Bearing the Cost to Witness

Mixing my early interests in the critical and cultural study of war and conflict with the increasing urgency I feel to study the unsustainable dynamics of digital media industries, this study looks at the stratification of labor in international war and conflict reporting. In many ways, we can understand what is happening among freelancers, stringers, and fixers in places like Syria as a kind of journalistic outsourcing, where an increasing assumption of risk (understood as true bodily harm) is a reality of this work, where individuals are expected to often mitigate these risk themselves. Struck by the ways James Foley was celebrated after his grisly death at the hands of ISIS, I was particularly interested in how the various discourses that surround war and conflict reporting render the assumption of risk a desirable, or at the very leas unavoidable, condition to be navigated by those aspiring to seek fame or just secure employment covering war and conflict.  

Available here, from Media, Culture, & Society. Paywalled, get in touch for a copy: 

http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0163443717715078

Abstract:

As journalistic work has become increasingly precarious in recent decades, exposure to risk – that is, true bodily harm – has become a normalized condition for those reporting from conflict zones. This article considers the political economy of risk, paying particular attention to the ways it has been constructed as a desirable and manageable condition for various classes of news workers. The burden of risk is distributed unequally across staff reporters, freelancers, and non-Western local journalists of all stripes, and a persistent discourse of witnessing obscures both these inequities and the structural conditions that allow news organizations to profit from an increased assumption of individual risk. As structural conditions, individual mitigations, and practices of textual commodification are considered and critiqued, the article concludes by identifying specific strategies that push beyond an economic logic, and thus reassert the cultural and political value of conflict and war reporting as a practice that merits protection, regardless of who produces it. Such a critique focuses on developing the discursive tools that allow journalists and outside observers alike to ask ‘who should bear the costs of witnessing?’

Reading News as Narrative

Michael Buozis, one of our stellar Temple M&C Ph.D. students and my advisee, came to me with a project that grew from his first graduate seminar paper, looking at some of the epistemological assumptions guiding the study of news as a text. Michael was looking for ways to connect what he saw as seemingly disparate sociological, cultural, and epistemological tools used to study the narrative character of news.  He cam across the conventions of genre as a methodological means for making broader claims about journalistic practice, representation, and social consequentiality over time. Michael’s thinking is always exciting, so I was happy to collaborate and help him place this idea in conversation with deeper sets of literature. I am genuinely impressed with the final product and surprised at what we came up with. Hope others find this work useful.

Available from Journalism Studies below, be in touch if the paywall is a problem:

http://tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/1461670X.2017.1279030?scroll=top&needAccess=true

Abstract:

Scholars who use textual approaches to study news often blend theoretical perspectives in their work, asking some combination of questions about how news narratives function culturally, how news narratives are produced, and how news narratives are situated epistemologically. These perspectives often lead to compelling insights, and this article argues that a more fully fleshed-out approach to genre in journalism studies offers a robust means for contextualizing a wide array of theoretical concerns. Methodologically, attention to the textual conventions of a genre helps scholars attend to news narratives as both the products of standardized journalistic routines and evidence of broader cultural forces at play, cultural forces that rely upon journalism’s implicit authority over the truth. This article lays out guidelines for performing genre analysis while also offering examples for potential future studies.

Reconsidering the gospel of innovation

So I’ve let this site sit in mothballs for awhile, but have a couple of quick publications to share from this year. Anthony Nadler and I spent most of 2016 reading reports from journalism think tanks, tracing a discourse we came to call “innovation advocacy,” questioning its consequences and contradictions, and the specific vision it articulates to the field of journalism. It has resonated more with other researchers than I thought it would; I often imagine this work as a kind of voice in the wilderness, trying to bring technology back into the purview of more discourse focused cultural studies and political economy critique. 

Anyhow, available here, for those interested. Pay-walled, be in touch for a copy: 

http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1464884916689573

Abstract: 

As US news organizations have faced twin crises in funding and authority in recent years, innovation has become a key concept and ideal driving many interventions aimed at saving journalism. Often, ahistorically and uncritically deployed notions of innovation elide questions of digital journalism’s democratic aspirations in favor of market-oriented solutions. To critically examine the discourse around innovation, this article interrogates documents produced by think tanks and non-profit institutes researching the future of journalism: the Knight Foundation, the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, Harvard’s Nieman Foundation, and the Shorenstein Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, among others. A post-industrial vision for journalism emerges with an overriding and celebratory focus on innovation. We argue that this discourse marginalizes normative concerns about journalism’s democratic purpose and rests on an entrepreneurial logic that seeks to dictate digital journalism’s broader public virtues.

New work on Journalism, Bruno Latour, the history of the 35mm camera

Really happy this piece is out. I’ve spent the past couple of years looking at the 35mm camera as a journalistic device, using the work of Bruno Latour to explain how it comes to embody a broader, fitful epistemology of journalistic representation. Published in Journalism: Theory, Practice, and Criticism, the piece casts a wide-ranging historical net, looking at patent documents alongside professional and educational materials, as well touchstone historiographies and philosophies of the camera and photojournalism. It’s a theoretical piece rooted in the empirical material of an idiosyncratic archive, but I hop provides a model for thinking about the ways other devices and technologically driven practices come to fit within journalism’s authority of representation.

Find it here: http://jou.sagepub.com/content/early/2016/07/04/1464884916657507.abstract

A NEWSMAKER”S TOOL: The 35mm camera and journalism’s material epistemology

Abstract:

As devices become a more visible and integral part of media practice, it is important for researchers and scholars to attend to the ways in which philosophies, professional discourses, and technical limits structure the ways these technologies are deployed. The 35mm camera is a technological waypoint between earlier large-format cameras and contemporary digital photography and offers a useful historical example for interrogating the relationship between seemingly inert technical operations and journalism’s modes of meaning production. To that end, this article offers a theoretical perspective for interrogating the 35mm camera through the lens of Latour, with the aim of developing a schema for integrating devices into the cultural study of media and communication.

Slow Photography and David Burnett

CUNY’s Andy Mendelson and I recently published a piece on David Burnett’s Speed Graphic photography as a case study on the development of slow photojournalism. The piece appears as part of a special issue on slow journalism in Digital Journalism, and the whole issue is well worth a read, especially for those who think of “slowness” as practice meant to resist the increasing speed of industrial production. For us, Burnett is a special case. His prestige and career allow him to shoot photos that stand out from the mass of other photos, affording him the opportunity to situate his photography process around an ornery piece of technology that leaves its imprint on the photos Burnett shoots. He is able to claim a space of aesthetic intention that is set apart from the the industrial pressures of so much other news photography, and is celebrated for it. For those interested in slow journalism, Burnett stands as an ideal in action – that any journalistic product can come to bear the perspective, consideration, and care of the person behind the storytelling tools.

Full version available here: https://www.academia.edu/21926673/_MAKE_EVERY_FRAME_COUNT_The_practice_of_slow_photojournalism_and_the_work_of_David_Burnett

“MAKE EVERY FRAME COUNT” : The practice of slow photojournalism and the work of David Burnett

Abstract:

This paper presents a case study on the possibilities of slow photojournalism. Over the past decade, award-winning photojournalist David Burnett has used a 60-year-old Speed Graphic film camera to document US political events, several Olympic games, and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, among other projects. His photographs reveal a significantly different aesthetic from contemporary photojournalism and he is celebrated for the perspective his photographs offer. This analysis is based on two points of examination: first, a textual analysis of articles and videos discussing the work; and second, a semiotic analysis of the imagery. The examination suggests Burnett’s photo aesthetic signifies a longing for an imagined analog, journalistic utopia of yore, where individual journalists had the time and freedom to put care and attention into their work.

New Research on “The death of The New Republic”

Shannon Rooney, and SMC grad student of remarkable talent, and I published an article earlier this year in Journalism Studies looking at the discourses of technology and inevitability that animated discussion around editorial shake ups at The New Republic in late 2014. This is part of a longer research trajectory critiquing the discourses of technology and innovation in the journalism industry, specifically looking at how they often fall into conflict with journalism’s other publicly-oriented traditions and values. There is not a ton of research looking at magazines in general, and especially not public policy and cultural interests magazines like The New Republic , but we found that for a lot of commentators, TNR was a bellwether of the tech industries influence over not just journalism, but other institutions in public life, leading to a somewhat strident, but rarely full-throated critique, of market capital and neoliberalism in American public life.

Full version of the article can be found here: https://www.academia.edu/21687865/_Death_of_the_New_Republic_

“DEATH OF THE NEW REPUBLIC” : Discursive conflict between tech industry management and journalism’s cultural value

Abstract:

When The New Republic owner and Facebook founder Chris Hughes replaced the magazine’s top editors in December 2014, it set off a round of vociferous commentary declaring “The Death of The New Republic.” Portrayed as a conflict between journalistic tradition and Silicon Valley values, changes at the magazine crystallized lingering anxieties about the future of journalism and its relationship to the demands of the market. This article examines commentary about changes at the magazine through the lens of metajournalistic discourse, arguing that the discourses analyzed established the means by which structural conditions and philosophical challenges in the journalism industry were rendered sensible to the broader public. Though acts of personalized blame and schadenfreude at the publication’s supposed demise characterized much of the discourse, other texts worked to clarify the stakes in the conflict, ultimately creating the terms by which the conflict could be made sense of and consequences articulated to the broader field of journalism.

Imagining the journalist of the future

Earlier this year, Andy Mendelson and I published a piece entitled “Imaging the journalist of the future: Technological visions of journalism education and news work,” as part of a special issue on critical media studies and the future of journalism. It is a roster of heavy hitters for this issue, and I feel privileged to have been a part. If you are interested in the future of journalism and have not taken a look at the full issue already, I can not recommend the entire issue enough. Get it here: http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/gcrv20/18/2

Anyhow, here is the abstract of our piece, for those interested:

Digitization has resulted in great uncertainty for journalism, leading to disruption of business models, revenue streams, media distinctions, and production practices. This uncertainty has led to many articles, reports, blog posts, and general commentary discussing the future of both journalism and the skills required by journalists to succeed in this environment. This essay analyzes these discourses, focusing specifically on the nature of technology as the sole determiner of journalism’s future, with interventions aimed at journalism education and the structure of newswork. An idealized notion of the technologically adept journalist, ready to usher in digital stability, emerges as the object of these debates and, thanks in large part to the limited scope and ahistorical character of digital discourse, obscures more persistent, systemic critiques of technology and journalism.

Always happy to share the full piece with anyone blocked by a paywall.