Journalistic Authority

New Book: Journalistic Authority: Legitimating News in the Digital Era
Columbia University Press

May 2017

9780231174459Why do we look at a news story and accept that it is telling us about something that happened in the world? What needs to be in place for this relationship between the audience and the journalist to work? These questions sit at the heart of my new book, Journalistic Authority, published by Columbia University Press. The book examines the thorny concept of “authority” for journalism. Journalists do not possess authority the way that, for example, the police or a judge does. Their authority instead stems from an ability to legitimate news as a form of public knowledge.

Journalistic Authority takes these questions and develops what I call a relational approach to journalistic authority that treats authority not as an object but as a quality of relationships among different actors–one that is full of complexities. Part one of the book traces three dimensions of authority: journalism’s claims to professionalism and their control over knowledge, the forms that news takes, and the discourses that journalists use to legitimate their practices. None of these has a privileged position over the others. They function in concert to set up the conditions for news to work.

Part two moves outside of journalists to how they relate to others. Journalists have a particular relationship with the news audiences they produce news for, the sources they interact with to create news, the technologies through which they produce journalism, and the critics that they encounter on a daily basis. Digital media complicate these relationships in ways that are still being worked out.

Ultimately the book goes beyond mapping journalistic authority to call attention to the politics that surround any authority relationship. To be legitimated as society’s chroniclers, journalists enter into a power relationship that not only dictates their actions but the ways that audiences and others are supposed to act as well. When we contest journalistic authority, we confront what we think the information flows of our society should look like. This has become an increasingly pressing question in the past few months following the election of Donald Trump and corresponding questions of how we expect journalists to act. I hope that Journalistic Authority helps provide a framework for these discussions and a way of understanding their implications not only for journalism, but for all of society.


Introduction: The Many Relationships of Journalism
Part I. Foundations of Journalistic Authority
1. Professionalism as Privilege and Distance: Journalistic Identity
2. Texts and Textual Authority: Forms of Journalism
3. Telling Stories About Themselves: Journalism’s Narratives
Part II. Journalistic Authority in Context
4. Recognizing Journalistic Authority: The Public’s Opinion
5. Legitimating Knowledge Through Knowers: News Sources
6. Mediating Authority: The Technologies of Journalism
7. Challenging Journalistic Authority: The Role of Media Criticism
Conclusion: The Politics of Journalistic Authority