Project Overview

For those of us who have been studying elite, technologically sophisticated forms of journalism for the past several years, one question is increasingly rearing its ugly head: should we all just have been studying professional wrestling instead? In an age of populism, Trump, Brexit, Le Penn, and “fake news,” what is the value of algorithmic, data, automated, and other higher forms of journalistic work, and what do we as scholars and concerned citizens get out of studying these phenomena? 

This new project draws on and extends a recently completed book, Apostles of Certainty: Data Journalism and the Politics of Doubt,  that tried to tell the history of quantitative journalism in the United States from 1900 to the present. The talk argues that journalism in the United States has become increasingly exact, objective, and scientific, but that the relationship between this journalism of certitude and public problems is also increasingly fraught.  Given that, what ought scholars do now? The second half of the talk takes on this question of “what next” and argues that we need to refine, but not sever, the link between technology, journalism and politics. We should do this by studying the following topics, among others: (1) the emotional and aesthetic meanings of “data” for news consumers (2) the emotional and aesthetic meanings of “data” for news producers  (3) generic, “boring,” and pre-packaged forms of data visualization and news imagery, (4) the role of algorithms and platforms in forming publics and (5) cross-national cultures of quantitative journalism. The informational, emotional, and identity-forming aspects of the news should not be severed, I conclude, but entangled. All contribute to forming what I call the “invisible public(s)” of the 21st century.

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