Journalism Studies and its Core Commitments: The Making of a Communication Field

Journalism Studies and its Core Commitments: The Making of a Communication Field Abstract This article conceptualizes the distinctiveness of fields of scholarship within the discipline of communication through particular normative assumptions and identity practices defined here as commitments. A case study of journalism studies results in the postulation of six conceptual commitments that define its core ontological and epistemological premises: contextual sensitivity, holistic relationality, comparative inclination, normative awareness, embedded communicative power, and methodological pluralism. These interrelated features articulate the central dimensions of journalism studies, establishing the boundaries of the field and its relational, cultural, holistic, ecological, and contextual acts of scholarship. This article provides a blueprint for other communication scholars to address assumptions and commitments that situate and define their subdisciplines as distinct fields. Introduction Communication is a discipline of fields (Gonzalez, 1988). As delineated and largely autonomous sectors of the larger communication discipline, these fields function as naturalized subdisciplines.1 They are reproduced through conference divisions, specialized journals, departmental structures, and, perhaps most centrally, how scholars identify and position themselves among their colleagues. But these fields also matter epistemically and ontologically. They specify and constrain both the appropriate objects of study and the shape of legitimate knowledge production about these objects (Messer-Davidow, Shumway, & Sylvan, 1993). Interrogating disciplinarity and the evolving fields within communication requires inquiry into shared ways of knowing as epistemic cultures or interpretive communities (Fish, 1980; Knorr Cetina, 1999). Shared epistemic predilections, in turn, produce group identity. In this article, we suggest that fields within the communication discipline possess scholarly commitments—embedded and localized presumptive understandings of how best to approach a topic of scholarly inquiry. With origins that suggest acts of joining together (from the Latin) as well as confinement (from the English), fields’ commitments encapsulate robust areas of research. This article focuses on the specific commitments of journalism studies as a field of communication. There are several reasons for this selection. First, the study of news and journalism occurs within many subdisciplines of communication, which raises the necessary question of what “journalism studies” uniquely offers the larger discipline. The topic alone does not define a field; deeper epistemic questions need to be addressed to make sense of the heterogeneity of communication. Second, the label “journalism studies” is a relatively recent designation, used mainly in the past two decades by researchers seeking to develop an identity away from other fields. Its relative newness and emergent status provides an opportune time for scholarly reflexivity. Third, journalism studies confronts as its object of study a news system experiencing upheaval and uncertainty in many parts of the world. New digital technologies, distribution platforms, and pressing questions about the veracity and viability of journalistic accounts in an increasingly polarized media environment present an important moment to crystallize what it means to study journalism. We articulate six commitments that distinguish journalism studies as a field within the discipline of communication: contextual sensitivity, holistic relationality, comparative inclination, normative awareness, embedded communicative power, and methodological pluralism. These commitments assemble disparate and/or inchoate claims from the existing literature on journalism studies into a declaration of what journalism studies is and how it contributes to communication. They arise from the research, but the commitments are normative in espousing the correct way to study a phenomenon. In this sense, our argument is polemical rather than descriptive. These commitments challenge researchers to think more deeply about their propositions and methods, potentially spurring further innovation. Elucidating commitments for journalism studies has two chief aims. First, it challenges scholars in this area to confront the basis for their research. Notably, our approach does not include all research on the topic of journalism or news, but rather invites dispute and debate to clarify the boundaries of journalism studies. The goal is to formulate the identity of journalism studies in the positive sense of encouraging a transparency of assumptions that underlie research. Doing so leads to continual normative questioning of dominant commitments in the service of strengthening scholarship. Second, this article serves as an example for other fields within communication to explore their assumptions. Given the range of topics, methodologies, and theories housed within the domain of communication, we present a framework for formally articulating—and ultimately debating—the shared commitments of other fields that have gained enough traction to emerge as distinct scholarly bodies. Such work not only encourages reflexivity among scholars within communication fields, but also makes a mapping of the discipline with its areas of convergence and divergence possible. The roots of a journalism studies field The scholarly antecedents of journalism studies extend back more than a century, and can be found in many different places in the academy (Zelizer, 2004a). In their comprehensive overview, Wahl-Jorgensen and Hanitzsch (2009) identify four distinct yet co-existing periods in the history of journalism research: (a) a normative emphasis in Germanic scholarship of the 19th and 20th centuries focused on the social role of the press, influenced by ideas from Marx, Tönnies, Weber, and others (see Hardt, 1979); (b) an empirical turn in the United States during the first half of the 20th century that was preoccupied with media audiences and effects but also studies of journalistic practices; (c) the sociological turn of the 1970s and 1980s, as scholars more critically and qualitatively explored journalism’s occupational routines and ideologies, its cultures and interpretive communities, and how such dimensions contributed to the framing of news narratives (Shoemaker & Reese, 2014); and (d) a global-comparative turn since the 1990s examining comparative perspectives on journalism in a globalized world (Hanitzsch et al., 2011; Löffelholz & Weaver, 2008) and including broader efforts in communication research to compare media systems (Hallin & Mancini, 2004). We are now witnessing what may be a fifth turn in journalism research toward a sociotechnical emphasis, as scholars take up the intersecting social and technological dynamics of journalism’s transformations in the digital age (Lewis & Westlund, 2015). Moreover, this turn corresponds with upheaval in the news industry. Many legacy media organizations grapple with fragmenting audiences, declining revenues, and other challenges associated with the rise of digital, social, and mobile media technologies. In journalism studies, there has been new urgency to develop concepts and methods sensitive to technological changes affecting news (Peters & Broersma, 2013; Steensen & Ahva, 2015), the role of participatory audiences (Lewis, 2012; Robinson, 2011), and the relevancy of past theoretical understandings such as gatekeeping (Vos & Heinderyckx, 2015). Amid industry changes, the field of journalism studies has continued to grow and gain an institutional foothold. In 2000, the simultaneous launch of the journals Journalism: Theory, Practice, and Criticism and Journalism Studies gave new visibility to journalism research from an international array of scholars, and both journals remain influential within communication. The Journalism Studies Division of the International Communication Association (ICA), which began in 2004, has maintained approximately 600 members since 2013, making it the fourth-largest division of ICA. Meanwhile, by 2015 the Journalism Studies Section had become the second-largest at the European Communication Research and Education Association, and the Journalism Research and Education Section of the International Association for Media and Communication Research and the biennial Future of Journalism conference at Cardiff University continue to be popular. Even with this growth, journalism studies occupies a precarious place in the academy with its link to a specific profession and an institutional proximity to journalism education, particularly in the United States. Many journalism scholars tend to be former journalists who teach the trade—skills classes—and yet, for the most part, are housed in humanities or social science programs that emphasize theory instead of practice. This begs the question of the relationship of journalism studies research to education and also to practice, as well as the fraught role of the “hackademic” (Harcup, 2011) straddling different worlds (Reese & Cohen, 2000). Journalism studies is caught between maintaining critical distance from its object of study and informing the future of journalism education. This is a complicated balance as journalism education confronts the diminishment of legacy media organizations (Creech & Mendelson, 2015; Marron, 2016). This snapshot places the uncertainty and fear plaguing the news industry in much of the developed world alongside the growth of journalism studies as a field. This juxtaposition indicates the importance of examining journalism in this moment. The fate of journalism attracts attention, and rightly so, for many have equated the free flow of ideas with the state of our governments, our communities, and even our souls. Although movements—in academia and elsewhere—blur the boundaries between journalism and other forms of media and communication, we argue that journalism itself—that is, the primary sourcing, producing, and sharing of information about public affairs by independent professionals and amateurs alike—is fundamentally different from other kinds of communicative genres and thus demands a specific scholarly area. At this vital juncture for journalism, we must question and refine the field. Defining the key commitments of journalism studies In proclaiming journalism studies to be a distinct field of communication scholarship, we offer the following definition: Journalism studies examines the realm of informative, public texts involving news and the people, organizations, professions, institutions, and material artifacts and technologies that produce those texts as well as the individuals and multivariate forces shaping their circulation and consumption. Rather than approaching these texts myopically, journalism studies adopts the understanding of news media as part of societal ecosystems in which all actions—and non-actions—have ramifications for other parts of the ecology. Journalism studies encompasses a mid-range set of theories drawn from not only media sociology but also anthropology, psychology, gender, race and ethnicity studies, political economy, global studies, postmodernism, science and technology studies, and other disciplines and perspectives. This combination of theoretical hybridity with a critical focus on the communicative power of news defines journalism studies. Thus, journalism studies is, in essence, an empirically driven inquiry into understanding and explaining ways in which journalism reifies power structures, social identities, and hierarchies. It focuses on how people construct meaning and situate themselves in the world via journalism as well as how democracy and other political regimes are reinforced (and undermined) through information flows. Carving out the space of journalism studies from the universe of scholarship on news is about establishing a normative framework recognizing its central commitments rather than categorizing this or that study as inside or outside the boundaries of journalism studies. Rigid definitions only detract from the rich variety of work being done and the overall benefits this field has to offer. With this aim in mind, this section draws from the literature on journalism to articulate a series of key conceptual “commitments” that animate journalism studies as a distinct and fruitful scholarly project. Deriving from the Latin committere, “commitment” combines the idea “to unite” or “connect” (com meaning “with”) with mittere, which means to “send” or “let go” (Commitment, 2015). It evolved into a “pledge” or “promise” from the Anglo-French in the late 18th century. The word “commitments” reflects a shared normative perspective from within the journalism studies field that must be acknowledged, if not adhered to. Not all studies or scholars will meet each of the commitments; it is not a checklist or a litmus test, but rather an attempt to enunciate the prevalent commitments that support journalism studies as a distinct field within the communication discipline. The sections below identify six interrelated commitments that accentuate core dimensions of journalism studies: contextual sensitivity holistic relationality comparative inclination normative awareness embedded communicative power methodological pluralismNone of these dimensions is unique to journalism studies. Many other fields espouse similar commitments as part of their own efforts to identify the normative assumptions embedded in their research.2 But, as a whole, these commitments coalesce into a particular perspective optimized for the challenges of studying the complexities of contemporary journalism. They commitments comprise the heart of journalism studies scholarship. Contextual sensitivity The most basic assumption within journalism studies research is a commitment to contextual sensitivity that places objects of study in their political, economic, cultural, organizational, and social settings. The news is never a free-floating text, but rather the product of complex human, organizational, social, and technological arrangements. Journalism studies approaches context as a constituting and constraining set of forces shaping how news is made and how journalism is understood. From normative constellations to infrastructural configurations, examining context remains vital to the project of evaluating the creation, circulation, and consumption of news. A commitment to contextual sensitivity underscores how journalism studies is always questioning what journalism is in any time or place. The insistence on foregrounding context may not seem overtly radical within the social sciences, but it does mark perhaps journalism studies’ biggest departure from the orthodoxical legacy of objective journalism and its concomitant insistence on detachedness that positions journalists as separate from what they cover (Zelizer, 2004b). Even if the grip of objectivity has loosened somewhat, professional autonomy continues to insist on separation (Waisbord, 2013). The mythology of news and newsworthiness as external from the journalist is rejected in favor of a perspective that insists on news as the product of human practice (Berkowitz, 1997). Journalism is a form of cultural production that is not separate from the world, but inextricably implanted into and part of it. Simply put, journalists are humans with identities that shape their perceptions (Eason, 1986). Beyond challenging the orthodoxy of journalistic detachment, a commitment to contextual sensitivity brings an openness to local differences as to what journalism means or how it is practiced, especially across global geographies and physical-virtual realms. For example, all newsmaking involves subsidy in order to make news viable. Yet different forms of generating revenue stem from distinct political and market systems, sometimes even varying within a single system (Altschull, 1995). By casting aside assumptions of journalistic universality, contextual sensitivity interrogates how journalists and other actors make sense of journalism, as well as the conditions in which such sensemaking occurs. A vital part of a commitment to context is a reflexive awareness of temporal patterns. Over the past decade or more, a primary focus in journalism studies has been change—changes concerning technology, the fiscal concerns of the profession, the economic relationships surrounding it, audiences and news reach, practices and practitioners, and function, identity, and culture. As researchers, we must connect these transformations and transitions to the larger social life and structures of which journalism is one part. This begins with a necessarily measured perspective. Change narratives accrue attention because of the decline of legacy media and the rise of new digital news forms. This environment requires new conceptualizations to capture how news is consumed and how it circulates (e.g., Peters & Broersma, 2013; Steensen & Ahva, 2015) as well as the heterogeneity of mediated discourse where the boundaries of journalism are not so set (Carlson & Lewis, 2015; Chadwick, 2013). Journalism studies has much to offer in confronting a shifting media environment, such as in clarifying the roles and relationships between humans and machines (Lewis & Westlund, 2015; Primo & Zago, 2015) or in exploring failure as well as success (Anderson, 2013; Wahl-Jorgensen, 2017). But as part of understanding change, journalism studies adopts a long view drawing on history to appreciate what endures as much as what arises. Finally, as a normative commitment to examining journalism in situ, contextual sensitivity obliges researchers to confront how their own understandings and biases shape their work. All research is contextual, as all researchers are embedded in complex institutional and cultural milieus. Reflexivity—of the personal self, but also of one’s cultural, organizational, and institutional positionality—necessarily exposes how assumptions influence findings. Efforts at engaging reflexivity have been prominent in other fields based on human meaning-making (e.g., anthropology), but are lacking in journalism studies. When journalism research fails to examine context, it results in a static view of journalism as a social actor. Such acontextuality may treat news texts as an independent variable, having some effect on an audience without accounting for the variety of forces bearing on the creation of a particular news text at a particular time and a particular place. Such reductionism may make sense outside of journalism studies where news is only one input in a complex communicative system (e.g., health communication messages), but it does not fit journalism studies’ core goal of understanding journalism. Rather, contextual sensitivity demands that research fully appreciate as many dynamics at work as possible in the study of any given journalistic phenomena. Holistic relationality A commitment to contextuality dispels an isolated view of journalism, but context must be recognized as more than merely a setting. This leads to a commitment to holistic relationality as a way of understanding journalism as inherently situated within and formed by a system of interacting actors, artifacts, and activities (Carlson, 2017; Lewis & Westlund, 2015; Shoemaker & Reese, 2014). Journalism studies research untangles and represents how journalism is co-created. A newsroom may seem like a confined space, but it is a place where journalists interact with managers, sources, technicians, and audience members (Anderson, 2013; Nielsen, 2012). Beyond people, journalists confront channels, technologies, and ownership structures that shape the cultural production of news. Relationality invites a fluid understanding of how news gets made in and through various networks of social and material interactions and associations (Domingo, Masip, & Costera Meijer, 2015; Primo & Zago, 2015; Reese, 2016). The relationality of journalism fits within Bourdieusian conceptions of journalism as inherently heterogeneous, rather than a wholly autonomous field (Benson & Neveu, 2005). Bourdieu (1998) meant this observation to be a critique of the commercialization of television news in France, but it serves as a reminder that journalism is always situated in relation to rather than entirely distinct from. Journalism studies interrogates how forces external to the newsroom—ranging widely from politics to economics to ideology, and encompassing different forms and hierarchies of influence—affect how news is created and understood (Shoemaker & Reese, 2014). A commitment to relationality necessitates the inclusion of audiences within journalism research as not merely consumers acted upon by news content, but rather as active and intrinsic components of journalism as cultural practice. This may involve the direct role of the audience as a co-creator of news, both through back-end feedback—including comments and criticism—as well as front-end contributions with first-hand accounts of events (Singer et al., 2011). Even more fundamentally, a commitment to holistic relationality extends the production of journalism outward to include the audience. This claim is inspired by Carey’s (1992) ritual view of communication that positions the news as a means of community-building. Moreover, the legitimation of journalism as a cultural activity cannot be dictated by journalists alone. It requires the formation of a particular authority relation with the audience—a shared notion of what journalism is, who gets to take part in it, and what everyone’s role is (Carlson, 2017). Relationality has become more important given the expansion of mediated voices via digital technologies. The hegemony of the traditional mass communication model has given way to one of hybridity (Chadwick, 2013) in which legacy news media continue to operate alongside smartphone-equipped witnesses (Allan, 2013). Getting beyond whether or not these activities qualify as journalism, the more important question is how they alter both the circulation and consumption of information as well as suggest new means for legitimating this information (Lewis, 2012). A growing body of work emphasizes the breakdown of journalism as traditionally conceived and its reconstitution in profoundly relation-based terms—whether in connection with the “mass self-communication” of networked users, or in regard to developments such as semantic automation, data analysis/visualization, and global journalism startups (Van der Haak, Parks, & Castells, 2012). Other research on boundary objects interrogates how actors from different backgrounds find common ground but also have opportunities to contest traditional structures and assumed relationships of journalists to everyone else (Ananny & Crawford, 2015; Lewis & Usher, 2016). Altogether, journalism studies maintains a commitment to situating journalism’s relationality, even as its boundaries blur (Loosen, 2015). The commitment to holistic relationality may seem more idealistic than it is realizable. After all, where do relations begin and end if one is examining a phenomenon holistically? What is the threshold of an appropriately relational view? Such questions should not obscure the goal of this commitment: to push journalism researchers to view journalism as intermeshing with a variety of other forces. This commitment prevents researchers from making broad assumptions about journalistic autonomy. Journalism’s ability to formulate norms and practices is never without external pressures (Vos, Craft, & Ashley, 2012), chief among them being the need to establish legitimacy outside of itself (Carlson, 2017; Schudson & Anderson, 2009). This all happens through relationships. The failure of journalism research to recognize the push and pull of these relationships strips its explanatory power and results in only a partial view of journalism. This includes studying journalism purely from an internalized viewpoint with only an interest in internalized rule-making, interactions, and news practices, without acknowledging the external forces that shape journalism. Such work risks being purely descriptive or administrative, rather than forming new knowledge about journalism. Comparative inclination Another extension of the contextual nature of journalism studies is wariness toward efforts to universalize the cultures, norms, and practices of journalism. In placing the importance of difference next to sameness, the third major commitment is the comparative inclination of journalism studies. This entails an abiding interest in empirical research that identifies and delineates commonalities and differences across sites and levels of analysis (see Örnebring, 2012). At a macro level, comparative inclination takes the form of careful attention to contrasting press configurations, ownership structures, media systems, and political ideologies that shape the conditions under which journalism operates. Differences by nation or region highlight the contingencies of place while recognizing transnational patterns. Beyond simply isolating points of comparison, such research also conceptualizes the close connections between journalism and state power. For instance, Siebert, Peterson, and Schramm’s Cold-War era Four Theories of the Press (1956) examined national journalistic differences at a normative level, prompting attention not only to the operations of the press, but also to its place in the larger cultural imagination—and not without controversy (Nerone, 1995). The comparative inclination can be seen in the “veritable boom” of cross-national research on journalism (Nielsen, Esser, & Levy, 2013, p. 384). This is particularly true in studies of journalistic role conceptions (e.g., Hanitzsch et al., 2011), patterns of news coverage (e.g., de Vreese, Banducci, Semetko, & Boomgaarden, 2006), and modes of media use (e.g., Curran et al., 2013), while less apparent in research on the changing business of journalism around the world and its implications for democracy (Nielsen et al., 2013). The comparative inclination includes more minute differences than the nation. Variations by medium, location, ownership type, or time period all yield useful data for understanding journalism at a micro level—and scholars would do well to integrate more than one level of comparison (Örnebring, 2012). For example, in a 2014 Journalism Practice special issue, scholars compared the changing nature of community journalism around the world, from NGOs’ attempts at video journalism in Africa (Ekdale, 2014) to the assessment of Swedish citizen-generated journalism (Karlsson & Holt, 2014). Such studies expose the specifics of news production transpiring in multiple places and spaces, highlighting not only differences in culture but also the forces that shape discrete acts of journalism. Asserting there to be a commitment to a comparative inclination within journalism studies does not equate to casting out all research that fails to compare some variables across some context. Comparison is not always the best method of illuminating how journalism works. But the underlying normative premise is the avoidance of flattening journalism such that one site can stand in for all others. No single news source can serve as an index for the rest of the news industry. Efforts to position certain sources as synecdochic need to be scrutinized for how they assign representativeness and for what they exclude. Journalism studies needs to look outside of elite news organizations (Wahl-Jorgensen & Hanitzsch, 2009, p. 12) and consider more localy-oriented dynamics (Culver, 2014). This is a difficult proposition, as researchers wish to hold up their findings as possessing explanatory usefulness—often a prerequisite for scholarly publishing. As the section on methods below attests, generalizability is a fraught goal for journalism studies. As an inclination then, this commitment asks researchers to consider not only the contingency of what they study, but also how sites for study are located among other sites and phenomena. Failure to do so risks overlooking the situated nature of all journalism. Normative awareness In outlining commitments for journalism studies, the degree to which journalistic practices are closely tied to normative commitments must be recognized. For journalists aiming to represent reality, adhering to a universal standard of behavior gives meaning to—and legitimates—journalism. Normative protocols in newsmaking have included the objective gathering of “facts,” a reliance on officials and experts as authoritative, and “repair work” when rogue reporters step outside the accepted routines. Within journalism studies, these norms are not taken for granted, but become an important object of study. A commitment to normative awareness can manifest itself as a form of reflexivity that examines both the explicit and implicit assumptions that show up in the data and analyses of researchers. Such awareness can also result in a critical stance that challenges the effects of journalism’s normative commitments on news. For example, objectivity has been analyzed as a historical manifestation (Schudson, 1978) and professional strategy (Tuchman, 1972), but also as a tactic that obscures news reporting (Gitlin, 1980; Hallin, 1986) and reifies problematic status quos (Mindich, 2000; Robinson & Culver, 2016). Approaching the normative arguments of journalism as specific and contextualized constructs sheds light on how norms are used to legitimate and shape journalistic practices. Singer (2015), for instance, shows how journalists use norms such as independence, verification, and accountability both to guide their work and to defend their professional borders against non-journalists—even while the rise of social media and entrepreneurial journalism complicate boundary maintenance. Evoking Bourdieu, Vos and Craft (2017) explore the discursive construction of transparency as a means of building cultural capital, calling transparency “the new objectivity” that has entered the doxa of the profession. Deuze (2005) suggests that an ethic of transparency accompanying the inclusion of the audience in digital content production could and should subvert journalistic values, while Allen (2008) makes the case that emergent norms are used not to improve practices and relationships, but rather as a strategic move to protect the profession’s authority. Usher (2014, 2016) investigates how the appearance of new modes and new actors have resulted in fundamental changes in news value systems and the ways in which newswork happens. Normative awareness shifts attention from news as an isolated textual form to the ways in which it is embedded in larger discourses about journalism that circulate alongside any news story. As such, important questions to ask within this context are: who speaks for journalism, to whom do they speak, where do they speak, and how do they legitimate their claims (Carlson, 2016)? Just as importantly, normative awareness encourages us as scholars to think carefully about the assumptions embedded in our research. A commitment to normative awareness carries within it the controversial notion that journalistic norms are not necessarily the center of journalism. After all, the liberal model of the press is predicated on news fulfilling an indispensable role in democratic societies—a normative belief that provides the ultimate criterion for assessing news performance. The commitment to normative awareness refuses to accept this notion as an automatic given and instead treats a norm as a complex, reciprocal arrangement between ideal and practice. An overly simplified perspective that accepts normative beliefs a priori errs by missing this contingency. If journalistic norms are isolated as causes of practice—as mere independent variables—then real pressures that shape news are left outside the analysis. Nonetheless, proposing normative awareness still raises the question of what, if any, bedrock principles should undergird journalism. By emphasizing “awareness,” this commitment demands a reconciliation between what has been accepted as dogma and that which is fluid and subject to transformation from many different forces. Embedded communicative power Our fifth commitment of journalism studies concerns journalism’s position within the larger realm of communicative power, answering the questions that arise when we approach journalism studies from the perspective of normative awareness. Within the many domains of communication, journalism wields special power given its charge of producing widely shared representations of the real (Schudson & Anderson, 2009). Journalism is fully enshrined in normative democratic theory, but the broad perspective of journalism studies extends its impact in a more fundamental way. News discourses give shape and meaning to the world, sorting social space into good and bad, deviant and normal, and so forth (Carey, 1992). As a knowledge-producing activity, journalism confers symbolic legitimacy to “authorized knowers” (Fishman, 1980) while excluding others from the realm of public discourse. It positions its audience in particular ways based on entrenched ideas of citizenship. Thus, journalism studies takes as its starting position the cultural importance of journalism in organizing the social world. It then scrutinizes journalistic beliefs and practices from this position. For example, a study of how journalists use social media platforms can illuminate how these tools affect news production and distribution. But journalistic practices cannot be detached from a larger interest in how new forms spark new relationships or how changing media channels upset core understandings of journalism (see Hermida, 2010). If journalists are to lay claim to representing the world, then journalism studies researchers must maintain a focus on theirs communicative power. Adopting a critical perspective within journalism studies involves scrutinizing how journalists’ norms and routines produce news. Doubts over objectivity extend at least as far back as Lippmann (1922), and later sociological work exposed journalism’s ideological commitments (Gans, 1979), routinized forms of knowledge production (Schlesinger, 1978; Tuchman, 1978), entanglement with systems of power (Bourdieu, 1998; Hall, Critcher, Jefferson, Clarke, & Roberts, 1978), and hierarchies of influence (Shoemaker & Reese, 2014). Increasingly, new communicative forms across a variety of platforms with both mass and niche audiences erode the boundaries of what “journalism” entails (Carlson & Lewis, 2015). Beyond mapping this universe, journalism studies examines how these journalistic discourses embody, exercise, and reflect communicative power and how they shape, benefit, subvert, or harm the larger social space. This embedded communicative power is manifest, for example, in which classes of people wield power and which are left out. A growing body of work—much of it done in other scholarly realms such as women’s studies or Afro-American studies—wrestles with issues of gender (e.g., Harris, Mosdell, & Griffiths, 2016; Lobo, Silveirinha, Torres da Silva, & Subtil, 2015) and race and ethnicity (e.g., Alemán, 2014; Meyers, 2013; Robinson & Culver, 2016; Robinson, 2018; Squires, 2009). From a journalism studies perspective, the question of power moves us from the representation of race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, class, religion (and so on) in the news to the institutionalized, cultural systems that produce these representations. Moreover, developments in digital technology that extend the range of public voices induce further need to examine how mediated power works in relation to journalism as a profession (Loke, 2012). In doing so, journalism studies scholars should deepen their investigation of the power dynamics in a media environment in which the expansion of mediated voices clashes with the reality of offline inequities (Robinson, 2017). Attending to communicative power as a core scholarly commitment for journalism studies avoids the pitfall of overly descriptive or administrative research. Studies of journalism that never move beyond the voices of a newsroom, for example, to comment on their larger significance may end up being more for journalism than about journalism. To illustrate this, one might seek to document how algorithmic or other machine-based production is taking on new roles in journalism, but what elevates it to journalism studies would be the consideration of how these new practices change journalism’s relationship to society and knowledge production. If journalism studies is to secure its place as an important field of communication, it must articulate the broader relationship between journalism and society along with the forces working upon that relationship. Methodologically pluralistic Journalism studies is question-driven rather than methods-first in its orientation to research, leading to our final core commitment of being methodologically pluralistic. It draws on an interdisciplinary array of conceptual and methodological arenas. Given the emphasis above on local definitions, many scholars pursue journalists’ own understandings of their work—that is, from a production standpoint. This invites different ways of apprehending these understandings, from large-scale multinational surveys to in-depth interviews to ethnographic observation in newsrooms. But journalism research also involves content and consumption studies that range from quantitative content analyses to close-reading textual analyses, from audience surveys to focus groups. Furthermore, mixed methods and triangulation are common (e.g., Welbers, van Atteveldt, Kleinnijenhuis, Ruigrok, & Schaper, 2016). Appreciating emergent news ecologies can also demand data from a number of different levels and perspectives (Lowrey, 2012; Robinson, 2018). In his accounting of news fact-checkers, Graves (2016) utilizes ethnographic observation, in-depth interviews, case studies, and textual analysis. Methodological innovation, too, has been a hallmark of journalism studies, as in adaptations of “network ethnography” that combine ethnography and social network analysis (Anderson, 2013; Robinson, 2018), as well as in efforts to recognize non-human actants (Lewis & Westlund, 2015) and other material “objects of journalism” (Anderson & De Maeyer, 2015) as legitimate methodological participants. Indeed, drawing on actor–network theory (e.g., Domingo et al., 2015; Primo & Zago, 2015) and related perspectives on technology, artifacts, and networked relationships (e.g., Ananny, 2013; Nielsen, 2012; Parasie & Dagiral, 2013), journalism studies has been a fertile ground for synthesizing novel concepts and methods to study the digitization of news through its people and places, products and processes, and the interrelationships among them (Boczkowski & Anderson, 2017; Lewis & Zamith, 2017). A review of culturally oriented journalism studies, however, reveals a marked tendency toward qualitative means for understanding journalism according to the commitments outlined above. This preponderance corresponds with a shift away from effects-based research to develop a more close-up view of journalism and its practices (Zelizer, 1993). Ethnographies, in-depth interviews, focus groups, open-ended surveys, textual analyses, and other qualitative techniques better reflect the critical-cultural, big-picture methodology necessary for many questions in journalism studies. Such work tends to be locally situated and comprehensively grounded, reviewing what came before and noting the evolutionary twists and turns that have shaped journalistic phenomena. Comparative media histories, for example, have traced the evolution of journalism over time, thereby establishing a contextual foundation for understanding the profession and its interplay with society (Chapman, 2005; Schudson, 1978). And, while sociologists engaged in newsroom ethnography in the 1970s, a revival of this method over the past 15 years offers both a comprehensive accounting of newsroom change—beginning with Boczkowski (2004) and continuing through, among others, Anderson (2013), Ryfe (2012), and Usher (2014)—as well as methodological insights for better evaluating context (Willig, 2013) and interactions beyond the newsroom (Robinson, 2011). Indeed, a pair of edited volumes (Paterson & Domingo, 2008) reveals the ferment of news-oriented ethnographic experimentation around the world. A commitment to methodological pluralism serves as a call for journalism scholars to be reflexive about the benefits and limits of any research design. Coupled with the commitments mentioned above, methodological pluralism suggests that instead of aiming for generalizability, journalism studies instead strives for “transferability” (Lincoln & Guba, 1985) in the drawing of connections across related phenomena without the onus of universality. Such a move recognizes the vast variability of the profession, helps uncover dominating themes that explain the implications of transitions, and allows researchers the flexibility in studying what seem to be endlessly emergent phenomena in this particular institution. It sacrifices the luster of universality for the richness of analysis. Taken together, these commitments indicate, first, a shift away from the analysis of journalism according to assumed normative perspectives or as an unexamined actor whose texts have effects on audiences and social institutions. Journalism—or news, more specifically—is not reduced to the independent variable, but instead invites scrutiny as part of a holistic system of interlinking institutions. Second, these commitments reject simplified perspectives that reify journalism as a single “thing” to instead situate journalism within the larger ecological conditions of media, culture, and society. Finally, they indicate a critique of universal principles, celebrate nuance with contextualization, and emphasize an intense awareness of relationality while still foregrounding a concern with power. If journalism studies is to be a useful field, it must recognize what its commitments are and how they contribute to an understanding of journalism that helps make sense of its symbolic power. Conclusion: the commitments of communication This article isolates journalism studies as its own distinct field of communication. Our arguments about what constitutes journalism studies must be recognized as a purposive form of academic boundary work. Identifying journalism studies’ core commitments and defining its central mission is a generative exercise that aligns scholars working under the same tent to facilitate greater internal discussions and debates. Clearly, journalism studies is not one “thing” any more than journalism is a singular case, and we expect scholars will challenge and further develop these commitments. But clarifying underlying assumptions is not merely about staking out scholarly turf; it is about developing an appropriate critical and analytical approach to a shifting news landscape. Future self-reflexive research within journalism studies should work to assess and refine the particular commitments above, which leads to illuminating discussions of what work falls inside or outside of the field. Beyond the scope of journalism studies, this article presents a model for enhanced interrogation of the subdisciplinary commitments of other communication fields. This begins with a recognition that, like the subjects we examine, academics situated in specific contexts are caught in their own particular relational dynamics with ontological and epistemological limitations and varying resources, pressures, and levels of institutional security. Self-study not only corrals a broad swath of research but also increases reflexivity within fields. This article advocates for clarifying the means through which a community is bound via core principles we call commitments. Commitments are normative in nature, indicating sets of shared assumptions about what to study and how to study it. When they are invisible, they are most powerful for directing research and creating orthodoxies. Commitments are consequential in how they shape understandings and constraining for what they omit or proscribe. That commitments are constructs that can vary, change, and clash is a strength rather than a weakness. Finally, the promise embedded in the intervention of commitments moves beyond its value for individual fields to cross-field work that examines overlapping subdisciplinary commitments. How different fields articulate their commitments leads to cross-fertilization when the overlapping nuances of different fields reveal potential connections that have not been realized. Such work shines a light on the disciplinary connections and divergences of communication (Nordenstreng, 2007). Notes 1 We use the term “discipline” to describe communication, even if this nomenclature is debated (Nordenstreng, 2007) along with communication’s strengths and weaknesses as a discrete entity in the academy (Zelizer, 2016). The term “field” is used purposively to describe distinct subdisciplines within communication as cohering around shared understandings and recognizable institutional forms (specific journals, degrees, positions, conferences, etc.), and therefore more than an area of specialization. What’s more, a field is often more than just a subdivision of a discipline, as scholars in a field draw from other disciplines. 2 Given that none of these commitments are specific to journalism studies, they provide useful starting points for other fields both inside and outside of communication to consider their particular commitments. However, such analyses should be sensitive to how, on the surface, a commitment may appear to be shared among separate fields but in practice is articulated differently. References Alemán, S. M. ( 2014). Locating whiteness in journalism pedagogy. Critical Studies in Media Communication , 31( 1), 72– 88. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Allan, S. ( 2013). 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Journalism Studies and its Core Commitments: The Making of a Communication Field

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International Communication Association
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© 2018 International Communication Association
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0021-9916
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Abstract

Abstract This article conceptualizes the distinctiveness of fields of scholarship within the discipline of communication through particular normative assumptions and identity practices defined here as commitments. A case study of journalism studies results in the postulation of six conceptual commitments that define its core ontological and epistemological premises: contextual sensitivity, holistic relationality, comparative inclination, normative awareness, embedded communicative power, and methodological pluralism. These interrelated features articulate the central dimensions of journalism studies, establishing the boundaries of the field and its relational, cultural, holistic, ecological, and contextual acts of scholarship. This article provides a blueprint for other communication scholars to address assumptions and commitments that situate and define their subdisciplines as distinct fields. Introduction Communication is a discipline of fields (Gonzalez, 1988). As delineated and largely autonomous sectors of the larger communication discipline, these fields function as naturalized subdisciplines.1 They are reproduced through conference divisions, specialized journals, departmental structures, and, perhaps most centrally, how scholars identify and position themselves among their colleagues. But these fields also matter epistemically and ontologically. They specify and constrain both the appropriate objects of study and the shape of legitimate knowledge production about these objects (Messer-Davidow, Shumway, & Sylvan, 1993). Interrogating disciplinarity and the evolving fields within communication requires inquiry into shared ways of knowing as epistemic cultures or interpretive communities (Fish, 1980; Knorr Cetina, 1999). Shared epistemic predilections, in turn, produce group identity. In this article, we suggest that fields within the communication discipline possess scholarly commitments—embedded and localized presumptive understandings of how best to approach a topic of scholarly inquiry. With origins that suggest acts of joining together (from the Latin) as well as confinement (from the English), fields’ commitments encapsulate robust areas of research. This article focuses on the specific commitments of journalism studies as a field of communication. There are several reasons for this selection. First, the study of news and journalism occurs within many subdisciplines of communication, which raises the necessary question of what “journalism studies” uniquely offers the larger discipline. The topic alone does not define a field; deeper epistemic questions need to be addressed to make sense of the heterogeneity of communication. Second, the label “journalism studies” is a relatively recent designation, used mainly in the past two decades by researchers seeking to develop an identity away from other fields. Its relative newness and emergent status provides an opportune time for scholarly reflexivity. Third, journalism studies confronts as its object of study a news system experiencing upheaval and uncertainty in many parts of the world. New digital technologies, distribution platforms, and pressing questions about the veracity and viability of journalistic accounts in an increasingly polarized media environment present an important moment to crystallize what it means to study journalism. We articulate six commitments that distinguish journalism studies as a field within the discipline of communication: contextual sensitivity, holistic relationality, comparative inclination, normative awareness, embedded communicative power, and methodological pluralism. These commitments assemble disparate and/or inchoate claims from the existing literature on journalism studies into a declaration of what journalism studies is and how it contributes to communication. They arise from the research, but the commitments are normative in espousing the correct way to study a phenomenon. In this sense, our argument is polemical rather than descriptive. These commitments challenge researchers to think more deeply about their propositions and methods, potentially spurring further innovation. Elucidating commitments for journalism studies has two chief aims. First, it challenges scholars in this area to confront the basis for their research. Notably, our approach does not include all research on the topic of journalism or news, but rather invites dispute and debate to clarify the boundaries of journalism studies. The goal is to formulate the identity of journalism studies in the positive sense of encouraging a transparency of assumptions that underlie research. Doing so leads to continual normative questioning of dominant commitments in the service of strengthening scholarship. Second, this article serves as an example for other fields within communication to explore their assumptions. Given the range of topics, methodologies, and theories housed within the domain of communication, we present a framework for formally articulating—and ultimately debating—the shared commitments of other fields that have gained enough traction to emerge as distinct scholarly bodies. Such work not only encourages reflexivity among scholars within communication fields, but also makes a mapping of the discipline with its areas of convergence and divergence possible. The roots of a journalism studies field The scholarly antecedents of journalism studies extend back more than a century, and can be found in many different places in the academy (Zelizer, 2004a). In their comprehensive overview, Wahl-Jorgensen and Hanitzsch (2009) identify four distinct yet co-existing periods in the history of journalism research: (a) a normative emphasis in Germanic scholarship of the 19th and 20th centuries focused on the social role of the press, influenced by ideas from Marx, Tönnies, Weber, and others (see Hardt, 1979); (b) an empirical turn in the United States during the first half of the 20th century that was preoccupied with media audiences and effects but also studies of journalistic practices; (c) the sociological turn of the 1970s and 1980s, as scholars more critically and qualitatively explored journalism’s occupational routines and ideologies, its cultures and interpretive communities, and how such dimensions contributed to the framing of news narratives (Shoemaker & Reese, 2014); and (d) a global-comparative turn since the 1990s examining comparative perspectives on journalism in a globalized world (Hanitzsch et al., 2011; Löffelholz & Weaver, 2008) and including broader efforts in communication research to compare media systems (Hallin & Mancini, 2004). We are now witnessing what may be a fifth turn in journalism research toward a sociotechnical emphasis, as scholars take up the intersecting social and technological dynamics of journalism’s transformations in the digital age (Lewis & Westlund, 2015). Moreover, this turn corresponds with upheaval in the news industry. Many legacy media organizations grapple with fragmenting audiences, declining revenues, and other challenges associated with the rise of digital, social, and mobile media technologies. In journalism studies, there has been new urgency to develop concepts and methods sensitive to technological changes affecting news (Peters & Broersma, 2013; Steensen & Ahva, 2015), the role of participatory audiences (Lewis, 2012; Robinson, 2011), and the relevancy of past theoretical understandings such as gatekeeping (Vos & Heinderyckx, 2015). Amid industry changes, the field of journalism studies has continued to grow and gain an institutional foothold. In 2000, the simultaneous launch of the journals Journalism: Theory, Practice, and Criticism and Journalism Studies gave new visibility to journalism research from an international array of scholars, and both journals remain influential within communication. The Journalism Studies Division of the International Communication Association (ICA), which began in 2004, has maintained approximately 600 members since 2013, making it the fourth-largest division of ICA. Meanwhile, by 2015 the Journalism Studies Section had become the second-largest at the European Communication Research and Education Association, and the Journalism Research and Education Section of the International Association for Media and Communication Research and the biennial Future of Journalism conference at Cardiff University continue to be popular. Even with this growth, journalism studies occupies a precarious place in the academy with its link to a specific profession and an institutional proximity to journalism education, particularly in the United States. Many journalism scholars tend to be former journalists who teach the trade—skills classes—and yet, for the most part, are housed in humanities or social science programs that emphasize theory instead of practice. This begs the question of the relationship of journalism studies research to education and also to practice, as well as the fraught role of the “hackademic” (Harcup, 2011) straddling different worlds (Reese & Cohen, 2000). Journalism studies is caught between maintaining critical distance from its object of study and informing the future of journalism education. This is a complicated balance as journalism education confronts the diminishment of legacy media organizations (Creech & Mendelson, 2015; Marron, 2016). This snapshot places the uncertainty and fear plaguing the news industry in much of the developed world alongside the growth of journalism studies as a field. This juxtaposition indicates the importance of examining journalism in this moment. The fate of journalism attracts attention, and rightly so, for many have equated the free flow of ideas with the state of our governments, our communities, and even our souls. Although movements—in academia and elsewhere—blur the boundaries between journalism and other forms of media and communication, we argue that journalism itself—that is, the primary sourcing, producing, and sharing of information about public affairs by independent professionals and amateurs alike—is fundamentally different from other kinds of communicative genres and thus demands a specific scholarly area. At this vital juncture for journalism, we must question and refine the field. Defining the key commitments of journalism studies In proclaiming journalism studies to be a distinct field of communication scholarship, we offer the following definition: Journalism studies examines the realm of informative, public texts involving news and the people, organizations, professions, institutions, and material artifacts and technologies that produce those texts as well as the individuals and multivariate forces shaping their circulation and consumption. Rather than approaching these texts myopically, journalism studies adopts the understanding of news media as part of societal ecosystems in which all actions—and non-actions—have ramifications for other parts of the ecology. Journalism studies encompasses a mid-range set of theories drawn from not only media sociology but also anthropology, psychology, gender, race and ethnicity studies, political economy, global studies, postmodernism, science and technology studies, and other disciplines and perspectives. This combination of theoretical hybridity with a critical focus on the communicative power of news defines journalism studies. Thus, journalism studies is, in essence, an empirically driven inquiry into understanding and explaining ways in which journalism reifies power structures, social identities, and hierarchies. It focuses on how people construct meaning and situate themselves in the world via journalism as well as how democracy and other political regimes are reinforced (and undermined) through information flows. Carving out the space of journalism studies from the universe of scholarship on news is about establishing a normative framework recognizing its central commitments rather than categorizing this or that study as inside or outside the boundaries of journalism studies. Rigid definitions only detract from the rich variety of work being done and the overall benefits this field has to offer. With this aim in mind, this section draws from the literature on journalism to articulate a series of key conceptual “commitments” that animate journalism studies as a distinct and fruitful scholarly project. Deriving from the Latin committere, “commitment” combines the idea “to unite” or “connect” (com meaning “with”) with mittere, which means to “send” or “let go” (Commitment, 2015). It evolved into a “pledge” or “promise” from the Anglo-French in the late 18th century. The word “commitments” reflects a shared normative perspective from within the journalism studies field that must be acknowledged, if not adhered to. Not all studies or scholars will meet each of the commitments; it is not a checklist or a litmus test, but rather an attempt to enunciate the prevalent commitments that support journalism studies as a distinct field within the communication discipline. The sections below identify six interrelated commitments that accentuate core dimensions of journalism studies: contextual sensitivity holistic relationality comparative inclination normative awareness embedded communicative power methodological pluralismNone of these dimensions is unique to journalism studies. Many other fields espouse similar commitments as part of their own efforts to identify the normative assumptions embedded in their research.2 But, as a whole, these commitments coalesce into a particular perspective optimized for the challenges of studying the complexities of contemporary journalism. They commitments comprise the heart of journalism studies scholarship. Contextual sensitivity The most basic assumption within journalism studies research is a commitment to contextual sensitivity that places objects of study in their political, economic, cultural, organizational, and social settings. The news is never a free-floating text, but rather the product of complex human, organizational, social, and technological arrangements. Journalism studies approaches context as a constituting and constraining set of forces shaping how news is made and how journalism is understood. From normative constellations to infrastructural configurations, examining context remains vital to the project of evaluating the creation, circulation, and consumption of news. A commitment to contextual sensitivity underscores how journalism studies is always questioning what journalism is in any time or place. The insistence on foregrounding context may not seem overtly radical within the social sciences, but it does mark perhaps journalism studies’ biggest departure from the orthodoxical legacy of objective journalism and its concomitant insistence on detachedness that positions journalists as separate from what they cover (Zelizer, 2004b). Even if the grip of objectivity has loosened somewhat, professional autonomy continues to insist on separation (Waisbord, 2013). The mythology of news and newsworthiness as external from the journalist is rejected in favor of a perspective that insists on news as the product of human practice (Berkowitz, 1997). Journalism is a form of cultural production that is not separate from the world, but inextricably implanted into and part of it. Simply put, journalists are humans with identities that shape their perceptions (Eason, 1986). Beyond challenging the orthodoxy of journalistic detachment, a commitment to contextual sensitivity brings an openness to local differences as to what journalism means or how it is practiced, especially across global geographies and physical-virtual realms. For example, all newsmaking involves subsidy in order to make news viable. Yet different forms of generating revenue stem from distinct political and market systems, sometimes even varying within a single system (Altschull, 1995). By casting aside assumptions of journalistic universality, contextual sensitivity interrogates how journalists and other actors make sense of journalism, as well as the conditions in which such sensemaking occurs. A vital part of a commitment to context is a reflexive awareness of temporal patterns. Over the past decade or more, a primary focus in journalism studies has been change—changes concerning technology, the fiscal concerns of the profession, the economic relationships surrounding it, audiences and news reach, practices and practitioners, and function, identity, and culture. As researchers, we must connect these transformations and transitions to the larger social life and structures of which journalism is one part. This begins with a necessarily measured perspective. Change narratives accrue attention because of the decline of legacy media and the rise of new digital news forms. This environment requires new conceptualizations to capture how news is consumed and how it circulates (e.g., Peters & Broersma, 2013; Steensen & Ahva, 2015) as well as the heterogeneity of mediated discourse where the boundaries of journalism are not so set (Carlson & Lewis, 2015; Chadwick, 2013). Journalism studies has much to offer in confronting a shifting media environment, such as in clarifying the roles and relationships between humans and machines (Lewis & Westlund, 2015; Primo & Zago, 2015) or in exploring failure as well as success (Anderson, 2013; Wahl-Jorgensen, 2017). But as part of understanding change, journalism studies adopts a long view drawing on history to appreciate what endures as much as what arises. Finally, as a normative commitment to examining journalism in situ, contextual sensitivity obliges researchers to confront how their own understandings and biases shape their work. All research is contextual, as all researchers are embedded in complex institutional and cultural milieus. Reflexivity—of the personal self, but also of one’s cultural, organizational, and institutional positionality—necessarily exposes how assumptions influence findings. Efforts at engaging reflexivity have been prominent in other fields based on human meaning-making (e.g., anthropology), but are lacking in journalism studies. When journalism research fails to examine context, it results in a static view of journalism as a social actor. Such acontextuality may treat news texts as an independent variable, having some effect on an audience without accounting for the variety of forces bearing on the creation of a particular news text at a particular time and a particular place. Such reductionism may make sense outside of journalism studies where news is only one input in a complex communicative system (e.g., health communication messages), but it does not fit journalism studies’ core goal of understanding journalism. Rather, contextual sensitivity demands that research fully appreciate as many dynamics at work as possible in the study of any given journalistic phenomena. Holistic relationality A commitment to contextuality dispels an isolated view of journalism, but context must be recognized as more than merely a setting. This leads to a commitment to holistic relationality as a way of understanding journalism as inherently situated within and formed by a system of interacting actors, artifacts, and activities (Carlson, 2017; Lewis & Westlund, 2015; Shoemaker & Reese, 2014). Journalism studies research untangles and represents how journalism is co-created. A newsroom may seem like a confined space, but it is a place where journalists interact with managers, sources, technicians, and audience members (Anderson, 2013; Nielsen, 2012). Beyond people, journalists confront channels, technologies, and ownership structures that shape the cultural production of news. Relationality invites a fluid understanding of how news gets made in and through various networks of social and material interactions and associations (Domingo, Masip, & Costera Meijer, 2015; Primo & Zago, 2015; Reese, 2016). The relationality of journalism fits within Bourdieusian conceptions of journalism as inherently heterogeneous, rather than a wholly autonomous field (Benson & Neveu, 2005). Bourdieu (1998) meant this observation to be a critique of the commercialization of television news in France, but it serves as a reminder that journalism is always situated in relation to rather than entirely distinct from. Journalism studies interrogates how forces external to the newsroom—ranging widely from politics to economics to ideology, and encompassing different forms and hierarchies of influence—affect how news is created and understood (Shoemaker & Reese, 2014). A commitment to relationality necessitates the inclusion of audiences within journalism research as not merely consumers acted upon by news content, but rather as active and intrinsic components of journalism as cultural practice. This may involve the direct role of the audience as a co-creator of news, both through back-end feedback—including comments and criticism—as well as front-end contributions with first-hand accounts of events (Singer et al., 2011). Even more fundamentally, a commitment to holistic relationality extends the production of journalism outward to include the audience. This claim is inspired by Carey’s (1992) ritual view of communication that positions the news as a means of community-building. Moreover, the legitimation of journalism as a cultural activity cannot be dictated by journalists alone. It requires the formation of a particular authority relation with the audience—a shared notion of what journalism is, who gets to take part in it, and what everyone’s role is (Carlson, 2017). Relationality has become more important given the expansion of mediated voices via digital technologies. The hegemony of the traditional mass communication model has given way to one of hybridity (Chadwick, 2013) in which legacy news media continue to operate alongside smartphone-equipped witnesses (Allan, 2013). Getting beyond whether or not these activities qualify as journalism, the more important question is how they alter both the circulation and consumption of information as well as suggest new means for legitimating this information (Lewis, 2012). A growing body of work emphasizes the breakdown of journalism as traditionally conceived and its reconstitution in profoundly relation-based terms—whether in connection with the “mass self-communication” of networked users, or in regard to developments such as semantic automation, data analysis/visualization, and global journalism startups (Van der Haak, Parks, & Castells, 2012). Other research on boundary objects interrogates how actors from different backgrounds find common ground but also have opportunities to contest traditional structures and assumed relationships of journalists to everyone else (Ananny & Crawford, 2015; Lewis & Usher, 2016). Altogether, journalism studies maintains a commitment to situating journalism’s relationality, even as its boundaries blur (Loosen, 2015). The commitment to holistic relationality may seem more idealistic than it is realizable. After all, where do relations begin and end if one is examining a phenomenon holistically? What is the threshold of an appropriately relational view? Such questions should not obscure the goal of this commitment: to push journalism researchers to view journalism as intermeshing with a variety of other forces. This commitment prevents researchers from making broad assumptions about journalistic autonomy. Journalism’s ability to formulate norms and practices is never without external pressures (Vos, Craft, & Ashley, 2012), chief among them being the need to establish legitimacy outside of itself (Carlson, 2017; Schudson & Anderson, 2009). This all happens through relationships. The failure of journalism research to recognize the push and pull of these relationships strips its explanatory power and results in only a partial view of journalism. This includes studying journalism purely from an internalized viewpoint with only an interest in internalized rule-making, interactions, and news practices, without acknowledging the external forces that shape journalism. Such work risks being purely descriptive or administrative, rather than forming new knowledge about journalism. Comparative inclination Another extension of the contextual nature of journalism studies is wariness toward efforts to universalize the cultures, norms, and practices of journalism. In placing the importance of difference next to sameness, the third major commitment is the comparative inclination of journalism studies. This entails an abiding interest in empirical research that identifies and delineates commonalities and differences across sites and levels of analysis (see Örnebring, 2012). At a macro level, comparative inclination takes the form of careful attention to contrasting press configurations, ownership structures, media systems, and political ideologies that shape the conditions under which journalism operates. Differences by nation or region highlight the contingencies of place while recognizing transnational patterns. Beyond simply isolating points of comparison, such research also conceptualizes the close connections between journalism and state power. For instance, Siebert, Peterson, and Schramm’s Cold-War era Four Theories of the Press (1956) examined national journalistic differences at a normative level, prompting attention not only to the operations of the press, but also to its place in the larger cultural imagination—and not without controversy (Nerone, 1995). The comparative inclination can be seen in the “veritable boom” of cross-national research on journalism (Nielsen, Esser, & Levy, 2013, p. 384). This is particularly true in studies of journalistic role conceptions (e.g., Hanitzsch et al., 2011), patterns of news coverage (e.g., de Vreese, Banducci, Semetko, & Boomgaarden, 2006), and modes of media use (e.g., Curran et al., 2013), while less apparent in research on the changing business of journalism around the world and its implications for democracy (Nielsen et al., 2013). The comparative inclination includes more minute differences than the nation. Variations by medium, location, ownership type, or time period all yield useful data for understanding journalism at a micro level—and scholars would do well to integrate more than one level of comparison (Örnebring, 2012). For example, in a 2014 Journalism Practice special issue, scholars compared the changing nature of community journalism around the world, from NGOs’ attempts at video journalism in Africa (Ekdale, 2014) to the assessment of Swedish citizen-generated journalism (Karlsson & Holt, 2014). Such studies expose the specifics of news production transpiring in multiple places and spaces, highlighting not only differences in culture but also the forces that shape discrete acts of journalism. Asserting there to be a commitment to a comparative inclination within journalism studies does not equate to casting out all research that fails to compare some variables across some context. Comparison is not always the best method of illuminating how journalism works. But the underlying normative premise is the avoidance of flattening journalism such that one site can stand in for all others. No single news source can serve as an index for the rest of the news industry. Efforts to position certain sources as synecdochic need to be scrutinized for how they assign representativeness and for what they exclude. Journalism studies needs to look outside of elite news organizations (Wahl-Jorgensen & Hanitzsch, 2009, p. 12) and consider more localy-oriented dynamics (Culver, 2014). This is a difficult proposition, as researchers wish to hold up their findings as possessing explanatory usefulness—often a prerequisite for scholarly publishing. As the section on methods below attests, generalizability is a fraught goal for journalism studies. As an inclination then, this commitment asks researchers to consider not only the contingency of what they study, but also how sites for study are located among other sites and phenomena. Failure to do so risks overlooking the situated nature of all journalism. Normative awareness In outlining commitments for journalism studies, the degree to which journalistic practices are closely tied to normative commitments must be recognized. For journalists aiming to represent reality, adhering to a universal standard of behavior gives meaning to—and legitimates—journalism. Normative protocols in newsmaking have included the objective gathering of “facts,” a reliance on officials and experts as authoritative, and “repair work” when rogue reporters step outside the accepted routines. Within journalism studies, these norms are not taken for granted, but become an important object of study. A commitment to normative awareness can manifest itself as a form of reflexivity that examines both the explicit and implicit assumptions that show up in the data and analyses of researchers. Such awareness can also result in a critical stance that challenges the effects of journalism’s normative commitments on news. For example, objectivity has been analyzed as a historical manifestation (Schudson, 1978) and professional strategy (Tuchman, 1972), but also as a tactic that obscures news reporting (Gitlin, 1980; Hallin, 1986) and reifies problematic status quos (Mindich, 2000; Robinson & Culver, 2016). Approaching the normative arguments of journalism as specific and contextualized constructs sheds light on how norms are used to legitimate and shape journalistic practices. Singer (2015), for instance, shows how journalists use norms such as independence, verification, and accountability both to guide their work and to defend their professional borders against non-journalists—even while the rise of social media and entrepreneurial journalism complicate boundary maintenance. Evoking Bourdieu, Vos and Craft (2017) explore the discursive construction of transparency as a means of building cultural capital, calling transparency “the new objectivity” that has entered the doxa of the profession. Deuze (2005) suggests that an ethic of transparency accompanying the inclusion of the audience in digital content production could and should subvert journalistic values, while Allen (2008) makes the case that emergent norms are used not to improve practices and relationships, but rather as a strategic move to protect the profession’s authority. Usher (2014, 2016) investigates how the appearance of new modes and new actors have resulted in fundamental changes in news value systems and the ways in which newswork happens. Normative awareness shifts attention from news as an isolated textual form to the ways in which it is embedded in larger discourses about journalism that circulate alongside any news story. As such, important questions to ask within this context are: who speaks for journalism, to whom do they speak, where do they speak, and how do they legitimate their claims (Carlson, 2016)? Just as importantly, normative awareness encourages us as scholars to think carefully about the assumptions embedded in our research. A commitment to normative awareness carries within it the controversial notion that journalistic norms are not necessarily the center of journalism. After all, the liberal model of the press is predicated on news fulfilling an indispensable role in democratic societies—a normative belief that provides the ultimate criterion for assessing news performance. The commitment to normative awareness refuses to accept this notion as an automatic given and instead treats a norm as a complex, reciprocal arrangement between ideal and practice. An overly simplified perspective that accepts normative beliefs a priori errs by missing this contingency. If journalistic norms are isolated as causes of practice—as mere independent variables—then real pressures that shape news are left outside the analysis. Nonetheless, proposing normative awareness still raises the question of what, if any, bedrock principles should undergird journalism. By emphasizing “awareness,” this commitment demands a reconciliation between what has been accepted as dogma and that which is fluid and subject to transformation from many different forces. Embedded communicative power Our fifth commitment of journalism studies concerns journalism’s position within the larger realm of communicative power, answering the questions that arise when we approach journalism studies from the perspective of normative awareness. Within the many domains of communication, journalism wields special power given its charge of producing widely shared representations of the real (Schudson & Anderson, 2009). Journalism is fully enshrined in normative democratic theory, but the broad perspective of journalism studies extends its impact in a more fundamental way. News discourses give shape and meaning to the world, sorting social space into good and bad, deviant and normal, and so forth (Carey, 1992). As a knowledge-producing activity, journalism confers symbolic legitimacy to “authorized knowers” (Fishman, 1980) while excluding others from the realm of public discourse. It positions its audience in particular ways based on entrenched ideas of citizenship. Thus, journalism studies takes as its starting position the cultural importance of journalism in organizing the social world. It then scrutinizes journalistic beliefs and practices from this position. For example, a study of how journalists use social media platforms can illuminate how these tools affect news production and distribution. But journalistic practices cannot be detached from a larger interest in how new forms spark new relationships or how changing media channels upset core understandings of journalism (see Hermida, 2010). If journalists are to lay claim to representing the world, then journalism studies researchers must maintain a focus on theirs communicative power. Adopting a critical perspective within journalism studies involves scrutinizing how journalists’ norms and routines produce news. Doubts over objectivity extend at least as far back as Lippmann (1922), and later sociological work exposed journalism’s ideological commitments (Gans, 1979), routinized forms of knowledge production (Schlesinger, 1978; Tuchman, 1978), entanglement with systems of power (Bourdieu, 1998; Hall, Critcher, Jefferson, Clarke, & Roberts, 1978), and hierarchies of influence (Shoemaker & Reese, 2014). Increasingly, new communicative forms across a variety of platforms with both mass and niche audiences erode the boundaries of what “journalism” entails (Carlson & Lewis, 2015). Beyond mapping this universe, journalism studies examines how these journalistic discourses embody, exercise, and reflect communicative power and how they shape, benefit, subvert, or harm the larger social space. This embedded communicative power is manifest, for example, in which classes of people wield power and which are left out. A growing body of work—much of it done in other scholarly realms such as women’s studies or Afro-American studies—wrestles with issues of gender (e.g., Harris, Mosdell, & Griffiths, 2016; Lobo, Silveirinha, Torres da Silva, & Subtil, 2015) and race and ethnicity (e.g., Alemán, 2014; Meyers, 2013; Robinson & Culver, 2016; Robinson, 2018; Squires, 2009). From a journalism studies perspective, the question of power moves us from the representation of race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, class, religion (and so on) in the news to the institutionalized, cultural systems that produce these representations. Moreover, developments in digital technology that extend the range of public voices induce further need to examine how mediated power works in relation to journalism as a profession (Loke, 2012). In doing so, journalism studies scholars should deepen their investigation of the power dynamics in a media environment in which the expansion of mediated voices clashes with the reality of offline inequities (Robinson, 2017). Attending to communicative power as a core scholarly commitment for journalism studies avoids the pitfall of overly descriptive or administrative research. Studies of journalism that never move beyond the voices of a newsroom, for example, to comment on their larger significance may end up being more for journalism than about journalism. To illustrate this, one might seek to document how algorithmic or other machine-based production is taking on new roles in journalism, but what elevates it to journalism studies would be the consideration of how these new practices change journalism’s relationship to society and knowledge production. If journalism studies is to secure its place as an important field of communication, it must articulate the broader relationship between journalism and society along with the forces working upon that relationship. Methodologically pluralistic Journalism studies is question-driven rather than methods-first in its orientation to research, leading to our final core commitment of being methodologically pluralistic. It draws on an interdisciplinary array of conceptual and methodological arenas. Given the emphasis above on local definitions, many scholars pursue journalists’ own understandings of their work—that is, from a production standpoint. This invites different ways of apprehending these understandings, from large-scale multinational surveys to in-depth interviews to ethnographic observation in newsrooms. But journalism research also involves content and consumption studies that range from quantitative content analyses to close-reading textual analyses, from audience surveys to focus groups. Furthermore, mixed methods and triangulation are common (e.g., Welbers, van Atteveldt, Kleinnijenhuis, Ruigrok, & Schaper, 2016). Appreciating emergent news ecologies can also demand data from a number of different levels and perspectives (Lowrey, 2012; Robinson, 2018). In his accounting of news fact-checkers, Graves (2016) utilizes ethnographic observation, in-depth interviews, case studies, and textual analysis. Methodological innovation, too, has been a hallmark of journalism studies, as in adaptations of “network ethnography” that combine ethnography and social network analysis (Anderson, 2013; Robinson, 2018), as well as in efforts to recognize non-human actants (Lewis & Westlund, 2015) and other material “objects of journalism” (Anderson & De Maeyer, 2015) as legitimate methodological participants. Indeed, drawing on actor–network theory (e.g., Domingo et al., 2015; Primo & Zago, 2015) and related perspectives on technology, artifacts, and networked relationships (e.g., Ananny, 2013; Nielsen, 2012; Parasie & Dagiral, 2013), journalism studies has been a fertile ground for synthesizing novel concepts and methods to study the digitization of news through its people and places, products and processes, and the interrelationships among them (Boczkowski & Anderson, 2017; Lewis & Zamith, 2017). A review of culturally oriented journalism studies, however, reveals a marked tendency toward qualitative means for understanding journalism according to the commitments outlined above. This preponderance corresponds with a shift away from effects-based research to develop a more close-up view of journalism and its practices (Zelizer, 1993). Ethnographies, in-depth interviews, focus groups, open-ended surveys, textual analyses, and other qualitative techniques better reflect the critical-cultural, big-picture methodology necessary for many questions in journalism studies. Such work tends to be locally situated and comprehensively grounded, reviewing what came before and noting the evolutionary twists and turns that have shaped journalistic phenomena. Comparative media histories, for example, have traced the evolution of journalism over time, thereby establishing a contextual foundation for understanding the profession and its interplay with society (Chapman, 2005; Schudson, 1978). And, while sociologists engaged in newsroom ethnography in the 1970s, a revival of this method over the past 15 years offers both a comprehensive accounting of newsroom change—beginning with Boczkowski (2004) and continuing through, among others, Anderson (2013), Ryfe (2012), and Usher (2014)—as well as methodological insights for better evaluating context (Willig, 2013) and interactions beyond the newsroom (Robinson, 2011). Indeed, a pair of edited volumes (Paterson & Domingo, 2008) reveals the ferment of news-oriented ethnographic experimentation around the world. A commitment to methodological pluralism serves as a call for journalism scholars to be reflexive about the benefits and limits of any research design. Coupled with the commitments mentioned above, methodological pluralism suggests that instead of aiming for generalizability, journalism studies instead strives for “transferability” (Lincoln & Guba, 1985) in the drawing of connections across related phenomena without the onus of universality. Such a move recognizes the vast variability of the profession, helps uncover dominating themes that explain the implications of transitions, and allows researchers the flexibility in studying what seem to be endlessly emergent phenomena in this particular institution. It sacrifices the luster of universality for the richness of analysis. Taken together, these commitments indicate, first, a shift away from the analysis of journalism according to assumed normative perspectives or as an unexamined actor whose texts have effects on audiences and social institutions. Journalism—or news, more specifically—is not reduced to the independent variable, but instead invites scrutiny as part of a holistic system of interlinking institutions. Second, these commitments reject simplified perspectives that reify journalism as a single “thing” to instead situate journalism within the larger ecological conditions of media, culture, and society. Finally, they indicate a critique of universal principles, celebrate nuance with contextualization, and emphasize an intense awareness of relationality while still foregrounding a concern with power. If journalism studies is to be a useful field, it must recognize what its commitments are and how they contribute to an understanding of journalism that helps make sense of its symbolic power. Conclusion: the commitments of communication This article isolates journalism studies as its own distinct field of communication. Our arguments about what constitutes journalism studies must be recognized as a purposive form of academic boundary work. Identifying journalism studies’ core commitments and defining its central mission is a generative exercise that aligns scholars working under the same tent to facilitate greater internal discussions and debates. Clearly, journalism studies is not one “thing” any more than journalism is a singular case, and we expect scholars will challenge and further develop these commitments. But clarifying underlying assumptions is not merely about staking out scholarly turf; it is about developing an appropriate critical and analytical approach to a shifting news landscape. Future self-reflexive research within journalism studies should work to assess and refine the particular commitments above, which leads to illuminating discussions of what work falls inside or outside of the field. Beyond the scope of journalism studies, this article presents a model for enhanced interrogation of the subdisciplinary commitments of other communication fields. This begins with a recognition that, like the subjects we examine, academics situated in specific contexts are caught in their own particular relational dynamics with ontological and epistemological limitations and varying resources, pressures, and levels of institutional security. Self-study not only corrals a broad swath of research but also increases reflexivity within fields. This article advocates for clarifying the means through which a community is bound via core principles we call commitments. Commitments are normative in nature, indicating sets of shared assumptions about what to study and how to study it. When they are invisible, they are most powerful for directing research and creating orthodoxies. Commitments are consequential in how they shape understandings and constraining for what they omit or proscribe. That commitments are constructs that can vary, change, and clash is a strength rather than a weakness. Finally, the promise embedded in the intervention of commitments moves beyond its value for individual fields to cross-field work that examines overlapping subdisciplinary commitments. How different fields articulate their commitments leads to cross-fertilization when the overlapping nuances of different fields reveal potential connections that have not been realized. Such work shines a light on the disciplinary connections and divergences of communication (Nordenstreng, 2007). Notes 1 We use the term “discipline” to describe communication, even if this nomenclature is debated (Nordenstreng, 2007) along with communication’s strengths and weaknesses as a discrete entity in the academy (Zelizer, 2016). The term “field” is used purposively to describe distinct subdisciplines within communication as cohering around shared understandings and recognizable institutional forms (specific journals, degrees, positions, conferences, etc.), and therefore more than an area of specialization. What’s more, a field is often more than just a subdivision of a discipline, as scholars in a field draw from other disciplines. 2 Given that none of these commitments are specific to journalism studies, they provide useful starting points for other fields both inside and outside of communication to consider their particular commitments. However, such analyses should be sensitive to how, on the surface, a commitment may appear to be shared among separate fields but in practice is articulated differently. References Alemán, S. M. ( 2014). Locating whiteness in journalism pedagogy. Critical Studies in Media Communication , 31( 1), 72– 88. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Allan, S. ( 2013). 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