In the last weeks I’ve been struggling with some major issues which might define the research I will work on for the next years to a not-so-minor extent. For one, I finished the work on a paper which I will present at the ICA pre-conference “The Objects of Journalism”.* The paper discusses the role of technological objects within the journalism-audience relationship. Here, I propose a conceptual framework that includes the triangle audience/journalism/technology as a complex network of relations which are structured by cognitive, normative and performative aspects as well as concrete affordances of media communication technologies. My argument is that it would be insufficient to describe technological objects merely as “bridges” or transmitters of information and/or communicative processes between journalism and audience. I think we need an inclusive conceptual framework that is sensitive towards the dynamics between the different actors, their characteristics as well as their interactions, which shape and structure the relation between journalism, audience and technological objects.
Hence, the framework comprises (a network of) different actors and several, interrelated stages of a circular process: it starts with the introduction of a new technological intermediary or feature. This also includes prior stages of planning and “programming” the artifact as well as defining its purpose, anticipated users and uses – here, “engineers” and “administrators” may be involved to a great extent. Here, we should also take a look at the (hidden) affordances, form and functions of the technological objects, as well as the communication practices this “artifactual dimension” enables and/or constraints. After the implementation of the feature, the stage of appropriation begins, on the audience as well as on the journalism side. This includes communicative processes of interpretation, meaning making (e.g. the emergence of social representations), familiarization and “embedding” the new object and its functions in existing routines and usage practices as well as in existing media arrangements (e.g. existing media repertoires). Here, it seems important that new technologies do not merely provide a different or more efficient execution of former practices – they also alter existing practices or require new ones (Zillien 2008). For example, journalists might need to develop new practices, skills or routines due to new technology-related tasks (see Weischenberg 1982) – the same is true for audience members. These processes also refer to cognitive aspects (expectations, aims, motives and interests), interpretive schemes and perceptions on an individual level. And the shared knowledge, experiences, traditions, identities as well as the historical and socio-cultural backgrounds of groups or communities (e.g. newsroom cultures). On the negotiation stage, we can analyze the continuous debates over the technological object – within and across media organizations or “external” actors (providers/companies), but also between journalism and audience – which are informed by mutual observation and feedback, and might lead to modifications or adjustments of the technology. Moreover, the negotiation stage allows us to identify resistances, irritations, conflicts and other factors constraining the appropriation, but also the emergence of new norms, rules, role conceptions and changing power relations, which might create certain tensions, e.g. regarding the resources and professional norms of media organizations. A good example is the ongoing discourse about anonymity and civility in comment areas, which unveils the different positions and norms of users and journalists (Reader 2012). Here, Robinson (2010: 140f.) identified different “philosophies” and expectations towards comment areas: “For reporters, these people reached the level of ‘sources’ and ‘fact-checkers’. For readers, these spaces were the chance to ‘talk back’ and change the direction of journalist-initiated dialogue. Both groups wanted a commenting policy that established and maintained their own textual authority”. In this respect, we might find some evidence for the ongoing processes of a “mutual shaping” (Boczkowski 2004: 263), because it sheds some light on the interplay between technological objects and those who use and develop them. Above that, it illustrates the simultaneous pursuit of interdependent technological and social transformations, because nowadays journalists are accustomed to a much greater audience presence in newsrooms (Heinonen 2011: 36), via web analytics, e-mail, comment areas etc. It seems plausible that this enhanced potential for mutual observation is also shaping mutual expectations of journalists and audience members, e.g. towards the implementation and usage of certain features (Loosen/Schmidt 2012).
The paper (as well as the framework) is more or less a „by-product“ of my dissertation project in which I want to explore different forms of „Radio Activity“. After a first presentation of the project outline at my Grad School in April 2013, I had to write a report on the „progress“ and current status of my project for this year’s ECREA Summer School in August. I had only a few days to get this thing done but maybe you want to read it (.pdf-file). If you are more the visual type, you might want to check the slides of my presentation.
As you can see: I had a very busy May (not to forget the stuff my colleagues at the institute and I did on the topic „Code Literacy“). But the forces of coffeine were with me. That, and two very (no – the most!) important persons in my world, my son and his father/my soulmate Florian. Not to forget the brilliant people I met and talked to in the last weeks. It was an exhausting but also very inspiring journey – and still, it is (hopefully) only the begining. I am ready to face the things to come.
* Since the paper might be considered for the special issue of a journal – a process with which I’m not familiar – and due to the draft-stadium of the paper, I will not (yet) provide it here. Nevertheless, if you want to read it, do not hesitate to contact me.
Boczkowski, Pablo J. (2004). The mutual shaping of technology and society in Videotex newspapers: Beyond the Diffusion and Social Shaping Perspectives. The Information Society, 20 (4), 255–267.
Heinonen, Ari (2011). The journalist’s relationship with users. New dimensions to conventional roles. In J. B. Singer, A. Hermida, D. Domingo, A. Heinonen, S. Paulussen, T. Quandt, Z. Reich & M. Vujnovic (Eds.), Participatory journalism. Guarding open gates at online newspapers (pp. 34–55). Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.
Loosen, Wiebke & Jan-Hinrik Schmidt (2012). (Re-)Discovering the audience: The relationship between journalism and audience in networked digital media. Information, Communication & Society, 15 (6), 867–887.
Reader, Bill (2012). Free Press vs. Free Speech? The rhetoric of “civility” in regard to anonymous online comments. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 89 (3), 495–513.
Robinson, Sue (2010). Traditionalists vs. Convergers. Textual privilege, boundary work, and the journalist-audience relationship in the commenting policies of online news sites. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 16 (1), 125–143.
Weischenberg, Siegfried (1982). Journalismus in der Computergesellschaft. Informatisierung, Medientechnik und die Rolle der Berufskommunikatoren [Journalism in a computer society. Informatization, media technology and the role of professional communicators]. Munich et al.: Saur.
Zillien, Nicole (2008). Die (Wieder-)Entdeckung der Medien: das Affordanzkonzept in der Mediensoziologie [The (re-)discovery of media: the affordance concept in media sociology]. Sociologia Internationalis, 46 (2), 161–181.