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30 November 2021
Disrupting and resettling the local in digital news spaces
Local news and journalism have been a key part of media industries and news ecologies in many countries. However, the sector has experienced extensive disruption and transformation due to digital technologies and the increasing dominance of the online environment. Many traditional news providers have been unable to remain sustainable leaving some communities without a source of news and emerging local news deserts, creating major concern for the quality of public debate and the social fabric of communities. At the same time, COVID-19 has seen many individuals retreat and/or forced to confine themselves to a physical locality, highlighting the importance of local news and information to audiences.
At the local level, digital journalism research has tended to focus on the impact on legacy providers (e.g. Nielsen 2015), declining and new business models, policy debates, the very importance or value of local news to democracy, and use of social media to share local news (see e.g. Almgren, 2017). Local journalism has varied histories in different parts of the world influenced by specific geo socio-political context, dominant communication technologies and power relations in communities. In parts of the literature, the political and social impacts of digital local journalism are emphasised, such as emerging forms of hyperlocal citizen journalism in many countries, the vernacular press in India mediating new socialities and creating novel versions of the local in a networked, multi-media environment (Rao, 2020), while in Russia local media becoming sites of political struggles as they are appropriated by local political and economic elites (Kiriya, 2020).
There is a need, however, for a comprehensive, critical and robust examination of how our very connection and construction of the local is shaped, negotiated and/or re-settled in digital news space. Local has always been an ambiguous term but one that was predominantly conceptualised by place-based definitions in pre-digital era. For example, in production focused definitions local has referred to a geographical place with clear boundaries which represented organisational strategy to reach a particular audience group, a distribution area that fitted the business model (Gulyas and Baines, 2020). But local is also a mediatized social space with symbolic meaning. In audience and community focused definitions local has been conceptualised as a ‘sense of place’ offering ‘geo-social’ identification (Hess and Waller, 2014). Digital environments, however, are reworking previous understandings of the local, changing the relationship between news, journalism and place, as well as audiences’ connections to and perceptions of the local.
This special issue of Digital Journalism invites scholars to explore theoretically, conceptually and empirically the ‘place’, power and challenges of the local in digital news spaces. Both single-country and comparative research are welcome, as well as both theoretical and empirical manuscripts. The latter may involve quantitative, qualitative or mixed methods approaches. The issue particularly welcomes cross-national comparative analyses and non-Western perspectives.
Possible topics to be addressed include, but are not limited to:
- How do journalists, audiences, policymakers and others define and shape understandings of the 'local' in digital spaces.
- What are the changing ways in which journalism reproduces, represents or builds notions of locality and location in digital space?
- Conceptual and theoretical advancements in understanding digital local news.
- What aspects of traditional notions of the local in journalism have remained unaffected by technological or economic changes?
- Exploration of methodological challenges and opportunities to researching digital journalism and the local.
- Race/power relations and social justice issues in local journalism in digital spaces.
- Interdisciplinary, cross-disciplinary approaches and geographic or cultural comparative research on digital local news.
- How do news providers generate and /or how do audiences develop a sense of connection to online local news and the local communities they serve?
- How is online local news territory defined, maintained, challenged or controlled?
- Innovations in digital local news and journalism, including AI applications, social media and their algorithms, mapping and place-oriented technologies and their implications.
- Challenges of digital platforms in reporting local news in times of crisis.
- News deserts in the context of local digital spaces.
- Implications of digital connectivity issues for local media.
- Differences and similarities between commercial, public service and community owned providers in their approach to local news in digital space (comparative analysis especially welcome).
About the guest editors
Agnes Gulyas is a professor of Media and Communications at Canterbury Christ Church University, UK. Her recent research has focused on local news gaps in the UK, online local news consumption, and social media use by journalists and communication professionals. Agnes is Vice-Chair of MeCCSA’s Local and Community Network.
Kristy Hess is an associate professor of Communication at Deakin University Australia. Her research largely focuses on the role and place of local news as well as the relationship between journalism, placemaking and social order in digital settings. Kristy is associate editor of Digital Journalism.
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Information about submitting
Proposals should include an abstract of 500 words (excluding references) as well as a full list of author(s) with affiliation(s) and abbreviated bio(s). Please submit your proposal as one file (PDF) with your names clearly stated on the first page. Please email your proposal to [email protected] by June 30, 2021.
Article submission should target a length of 7,000-9,000 words.
Extended abstract submission deadline:
June 30, 2021
Notification on submitted abstracts: July 28, 2021
Article submission deadline:
November 30, 2021
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