucher, Andie. “Reporting for Duty: The Bohemian Brigade, the Civil War, and the Social Construction of the Reporter.” (Paper presented at the Organization of American Historians annual meeting 2004)

* Dickon-Garcia, Hazel.  Journalistic Standards in the 19th Century

* Schudson, Michael. Discovering the News.

* Zelizer, Barbie. Covering the Body: The Kennedy Assassination, the Media, and the Shaping of Collective Memory.

* Glessing, Robert J. The Underground Press in America.

* “Introduction to the Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby,” “The New Journalism: A Panel Discussion,” and “Tom Wolfe and His Magic Writing Machine.” From The New Journalism Debate.

* Carey, James. “American Journalism On, Before, and After September 11,” from Journalism After September 11 (Zelizer and Allan, ed.)

* Rosen, Jay. “Bloggers Versus Journalists is Over” (entire debate including links and comments). Online at http://journalism.nyu.edu/pubzone/weblogs/pressthink/2005/01/15/berk_pprd.html

Finally, an overview of current, empirical research projects invesitgating online journalism. List TBA.

To aid in studying, I’ll probably be posting summaries of the different readings here as I complete them. Hooray for you!!

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“Completed” Papers

Posted by chanders on January 3, 2006

Yes, yes, I know you, my non-existant readership, has been waiting breathlessly in anticipation. Well, wait no more: my papers on Particpatory Journalism and Journalistic Professionalism are now online in pdf form.

Anderson, C. 2005 Is There a Public For Particpatory Journalism?: DRAFT

Summary: With the simultaneous emergence of web-based particpatory media and the decline of the "public journalism movement," many  intellectuals have sought do link developments online to their former work in public journalism. This paper examines the degree to which public and particpatory journalistic forms overlap, in a theoretical sense, and concludes with a call for internet-based media to realize its journalistic potential.

Anderson, C. 2005 The Deprofessionalization of Journalism?: DRAFT

Summary: In this essay I seek to outline an integrative theoretical structure within which to analyze changes that may or (may not) be taking place in the “business or practice of producing and disseminating information about contemporary affairs of general interest and public relevance.” The paper draws on the literature of the sociology of the professions, as well as work by Bourdieu, Foucault, and Weber.

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C. Wright Mills Says: Keep A Journal (Is this One)?

Posted by chanders on October 20, 2005

So I reread the Appendix to The Socioogical Imagination again, "On Intellectual Craftsmanship," by C. Wright Mills, and it reminded me of why I started this blog in the first place: "keep a journal," Mills says. I can certain see why he says so; when one is more or less thinking all the time, thoughts tend to flit in and out of the brain so fast that you feel like you’re missing a ton of good stuff as you move across the day.

In honor of the essay, I’ve renamed my weblog categories so as to more accurately reflect his advice to graduate students. The topics now include: agenda, projects, and personal, as well as current events and links to non-academic essays.

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The “Deprofessionalization” of Journalism?

Posted by chanders on October 9, 2005

Thousands of commentators, both on- and offline, have cut at the relationship between new forms of digital, particpatory media and mainstream journalism, in hundreds of ways.  Surprisingly, while many have asked the question "is blogging journalism?" and others have replied that "blogging versus journalism is over", few have asked if we are witnessing a fundamental "deprofessionalization" of journalism due to the emergence of blogs, hyperlocal journalism, citizens media, indymedia, etc. (a google search for "deprofessionalization of journalism" returns less than than 10 results, while a search for "is blogging journalism" turns up 723).

There are several possible explanations for this. The first is that the sociological literature on "the professions" is a vast one and constitutes a veritible subfield within sociology. A second reason might be that journalism represents a very odd profession (indeed, some would argue, a failed profession) and thus exploring the collapse of a not-quite-ever-really a profession is even more difficult.

Nevertheless, the question is a good one to ask. Indeed, if James Carey wrote of "the rise of the professional communicator" and Everett C. Hughes inquired as to "the circumstances in which people in an occupation attempt to turn it into a profession and themselves into professional people," we might flip the questions on their head:

* Are we witnessing the deprofessionalization of journalism?
* What are the circumstances in which people outside or inside an occupation attempt to turn it from  a profession into something else?
* If sociologists speak easily of a professional project can we speak of a deprofessionalization project?

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Why Study Participatory Journalism

Posted by chanders on February 9, 2005

What’s the point in devoting six years of ones life to studying participatory journalism at the PhD level? After all, plenty of smart people write about it all the time who don’t have advanced degrees, and other smart people think that the whole thing doesn’t really matter anyway (witness the relative lack of academic writing on blogging as opposed to blog postings on blogging).  So here’s a list of common mistakes that some academics usually make when thinking about so-called "alternative media," along with some mistakes that I think some bloggers make too.

1. Alternative Media is just an extension of activism: This understanding sees the alternative media as little more than an old-time revolutionary press: passionate activists who crank out manifestos justifying their various ideological viewpoints, with any news they report inherently "slanted" in order to justify their revolutionary beliefs. There’s an element of truth to this, especially in a group like Indymedia. But even within Indymedia, things are more complicated than this– the news process is more than just the manufacture of propoganda. In other words, alternative media is journalism, too.

Of course, it doesn’t help matters that a lot of the academic writing on alternative media is really just a cover for actually writing about movements that one academic or another supports. For example: writing about the feminist press when one really wants to talk about the women’s movement, or the new wave of internet activism when one wants to talk about the anti-globalization movement. Alternative media deserves to be treated as media, not just activism by another name.

2. The ‘lonely pamphleteer’ theory: It seems like a lot of academics (and sociologists especially) don’t study alternative media because they think there’s nothing social to study. Again, there’s some truth here. Much of the blogging that goes on on the internet– like what I’m doing right now, for example– is just one man or woman sitting behind a computer screen typing whatever comes into their head.  Of course, some people argue that even that’s a "public sphere." But you don’t have to go that far. There are other organizations– Indymedia, ohmynews, Wiki News that really are both organizations and practice some form of "open source" journalism. And you can study them just like you would any other organization. Even types of alternative journalism we might think of as largely solitary, like blogging, are really intwined within much larger communities that have their own unique norms, understanding, and sanctions.

3. How do we get a handle on this? And what do we really have to say?: This is where it gets tricky, and intimidating. Go onto the web and google "blogging as journalism"– there’s probably never been a form of writing so openly self reflexive. There’s tons of people writing about all these interesting questions already online,  and some of them are fairly brilliant. So what can sociologists and cultural theorists really add to the conversation?

All I can say to answer that question, for now, is this: there’s a lot of hype, and a lot of criticism, but not a lot of systematic study. One of the things that social scientists are supposed to do is do more than just shoot off at the mouth– they have peer review, experimentation, and (*gasp*) a methodology. In some ways, the blogging about blogging cries out for a little systematization. It could use some of its wilder assumptions questioned. It could use a method, and it could certainly use some cross national study brought into the mix.

4. Journalism Gets Absorbed Into "The Media": A lot of the "hot" academic studies of "the media" usually talk about this media like it was all one sort of thing. Studying "journalism" has never been very sexy, mostly because a few snooty academics have seens journalists as ink stained wretches. But ignoring journalism in favor of the media would seem to be unable to explain a large portion of what it is we read and think about every day.

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