April 16, 2010
Joshua Braun: In His Own Words
Joshua Braun is a self-proclaimed dorky brainiac. But what are labels and tags when it comes to one of the brightest journalism scholars today? Braun, a graduate student at Cornell University, will be representing two papers at this year’s symposium. The first, Models of Restraint: The Adoption of Blogging Software by the U.S. Broadcast News Networks he wrote individually, but he also contributed to Hosting the Public Discourse: Gatekeepers, Digital Intermediaries, and the Politics of Making Newsmedia Social with Tarleton Gillespie.
Needless to say, he’s been busy. Lucky for us, though, not too busy to give us his thoughts, in his own words.
Journalism means different things to different people, or multiple things simultaneously. It can, for instance, be seen as a profession, a literary form, a societal function, or a set of institutions. If, as scholars like Natalie Fenton (2009) suggest, the definition of journalism is getting blurry in the age of new media, it’s worth remembering that we’ve always had multiple meanings for the word. New media, in turn, bring out the clashes, synergies, and evolution of all our definitions for the term.
The paper I’m presenting in at the symposium examines the manner in which traditional journalistic institutions are moving online. Specifically, I look at the news divisions of the three major broadcast networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC, and what they’ve done with blogs—a digital form that’s been around long enough now to have stabilized a bit in terms of how its approached by various institutions. In a second paper, coauthored with Tarleton Gillespie, we look at a few of the challenges of opening journalism up to public participation at traditional media institutions, as well as how new media platforms, like YouTube, which grew out of public participation, are coming to serve journalistic functions.
The Cornell journalism program is non-existent. I do my research as a grad student in Cornell’s Communication Department, which is a social science-oriented program. That said, there are some good journalism opportunities here, particularly where science journalism is concerned. Graduate students and faculty can participate in a workshop series on presenting their work in the media. For undergraduates, there’s a course on science journalism taught by Bruce Lewenstein, who recently co-chaired a National Research Council panel on informal science education. And the independent student newspaper, the Daily Sun has proven a terrific place for students to get firsthand experience with news production.
Non-profit journalism may be the future. But I don’t think anyone knows yet.
The most pressing issue in the industry that should be discussed at the symposium is, I think, the issue of our preferred framing(s) of journalism. What the future of journalism is, or should be, or how secure it is, is largely a function of whether we think of it as a set of (traditional) institutions, a profession, a literary form, or a function in society that can be filled in different ways.
Mixing academics and professionals at one event is a terrific idea. One of my favorite quotes from journalism studies comes from Jeremy Tunstall (1971), who said “The recurrent weakness of so much ‘academic’ discussion of the news media is a preference for over-sophisticated explanations in general and conspiracy theories in particular; conspiracy theories are all the more damaging, a weakness in much academic writing, for usually being implicit rather than explicitly stated” (p. 264). Academics inevitably benefit from exposure to the day to day realities of journalism and the real-world constraints it faces. And (I hope) journalists get something out of the opportunity to hear scholars offer a fresh perspective on their profession.
Crowd-funded journalism is fantastic and innovative. And I don’t say that just because Dave Cohn is a friend of mine.
My current passion is attempting to develop ways of looking at journalism that don’t automatically assume its uniqueness, but view it as one among many discourses and systems of knowledge that interact in powerful and interesting ways online and off. For my dissertation, I’m expanding on this idea at length, and calling the construct “discursive interoperability.” It’s also baseball season, which is awesome.
My favorite journalistic story is still a piece from This American Life episode 323, titled “The Super Always Rings Twice.” It’s all about the reveal, so I won’t spoil it, but think Seinfeld meets Law & Order, with an international twist.
What I hope to take away from the symposium is a broader picture of both the journalism industry as it goes digital and contemporary scholarship on online journalism.
I’m not sure where the best barbecue in downtown Austin is, but I intend to find out.
I wish I would have known about this symposium at least a year earlier. Thanks to Seth Lewis for turning me on to it.
The last time I was in Texas was at least two years ago.
The best advice I ever got, academically, came from an old adviser, Chuck Bosk, who said that when you hear conflicting points of view, never try and figure out which is true and which is false, but how both might be true in their own way. Outside of research, pretty much everything my parents ever told me is tied high on the list.