Actor-network theory (ANT) is a sociological approach to the world that treats social phenomena as network effects. This approach focuses on the evolution of interactions within networks over time and is useful for studying situations of change, unsettled groups, and evolving practices such as current developments in the world of journalism. Journalism is a messy and complex social practice involving various actors, institutions, and technologies, some of which are in a state of crisis or are undergoing rapid change due to digitization. ANT has gained momentum in journalism studies among researchers analyzing journalists’ relationships with the diverse agents they in contact with on a daily basis (e.g., technologies, institutions, audiences, other news producers) and the relationships between news production, circulation, and usage. ANT practitioners use a set of simple concepts referred to as an infra-language, which allows them to exchange ideas and compare interpretations while letting the actors they are studying develop their own range of concepts (i.e., to speak in their own words). These concepts include actants, actor networks, obligatory passage points, and translation. ANT also proposes a set of principles for researchers to follow. These include considering all entities as participants in a phenomenon (e.g., people can make other people do things, and objects, such as computers or institutions, can as well) and following actors as they trace associations with others. Therefore, journalism scholars who use this approach conduct qualitative studies focusing on the place of a particular technology within a network or situation by following who and what is involved and how entities connect. They collect data such as the content produced, direct observations of news production, or statements from interviews during or after the case is over. Using ANT, journalism scholars have extended their comprehension of news production by highlighting technology’s role in journalistic networks. Although journalists naturalize technologies through daily use (e.g., search engines, content management systems, cell phones, cameras, email), these tools still influence journalistic practices and outputs. ANT practitioners also consider the diversity of agents participating in news production and circulation: professional journalists, politicians, activists, and diverse commercial and noncommercial organizations. If this diversity is becoming more active and connected in this networked environment, it seems that legacy media is still an obligatory passage point for anyone willing to bring information to the general public. Recent societal changes, such as the generalization of news consumption on smartphones and the rise of platform journalism on multiple apps, indicate that ANT may be useful in the collective endeavor to provide a clear picture of what journalism is and what it will become.
Daya Kishan Thussu
The international flow of news has traditionally been dominated by that from North to South, with the West being at the core. Within the West itself, news flow is dominated by Anglo-American media, a situation which has its roots in the way that journalism developed historically. The historical context of global news begins with the introduction of the telegraph and undersea cables in the nineteenth century, which created a global market for news. Major players emerged—including news agencies—and shaped the transnational news flows. What emerges is that, in all ages, key innovations in transnational news flows have been closely linked to commerce, geopolitics, and war, from the telegraph to online news outlets. The increasing availability and use of news media, from major non-Western countries, are now affecting transnational news flows. Global journalism has been transformed in the digital age by internet-based communication and the rise of digital media opportunities—allowing for multi-directional news flows for growing global news audiences.
The role of foreign correspondent has long been prominent in journalism but is undergoing considerable change. While many in this role are considered elite, and have a very high profile, others practice their reporting in anonymous and sometimes precarious conditions. Prominent types of foreign correspondent are the capital correspondent, bureau chief, and conflict correspondent. Conflict correspondents can, in turn, be categorized into three main types depending on how they perceive their role: the propagandist; the recorder of history; and the moralist. The role of foreign correspondent has been the subject of a great deal of research, including analyses of news content focused on the nature of bias and story selection and framing in international reporting, and observational and interview-based studies of practitioners of the role. Research has sought to shift the focus from elite correspondents for international media organizations to the myriad local media professionals who play an increasing role in shaping international news stories; to the move toward social media as a newsgathering and news-dissemination tool; to the safety of journalists—as their work becomes increasingly imperiled around the world; and to the vital but largely hidden role of news agencies in shaping international news.
Mel Bunce, Martin Scott, and Kate Wright
Humanitarian journalism can be defined, very broadly, as the production of factual accounts about crises and issues that affect human welfare. This can be broken down into two broad approaches: “traditional” reporting about humanitarian crises and issues, and advocacy journalism that aims to improve humanitarian outcomes. In practice, there is overlap between the two approaches. Mainstream journalists have long helped to raise awareness and funds for humanitarian crises, as well as provide early emergency warnings and monitor the treatment of citizens. Meanwhile, aid agencies and humanitarian campaigners frequently subsidize or directly provide journalistic content. There is a large research literature on humanitarian journalism. The most common focus of this research is the content of international reporting about humanitarian crises. These studies show that a small number of “high-profile” crises take up the vast majority of news coverage, leaving others marginalized and hidden. The quantity of coverage is not strongly correlated to the severity of a crisis or the number of people affected but, rather, its geopolitical significance and cultural proximity to the audience. Humanitarian journalism also tends to highlight international rescue efforts, fails to provide context about the causes of a crisis, and operates to erase the agency of local response teams and victims. Communication theorists have argued that this reporting prevents an empathetic and equal encounter between the audience and those affected by distant suffering. However, there are few empirical studies of the mechanisms through which news content influences audiences or policymakers. There are also very few production studies of the news organizations and journalists who produce humanitarian journalism. The research that does exist focuses heavily on news organizations based in the Global North/West.