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Making Sense of Who and What do Journalism

Presentation by Seth C. Lewis, founding holder of the Shirley Papé Chair in Emerging Media in the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon.

Moderator: Oscar Westlund, professor, Department of Journalism and Media Studies at OsloMet – Oslo Metropolitan University.

Sted: Pilestredet 48, P472 Dato og tid: tirsdag 2. oktober 2018 kl. 12.30 - 14.30

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The presentation is part of the OsloMet Digital Journalism Focus Seminars, organised by the research group Digital Journalism.

As a variety of social, political, economic, and technological influences reshape the media environment for news production and circulation, fundamental questions such as “what is journalism?” and “who is a journalist?” have become more pressing. These are questions of boundaries—of determining how journalism comes to be demarcated from non-journalism, journalists from non-journalists, and so on.

Moreover, in an era of algorithms, automation, and artificial intelligence, these are also questions of human-machine dynamics—where people and computational processes intersect in determining how information is produced, circulated, and received. In this talk, I will explore a series of interdisciplinary concepts for making sense of the “social” and the “technical” in contemporary journalism, altogether considering how changing definitions, forms of work, and types of actors contribute to new understandings of news and who (or what) make it happen. In particular, I will focus on the distinct contributions of three conceptual approaches: boundaries, agents, and worlds.

First, the boundary work concept from sociology and science and technology studies illuminates questions of what qualifies as journalism and who qualifies as a journalist.

Second, we can strengthen analyses of boundary contests by acknowledging the role of “agents”—that is, key social actors as well as technological actants that together are enrolled in the activities of cross-media news work, or the making and moving of information in a digitally networked environment.

Third, we can extend these ideas further by applying the notion of “art worlds,” famously introduced by Howard Becker in 1982, to the study of “worlds” of media work—or, in this case, the worlds of ambient, data, and algorithmic forms of journalism, each with particular yet inter-related types of coordination, conventions, and status conferral.

Ultimately, by bringing together these concepts, we can point to opportunities for strengthening the study of digital journalism at macro, meso, and micro levels of concern, spanning the institutional, organizational, and individual levels of concern.


Seth C. Lewis , PhD, is the founding holder of the Shirley Papé Chair in Emerging Media in the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon. Before joining Oregon in 2016, he was Associate Professor and Mitchell V. Charnley Faculty Fellow in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities. He has also held appointments as Visiting Fellow of Yale Law School’s  Information Society Project and Visiting Scholar in  Science, Technology & Society at Stanford University.

His award-winning research explores the social implications of media technologies for the dynamics of media work and innovation, particularly in the case of journalism and its digital transformation. His present work focuses on three areas: the interplay of humans and machines in news, such as in the rise of artificial intelligence and automation in journalism; the role of reciprocity in the changing dynamics among journalists, audiences, and communities; and the social dimensions of journalism and its boundaries. Drawing on a variety of disciplines, theories, and methods, Lewis has published some 50 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters, covering a range of sociotechnical phenomena—from big data, coding, and open-source software, to social media, APIs, and digital audience analytics.

Lewis is a two-time winner of the International Communication Association’s award for Outstanding Article of the Year in Journalism Studies—in 2016 for the article “Actors, Actants, Audiences, and Activities in Cross-Media News Work: A Matrix and a Research Agenda” (co-authored with Oscar Westlund), and in 2013 for “The Tension Between Professional Control and Open Participation: Journalism and its Boundaries,” as well as an honourable mention distinction in 2014 for “Open Source and Journalism: Toward New Frameworks for Imagining News Innovation.”

He edited a 2015 special issue of the international peer-reviewed journal Digital Journalism on the subject of “ Journalism in an Era of Big Data,” co-edited the 2015 book Boundaries of Journalism: Professionalism, Practices and Participation (published by Routledge), and his 2012 co-authored article on journalists’ use of Twitter is the most-cited article in the 16-year history of Journalism Studies .

Lewis is on the editorial board of  New Media & Society,  the top-ranked journal in Communication (according to Google Scholar), as well as the editorial boards of  Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly ,  Social Media + Society ,   and Digital Journalism , among others. He reviews grant proposals for funding agencies internationally, and gives invited lectures at a number of leading universities.

Beginning as a 16-year-old reporter for his local newspaper, Lewis previously worked as a journalist for several news organizations, including as Assistant Sports Editor at The Miami Herald . He holds a B.A. from Brigham Young University, an M.B.A. from Barry University, and a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin.