ISOJ 2023 panel, peer-reviewed journal highlight research in quoting, parasocial relationships in podcasts, philanthropic support of BIPOC news startups and more

View video of panel here.

Five peer-reviewed research papers were selected for the Spring 2023 #ISOJ Journal and the authors were invited to present their findings at the 24th International Symposium on Online Journalism conference April 14. 

Celeste González de Bustamante, professor and associate dean at UT Austin’s Moody College of Communication, opened the panel by presenting the 2023 ISOJ Research Award to the paper “‘News you can use:’ Pragmatic solidarity as a news value in online community journalism” to authors Ayleen Cabas-Mijares, Joy Jenkins, and Laura Nootbaar.

Cabas-Mijares shared their research surrounding the concept of “pragmatic solidarity” and how news value manifests in hyperlocal online news coverage. 

“Solidarity is a categorical commitment to social justice, when social justice is defined as dignity for everyone,” she said. 

Academics on a stage
Celeste González de Bustamante, far left, professor and associate dean, Moody College of Communication, UT Austin, chairs the #ISOJ Journal peer-reviewed research panel April 14.

The “practical” component is specific and more action-oriented, focused on practices and actions that helps journalists succeed in the short term.

“We basically asked, ‘How does pragmatic solidarity manifest in hyperlocal online news coverage?’ And, ‘How does pragmatic solidarity help journalists focus on action?’” Cabas-Mijares explained.

The research’s case study centered on the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, described by Cabas-Mijares as “one of the most, if not the most diverse newsrooms in Milwaukee” that serves communities of color in the city. 

The presentation from Subramaniam (Subbu) Vincent, the Director of Journalism and Media Ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, gathered insights about the practice of quoting among journalists. 

The paper, “Could quoting data patterns help in identifying journalistic behavior online?” — authored by Vincent, Xuyang Wu, Maxwell Huang, and Yi Fang — dug into source diversity, disinformation and journalistic provenance in reporting. Their research pulled data from 5,000 “news” sites through the News Quality Initiative database.

“Our conclusion was that you can start with quoting ethics as a way to identify different types of actors,” Vincent said, referring to outlets that may or not draw from original reporting. He also noted that news aggregate companies can improve sourcing practices in ways that are more transparent to news consumers.

Researchers from the Philippines, Maria Raizza Renella P. Bello and Robbin Charles M. Dagle, are working to establish a baseline by creating a map of more than 100 web-based news outlets in the country. Their findings ultimately identified “news deserts” across communities in the archipelago.

Across all sites, Bello and Dagle observed three major patterns: a lack of transparency on media ownership, absence or inadequacy of code of ethics and privacy policies, and difficulty in identifying advertising and sponsorship content compared to reported news stories.

“We hope that this research could help give more representation on how Global South nations operate in terms of online spaces and how we can actually learn from communities or the people on how we can change our practices in our newsrooms or even in our independent journalism spaces,” Bello said. 

Marcus Funk, associate professor of mass communication at Sam Houston State University, presented findings from the paper “Five stars because they tell it like it is: A parasocial examination of mainstream, conservative and far right reviews on Apple podcasts” that he co-authored with LaRissa Lawrie and Burton Speakman.

Using podcast reviews, the paper conducted three phases reviewing daily news podcasts on a spectrum of political perspectives and content genres.

Funk noted that podcasts are often deeply personal, emotional and social compared to traditional print and broadcast media. The research explored the phenomenon of parasocial relationships, or personal bonds that a consumer develops over time towards a person in the media — even though they do not know each other in “real life.”

Funk said that the two main takeaways are: podcasts are largely based on personality and that personal language is significantly less common in reviews for mainstream news podcasts compared to conservative and far-right podcasts, and compared to other mainstream podcasts.

“This also informs broader and deeper conversations about what transparency and credibility and news looks like both in podcasting and in 2023,” Funk said.

The panel presentations concluded with Tracie Powell, founder of The Pivot Fund, a new venture philanthropy organization dedicated to investing $500 million into independent BIPOC-led community news operations.

Powell said the research took about 18 months with assistance from Harvard’s Shorenstein Center, which shaped the design of a survey for founders and publishers of news organizations that received funding through Borealis Philanthropy’s Racial Equity in Journalism (REJ) Fund.

The research effort’s primary questions centered on: How does the intervention of philanthropic funding impact the health and sustainability of BIPOC news organizations? And how can dominant ideologies and its assumptions be challenged? 

“In our research, we found that philanthropic interventions often require a form of means testing and qualification, which fails to recognize the needs and desires of independent news outlets and the communities they serve,” said Powell, who co-authored the article with Meredith D. Clark.

According to Powell, “some of philanthropy’s policies and practices perpetuates an uneven playing field.” 

The research’s recommendations lean on providing investment, operational support and capacity-building for newsrooms, including peer-to-peer learning or training for BIPOC journalists and publishers. 

During the Q&A portion, all the panelists expressed a shared desire to increase authenticity and accountability in journalism while developing a nuanced understanding of the audiences they serve.