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.