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Journalism Studies

Call for Full Papers: Special Issue on Ordinary Citizens in the News

Deadline: 31 March 2019

Over the past decades, scholars have observed a rise of ordinary people as actors in everyday news coverage (e.g., De Keyser & Raeymaeckers, 2012). This trend is the result of several broader developments, such as the personalization of media coverage, digitalization, the increasing importance of social media, and last but not least the spread of populist communication and its inherent references to “the people” (Aalberg et al., 2017). From a normative perspective, the representation of ordinary citizens is one of the media’s central democratic functions, because it is expected to contribute to the diversity of voices within public discourse and seen as a counterbalance to elite sources that usually dominate news (Dimitrova & Strömbäck, 2009). However, some findings give cause for concern that the journalistic selection of citizen voices is highly selective and biased (e.g., Beckers et al., 2018; Daschmann & Brosius, 1999). Moreover, there is some ambiguity as to how ordinary citizens as part of news coverage are conceptualized (starting with different labels such as ‘ordinary citizens’ vs. ‘common people’) and what different roles they fulfill (e.g., eyewitness, vox populi, expert), essentially leading to the question if, how and to what extent ordinary citizens get a substantive voice in the news.

From an empirical point of view, most studies have focused on the effects of citizen representations in the media (exemplification, episodic/human interest framing) and examined their cognitive, affective, and behavioral consequences (e.g., Brosius & Bathelt, 1994; Zerback & Peter, 2018), whereas less attention has been paid to the question of how journalists select and present citizens in everyday news coverage. Although some recent findings show a rise of citizen actors in the news, they seem to appear mostly in the form of vox populi for illustrative or argumentative reasons (Kleemans, Schaap & Hermans, 2015; Cushion, 2018), oftentimes only representing one point of view (Beckers, Walgrave & Van den Bulck, 2018) and therefore potentially leading to a distorted depiction of public opinion. In this context, it remains unclear how such single opinions compete with alternative forms of citizen representations, e.g. public opinion polls or mere references to the people by (populist) politicians and other elite actors (Lewis, Inthorn & Wahl-Jorgensen, 2005) and how these different types ultimately convey a—consonant or dissonant—picture of public opinion. In addition, the inclusion of citizens in the news seems to vary across topics (Hopmann & Shehata, 2011), news outlets (Beckers & Van Aelst, 2018), and countries (Walter, 2017).

Furthermore, only a few studies deal with the journalistic routines and—conscious or unconscious—decisions that lead to the integration of citizens in everyday coverage (Beckers, 2017). Looking at journalistic production is important, not only because it represents an antecedent of the potential effects mentioned previously, but also because we currently witness a profound shift in the way citizen voices find their way into the news. For example, the ubiquity of (partly extreme) citizen statements on the web has considerably increased their availability for journalists, with a good exemplar only being a click away (Beckers & Harder, 2016). In this regard, a comparison between different types of media outlets (e.g., mainstream/alternative) and levels (e.g., national/regional) could shed more light on recent trends in featuring citizen actors.

Journalism Studies

Language: en-US

Publisher: tandf

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The aim of the planned special issue is to shed light on the role of ordinary citizens in the news and to gain greater insight in the conceptualization, selection, and depiction of common people in news coverage. We welcome both conceptual and empirical, quantitative and qualitative submissions, and single country studies as well as cross-national comparisons that advance our understanding of ordinary citizens in the news. Therefore, we encourage submissions relating to the following areas:

  • Theoretical contributions advancing our understanding of ordinary citizens and their role within news coverage
  • Theoretical integration of concepts related to the depiction of ordinary citizens in the news, e.g. episodic/human interest framing, exemplification, personalization
  • Normative and ethical considerations as well as implications of citizen representations, e.g., diversity/equality of citizen voices, representation, possibilities for citizens to express their opinions
  • Journalistic routines in the selection of ordinary citizens as actors in the news, e.g., news value of citizens, illustrative functions, opportune witnesses
  • Presentation of ordinary citizens as actors in the news, e.g., episodic framing, roles and functions of citizens in the news (e.g. as exemplars, vox pops, opinion polls, popularity indicators), personalization of news, the role of social media snippets in the news
  • Strategic use of citizen voices by political and non-political actors, e.g. by populist actors

Submission Instructions

Articles should be between 6000 and 9000 words in length and follow Journalism Studies’ style guidelines. Please submit your full papers to via Journalism Studies’ online submission system by 31st March 2019, indicating that you submit for this special issue. 

We will notify authors if their paper has been accepted by 30th June 2019. The special issue is scheduled for December 2019.

Editorial information

  • Guest Editor: Christina Peter, LMU Munich
  • Guest Editor: Thomas Zerback, LMU Munich