My central research interest is how the professional production of news is being changed through its encounter with participatory technologies that open the journalistic process up to people who haven't traditionally considered themselves journalists. That interest has manifested itself in several strains of research:
Aggregation as journalistic work
Aggregation — along with its more sophisticated cousin, curation — has played an increasingly important role in the way we consume news, from the automated results that make up Google News' listings to mobile apps like Circa and Yahoo News Digest that offer bite-size summaries of major news stories. But despite its increasing prevalence, we still know relatively little about how this aggregated content is produced. Aggregating and curating content originally published elsewhere is moving toward the center of journalistic work, but it's rarely taught in journalism schools or discussed in depth among professionals.
was an attempt to understand what goes into this type of work, examining its similarities and divergence from traditional journalistic forms of reporting and editing. I'm working on expanding it into a book, and I'm looking into the norms and practices that make up journalistic aggregation work, particularly as a window into the changing epistemology of journalism. More specifically, I see aggregation as part of an ongoing pattern of "granulation" of journalism in which the traditional narrative form that structures both news stories and the way journalists think about news itself is beginning to break down into smaller, more discrete and information-based chunks. I'm also examining how journalists determine the validity of news accounts and sources without some of the key techniques — interviews, eyewitness observation, official documents — on which traditional reporting has been built.
I'm studying all this by interviewing people who work in aggregation and observing them at work, and by examining the things that journalists and aggregators have said publicly about their craft. The project builds on several previous studies that I've undertaken:
Normalizing new technologies
Journalists have incorporated a variety of new technologies into their workflows within the last decade or two, and each time they do, they have to try to meld that technology's existing properties and social norms with their own journalistic norms. I've done work on a few studies that examine that collision:
— I conducted a content analysis of professional news sites, political bloggers, and blogging professional journalists to see how they used hyperlinks
— not just where they linked to, but how they referred to those links and, using interviews, what they thought those links meant. You can read that study in the open-access International Journal of Communication
and see Poynter's coverage
of it as well.
— Expanding on that study, I interviewed more bloggers and journalists about where their norms regarding linking came from, and what sorts of processes they used to link. I tied those findings to institutional theory, looking at institutional influences within both news organizations and the political blogosphere. That paper has been published in Digital Journalism
— I worked with several colleagues at UT on two studies using a large data set of political journalists' tweets during the 2012 U.S. presidential campaign to determine how political journalists are normalizing Twitter
within the context of campaign reporting. The first of those studies, published in Journalism Studies
, looked at journalists' use of Twitter to cover the 2012 national conventions, examining the prevalence of horse-race or strategy-oriented journalism, opinions, and personal details. The second, published in The International Journal of Press/Politics
(paywall), examined the use of Twitter to fact-check the presidential debates, finding that journalists used it far more often as a tool for stenography than critical examination of candidates' statements. That study received coverage at Poynter
and the Columbia Journalism Review
Journalists' characterization of their own profession
In addition to the changing work professional journalists do, I'm also interested in how they think about their changing role in society, and how they present that role to the public. I've done a couple of related studies into this:
— As WikiLeaks
came to prominence in 2010, I was intrigued by journalists' coldness toward the group and their insistence that it was not a journalistic one. So I examined what the two news organizations that worked most closely with WikiLeaks — The New York Times
and The Guardian
— said about WikiLeaks regarding journalism and what that might tell us about how professional journalists see themselves compared with the networked form of journalism that's evolving online. My study, which touches on institutionality, reporter-source relationships, and objectivity, can be found in Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly
— That study ended up becoming my master's thesis, and expanded to include a variety of other types of news sources, including alternative media and media criticism. I adapted part of that thesis to explore what journalists mean when they refer to "original reporting,"
or "boots-on-the-ground reporting," and how that connects with the work that's traditionally been thought of as journalism. That study has been published in Journalism
The role of the users
I'm not only concerned about the professionals — I also want to know about how the users themselves fit into this news ecosystem now that they're taking on an increasing active role. I'm working on a variety of projects on this area, too:
— One of my former UT colleagues, Avery Holton
, and I conducted a pair of studies examining the Cleveland Indians' "Social Suite,"
an initiative that gives the baseball team's social media-savvy fans a luxury-suite view of a game and access to team officials. One study, published in Mass Communication & Society
(paywall), explores the suite as a case study in more public-centric network gatekeeping, while the other, published in the open-access Case Studies in Strategic Communication
, looks at the suite from a public relations perspective.
— I'm also working on several studies with Holton and Seth Lewis
of the University of Minnesota on the role of reciprocity
in facilitating collaborative journalism between professionals and citizens. We've published one paper in Journalism Practice
(paywall) outlining the concept of reciprocity in journalism, another in the International Journal of Communication
(with Homero Gil de Zúñiga
comparing journalists' and the public's attitudes and behaviors regarding reciprocity, and a third in Journalism Studies
(paywall) on the relationship between journalists' professional role conceptions and their perception of reciprocity.
— I've also co-authored a study, published in Journalism Practice
(paywall), that uses a national survey of the public to examine views of citizen journalism
and professional journalism among those who consume and create online content.