Journalism can be defined as a communication process between producers and consumers. Traditionally, both ends have been addressed as separate spheres. Journalism and journalism studies developed around the study of journalism producers—that is, journalists and their professional identities and practices. The audience was long considered the end point of journalism; the public sphere was where journalism was consumed. Rather than also studying audiences’ news use practices, the audience was generally imagined as a mass of passive sensation seekers unappreciative of the value of good journalism and taken for granted as a result. This dichotomous view of users and producers has since then been challenged. First, the inequality in attention given to producers over users was addressed during a sociological turn in the study of journalism since the 1990s. This “turn” inspired a series of seminal studies focusing on the audience of journalism, showing how layered people’s interpretative practices are and how these are contextually shaped. Although journalism studies in the 21st century still tend to orient their gaze more to producers than users, the audience’s part in shaping the role of journalism in society is being increasingly acknowledged. In parallel, with the continuing advancements in information and communication technologies, the conceptual distinction between producers and users in itself was questioned. Whereas the role of audiences in producing news was already explored in studies of community media and public journalism, it was the adoption of digital media that led to the blurring of lines between media producers and users. This distinction has encouraged journalism researchers to explore practices such as citizen and participatory journalism, leading to new conceptions of the user/producer dimension in journalism. The user/producer dimension in journalism may be blurred, but it has not dissolved. Especially from a more structural perspective, professional journalists and news organizations still have preferential access to the news ecosystem and larger impact on the policy agenda. Conceptually however, news users should be conceived as potential contributors to the production and distribution of journalism. As such, news users are not the end point of journalism but an essential part of it.
Stephen A. Rains
The widespread diffusion of social media in recent years has created a number of opportunities and challenges for health and risk communication. Blogs and microblogs are specific forms of social media that appear to be particularly important. Blogs are webpages authored by an individual or group in which entries are published in reverse chronological order; microblogs are largely similar, but limited in the total number of characters that may be published per entry. Researchers have begun exploring the use and consequences of blogs and microblogs among individuals coping with illness as well as for health promotion. Much of this work has focused on better understanding people’s motivations for blogging about illness and the content of illness blogs. Coping with the challenges of illness and connecting with others are two primary motivations for authoring an illness blog, and blogs typically address medical issues (e.g., treatment options) and the author’s thoughts and feelings about experiencing illness. Although less prevalent, there is also evidence that illness blogging can be a resource for social support and facilitate coping efforts. Researchers studying the implications of blogs and microblogs for health promotion and risk communication have tended to focus on the use of these technologies by health professionals and for medical surveillance. Medical professionals appear to compose a noteworthy proportion of all health bloggers. Moreover, blogs and microblogs have been shown to serve a range of surveillance functions. In addition to being used to follow illness outbreaks in real-time, blogs and microblogs have offered a means for understanding public perceptions of health and risk-related issues including medical controversies. Taken as whole, contemporary research on health blogs and microblogs underscores the varied and important functions of these forms of social media for health and risk communication.