Thesis Proposal

A note re the post below–this was the proposal for my Master’s thesis. The final product can be found here. I am currently looking at the impact of analytics on editorial decision-making and news practice. However, as this page seems to attract a lot of interest, I’m leaving it accessible on the blog. The remainder of the post is the original text.

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Okay, third times a charm right? At the behest of my thesis supervisor I’ve made a few more changes to my thesis proposal. Read, compare to the other versions, enjoy. I’ve also beefed up my methods section at the request of my thesis co-ordinator. I’m using practical action research for this project, I plan to talk more about that on a separate page in the near future.

Redefining journalism: Convergence in the public sphere

The Internet and social media are changing the underlying infrastructures that define journalism and how it is executed within our society (Benkler, 2006). Where once the audience had little control over content being created and no alternative to messages being broadcast, online independent journalists now produce their own versions of reality alongside citizens working to reshape the social narrative. However, some of the most effective and informative journalism occurs when traditional and emerging media work together. Through practical action research I will explore how participatory journalism is changing mainstream news and public discourse.

The  once indispensable nightly news is a product of what Altheide and Snow (1979) define as media logic; selected camera angles and shots, video edits, the addition of graphics, and all the elements that contribute to the way material is presented, are more significant than editorial strength. Stories focus on entertaining to hold market share, not informing (Altheide, 2004; Pikkert, 2007), and have an established “rhythm, grammar, and format” (Altheide, p. 294, 2004) that make them easily recognizable as news content. “Format…is singularly important because it refers to the rules or ‘codes’ for defining, selection, organizing, presenting, and recognizing information” (Altheide, 2004, p. 294). By focusing on entertaining the audience and generating ratings to attract advertisers, the context of interviews and events is narrowed and altered—limiting journalism’s ability to act as a democratic tool of society.

Although Altheide and Snow don’t necessarily include ownership as a factor in media logic, I agree with Habermas (1991) that when journalism shifted from “private men of letters to the public services of the mass media, the sphere of the public was altered by the influx of private interests that received privileged exposure in it” (p. 188) – drastically curtailing the possibility of truly informed public discourse. The Internet is seen by many as the saviour of the public sphere – Habermas’ (1989) ideal of a place where “private people come together as a public” (p. 27)—and a natural alternative to mainstream media. Although Habermas provides a useful tool to examine the wider view of the impact of participatory journalism on discourse, Jenkins’ (2006) convergence culture, which outlines the unpredictable mash-up of emerging and traditional media and the changing role of consumers to producers, allows for refined analysis of contemporary challenges.

In traditional media, the merging of multiple platforms, producers, and technologies operating within the confines of concentrated ownership (Jenkins, 2006) can limit the variety and depth of stories told, and therefore informed discussion. However, convergence in the form of new relationships between journalists and citizens can multiply the variety of voices and stories heard. Some argue that citizen journalists and new technologies will save the news landscape and ensure effective public discourse—others couldn’t disagree more.

Bradley (2009) sees the “advent of citizen journalists as a sign of the apocalypse” and is not alone in expressing concerns over the veracity of user-generated content; broadcasters also worry about liability for posting scurrilous audience comments—two reasons why most newsrooms minimize audience interaction to mediated remarks and pictures (Thurman, 2008). However, as Carey (2009) wrote, “electronics is neither the arrival of apocalypse nor the dispensation of grace” (p. 107)—we are living in an age defined by a dichotomy of information overload and ignorance. In 2007, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, over a third of Americans surveyed believed Saddam Hussein was “personally involved in the 9/11 bombings” (Gans, 2009, p. 27). Absorbing information on the Internet is like “drinking from a firehose” (Gillmor, 2010, p.9); so although “its scope is expanding impressively, its function has become progressively insignificant” (Habermas, 1991, p. 4). More research is needed on effectively sharing knowledge to promote public dialogue.

If grassroots journalism “diversifies” (Jenkins, 2006, p. 268) and broadcast journalism “amplifies,” collaboration between emerging and traditional media could be the best way to ensure journalism that promotes discourse and subverts the use of media logic. “Rather than talking about media producers and consumers as occupying separate roles, we might now see them as participants who interact with each other according to a new set of rules that none of us fully understands” (Jenkins, 2006, p. 3). When the formerly passive audience becomes part of convergence and the everyday news process, the clearly defined language and grammar of news is challenged, more versions of truth are told, more variety of formats in stories seen, and more discussion of issues that affect us all promoted.

The terms public journalism, citizen journalist, independent journalist, participatory journalism, and grassroots journalism are intertwined, used within the same or different contexts in a variety of papers. Paulussen, Heinonen, Domingo, and Quandt (2007) describe them all as “participatory models of journalism” (p. 137), but refer to Nip’s (2006) definition of citizen or grassroots media as content created independently, outside of the influence of traditional journalists; public journalism as aiming to involve citizens while journalists retain the gatekeeper role; and participatory journalism as a collaboration between citizens and journalists. However, the content created by citizen or grassroots journalists is often acquired or used by traditional media. For example, pictures and video of the G20 protests in Toronto during the summer of 2010. CBC now has a formal policy on the use of citizen journalists in its newscasts (personal communication, K. Fox, January 28, 2011). Independent media, such as documentary producers, work with a variety of news networks and funding agencies, and often work with staff journalists in the process – or not. What some people refer to as a classic example of citizen journalism, OhmyNews,] is in fact a collaborative effort between 60-thousand citizen journalists and 60 professional journalists (Young, 2009). The majority of Ohmy’s content is created by the audience. Anyone can submit a story, but it is the professional journalists who vet material and decide what will make it to the web (Kim & Hamilton, 2006). In practice, there are no clearly defined lines.

For the purpose of this research—and to provide a continuum for participation and collaboration—independent, grassroots and/or citizen journalism refers to all types of journalistic content created and consumed outside mainstream media. Participatory journalism is all journalistic content created collaboratively by journalists, independent media, and citizens, as well as content created independently by citizen/grassroots or independent media that is then acquired or used by mainstream media. That definition of participatory journalism will be central to my thesis work.

Literature Review

It seems there are two camps of thought regarding the current media evolution – one that sees the combination of the Internet and grassroots journalists as democratic journalism’s saviour, the other as its executioner—both could be missing the point. Perhaps the real answer is converging the two. Through this research I will examine four areas significantly impacting journalistic production: divided opinion on the merits of a new type of convergence between the audience and mainstream broadcasters; how participatory journalism can amplify the diverse stories already being told online; how concentrated ownership impacts all types of convergence; and in what ways traditional journalism needs to change to remain a relevant contributor to the media landscape and public discourse.

Apocalypse vs. Pollyanna

The culture of conversation has shifted from “many-to-many” (Surratt, 2001, p. 42) as a result of a new information infrastructure that makes it easier for citizens to create their own news stories, or lampoon or support coverage by mainstream networks that used to have complete authority over the dissemination of news (Allan, 2009; Bruns, 2003, 2007; Hartley, 2000; Jones, 2009) and our “collective memory” (Robinson, 2009). The alternative message is important, but so is the way the story is told. In traditional journalism the audience is, generally, not given access to a journalist’s sources of information. With emerging media, “linking to  original materials and references is considered a core characteristic of communication”  (Benkler, 2006, p. 218)—online content promotes transparency. Allowing the audience to weigh the relevancy of sources from its own perspective, and comment on the original work from a different standpoint, invigorates public discourse (Friedland, 1996).  In theory, with independent Internet sites offering a plethora of alternative information (Bird, 2009), it may seem inconsequential that the quality of conventional journalism is deteriorating. However, socio-economic barriers, the glut of information available on the Internet, and the much wider audience still viewing mainstream news make it appear that traditional media are central to the diffusion of information in modern society for the foreseeable future.

Although citizen journalists have the wherewithal to shed light on stories that need to be told, and versions of stories being ignored (Shirky, 2008), they generally don’t have the time, resources, or money to complete the types of investigations mainstream media can commit to. As well, finding dependable sources on the Internet while sorting through an information surplus (Chy, 2009; Yaros, 2009) takes “significant tenacity and time” (Bird, 2009, p. 45); online information is affected by a new type of gatekeeping – something of a popularity contest that gives certain individuals control over content in aggregated sites (Meraz, 2009); socio-economic barriers prevent much of the population from taking part in the online conversation (Rutigliano, 2009; Alia, 2010); and extremists can easily build social networks that ignore all other viewpoints (Carey, 2005; Dahlberg, 2005).  Regardless of any positives or negatives regarding grassroots information available, mainstream news still attracts the widest audience by far (Curran & Witschge, 2010); the majority of messages received are produced to ensure profit, not, necessarily, build knowledge (Dahlgren, 2009; Lowrey, 2009; Sholle, 2005), and often endorse a specific political or social agenda (Beers, 2006). More research needs to be done on how to balance news for profit by amplifying diverse messages buried on the web, and how to ensure that the Internet is an accessible, integral part of promoting discourse, as opposed to a divisive tool fragmenting society.

Centralized Ownership and Convergence

Centralized ownership and convergence are two key areas of discussion regarding the new information infrastructure and the public sphere. One study found media mogul Rupert Murdoch had “a strong influence on decision-making” (Deuze, 2007, p. 145) at his media outlets, but there was “some degree of autonomy” (p. 145) in everyday decisions. That may be the case, but from the perspective of media logic the structure of news programs themselves “define all other journalistic practices” (Altheide & Snow, 1991, p. 76) and if you’re hiring Bill O’Reilly and Sarah Palin you can be fairly certain of the ideological slant their stories will project.  Deuze (2007) posits that freelancing opportunities give media workers more freedom and, as a result, individual news organizations can’t influence and control the dispersal of a specific agenda. However, numerous studies and my own experience in the industry show lack of job security, the push to continually provide more stories, and the need to build profit counteract any perceived benefit to creating original content in a freelance culture controlled by concentrated ownership (Davis, 2010; Phillips, Couldry, & Freedman, 2010). As Deuze (2009) himself acknowledges, further study is required “to recognize the limits of frameworks that document the presumed collective or group behaviours and attitudes in news organizations or professions”  (pp. 90-91) before any conclusions can be made about the true impact of this unstable, or what Deuze would term, “liquid”, environment.

Profit consistently took precedence over quality the ten years I worked in a privately owned newsroom—and the “factory-like” (Carey, 2009) production of news is most obvious in the 24-hour news cycle. To facilitate quick turn-around of content, many journalists today operate in a sedentary format, reporting on stories in locations they never visit (Basinee & Marchetti, 2006). As a result, reporters are disconnected from their subjects, often relying on public relations handouts instead of research (Phillips, 2010). Quinn (2004) proposes that “under wise leadership, convergence offers opportunities to do better and more socially useful journalism” (p. 121); my personal observation of convergence is that it leads to less time for more work. Convergence, operating within the confines of centralized ownership, negatively impacts the quality of mainstream news programming and, as a result, public discourse. As Innis (2004) outlined, “it is difficult to over-estimate the significance of technological change in communication or the position of monopolies built up by those who systematically take advantage of it” (p. 94). More investigation needs to be done not just on how independent content could be incorporated without excessive cost or libel concerns, but how actual stories, not just superfluous interaction or elements of stories, from citizen journalists can be shared to allow for greater diversity of storytelling.

Amplifying Diversity

OhmyNews in South Korea is continually cited as one of the most important signposts in participatory journalism (Kim & Hamilton, 2006; Nip, 2006; Thurman, 2008) and exemplifies the potential relationship between creators and consumers. “In opposition to the established press, these citizen journalists enable agenda setting and public opinion formation from the grassroots” (p. 151). Ohmy proves that not only incorporating but relying on content created by citizen journalists is a good business model and, although the altruistic goal of enabling widespread discourse may be deemed more worthy, monetary success could be the best incentive for Western media to incorporate stories from different perspectives, in different formats.

As CBC is a publicly funded organization and, theoretically, less influenced by the need for advertisers I will examine participatory journalism through three different sites at the network: the push to work outside traditional formats and promote transparency in the daily television news program Connect with Mark Kelly; how the use of citizen bloggers, recruited by CBC’s online community team, to cover the G20 summit in Toronto allowed for more varied storytelling; and the documentary department’s efforts to improve knowledge-sharing by building relationships with its audience community and community partners on its website.

The Future of Journalism

The Internet isn’t the first wave of technology with far-reaching effects on society (Carey, 2009), or that was purported to be the death of another form of media (Jenkins, 2006). Freedman (2010) writes that, “it is clear that news business will have to rethink its approach if it is to remain relevant and prosperous in a digital future” (p. 239). Abernathy and Foster (2009) say media outlets “will need to form networked ‘communities’ with other organizations—a sort of news version of Hulu, the portal that aggregates online video content from Disney, News Corp. and NBCU” (p. 13); that might work, but it wouldn’t address issues surrounding reliance on advertisers. Altheide and Snow (1991) say “journalism will not be reborn until information formats are recognized, evaluated, and altered” (p. xi); Gurevitch, Coleman, and Blumer (2009) call for the creation of an online “civic commons” that would “reconfigure access to the institutions, events, and debates that once took place exclusively on the other side of the screen” (p. 179); Paulussen, Heinoen, Domingo, & Quandt (2007) say we should “turn journalism from a lecture into a conversation with citizens” (p. 137). Numerous academics have weighed in on the Internet as the ideal public sphere (Beers, 2006; Benkler, 2006; Dahlberg, 2005; de Zuniga, 2009; Papacharissi, 2009), but more research needs to be done on practical changes that can be implemented to amplify diverse storytelling in traditional broadcast media.

Methodology

For this project I will use practical action research (Hinchey, 2008) to examine existing practices and perceptions surrounding participatory journalism in the newsroom at CBC Toronto and “identify action strategies for improvement” (p. 39). Action research is most appropriate for this study due to its focus on participatory, collaborative methods that allow for multiple viewpoints (O’Brien, 1998). In keeping with this method I will also create a blog where I will try to engage with my own online audience to discuss the future of journalism, and get input into my data gathering and analysis. Where appropriate, comments curated on my blogsite will be included as part of my empirical research on participatory journalism.

Data Gathering & Procedure

I plan to job shadow subjects I have identified as key players in CBC’s push to create more interactivity with its audience, and conduct approximately 10 interviews “designed not to gather concrete evidence or objective data but to reveal the reality that makes up people’s day-to-day experience, bringing their assumptions, views and beliefs out in the open and making them available for reflection” (Stringer, 2007, p. 66.) Due to my own history working as a journalist and the proven success of using conversation as a way of “negotiating and constructing” (McNiff, Lomax, & Whitehead, p. 106) meaning out of “shared practices”, interviews with my subjects will be open-ended and framed around a discussion about the current state of broadcast journalism and each subject’s particular job. I will, however, be asking every subject three key questions: Could the work of independent media and citizen journalists be incorporated into mainstream broadcast news more often? How would the incorporation of independent media/citizen journalists’ work impact the quality of broadcast content and, as a result, public discourse? How is the new information infrastructure (ie. the Internet, web 2.0 technology) impacting broadcast journalism?

On my website/blog I will reflect on findings throughout the research process, post podcasts, interview excerpts or related information from my research, as well as the three key questions above in the hopes of facilitating an online discussion about the future of journalism. Traffic to my research site will be promoted through social media. The website will begin as my thesis does, rather bare bones; both will grow congruently throughout the process—a fluid form of emic research that reflects rapid changes in the industry and the collaborative method of action research. The open-ended format of the website allows me to subvert media logic in my own work because as Altheide wrote, “it is the communication order that is partly responsible—and holds the key to opening fresh perspectives” (Altheide, 1991, p. 11). In order to effectively investigate participatory journalism in the newsroom my interview subjects and website commentators are actually collaborators working to come up with best practices that could be tested and possibly transferred throughout the industry.

Most subjects will be recruited through personal contacts and industry relationships that I have fostered over a 20-year career working in a newsroom or as a journalism educator. Independent media and the public at large will be recruited through social media: facebook, Twitter, Linked In, and my blog. I will contact potential subjects through social media, e-mail, phone calls, or, where practical, in person. In some cases, subjects may be referred to me or my website through social media interaction or personal communication. Each participant will be given a consent form, but keeping with current research practices, emailed acceptance of the research terms will be considered equal to a signature. A copy of the consent form will be posted on the website. All consent forms will include information on how participants can withdraw from the research, and have their content removed from the website/blog, without prejudice at any point. Participants will also be cautioned that if information has already been posted on the website the researcher cannot guarantee it hasn’t been copied or cited elsewhere.

Ethical Concerns and Limitations

Ethical concerns include dealing with subjects who may wish to remain anonymous, and ensuring my former or current students don’t feel compelled to participate. The wide net used to gather material could make qualitative analysis a difficult task; however, the breadth of knowledge gained and increased insight through interaction with an online community will provide critical data in my subject area. Although practices at grassroots and privately owned media outlets will be conceptually analysed, this research will focus on best practices for uniquely Canadian publicly funded broadcast news, CBC.

Data Analysis/Procedure

“We interview in order to come to know the experience of the participants through their stories. We learn from hearing and studying what the participants say” (Seidman, 2006, p. 119). Using analysis with an ethnographic sensibility I will combine the three prongs of my data: interviews, participant observation, and information gathered from comments on my blog and conduct a thematic analysis.  I will code and categorize quotes (Stringer, 2007; Seidman, 2006) from my interviews, blog comments, and transcriptions of participant observation through the lens of media logic and convergence culture.  Categories will be defined through collaboration with interview subjects and website commentators but will likely include how journalism is defined differently by multiple groups and individuals; how those different interpretations may be preventing emerging and traditional media from working together more often; examples of where participatory journalism works; how the use of a variety of formats and perspectives in journalistic storytelling affects public discourse on key issues.

When all of the information is coded I will look for trends to identify problem areas, best practices, and possible answers to my research question: how is participatory journalism changing mainstream media and public discourse.

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I’ve just reworked my thesis proposal, and here it is!  I’ve left the original one below in case anyone has a lot of time on his or her hands and would like to do a bit of a comparison 🙂

Redefining journalism: Collaborating with the audience

The Internet is changing the underlying infrastructure that defines journalism and how it is executed within our society (Benkler, 2006). Where once the audience had little control over content being created and no alternative to messages being broadcast, online independent journalists now produce their own versions of reality alongside citizens working to reshape the social narrative. However, some of the most effective and informative journalism occurs when traditional and emerging media work together. Through action research I will explore how participatory journalism is changing mainstream news and public discourse.

The once indispensable nightly news is a product of what Altheide and Snow (1979) define as media logic: “The form of presentation” (Altheide & Snow, 1991, p. 60) is more significant than the quality of content and has an established “rhythm, grammar, and format” (Altheide, p. 294, 2004) aimed at entertaining and holding market share, not informing (Altheide, 2004; Pikkert, 2007). Established news grammar “employs different camera angles, uses different camera shots, edits the speech, adds background sound, and integrates graphics and film to accent the speech” (Altheide & Snow, 1979, p. 23), altering communication.  “Format…is singularly important because it refers to the rules or ‘codes’ for defining, selection, organizing, presenting, and recognizing information” (Altheide, 2004, p. 294). With the goal of entertaining the audience,

“it is no longer the individual creative work of journalists that gives us ‘news of the world’, but rather, standard templates, routines, and typical courses of action dedicated to on the air performance and dominant visuals and thematic emphases that prevails” (Altheide, 1985).  (Altheide & Snow, 1991, p. 52)

Media logic impacts public discourse:  “Mass media information provides a context of meanings and images that prepares audiences for political decisions about specific actions” (Altheide, 2007). The focus on entertaining the audience and generating ratings to attract advertisers limits journalism’s ability to act as a democratic tool of society.

Although Altheide and Snow don’t necessarily include ownership as a factor in media logic, I agree with Habermas (1991) that when journalism shifted from “private men of letters to the public services of the mass media, the sphere of the public was altered by the influx of private interests that received privileged exposure in it” (p. 188) – drastically curtailing the possibility of truly informed public discourse. The Internet is seen by many as the saviour of the public sphere – Habermas’ (1989) ideal of a place where “private people come together as a public” (p. 27), and a natural alternative to mainstream media. Although Habermas provides a useful tool to examine the wider view of the impact of participatory journalism on discourse, Jenkins’ (2006) convergence culture, where “old and new media collide…grassroots and corporate media intersect…the power of the media producer and power of the media consumer interact in unpredictable ways” (p. 2), allows for refined analysis of contemporary challenges.

In traditional media, the merging of multiple platforms, producers, and technologies operating within the confines of concentrated ownership (Jenkins, 2006) limit the variety and depth of stories told, and therefore informed discussion. Some argue that citizen journalists and the Internet will save the news landscape and ensure effective public discourse—others couldn’t disagree more.

Bradley (2009) sees the “advent of citizen journalists as a sign of the apocalypse” and is not alone expressing concerns over the veracity of user generated content; broadcasters also worry about liability for posting scurrilous audience comments—two reasons why most newsrooms minimize audience interaction to mediated remarks and pictures (Thurman, 2008). However, as Carey (2009) wrote, “electronics is neither the arrival of apocalypse nor the dispensation of grace” (p. 107)—we are living in an age defined by a dichotomy of information overload and ignorance. In 2007, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, over a third of Americans surveyed believed Saddam Hussein was “personally involved in the 9/11 bombings” (Gans, 2009, p. 27). Absorbing information on the Internet is like “drinking from a firehose” (Gillmor, 2010, p.9); so although “its scope is expanding impressively, its function has become progressively insignificant” (Habermas, 1991, p. 4). More research is needed on effectively sharing knowledge to promote public dialogue.

If grassroots journalism found on the web “diversifies” (Jenkins, 2006, p. 268) and broadcast journalism “amplifies”, collaboration between emerging and traditional media could be the best way to ensure journalism that promotes discourse and subverts the use of media logic. “Rather than talking about media producers and consumers as occupying separate roles, we might now see them as participants who interact with each other according to a new set of rules that none of us fully understands” (Jenkins, 2006, p. 3). When the formerly passive audience becomes part of convergence and the everyday news process, the clearly defined language and grammar of news is challenged, more versions of truth are told, more variety of formats in stories seen, and more discussion of issues that affect us all promoted.

The terms public journalism, citizen journalist, independent journalist, participatory journalism, and grassroots journalism are intertwined, used within the same or different contexts in a variety of papers. Paulussen, Heinonen, Domingo, and Quandt (2007) describe them all as “participatory models of journalism” (p. 137), but refer to Nip’s (2006) definition of citizen or grassroots media as content created independently, outside of the influence of traditional journalists; public journalism as aiming to involve citizens while journalists retain the gatekeeper role; and participatory journalism as a collaboration between citizens and journalists. However, the content created by citizen or grassroots journalists is often acquired or used by traditional media. For example, pictures and video of the G20 protests in Toronto during the summer of 2010. CBC now has a formal policy on the use of citizen journalists and content like youtube video in its newscasts (personal communication, K. Fox, January 28, 2011). Independent media, such as documentary producers, work with a variety of news networks and funding agencies, and often work with staff journalists in the process – or not. What some people refer to as a classic example of citizen journalism, Ohmy News, is in fact a collaborative effort between 60-thousand citizen journalists and 60 professional journalists (Young, 2009). The majority of Ohmy’s content is created by the audience. Anyone can submit a story, but it is the professional journalists who vet material and decide what will make it to the web (Kim & Hamilton, 2006). In practice, there are no clearly defined lines.

For the purpose of this research—and to provide a continuum for participation and collaboration—independent, grassroots and/or citizen journalism refers to all types of journalistic content created and consumed outside mainstream media. Participatory journalism is all journalistic content created collaboratively by journalists, independent media, and citizens, as well as content created independently by citizen/grassroots or independent media that is then acquired or used by mainstream media.

Literature Review

It seems there are two camps of thought regarding the current media evolution – one that sees the combination of the Internet and grassroots journalists as democratic journalism’s saviour, the other as its executioner — both could be missing the point. Perhaps the real answer is converging the two. Through this research I will examine four areas significantly impacting journalistic production: divided opinion on the merits of a new type of convergence between the audience and mainstream broadcasters; how participatory journalism can amplify the diverse stories already being told online; how concentrated ownership impacts all types of convergence; and in what ways traditional journalism needs to change to remain a relevant contributor to the media landscape and public discourse.

Apocalypse vs. Pollyanna

The culture of conversation has shifted from “many-to-many” (Surratt, 2001, p. 42) as a result of a new information infrastructure that makes it easier for citizens to create their own news stories, or lampoon or support coverage by mainstream networks that used to have complete authority over the dissemination of news (Allan, 2009; Bruns, 2003, 2007; Hartley, 2000; Jones, 2009) and our “collective memory” (Robinson, 2009). The alternative message is important, but so is the way the story is told. Linking to original materials and references is considered a core characteristic of communication” (Benkler, 2006, p. 218) — online content promotes transparency. “By inverting the role of detached experts gathering news about communities played by traditional news organizations, public journalism moves news reporting toward a more active role in constituting the public space for discussion, debate and problem solving” (Friedland, 1996, p. 205).  In theory, with independent Internet sites offering a plethora of alternative information (Bird, 2009) it may seem inconsequential that the quality of conventional journalism is deteriorating; however, socio-economic barriers, the glut of information available on the Internet, and the much wider audience still viewing mainstream news make traditional media central to the diffusion of information in modern society for the foreseeable future.

Although citizen journalists have the wherewithal to shed light on stories that need to be told, and versions of stories being ignored (Shirky, 2008), they generally don’t have the time, resources, or money to complete the types of investigations mainstream media can commit to. As well, finding dependable sources on the Internet while sorting through an information surplus (Chy, 2009; Yaros, 2009) takes “significant tenacity and time” (Bird, 2009, p. 45); online information is affected by a new type of gatekeeping – something of a popularity contest that gives certain individuals control over content in aggregated sites (Meraz, 2009); socio-economic barriers prevent much of the population from taking part in the online conversation (Rutigliano, 2009; Alia, 2010); and extremists can easily build social networks that ignore all other viewpoints (Carey, 2005; Dahlberg, 2005).  Regardless of any positives or negatives regarding grassroots information available, mainstream news still attracts the widest audience by far (Curran & Witschge, 2010); the majority of messages received are produced to ensure profit, not, necessarily, build knowledge (Dahlgren, 2009; Lowrey, 2009; Sholle, 2005), and often endorse a specific political or social agenda (Beers, 2006). More research needs to be done on how to balance news for profit by amplifying diverse messages that are buried on the web, and how to ensure that the Internet is an accessible, integral part of promoting discourse, as opposed to a divisive tool fragmenting society.

Centralized Ownership and Convergence

Centralized ownership and convergence are two key areas of discussion regarding the new information infrastructure and the public sphere. One study found media mogul Rupert Murdoch had “a strong influence on decision-making” (Deuze, 2007, p. 145) at his media outlets, but there was “some degree of autonomy” (p. 145) in everyday decisions. That may be the case, but from the perspective of media logic the structure of news programs themselves “define all other journalistic practices” (Altheide & Snow, 1991, p. 76) and if you’re hiring Bill O’Reilly and Sarah Palin you can be fairly certain of the ideological slant their stories will project.  Deuze (2007) posits that freelancing opportunities give media workers more freedom and, as a result, individual news organizations can’t influence and control the dispersal of a specific agenda. However, numerous studies and my own experience in the industry show lack of job security, the push to continually provide more stories, and build profit counteract any perceived benefit to creating original content in a freelance culture controlled by concentrated ownership (Davis, 2010; Phillips, Couldry, & Freedman, 2010). As Deuze (2009) himself acknowledges, further study is required “to recognize the limits of frameworks that document the presumed collective or group behaviours and attitudes in news organizations or professions”  (pp. 90-91) before any conclusions can be made about the true impact of this unstable, or what Deuze would term, “liquid”, environment.

Profit consistently took precedence over quality the ten years I worked in a privately owned newsroom — and the “factory-like” (Carey, 2009) production of news is most obvious in the 24-hour news cycle. To facilitate quick turn-around of content, many journalists today operate in a sedentary format, reporting on stories in locations they never visit (Basinee & Marchetti, 2006). As a result, reporters are disconnected from their subjects, often relying on public relations handouts instead of research (Phillips, 2010). Quinn (2004) proposes that “under wise leadership, convergence offers opportunities to do better and more socially useful journalism” (p. 121); my personal observation of convergence is that it leads to less time for more work. Convergence, operating within the confines of centralized ownership, negatively impacts the quality of mainstream news programming and, as a result, public discourse. As Innis (2004) outlined, “it is difficult to over-estimate the significance of technological change in communication or the position of monopolies built up by those who systematically take advantage of it” (p. 94). More investigation needs to be done not just on how independent content could be incorporated without excessive cost or libel concerns, but how actual stories, not just superfluous interaction or elements of stories, from citizen journalists can be shared to allow for greater diversity of storytelling.

Amplifying Diversity

Ohmy News in South Korea is continually cited as one of the most important signposts in participatory journalism (Kim & Hamilton, 2006; Nip, 2006; Thurman, 2008) and exemplifies the potential relationship between creators and consumers. “In opposition to the established press, these citizen journalists enable agenda setting and public opinion formation from the grassroots” (p. 151). Ohmy proves that not only incorporating but relying on content created by citizen journalists is a good business model and, although the altruistic goal of enabling widespread discourse may be deemed more worthy, monetary success could be the best incentive for Western media to incorporate stories from different perspectives, in different formats.

As CBC is a publicly funded organization and, theoretically, less influenced by the need for advertisers I will examine participatory journalism through three examples of participatory journalism at CBC: Connect with Mark Kelly, coverage of the G20 summit in Toronto, and the creation of a memorial wall for soldiers killed in Afghanistan.  I will explore if the monetary benefits of participatory journalism could be key to discovering ways how to share more stories, in a variety of formats.

The Future of Journalism

The Internet isn’t the first wave of technology with far-reaching effects on society (Carey, 2009), or that was purported to be the death of another form of media (Jenkins, 2006). Freedman (2010) writes that, “it is clear that news business will have to rethink its approach if it is to remain relevant and prosperous in a digital future” (p. 239). Abernathy and Foster (2009) say media outlets “will need to form networked ‘communities’ with other organizations—a sort of news version of Hulu, the portal that aggregates online video content from Disney, News Corp. and NBCU” (p. 13); that might work, but it wouldn’t address issues surrounding reliance on advertisers. Altheide and Snow (1991) say “journalism will not be reborn until information formats are recognized, evaluated, and altered” (p. xi); Gurevitch, Coleman, and Blumer (2009) call for the creation of an online “civic commons” that would “reconfigure access to the institutions, events, and debates that once took place exclusively on the other side of the screen” (p. 179); Paulussen, Heinoen, Domingo, & Quandt (2007) say we should “turn journalism from a lecture into a conversation with citizens” (p. 137). Numerous academics have weighed in on the Internet as the ideal public sphere (Beers, 2006; Benkler, 2006; Dahlberg, 2005; de Zuniga, 2009; Papacharissi, 2009), but more research needs to be done on practical changes that can be implemented to amplify the diverse stories being told on the web through traditional broadcast media.

Methodology

For this project I will use action research, selected because of its focus on participatory, collaborative methods that allow for multiple viewpoints (O’Brien, 1998), to examine existing practices and perceptions surrounding participatory journalism in the newsroom at CBC Toronto. In keeping with this collaborative method I will also create a blog where I will try to engage with my own online audience to discuss the future of journalism, and solicit input into my data gathering and analysis.

Data Gathering & Procedure

I plan to job shadow subjects I have identified as key players in CBC’s push to create more interactivity with its audience, and conduct approximately 10 interviews. Although the majority of interviews with my subjects will be open-ended and framed around a discussion about the current state of broadcast journalism and each subject’s particular job, I will be asking every subject three key questions: Could the work of independent media and citizen journalists be incorporated into mainstream broadcast news more often; how would the incorporation of independent media/citizen journalists’ work impact the quality of broadcast content and, as a result, public discourse; how is the new information infrastructure (ie. the Internet, web 2.0 technology) impacting broadcast journalism?

On my website/blog I will reflect on findings throughout the research process, post podcasts, interview excerpts or related information from my research, as well as the three key questions above in the hopes of facilitating an online discussion about the future of journalism. Traffic to my research site will be promoted through social media. The website will begin as my thesis does, rather bare bones; both will grow congruently throughout the process—a fluid form of emic research that reflects rapid changes in the industry and the collaborative method of action research. The open-ended format of the website allows me to subvert media logic in my own work because as Altheide wrote, “it is the communication order that is partly responsible—and holds the key to opening fresh perspectives” (Altheide, 1991, p. 11). In order to effectively investigate participatory journalism in the newsroom my interview subjects and website commentators are actually collaborators working to come up with best practices that could be tested and possibly transferred throughout the industry

Most subjects will be recruited through personal contacts and industry relationships that I have fostered over a 20-year career working in a newsroom or as a journalism educator. Independent media and the public at large will be recruited through social media: facebook, Twitter, Linked In, and my blog. I will contact potential subjects through social media, e-mail, phone calls, or, where practical, in person. In some cases, subjects may be referred to me or my website through social media interaction or personal communication. Each participant will be given a consent form, but keeping with current research practices, emailed acceptance of the research terms will be considered equal to a signature. A copy of the consent form will be posted on the website. All consent forms will include information on how participants can withdraw from the research, and have their content removed from the website/blog, without prejudice at any point. Participants will also be cautioned that if information has already been posted on the website the researcher cannot guarantee it hasn’t been copied or cited elsewhere.

Ethical Concerns and Limitations

Ethical concerns include dealing with subjects who may wish to remain anonymous, and ensuring my former or current students don’t feel compelled to participate. The wide net used to gather material could make qualitative analysis a difficult task; however, the breadth of knowledge gained and increased insight through interaction with an online community will provide critical data in my subject area. Although practices at grassroots and privately owned media outlets will be conceptually analysed, this research will focus on best practices for uniquely Canadian publicly funded broadcast news, CBC.

Data Analysis/Procedure

Using analysis with an ethnographic sensibility I will combine the three prongs of my data: interviews, participant observation, and information gathered from comments on my blog and conduct a thematic analysis.  I will code quotes from my interviews, blog comments, and transcriptions of participant observation through the lens of media logic and convergence culture.  Categories will be defined through collaboration with interview subjects and website commentators but will likely include how journalism is defined differently by multiple groups and individuals; how those different interpretations may be preventing emerging and traditional media from working together more often; examples of where participatory journalism works; how the use of a variety of formats and perspectives in journalistic storytelling affects public discourse on key issues.

When all of the information is coded I will look for trends to identify problem areas, best practices, and possible answers to my research question: how is participatory journalism changing mainstream media and public discourse?

References:

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Carey, J. (2009). Communication as culture: Essays on media and society. New York, NY: Routledge.

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Kim, E. G. & Hamilton, J. (2006). Capitulation to capital? OhmyNews as alternative media.
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Meraz, S. (2009). The many faced ‘you’ of social media. In Z. Papacharissi (Ed.), Journalism and Citizenship: New agendas in communication (pp. 124-147). New York, NY: Routledge.

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Papacharissi, Z. (2009). The citizen is the message: Alternative modes of civic engagement. In Z. Papacharissi (Ed.), Journalism and Citizenship: New agendas in communication (pp. 29-43). New York, NY: Routledge.

Phillips, A. (2010). Old sources: New bottles. In N. Fenton (Ed.), New Media, Old News: Journalism & Democracy in the Digital Age (pp. 87-101). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

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Surratt, C.G. (2001). The Internet and social change. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers.

Thurman, N. (2008). Forums for citizen journalists? Adoption of user generated content initiatives by online news media. New Media & society, 10(1), 139-157. doi: 10.1177/1461444807085325

Yaros, R. A. (2009). Producing citizen journalism or producing journalism for citizens: A new multimedia model to enhance understanding of complex news. In Z. Papacharissi (Ed.), Journalism and Citizenship: New agendas in communication (pp. 71-90). New York, NY: Routledge.

Young, C. (2009). OhmyNews: Citizen journalism in South Korea. In S. Allan & E. Thorsen (Eds.), Citizen Journalism Global Perspectives (pp. 143-152). New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Redefining Journalism: Collaboration in the Public Sphere

The Internet is changing the underlying infrastructure that defines journalism and how it is executed within our society (Benkler, 2006). Where once the audience had little control over content being created and no alternative to messages being broadcast, online independent journalists now produce their own versions of reality. Meanwhile, the once indispensable nightly news is a product of media logic (Altheide & Snow, 1979). “The form of presentation” (Altheide & Snow, 1991, p. 60) is more significant than the quality of content.  The prime motive for creating stories is no longer promoting understanding, but creating “infotainment” in an effort to hold market share (Altheide, 2004; Pikkert, 2007). Convergence, the merging of multiple media platforms operating within the confines of concentrated ownership, further limits the variety of stories told and the possibility of an effective public sphere.

If grassroots journalism “diversifies” (Jenkins, 2006, p. 268) and broadcast journalism “amplifies”, perhaps Jenkins (2006) is correct that collaboration between emerging and traditional media, “convergence culture” (p. 274), is the best way to ensure journalism that promotes discourse and subverts the use of media logic. Through action research I will explore if and in what ways participatory journalism could reinvigorate the public sphere.

No agreement exists on whether the public sphere can be functional. For example, Schudson’s (2009) interpretation of a public sphere, where “a statement can be judged true” (p. 112) only if “all people would agree on it” and were able “ to discuss all of human experience without any constraints for an indefinite length of time” offers unachievable parameters. However, Habermas (1991) himself says the public sphere “may be conceived above all as the sphere of private people come together as a public” (p. 27).  My position is that the public sphere is not, necessarily, about consensus but ensuring a platform for an unfiltered public-voice. An ideal rendered impotent by corporate control of news: “In the course of the shift from journalism of private men of letters to the public services of the mass media, the sphere of the public was altered by the influx of private interests that received privileged exposure in it” (Habermas, 1991, p. 188). The Internet, however, renewed hope of a platform free of economic constraints, open to anyone’s participation, including citizen journalists.

Bradley (2009) sees the “advent of citizen journalists as a sign of the apocalypse” and is not alone expressing concerns over the veracity of user generated content; broadcasters also worry about liability for posting scurrilous audience comments — two reasons why most newsrooms minimize audience interaction to screened remarks (Thurman, 2008). However, as Carey (2009) wrote, “electronics is neither the arrival of apocalypse nor the dispensation of grace” (p. 107) — we are living in an age defined by a dichotomy of information overload and ignorance. In 2007, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, over a third of Americans surveyed believed Saddam Hussein was “personally involved in the 9/11 bombings” (Gans, 2009, p. 27). Absorbing information on the Internet is like “drinking from a firehose” (Gillmor, 2010, p.9); so although “its scope is expanding impressively, its function has become progressively insignificant” (Habermas, 1991, p. 4). More research is needed on effectively sharing knowledge to promote public dialogue.

The terms public journalism, citizen journalist, independent journalist, participatory journalism, and grassroots journalism seem to be intertwined, used within the same or different contexts in a variety of papers. For the purpose of this research, grassroots and/or citizen journalism will refer to all types of content created outside mainstream media. Participatory journalism will refer to content eventually used by mainstream media, or created by grassroots media in conjunction with professional journalists.

Literature Review

It seems there are two camps of thought regarding the current media evolution – one that sees the combination of the Internet and grassroots journalists as democratic journalism’s saviour, the other as its executioner — both could be missing the point. Perhaps the real answer is converging the two. Through this research I will look at how a new type of convergence between citizen journalists and mainstream broadcasters could amplify the diverse stories already being told online, and balance messages in a media landscape shaped by concentrated ownership.

Apocalypse vs. Pollyanna

The culture of conversation has shifted from “many-to-many” (Surratt, 2001, p. 42) as a result of a new information infrastructure that makes it easier for citizens to create their own news stories, or lampoon or support coverage by mainstream networks – networks that used to have complete authority over the dissemination of news (Allan, 2009; Bruns, 2003, 2007; Hartley, 2000; Jones, 2009) and our “collective memory” (Robinson, 2009). The alternative message is important, but so is the way the story is told. Online content promotes transparency; “linking to original materials and references is considered a core characteristic of communication” (Benkler, 2006, p. 218). “By inverting the role of detached experts gathering news about communities played by traditional news organizations, public journalism moves news reporting toward a more active role in constituting the public space for discussion, debate and problem solving” (Friedland, 1996, p. 205).  In theory, with independent Internet sites offering a plethora of alternative information (Bird, 2009) it may seem inconsequential that the quality of conventional journalism is deteriorating; however, for a number of reasons, mainstream journalism is still central to the diffusion of information in modern society for the foreseeable future.

Although citizen journalists have the wherewithal to shed light on stories that need to be told, and versions of stories being ignored (Shirky, 2008), they generally don’t have the time, resources, or money to complete the types of investigations mainstream media can commit to. As well, finding dependable sources on the Internet while sorting through an information surplus (Chy, 2009; Yaros, 2009) takes “significant tenacity and time” (Bird, 2009, p. 45); online information is affected by a new type of gatekeeping – something of a popularity contest that gives certain individuals control over content in aggregated sites (Meraz, 2009); socio-economic barriers prevent much of the population from taking part in the online conversation (Rutigliano, 2009; Alia, 2010); and extremists can easily build social networks that ignore all other viewpoints (Carey, 2005; Dahlberg, 2005).  Regardless of any positives or negatives regarding grassroots information available, mainstream news still attracts the widest audience by far (Curran & Witschge, 2010); the majority of messages received are produced to ensure profit, not, necessarily, build knowledge (Dahlgren, 2009; Lowrey, 2009; Sholle, 2005), and often endorse a specific political or social agenda (Beers, 2006). More research needs to be done on how to balance news for profit by amplifying diverse messages that are buried on the web, and how to ensure the Internet is an accessible, integral part of promoting discourse, as opposed to a divisive tool fragmenting society.

Centralized Ownership and Convergence

Centralized ownership and convergence are two keys areas of discussion regarding the new information infrastructure and the public sphere. One study found media mogul Rupert Murdoch had “a strong influence on decision-making” (Deuze, 2007, p. 145) at his media outlets, but there was “some degree of autonomy” (p. 145) in every-day decisions. That may be the case, but the structure of news programs themselves “define all other journalistic practices” (Altheide & Snow, 1991, p. 76) and if you’re hiring Bill O’Reilly and Sarah Palin you can be fairly certain of the ideological slant their stories will project.  Deuze (2007) posits that freelancing opportunities give media workers more freedom. However, numerous studies show lack of job security, the push to continually provide more stories, and build profit counteract any perceived benefit to creating original content in a freelance culture controlled by concentrated ownership (Davis, 2010; Phillips, Couldry, & Freedman, 2010). As Deuze (2009) himself acknowledges, further study is required “to recognize the limits of frameworks that document the presumed collective or group behaviours and attitudes in news organizations or professions”  (pp. 90-91) before any conclusions can be made about the true impact of this unstable, or what Deuze would term, “liquid”, environment.

Profit consistently took precedence over quality the ten years I worked in a privately owned newsroom — and the “factory-like” (Carey, 2009) production of news is most obvious in the 24-hour news cycle. To facilitate quick turn-around of content, many journalists today operate in a sedentary format, reporting on stories in locations they never visit (Basinee & Marchetti, 2006). As a result, reporters are disconnected from their subjects, often relying on public relations handouts instead of research (Phillips, 2010). Quinn (2004) proposes that “under wise leadership, convergence offers opportunities to do better and more socially useful journalism” (p. 121); my personal observation of convergence is that it leads to less time for more work. Convergence, operating within the confines of centralized ownership, negatively impacts the quality of mainstream news programming and, as a result, public discourse. As Innis (2004) outlined, “it is difficult to over-estimate the significance of technological change in communication or the position of monopolies built up by those who systematically take advantage of it” (p. 94). More investigation needs to be done not just on how independent content could be incorporated without excessive cost or libel concerns, but how actual stories, not just superfluous interaction or elements of stories, from citizen journalists can be shared.

Amplifying Diversity

Ohmy News in South Korea is continually cited as one of the most important signposts in participatory journalism (Kim & Hamilton, 2006; Nip, 2006; Thurman, 2008) and exemplifies the potential relationship between creators and consumers. Ohmy has 60 staff reporters and almost 60,000 citizen journalists (Young, 2009): “In opposition to the established press, these citizen journalists enable agenda setting and public opinion formation from the grassroots” (p. 151). The majority of Ohmy’s content comes from its audience.  Anyone can submit a story, but it is the professional journalists who vet material and decide what will make it to the web (Kim & Hamilton, 2006). Ohmy proves that not only incorporating but relying on content created by citizen journalists is a good business model and, although the altruistic goal of enabling widespread discourse may be deemed more worthy, monetary success could be the best incentive for Western media to incorporate stories from different perspectives, in different formats.  Exploring how participatory journalism can make mainstream broadcast media economically viable could be key to discovering ways how to share more stories, in a variety of formats.

The Future of Journalism

The Internet isn’t the first wave of technology with far-reaching effects on society (Carey, 2009)), or that was purported to be the death of another form of media (Jenkins, 2006). Freedman (2010) writes that, “it is clear that news business will have to rethink its approach if it is to remain relevant and prosperous in a digital future” (p. 239). Abernathy and Foster (2009) say media outlets “will need to form networked ‘communities’ with other organizations—a sort of news version of Hulu, the portal that aggregates online video content from Disney, News Corp. and NBCU” (p. 13); that might work, but it wouldn’t address issues surrounding reliance on advertisers. Altheide and Snow (1991) say “journalism will not be reborn until information formats are recognized, evaluated, and altered” (p. xi); Gurevitch, Coleman, and Blumer (2009) call for the creation of an online “civic commons” that would “reconfigure access to the institutions, events, and debates that once took place exclusively on the other side of the screen” (p. 179); Paulussen, Heinoen, Domingo, & Quandt (2007) say we should “turn journalism from a lecture into a conversation with citizens” (p. 137). Numerous academics have weighed in on the Internet as the ideal public sphere (Beers, 2006; Benkler, 2006; Dahlberg, 2005; de Zuniga, 2009; Papacharissi, 2009), but more research needs to be done on practical changes that can be implemented to amplify the diverse stories being told on the web through traditional broadcast media.

Methodology

For this project I will use action research, which I have selected because of its focus on participatory, collaborative methods that allow for multiple viewpoints (O’Brien, 1998), to examine existing practices and perceptions surrounding participatory journalism in the newsroom at CBC Toronto. I will also create a blog where I will try to engage with my own online audience to discuss the future of journalism.

Data Gathering & Design

I plan to job shadow subjects I have identified as key players in CBC’s push to create more interactivity with its audience, and conduct approximately 15 interviews. Although the majority of interviews with my subjects will be open-ended and framed around a discussion about the current state of broadcast journalism and each subject’s particular job, I will be asking every subject three key questions: Could the work of independent media and citizen journalists be incorporated into mainstream broadcast news more often; how would the incorporation of independent media/citizen journalists’ work impact the quality of broadcast content and, as a result, public discourse; how is the new information infrastructure (ie. the Internet, web 2.0 technology) impacting broadcast journalism?

I will also create a website/blog where I will reflect on findings throughout the research process, post podcasts, interview excerpts or related information from my research, as well as the three key questions above in the hopes of facilitating an online discussion about the future of journalism. Traffic to my research site will be promoted through social media. The website will begin as my thesis does, rather bare bones; both will grow congruently throughout the process—a fluid form of emic research that reflects rapid changes in the industry and the collaborative method of action research.

Most subjects will be recruited through personal contacts and industry relationships that I have fostered over a 20-year career working in a newsroom or as a journalism educator. Independent media and the public at large will be recruited through social media: facebook, Twitter, Linked In, and my blog. I will contact potential subjects through social media, e-mail, phone calls, or, where practical, in person. In some cases, subjects may be referred to me or my website through social media interaction or personal communication. Each participant will be given a consent form, but keeping with current research practices, emailed acceptance of the research terms will be considered equal to a signature. A copy of the consent form will be posted on the website. All consent forms will include information on how participants can withdraw from the research, and have their content removed from the website/blog, without prejudice at any point. Participants will also be cautioned that if information has already been posted on the website the researcher cannot guarantee it hasn’t been copied or cited elsewhere.

Data Analysis/Procedure

Using analysis with an ethnographic sensibility I will combine the three prongs of my data: interviews, participant observation, and information gathered from comments on my blog.  I will code quotes from my interviews, blog comments, and transcriptions of participant observation through the lens of media logic.  Categories will include how journalism is defined differently by multiple groups and individuals; how those different interpretations may be preventing emerging and traditional media from working together more often; examples of where participatory journalism works; how multiple meanings prevent the use of a variety of formats and perspectives in journalistic story-telling, and as a result public discourse on key issues.

When all of the information is coded I will look for trends to identify problem areas, best practices, and possible answers to my research question: In what ways could participatory journalism reinvigorate the public sphere?

Ethical Concerns and Limitations

Ethical concerns include dealing with subjects who may wish to remain anonymous, and ensuring my former or current students don’t feel compelled to participate. The wide net used to gather material could make qualitative analysis a difficult task; however, the breadth of knowledge gained and increased insight through interaction with an online community will provide critical data in my subject area. Although practices at grassroots and privately owned media outlets will be conceptually analysed, this research will focus on best practices for uniquely Canadian publicly funded broadcast news, CBC.

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