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Online Comments and Journalism  

J. David Wolfgang

Shortly after its emergence as a tool for participatory journalism, online commenting became a popular format for audience public discourse and a subject of controversy for professional journalists. The early 21st century has seen a constant growth in research considering how online comments have influenced journalism by providing new ways to understand the perspective of the audience, by changing the routines and practices of the newsroom, and by encouraging a reconsideration of how content influences readers. News audiences, generally, have been relatively quiet and passive in the past, but online comments have given them the opportunity to speak alongside journalists on professional platforms. This shift in news-mediated public discourse has the potential to reshape the journalist−audience relationship in substantial ways. The research on commenting has provided new evidence on how journalistic practices are changing, how people perceive and process information online, and how journalists negotiate technological change while trying not to upend the profession. However, there is a need for more research that explores critical questions related to comment quality, changing journalistic norms, and the relationship between journalist identity and technology. Online commenting has the potential to help fulfill the journalistic norms of providing a space for public discourse and promoting diverse views from within the community. This potential, however, is reliant upon journalists who uphold the civic function of journalism’s role.

Article

Representation and Journalism  

Toussaint Nothias

The concept of representation is a cornerstone of the field of cultural studies. Representations are symbols, signs, and images used to communicate and construct meaning. They are at stake in a variety of fundamental cognitive processes such as perception and imagination. Language, for instance, is based on a system of representation where words stand for something else, such as an object or an idea. Representations are thus central to the process by which individuals and societies make sense of the world, assign meaning, and delineate norms, rules, and identities. Journalism is a key site of production of representations. Unlike most other fields of cultural production, journalism is grounded in a regime of truth: it claims to represent the world as it is. Scholars interested in representation and journalism have largely opposed those claims. Journalism always involves covering certain events over others. News stories necessarily prioritize certain frames, voices, and contextual information, which creates peculiar kinds of representations. Those representations are constrained by the working conditions of journalists, but they are also shaped by broader political, economic, cultural, and historical contexts. In that sense, journalism creates representations but also reproduces representations that exist elsewhere in society. Because the concept of representation points toward broader social forces involved in meaning construction, it has largely been used to explore the operations of power. Instead of asking “is any given representation true?” cultural studies scholars have been more interested in asking “how do relationships of power, domination, and inequality shape representations?” As a result of its development in the field of cultural studies, the study of representation has largely been oriented towards questions of inequalities and identity, most notably gender, race, ethnicity, and class. With regard to the study of representation and journalism, three broad areas of inquiries are delineated. The first concerns how journalism represents different social groups, places, events, and issues through its coverage. This literature is wide and covers a range of issues in both domestic and international coverage. Most of those studies focus on the linguistic, rhetorical, and visual properties of media texts to deconstruct the ideological operations behind what often appears natural and common sense in the news. Another strand of research looks at similar issues of representation but in the context of journalistic production. In particular, these studies centralize the importance of who makes the news to understand the peculiar representations that journalism ultimately produces. Often relying on surveys, statistical data, or ethnography, these have contributed to an understanding of issues such as gender inequalities and lack of diversity in newsrooms. A final—and more discreet—literature investigates how journalism itself is represented in popular culture. Novels, films, television, commercials, cartoons, art, and video games routinely construct representations of journalism and journalists. These representations play a role in shaping popular mythologies around journalism and its role in society.

Article

Epistemology and Journalism  

Mats Ekström and Oscar Westlund

Epistemology is a central issue in journalism research. Journalism is among the most influential knowledge-producing institutions in modern society, associated with high claims of providing relevant, accurate, and verified public knowledge on a daily basis. More specifically, epistemology is the study of how, in this case, journalists and news organizations know what they know and how the knowledge claims are articulated and justified. Practices related to justification have been studied in (a) text and discourse; (b) journalist practices, norms, and routines within and outside the newsroom; and (c) audience assessment of news items and acceptance or rejection of the knowledge claims of journalism. Epistemology also includes the study of news and journalism as particular forms of knowledge. In journalism research, sociological approaches on epistemology have been developed to understand the institutionalized norms and practices in the processing of information and in socially shared and variable standards of justification, as well as in the authority of journalism in providing exclusive forms of knowledge in society. In recent years, epistemology has received increased scholarly interest in response to transformations within journalism: digitalization, emerging forms of data journalism, the acceleration of the news cycle, diminished human resources and financial pressure, and forms of audience participation.

Article

News as Genre  

Jelle Mast

The term “genre,” typically understood as a conventional categorization of recognizable texts or discursive practices based on perceived similarities and differences, has become quite commonsensical across academic, professional, and everyday settings. One has to look no further than, for instance, the catalogues or profiles of on-demand (streaming) services and (other) niche providers in today’s fragmented news media landscape, categories of professional press or broadcast award competitions, or, for that matter, the sections of an average newspaper, news website or app, or television schedule, to see a genre logic at work. Hiding behind this ubiquity, though, is a complex multidimensional notion that weaves together authorial intentions or industrial practices, textual configurations, and audience interpretations and uses, evoking a web of interactions between the textual and contextual, the material and immaterial, the consistent and contingent. A tripartite conception of genre as an enabling, shared set of codes and conventions thus suggests the term’s associated overtones of the “generic,” “patterned,” “recurrent,” “routine,” and the like. Yet, at the same time, by shedding light on the practical uses of genres and the wider contexts of their production and reception, it also opens up to contemporary conceptions looking afresh at genre by primarily accentuating its discursive, dynamic, and contingent qualities. As such, genre has been defined as a purposive communicative event that is socially embedded in a particular discourse community and materializes through the affordances of available media (technologies) while providing an entry point into broader group identities, sociocultural belief systems and normative political ideals or epistemologies. Applied to the present context, an image emerges of journalistic genres as a heterogeneous and hierarchical set of socially situated groupings of texts or practices tied to a range of coexisting journalistic (sub)cultures and the normative professional values they adhere to, emerging and evolving in interaction with technological developments, social change, and the wider cultural atmosphere. Understanding news through the lens of genre resonates particularly well, then, in a networked, hybrid and (self-)reflexive media environment, where the normative foundations of (the) news (paradigm), and journalism broadly are being reexamined. Developments in the shifting landscape of news/journalism such as an interpretive turn, a (new) narrative wave, soft news, and the appropriation and transgressions of taken for granted conventions and expectations in “fake news” and cross-generic forms, render the concept of “genre” ever more visible, and valuable for the field of journalism studies. For in line with journalism studies’ multidisciplinary constellation, a multiperspectival view on genre provides a rich, dialogic site where scholars adopting different approaches could meet around the heterogeneous subject of what news is, could be, or should be.

Article

News Values and Newsworthiness  

Helen Caple

How events become news has always been a fundamental question for both journalism practitioners and scholars. For journalism practitioners, news judgments are wrapped up in the moral obligation to hold the powerful to account and to provide the public with the means to participate in democratic governance. For journalism scholars, news selection and construction are wrapped up in investigations of news values and newsworthiness. Scholarship systematically analyzing the processes behind these judgments and selections emerged in the 1960s, and since then, news values research has made a significant contribution to the journalism literature. Assertions have been made regarding the status of news values, including whether they are culture bound or universal, core or standard. Some hold that news values exist in the minds of journalists or are even metaphorically speaking “part of the furniture,” while others see them as being inherent or infused in the events that happen or as discursively constructed through the verbal and visual resources deployed in news storytelling. Like in many other areas of journalism research, systematic analysis of the role that visuals play in the construction of newsworthiness has been neglected. However, recent additions to the scholarship on visual news values analysis have begun to address this shortfall. The convergence and digitization of news production, rolling deadlines, new media platforms, and increasingly active audiences have also impacted on how news values research is conducted and theorized, making this a vibrant and ever-evolving research paradigm.