Graham Meikle on Tue, 20 Jun 2006 20:56:50 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime-ann> [pub] News & the Net: special issue of refereed journal online now

New issue of Scan <>  available now
Vol. 3 no. 1 June 2006

News and the Net: Convergences and Divergences
Edited by Chris Atton and Graham Meikle

This special issue of Scan starts from the claim that a thorough engagement
with news remains central to an understanding of contemporary media. In the
1980s leading scholars could write that news was ?high-status¹ (Fiske 1987:
281) and that it enjoyed ?a privileged and prestigious position in our
culture¹s hierarchy of values¹ (Hartley 1982: 5). But in the early
twenty-first century, as Graeme Turner suggests, the very idea of news
?looks increasingly old-fashioned¹ (2005: 13).

And yet this picture is a complicated one, with the traditional news media
still far from being replaced by newer models. Anyone involved in media
education will recognise that undergraduate students commonly say that they
don¹t read the papers or watch the TV bulletins, but rather go online for
news. Pressed for details, though, this often turns out to mean they go to
the websites of the main newspapers or TV news providers. Some say they
prefer participatory news networks such as Indymedia or the experience of
blogging to that of consuming news: but here again the agenda for discussion
is often that set by the traditional news media. Others are happier with the
blend of news and entertainment and satirical commentary offered by TV shows
such as Have I Got News For You? in the UK, The Glass House in Australia, or
Jon Stewart¹s The Daily Show in the US (and beyond, with episodes widely
shared online through applications such as Bit Torrent). And yet here again,
the content of these shows ? the menu of topics available to satirise ? is
often largely set by the current concerns of the traditional news media.

By contrast, practices of ?citizen journalism¹ emphasise participatory media
production that contests the concentration of media power institutionally
and professionally, and challenge the mass media¹s apparent monopoly on the
production of symbolic forms (Atton 2003; Couldry and Curran 2003). Citizen
journalism constructs a reality that directly opposes the conventions and
representations of the mass media.  To link the practice of citizen
journalism with the practice of citizenship might then be seen as an attempt
to offset the ?democratic deficit¹ and to counter the growing lack of
interest in political life.  The creation of alternative media spaces
therefore becomes an important element in the development of what Pippa
Norris (1999) terms ?critical citizens.¹

The mainstream media are beginning to take account of such activities.  UK
newspaper the Guardian has re-branded its online op-ed page as a blog titled
?Comment Is Free¹  (?... but facts are sacred¹ as their former editor C.P.
Scott had it), with some columns now attracting hundreds of follow-up posts
from readers. The International Herald Tribune has signed a deal with the
Korean participatory news website OhmyNews, whereby stories written by its
non-professional citizen journalists could be carried on the Herald
Tribune¹s website, and perhaps in the newspaper itself.  These practices
suggest new forms of reporting, such as that termed ?professional
participatory storytelling¹ (Deuze 2005).  They could be seen as
realisations of the Internet¹s democratic potential for wider participation
in relation to news. Or they could be seen as part of processes of
absorption and normalisation of the Net, with the established news media
extending their influence and reach into the online environment, thus
consolidating their positions.

This suggests two related conceptual positions: first, the notion of news as
the outcome of professionalised practices and the challenges its
institutionalisation faces through participation and connectivity; second,
the struggles over symbolic power that new media practices have instigated.
At stake here is media power, understood institutionally and symbolically.

The papers collected in this issue help us chart this emerging territory.
The authors share a concern with developing new methodological approaches.
They offer work which is empirically-informed as well as
theoretically-grounded. From one perspective, these papers can be seen to
engage with aspects of convergence, from multi-platform publishing to
concentrated ownership ? the comings-together of content, communications and
computing; of industries and audiences; of models and modes (Boczkowski
2004; Castells 2000; Pool 1983; Rice 1999). From another perspective, these
essays are concerned with the opposites of convergence, with ways in which
Net use can enable new configurations of news production, distribution and
reception; new modes of authorship and audiencehood; new kinds of producer
and consumer: pluralisation, multiplication, fragmentation ? divergence
(Atton 2004; Bruns 2005; Lovink 2002; Meikle 2002).

Axel Bruns <>
offers a measured analysis of the Wikinews project, suggesting that the
early evidence points to something of a missed opportunity. Bruns assesses
Wikinews against some of the best available criteria for evaluating
participatory news websites (including his own concept of ?gatewatching¹),
and in the process provides a concise overview of the key characteristics of
the most innovative online news projects, such as Slashdot and Indymedia.

Greg Elmer, Zach Devereaux and David Skinner
<> apply some
experimental software tools and research methods to the automated Google
News portal. Uncovering the extent to which large commercial news providers
are highly ranked in Google News searches, and the degree to which such news
is re-purposed newspaper content, the authors¹ conclusion points to an
extension of the reach and influence of the established news media in the
online environment.

Lee Salter <>
examines the pressures that impose limits on the kinds of participatory
media democracy to which the Indymedia movement aspires. Salter adduces
examples from around the world of government intervention in relation to the
activities of Indymedia collectives, emphasising the need to consider such
alternative Net news projects as embedded within spaces which are not only
economically but also politically regulated.

Trish Bolton <>
makes the case for a political economy perspective in assessing the Net¹s
capacity to enable a more plural news environment. She notes how commercial
business models are implicated in such much-cited examples of alternative
online journalism as Crikey and the Webdiary forum started by Margo Kingston
during her time at the Sydney Morning Herald. Bolton also points to the
reality that many news blogs and alternative sites lack the resources to
generate original reporting.

Megan Boler <>
examines the media event in which Jon Stewart, the host of Comedy Central¹s
The Daily Show, appeared as a guest on CNN¹s Crossfire and delivered a
damning indictment of television journalism. Clips of Stewart¹s appearance
have been downloaded millions of times, and the event was by some measures
the most-cited media story in the blogosphere for 2004. Boler traces the
Stewart event¹s iteration through the blogosphere, raising questions about
the uses of satire in news commentary, and examining some key ways in which
convergent media forms are being used to create new spaces and networks for
political discussion.

Taken together these papers offer a sobering corrective to anyone still
inclined towards enthusiastic generalisations about the Net¹s potential.
Arising from this work is a concern with missed opportunities and with the
encroachment of the established news media on the possibilities of the Net.


Atton, Chris (2003) 'What is "Alternative" Journalism?', Journalism: Theory,
Practice and Criticism, vol. 4, no. 3, pp. 267-72.

?? (2004) An Alternative Internet, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Boczkowski, Pablo J. (2004) Digitizing the News: Innovation in Online
Newspapers, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Bruns, Axel (2005) Gatewatching: Collaborative Online News Production, New
York: Peter Lang.

Castells, Manuel (2000) The Rise of the Network Society, (second edition),
Oxford: Blackwell.

Couldry, Nick and Curran James (2003) (eds) Contesting Media Power:
Alternative Media in a Networked World, Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield.

Deuze, Mark (2005) ?Towards professional participatory storytelling in
journalism and advertising¹, First Monday, vol. 10, no. 7, July,, accessed 11
June 2006. 

Fiske, John (1987) Television Culture, London: Methuen.

Hartley, John (1982) Understanding News, London: Methuen.

Lovink, Geert (2002) Dark Fiber: Tracking Critical Internet Culture,
Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Meikle, Graham (2002) Future Active: Media Activism and the Internet, New
York: Routledge.

Norris, Pippa (1999) Critical Citizens: Global Support for Democratic
Governance, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pool, Ithiel de Sola (1983) Technologies of Freedom, Cambridge,
Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Rice, Ronald E. (1999) ?Artifacts and Paradoxes in New Media¹, New Media &
Society, vol. 1 no. 1, pp. 24-32.

Turner, Graeme (2005) Ending The Affair: The Decline of Television Current
Affairs in Australia, Sydney: UNSW Press.

Dr Graham Meikle

Lecturer, Department of Media,
Division of Society, Culture, Media and Philosophy,
Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW, 2109, Australia.

tel: (61 2) 9850-6899
fax: (61 2) 9850-6776
email: <>

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