I’m pleased to have a new piece out in Journalism Studies titled “The Information Politics of Journalism in a Post-Truth Age.” It acknowledges the extreme shortcomings of “post-truth age” as an analytical term while taking seriously its currency for thinking about contemporary journalism, particularly in the US. That is, even if we lack the we lack well-defined terminology, we still have to confront the larger cultural context of news. Doing so, I argue, requires going beyond carrying out journalism-as-usual and hoping the work itself well support journalistic authority. Journalists are in the position of having to argue for their importance, relevance, utility, and, well, truthfulness. This requires an overt defense alongside a self-reflexive position that more carefully interrogates weaknesses.
At the end of August, I will be an associate professor at the Hubbard School for Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota. I am grateful for my time at Saint Louis University, and excited for this new adventure.
You can reach me via email at email@example.com
I’m on the It’s All Journalism podcast talking about algorithmic judgment in news. You can listen to it here. Our conversation came out of the my recent publication in New Media & Society titled Automating judgment? Algorithmic judgment, news knowledge, and journalistic professionalism.
New Media & Society has just published my article, “Automating judgment? Algorithmic judgment, news knowledge, and journalistic professionalism.” This article began as a paper for the Unlocking the Black Box conference hosted by the Internet Society Project by the Yale Law School in April 2016. At the time, I was thinking about the differences between journalistic professionalism and algorithmic journalism. As the conference paper grew into a journal article, the key theme that developed was that of judgment. As I argue, professional judgment is at the heart of being a journalist, yet actual claims to making judgments for the most part are not normatively supported by journalists. The tenets of journalism tend to externalize newsworthiness while stressing neutrality and objectivity, even as the news always involves subjecting judgments. In a way, this didn’t matter much, until a series of automated news practices began to arise over the past decade.
With the rise of algorithmic judgment–that is, the use of automated programs to sort, rank, and even author news–the question of judgment becomes paramount. Algorithms are preprogrammed judgments, and they are often lauded as escaping the fallibility of subjective humans.
What this article argues is that we need to differentiate human and algorithmic judgment. In so doing, we recognize the contingency of the latter on human decisions. But we also need to laud professional judgment as necessary and a social good and not something moved to the background of the news process.
I am pleased to announce that I am editing a special issue of Digital Journalism titled ‘Measurable Journalism: Digital Platforms, News Metrics, and the Quantified Audience.’ You can read the call here, but the gist of it is putting together an issue with several different ways of tackling what it means when journalism becomes ‘measurable’ in specific ways in the digital era. Measurable journalism introduces both new practices and ways of thinking about news that deserve the sort of critical attention I hope this issue will provide. Abstracts are due June 1, 2017, and you can shoot me an email with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Digital Journalism has just published my new article, “Facebook in the News: Social media, journalism, and public responsibility following the 2016 Trending Topics controversy.” This piece examines the dustup surrounding the Facebook’s Trending Topics feature (see the image for an example), which became news itself (see image again) after Gizmodo reported that Facebook had used human editors to make the feature work followed by accusations that these editors were biased against conservative news. This led to public outcry while the social media giant tried to address claims, assuage critics, and figure out how its features should work. Despite no evidence to back up claims of bias, the site nonetheless became apologetic and, ultimately, more automated.
What my study does is examine reactions to the controversy to expose competing discourses about just what Facebook’s relationship to news is. For the social media company, news is just content, part of the way the site gets used. Like any content, Facebook needs it to be sticky enough to keep users on the site. It also grants Facebook the patina of seriousness. This was evident in much of the discourse around news that the company produced before and after the Trending Topics controversy.
Journalists and others pulled Facebook into the news orbit, assigning the site with responsibility for its place in the news ecosystem. By favorably comparing the editorial judgment of professional journalists, Facebook is cast as delinquent in its duties of ensuring a vibrant public sphere.
Facebook, of course, is reluctant to adopt an overt place as a news publisher, lest it fall prey to the same criticism that befalls much of contemporary journalism. It sees itself as a platform rather than an editor.
But what is interesting after the fact is the context this research provides. The study covers May-August 2016, with the outcome of Facebook firing its human editors to rely instead on algorithms to figure out its top stories. Accompanying snippets of information written by humans was replaced by traffic updates of how many users were sharing the story. This led directly to the bigger controversy of Facebook and fake news, which has only deepened the criticism of Facebook for abdicating its role within news. Facebook has been prodded to do more, but the larger confusion over what Facebook ought to do and what it ought to be is far from settled.
I have a chapter in the new book Rethinking Journalism Again, edited by Chris Peters and Marcel Broersma and available from Routledge. This is a follow-up to Peters and Broersma’s first volume, Rethinking Journalism which has an amazing introductory chapter that they wrote. The new volume has a lot of great chapters by a great cast of scholars. My contribution, “Establishing the Boundaries of Journalism’s Public Mandate” pulls together a lot of different threads in my research, from my work on boundaries to my concept of metajournalistic discourse and my forthcoming work on journalistic authority. I am really drawn to the idea of a public mandate as a way of getting at journalism by starting from the outside. Rather than assume that journalism has some guaranteed, agreed-upon social role, it is more useful to start from the broader perspective of how this role is contested. In this view, mandate is a powerful term because it involves the active granting of some sort of approval rather than having it foisted upon us. This shift allows us to see the continuous negotiation of what constitutes news or what falls outside this boundary. I end the chapter with a discussion of what I think is much needed self-reflexivity within journalism studies. If we take nothing for granted and instead foreground continuous struggle, then we need to reevaluate where various voices stand in relation to each other. This is true for academics called to comment and critique the press, explain its trajectories, and teach future practitioners. As I argue in the chapter, we are all involved in defining what journalism is.