On the Worlds of Journalism

Our goal in this chapter is to consider what such developments mean for conceptualizing journalism and its interrelationship with technology. Rather than analyze a particular empirical case, this chapter makes a broad conceptual provocation about what we call the “worlds” of journalism. We argue that, to fully understand the nature of technological change in journalism, it is important to adopt a sociological lens that brings into focus the collective nature of journalism—its interconnected people, processes, and products—as well as the relative status, or valuation, afforded to certain actors and activities. Drawing on symbolic interactionism as a theoretical framework, and in particular Becker’s (1982/2008) application of its ideas to the study of “art worlds,” we call for considering journalism―and specifically ambient, data, and algorithmic journalism―as a series of distinct but intersecting “worlds.” These worlds represent networks of social actors, labor activities, material infrastructures, and patterns of production that collectively enable and legitimize particular forms of journalism.1 Put another way, particular and constantly changing configurations of actors, conventions, and cooperative activities permit and constrain particular forms of journalism, and confer upon those individuals, processes, and products a certain status that may not fully translate across the flexible and porous borders of those arrangements, or worlds.Seeing journalism in light of worlds, we argue, helps accentuate at least three things: (1) the heterogeneity that exists among social actors (humans) and technological actants (machines) and their activities; (2) the development and negotiation of various conventions that give shape to certain creative works; and (3) the resulting arrangements that, while constantly in flux, lend distinctive value (and thus status) to certain people, practices, and products. Such valuations matter ultimately in shaping understandings of and expectations for journalism as a social enterprise that is increasingly technological in orientation.

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