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Slate, now 20 years old, reflects on the value of taking the long view and not chasing digital media trends
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Feb. 22, 2016, 9:30 a.m.
LINK: www.tandfonline.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   February 22, 2016

This paper — “Actors, actants, audiences, and activities in cross-media news work: A matrix and a research agenda” — is now over a year old, but it’s been released under open access, so it’s worth a look — especially if you don’t have enough Bruno Latour in your life.

Written by friend-of-Nieman-Lab Seth Lewis and Oscar Westlund, it argues that academics who study journalism should do more to include the role of technology, audiences, and other factors in how they study news production and news organizations. Rather than a simplified view that sees journalism institutions as mostly self-contained engines of production, they call for a more integrated, systems-based approach:

The scholarly study of contemporary journalism, and cross-media news work specifically, is a complicated endeavor. The roles, boundaries, and processes of news work become increasingly hard to detect apart from other components in the same system. Traditional theories and concepts for unpacking journalism can take scholars only so far; what is still needed is a more comprehensive framework through which to account for the full array of actors, actants, audiences, and activities in crossmedia news work.

As Charlie Beckett put it:

You can find the abstract here, but non-academics might find this from the paper’s conclusion more enlightening:

By adding a sociotechnical element to the sociocultural perspective of mainline research in journalism studies, this approach may help reveal new insights into the relationships among human actors inside the organization, human actors and audiences beyond it, and the nonhuman actants that cross-mediate their interplay. This approach better acknowledges how journalism is becoming interconnected with technological tools, processes, and ways of thinking.

In the paper, Lewis and Westlund consider actors to be the humans involved in the creation of journalism (journalists, yes, but also product managers, coders, marketers, data analysts, and more); actants as the technological forces and players involved (a CMS, iPhones, email newsletters, Facebook, APIs, search engines); audiences as, well, audiences (whether viewed as passive recipients, commodities for advertisers, or co-creators of content); and activities as “the patterns of action through which an organization’s institutional logic is made manifest through media.”

(If you hunger for more intersection of journalism research and actor-network theory, check out this 2013 paper from C.W. Anderson and Daniel Kreiss, summarized here.)

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