The Many Realities of Media and Politics

I participated in a great Preconference on Qualitative Political Communication Research last week organized by the fabulous Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, Matt PowersDaniel Kreiss, and Dave Karpf.  Here is a brief response I gave to a set of papers on various political media realities. I’m calling it The Many Realities of Media and Politics.

During the first panel slot of the day, we heard a set of papers that either explicitly or implicitly addressed Lance Bennett and Shanto Iyengar challenge in 2008, in A New Era of Minimal Effects? The Changing Foundations of Political, to develop methods and tools of analysis that are more appropriate to citizens’ everyday experience of media and politics.

Melissa Aroncyzk argues in her paper that the task of researchers is not to reconciling research with reality but rather to analyzing the multiplicity of realities developed in different spaces by different actors.

And in fact, each of these papers looks at a very different reality.

Melissa looks at legitimacy, and specifically legitimating devices used by the oil and gas industry to promote the XL pipeline. She treats promotional discourse, which is often considered by researchers as faux political communication, “not as a barrier to political communication but as a constitutive element of it.”Genevieve Chacon looks at the reality of journalists covering politics—the reality of traditional journalism, which holds close in the case she presents, to the longstanding news traditions and practices. Jill Hopke explores the reality of the network and the relationships among actors or nodes, and among local and global dynamics, around the Global Frackdown.  And B. Theo Mazumdar and Andrea Wenzel (in a paper co-written with Yasuhito Abe, Bryony Inge, Erin Kamler and Sarah Myers) look at affect or political communication at the level of narratives developed within an Iranian diasporic community.

So what does this say about the political communication landscape that there are vastly different realities coming together to shape discourse about issues of common concern?

I think it is useful to draw on Andrew Chadwick’s book The Hybrid Media System to make sense of the emerging environment. He describes this system as exhibiting a balance between the older logics of transmission and reception and the new logics of circulation, recirculation and negotiation. Actors in these overlapping fields of media and politics both shape and are shaped by this hybridity.

Journalists, politicians, and corporations used to have the corner on the market but today, as several of these papers have illustrated, there are new, or newly acknowledges sources of power including the narratives formed in communities and circulated via social media;

the relations among environmental justice actors; the propaganda-style campaigns of the cool and gas industries; the new types of journalist flows of information via twitter.

Clearly, the call by Bennett and Iyengar to better understand what is really going on in political communication signaled an acknowledgment that the political that most of us experience, demands new approaches and new ways of thinking about the various sources of power at play in the contemporary media landscape.

These papers demonstrate, I think, a positive move in the field away from looking exclusively at the usual suspects—journalist, politicians, and moneyed interests. In order to continue to create useful theories that help make sense of the interplay among these various realities we need to develop and refine ways of looking at relationships among these various realities, network nodes and actors.

One central element of this is to work toward developing a more sophisticated dialogue –about the tools and platforms being used, about what sort of communication and relations they afford or enable, and what kind they discourage or disable. This can bring us closer to being able to theorize how different realities shape and are shaped by the new hybridity media landscape, where various actors, institutions, attributes of old and new tech are duking it out to gain material and symbolic upper-hand in the political realm.


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Special issue of Journalism: Practicing media activism, shaping networked journalism

7.coverThe special issue of Journalism: Theory, Practice, Criticism I edited is out. Has been for months but I’m a terrible updater. The issue includes an article based on my research at the UN Climate summit in Durban, and great articles by my friends and colleagues Michela Ardizzoni, Lynn Clark, Nabil Echchaibi and Merlyna Lim. You can download all of the articles here because Sage agreed to make the issue open access. Oddly, just because I asked.

When the Online First version was available last March, John Wihbey wrote about my article in his Neiman Journalism Lab column “What’s New in Digital Scholarship.”

Thanks to all of the contributors, editors Barbie Zelizer, Howard Tumbler, Briony Fane, Divya Munjal and all of the reviewers. Here’s an except from the introduction of the issue:

The articles collected here ask readers to stretch conceptions about what we think of as journalism. More than that, they ask readers to, in effect, work backward in constructing those conceptions, to disregard familiar notions about the forms that the best kind of journalism has taken for a century and think instead about what purposes might best be prioritized in the contemporary networked-journalism field and how journalists might best achieve those purposes, given that media-making and distributing have been revolutionized in a way that has expanded exponentially the field of possible participants in the field. The day’s news might include a score of coordinated short street documentaries of the city where you live or traffic-routing video game results or software visualizing data on immigration policy debates. New ideas about the kind of genre expansion the field might witness might also lead to different priorities in journalism training – training that might necessarily center around critical exploration of objectives more than exercise in practice and procedures. As Clark suggests, in an era where journalism scholars have mostly cast off objectivity as an unachievable distraction, study in media activism might force would-be journalists to ask the bigger questions about what media does and how its power can be channeled. Students would learn less about how to write powerful ledes and effective nutgraphs and more about the power of networked media and the responsibilities that fall on news media producers of all sorts to the publics all around the world that might follow their work.

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National Conference on Media Reform Presentation: Being Media Competent

This is part of a panel on Digital Literacies for the 2013 Media Reform Conference in Denver.

The best activists are impressively media competent people and communication innovators.  It’s my feeling, after years spent researching digital-era media and activist movements, that media literacy makes activists of everyday people. Being media competent in the digital era translates to a new sense of engagement. It changes how you exist in the world.

I didn’t come up with these ideas. It’s more like I was won over to them.  Or that, with each interview I conducted with an activist or a journalist and with each research paper I concluded, I became easier to convert.

Henry Jenkins, in this white paper, writes about new literacies that include appropriation, repurposing, multi-media multitasking, leveraging collective intelligence and the ability to effectively evaluate the quality of information you’re receiving.

“We call them ‘literacies,’” he wrote, “but they change the focus of literacy from one of individual expression to one of community involvement. They build on the foundation of traditional literacy, research skills, technical skills, and critical analysis skills taught in the classroom.”

Digital literacy is not about learning a set of skills. It’s about learning to understand a new set of social practices and approaches to meaning making.

One of my colleagues at the University of Denver, Lynn Schofield Clark, has established an after-school Digital Media Club at South High School, which serves a large number of refugee, migrant, and low income students. Club members work with Lynn and university of Denver students to create media related to issues in their communities. The South students learn to shoot and edit video and produced stories, some of which are aired on the schools weekly news program Rebel Report. This media training and production is part of a larger effort to encourage the students to see themselves as interpreters and commentators on issues relevant to their community. In the club they also spend time considering and critiquing commercial media. Here’s an image of a recent field trip they took to Denver’s 9 News.


Another local example comes from the Open Media Foundation, which runs public-access television stations, provides new media and video training workshops, loans out equipment to the public and has designed an open-source platform that automates programming for three public-access stations around the country.

Open Media Foundation has won support from the Knight News Foundations for open-source projects, most recently for an “open government” project that provides direct access to government video and documents from a non-commercial media platform.

These kinds of projects, I think, suggest how merely engaging in media production helps people better understand and critique media. How choices related to sourcing, editing, representing, for example, shape content and control messaging. Notable is that these projects work to improve participation. They don’t just celebrate any kind of participation. They also demonstrate the significance, the real democratic need, to work hard to level access to digital tools and networks—across regions, classes, ethnicities—and doing so, in part, by extending so-called net neutrality and reforming intellectual property law.

That’s why I’m happy to be contributing to this conference and why I celebrate organizations like Free Press.

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The Popular in News

Here are comments I made at Cultural Studies and the Popular organized by Jayson Harsin and Mark Hayward at American University of Paris, June 1-2, 2011.

Forces of Resistance and the Popular in the News

I’d like to take up the question raised by Jayson and Mark as a launching point for our discussion here:

Does popular still serve as a a tool for understanding contemporary social struggles? 

I’ll do this by addressing: How the “popular” has changed in the Networked era.

The concept of the popular was developed as  a tool to think about the processes by which ideology is produced and then transformed into “common sense” or naturalized within a society. It was a way to draw attention to the ranges of sites in which political struggles are fought, and to challenge the ridged distinction made by Frankfurt school theorist between consumers and producers.

Today there is no question that the lines between production and consumption are breaking down.  The popular is significantly different today because the threshold for producing and distributing media is so low that the people are now situated in a significantly different position in relation to media then they were when Hall and others sought to understand power dynamics by looking at popular culture.

Two elements of networked environment are particularly relevant to our quest to better understand the popular, and we can see them pronounced in the context of journalism. Continue reading

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Now available: Networked, a history of news in transition (read the intro here!)

NetworkedPolity Press is releasing my book this month. Networked: A Contemporary History of News in Transition examines the changes taking place in journalism, the conditions that brought them about, and the characteristics shaping news now and in the future.

I started researching and writing the book when I was a fellow at USC’s Annenberg Center for Communication in 2005. My book didn’t start out as a history but, of course, anything anyone writes about the news industry these days is instantly a history. Realizing that fact made me want to write about that– about how hopeless it felt to be writing an academic book about a fleeting era when the book would arrive (as it turns out) six years after the fact. It was Indiana University cultural studies television scholar and my good friend Chris Anderson who told me: “Well, then, make it a history… of news in transition!” To which I responded: “Um, yeah I will!”

The book was supposed to begin and end with the U.S. Gulf Wars waged by our Presidents Bush I and II. I had what I thought were great conceptual reasons for that framing and the book-end Bush wars would have made for a good tight narrative structure. But things kept happening to expand the narrative. How do you write a book in 2011 about evolving networked-era journalism and not include mention of the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign or Wikileaks or… everything else?

So how did I wrap it up? You have to read it to find out. It’s a thriller! On the winding road that stretches between the first and the last page, you’ll encounter dinosaur bones, smart bombs, Dick Cheney, John Dewey, Walter Lippmann, French riot bloggers, Jon Stewart, the Yes Men, Guy DeBord’s Situationists and much much more!

Read the introduction (pdf) here.

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The Purpose of Journalism

Over Memorial Day weekend at the ICA conference in Boston I spoke on a panel about the purpose of journalism organized by Ted Glasser. Ted posed the question, “Does the recent and rapid computerization of communication invite a fundamental reconsideration of the roles and responsibilities of the press?”

The answers were not your usual ‘future of journalism’ fare.  Risto Kunelius, for example, argued that despite suggestions that we are living through a kind of revolution that carts along with it a set of new key concepts (transparency as a solution in itself, co-production and crowd-power; aggregation, etc.), most of these are part of a long tradition of modern “publicness.” That is, new forms and capacities of communication are still fundimentally being shaped by older networks of institutions and ideas. And Barbie Zelizer warned against privileging the new over the old and reminded us that in 68 percent of countries around the world newspaper readership is stable or increasing. Michael Schudson called for an expanded view of journalism–the need to think about journalisms not journalism and democracies rather than democracy.

Here is what I said: Continue reading

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Participatory Learning and “The Class”

Mike WeschOn Friday Mike Wesch came to DU to participate in the Center for Teaching and Learning’s conference on Teaching and New Media. As always he gave a totally inspiring (and still somehow humble) talk about his collaborative approaches to teaching in which wikis replace syllabi, calibrated peer reviews replace grades, and participatory thinking replaces top-down knowledge dissemination.

Mike’s morning talk was followed by an example of the open source teaching and learning he celebrates. Lynn Schofield Clark and her students presented The Class, a parody of the show The Office, meant to depict the results of a DU survey on how students feel about use of the technology in the classroom. It’s a great thing there are profs like Lynn and Mike upping the ante for us all! Here is the video.

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24/7 DIY Video Site Relaunched

While at the Annenberg Center I helped organize 24/7 A DIY Video Summit. The video24/7 site documenting the event relaunched this week and now includes video of the panels and presentations and downloadable high-res versions of the video programs. Thanks to Gabe Peters-Lazaro and Becky Hargrave Malamud!
Here’s an overview video of the two-day event.

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International Blogging is published


Thanks to Nabil and all of the fantastic contributors!

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the future of journalism

I contributed an essay on the future of journalism to the Spring issue of Journalism which is dedicated to celebrating the journal’s tenth anniversary. Of course everyone is weighing in on the topic these days, including this yesterday from Clay Shirky and this from Michael Hirschorn. Hirschorn writes about the death of news print, and the New York Times specifically:

But over the long run, a world in which journalism is no longer weighed down by the need to fold an omnibus news product into a larger lifestyle-tastic package might turn out to be one in which actual reportage could make the case for why it matters, and why it might even be worth paying for. The best journalists will survive and eventually thrive

It’s good to see people looking at last beyond the tragic death of the old model. Here are my two cents. Continue reading

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