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Deadline: 31 January 2020
What’s (the) News? Revisiting ‘News Values’ as a Concept and Methodology in the Age of Digital Networked Journalism
This themed issue aims to revisit the conceptual and methodological framework of ‘news values’ in order to assess its merits and limitations as a distinct approach to analyzing current developments in the field of news production, dissemination and reception. Questions about what constitutes ‘news’ (to whom) and how ‘news’ comes about and takes shape, are key to journalism studies. While the exchange of new information has historically fulfilled vital human and communal purposes, a paradigmatic understanding of ‘news’, defined in terms of so-called ‘news value factors’ informing the (perceived) newsworthiness of events, grew entangled with (the development of) professional journalism. Ever since Galtung and Ruge’s 1965 ‘foundation study’ on ‘the structures’ of foreign news coverage, which set off the scholarly tradition of ‘news values’ research, numerous communications and media scholars have built on and complemented their groundbreaking work. However, it could be argued that, in the process, the concept of ‘news values’ has been stretched (too) far beyond the core idea of ‘values that establish the worth of an event to be reported as news’, coming to encompass any and all factors shaping news selection and treatment, as well as general ‘news writing objectives’ (Bednarek & Caple 2016). In order to preserve its usefulness as an analytical approach in its own right, then, retaining and contemplating a narrow, clearly delineated conception of ‘news values’ has become ever more relevant for contemporary work in the field (ibid.).
In addition, it has been pointed out that largely implicit in extant literature on the topic is in fact a multidimensional understanding of newsworthiness, which has translated, correspondingly, into different research foci and methodological approaches (Bednarek & Caple 2012, 2016, 2017). As such, previous studies have mainly defined ‘news values’ either or both in terms of (identifying) the material aspects of an event or issue that render it potentially newsworthy, the cognitive belief systems of journalists or audiences, or the shared routines and codes learned and practiced through socialization in (particular) newsrooms and journalistic communities (ibid.). What characterizes the state of the field, then, is a primary focus on clarifying and explaining why particular events are or may be considered newsworthy. This tends to overlook or background how ‘news values’ are communicated and mutually constituted through the various semiotic resources of language and image that make up (news) discourse (ibid.).
Importantly, considerations of ‘newsworthiness’ along each of these dimensions have shifted in the contemporary digital and networked media environment, where the vectors of change affecting the way ‘news’ develops, is exchanged and communicated and, indeed, essentially understood, have been manifold. For the affordances of a participatory media culture have meaningfully extended the range of sources, voices, information and stories surrounding and potentially feeding into the daily news stream. In tandem with the diffusion of digital media technologies, various kinds of (hybrid) ‘newcomers’ have emerged, who both emulate and transform journalistic conventions, adding new inflections to established news selection criteria (like ‘eliteness’, ‘proximity’, or ‘consonance’) but equally challenging legacy media’s longtime status as ‘primary definers’ of news. Likewise, news sites, social media, apps, search engines and (automated) news aggregation, the algorithms and web analytics that drive them, and the monitoring, content optimization and commodification strategies, or audience (inter)activity (clicks, likes, shares, comments, etc.) they generate, have become key to (understanding) journalistic gatekeeping, news circulation, and perceptions and uses of ‘news(worthiness)’.
From a meta perspective, then, these shifting routines and belief systems ultimately open new conversations on the constituent elements of ‘news’. Against the background of a highly competitive, fragmented news market, and a cultural atmosphere of reflexivity, a renewed (public and scholarly) interest in ‘other’, non-traditional and often marginalized journalistic genres and news discourses has emerged. What is implied, thus, is a re-examination of the normative assumptions and epistemologies of paradigmatic ‘hard news’ (values). This occurs, notably, through the proliferation of ‘soft’ and hybrid news (e.g., infotainment, satirical ‘fake news’ shows), and the (re)invigoration of narrative and interpretive news discourses, including digital, multimodal genres (e.g., long-form, editorials, analyses, blogs, infographics). Additionally, alternative forms of journalism such as ‘constructive’ and ‘solutions-oriented’ journalism, or ‘slow journalism’, have taken shape around specific critiques of traditional norms and practices guiding news production, including its basis in formulaic ‘news values’.
This special issue aims to bring together contemporary conceptual, methodological and/or empirical scholarly work that applies, elaborates, interrogates and, in doing so, reflects on the actual and potential merits and limitations of the ‘news values’ framework in a digital, networked age where paradigmatic notions of ‘news(worthiness)’ are shifting. We particularly welcome proposals that contribute, either individually or collectively, to our objective of revisiting ‘news values’ as an analytical approach in its own right:
(1) across disciplinary boundaries within the heterogenous domain of journalism studies, expanding or rethinking conceptual frameworks and methodologies by integrating theoretical perspectives and exploring multimethod or otherwise innovative methodological approaches;
(2) across conceptual dimensions, contemplating the ontological status of news values and articulating (interactions between) material, cognitive, social, and discursive perspectives;
(3) across the diversity of topical areas, journalistic (sub)cultures, news outlets, or (hybrid) genres and actors that make up the fragmented field of contemporary journalism, examining how ‘news values’ are variously conceived and questioning normative assumptions;
(4) across the range of digital media(technologies), their affordances and limitations, adapting ‘news value’ analysis to a multimodal/media, interactive and hyperlinked news environment where established forms of news production, presentation and reception are transformed, and news commodification is co-determined by search engines, social media and web metrics.
Guest Editors: Jelle Mast & Martina Temmerman (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)
Full papers (6000-9000 words, all inclusive) should be submitted online by 31 January 2020, on manuscript central. Please tick the relevant box on the submission site indicating the manuscript relates to the special issue and follow the general submission guidelines carefully in preparing your manuscript. We strive towards notifying authors within two months upon receipt of submission. Publication of the special issue is planned for mid-2020. For any questions, please contact Jelle Mast.