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Journalism Practice

For a Special Issue on

The journalistic I: Mediating subjectivity in contemporary journalism practices

Abstract deadline
16 October 2023

Manuscript deadline
17 May 2024

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Special Issue Editor(s)

Jelle Mast, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
[email protected]

Martina Temmerman, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
[email protected]

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The journalistic I: Mediating subjectivity in contemporary journalism practices

Amidst the complex interplay of social, technological and market dynamics reshaping the contemporary journalistic field, various expressions of ‘the journalistic I’ or so-called ‘byline subjectivity’, related to ‘the journalist as author’ (Steensen, 2017), have proliferated across mainstream media and genres. Manifestations of the journalist’s ‘mediating subjectivity’ structuring day-to-day journalism practices as an ‘organizing principle’ (Chalaby, 1996) have come in many forms. For instance, besides journalistic storytelling bridging ‘the self and the world beyond the self’ (Steensen, 2017) through personal involvement or autobiography, journalism practice is also opening up to various sorts of creative authorship extending the ‘arts/journalism continuum’ (Postema & Deuze, 2020), including forms of immersive and graphic journalism. Other practitioners, still, are prioritizing insight and ‘considered opinion’ (Stephens, 2014), openly asserting views, making judgements and taking sides, or rather demonstrate hesitancy, self-exposing the uncertainties of journalistic knowledge production. As a last notable example, journalists on social media have increasingly engaged in personal branding, as well as eye-witnessing and self-performance through ‘selfie’ practices.

Surely, subjectivity has been essentially part of journalism history and journalistic cultures across the globe, effectively predating, resisting or sidestepping the primacy of objectivity as the ‘gold standard’ informing a mostly Western-based professional ideology (Deuze, 2004) and journalism scholarship. Still, following its non-paradigmatic status in much Western-centric normative thinking, subjectivity, then, typically tends to be relegated to the periphery of what is considered journalism ‘proper’, to alternative, niche journalistic models (like partisan, advocacy, or New Journalism), to soft news or separate ‘non-news’ genres (Vestergaard, 2000).

As such, the current flaunting of the ‘journalistic I’ is particularly meaningful, lending momentum to the reappraisal of subjectivity as a journalistic principle and practice. While exceeding the present topic per se, this is also indicated, notably, by journalism scholarship variously proffering the idea of an ‘emotional’ (Wahl-Jorgensen, 2020) or ‘interpretive’ (Salgado & Strömback, 2011; Pauly, 2014) turn, or, alternatively, the dawn of a ‘paradigm reconsideration’ in journalism (studies), with ideals of transparency and interpretation qualifying the objectivity norm (Vos & Moore, 2020). Likewise, the growing sensitivity in the research field to de-Westernizing, global perspectives stimulates a normative awareness and thus recognition of journalistic ‘others’ in the non-West, including diverging role conceptions, epistemologies, ethics and editorial practices (Wasserman & De Beer, 2009; Hanitzsch, 2011).

At heart related to notions of identity (construction) or self(-consciousness) (Steensen, 2017), the renewed vigor of subjectivity as an organizing principle and discursive resource in journalism practice, resonates well with the zeitgeist of postmodernism, or ‘reflexive modernity’ (Giddens, 1991). Evoking the feminist credo ‘the personal is political’ (Coward, 2013), contemporary political and popular cultures have been characterized in terms of an ‘I-pistemology’, which locates ‘truth’ ‘in the self, in personal experiences and feelings, in subjective judgement, in individual memory’ (Van Zoonen, 2017). Further still, others have noted an increased preoccupation with the private and intimate in everyday life, constituting an ‘autobiographical’ (Plummer, 2001) or, alternatively, ‘voyeur’ society (Calvert, 2004).

Importantly, these developments and associated trends of ‘intimization’, ‘confessionalization’ or ‘celebrification’ of journalism (Steensen, 2016; Coward, 2013; Olausson, 2018), have been meaningfully linked to the affordances of digital and social media, and the genres and practices emerging from them. Feeding into these larger trends, and vice versa, are the exigencies of the contemporary journalistic field, where a precarious business model, wavering professional status, and declining public trust (Nielsen, 2016) compel newsrooms to adapt and innovate.

This special issue adopts a practice-oriented perspective, bringing together research-based and reflective studies and case examples that engage with manifest expressions of ‘byline’/‘mediating’ subjectivity in journalism practice, understood as those ‘practices involved in an independent pursuit of accurate information about current or recent events and its original (and deliberate aesthetic) presentation in any sensory form, for public edification (and emotional resonance)’ (Postema & Deuze, 2020; Shapiro, 2014). In doing so, it aims to demonstrate and assess the implications of the renewed currency of ‘the journalistic I’ in various senses (narrative, interpretive, emotional, self-reflexive, transparent, performative, artistic, promotional) for journalism as a meaning-making and creative practice; for journalistic truth/storytelling; and for audience engagement and the cognitive and affective investments involved, while also considering the potentials of autobiography/-ethnography for journalism education and research. At the same time, normative questions about public value and professional ethics remain, and longtime debates on issues of ‘bias’, ‘emotion’, and ‘self-interest’ in journalism (Chong, 2019) are reinvigorated, as ‘forms of appraisal in journalistic texts’ become increasingly routine (Wahl-Jorgensen, 2013), boundaries between private and public continue to erode, and self-branding grows into a vital professional asset.

We welcome a wide range of research methods and analytical approaches from a geographically and culturally diverse scholarship, reflecting the multidisciplinary and global scope of the research field. Topics of interest include but are not limited to:

  • Rethinking journalism as an epistemic/discursive practice through the analytical lenses of ‘byline’/‘mediating’ subjectivity, self-reflexivity and/or transparency
  • Journalism practices negotiating binary oppositions between objectivity and subjectivity, fact and valuation, verification and assertion, or evidence and advocacy
  • Authorial subjectivity as a principle/practice in non-Western journalistic cultures
  • Forms, genres, practices and use values of ‘byline’/’mediating’ subjectivity in interpretive, narrative or artistic journalism
  • Creative authorship, (signature) style and genre innovation in (visual) journalism
  • Social media, personal/professional identity, self-branding, and ‘celebrification’
  • Podcasting, personal storytelling, ‘intimization’, and audience engagement
  • ‘Selfie’ practices, journalistic witnessing, point of view, and self-performance
  • Potentials of auto-ethnography/biography for journalism education or research
  • Autobiography, confessionalism, ‘intimization’, voyeurism and journalism ethics

Submission Instructions

If you are interested in participating in this special issue, please submit an extended abstract (500-750 words), accompanied by a 100-150-word bio introducing your relevant expertise, to [email protected]. Upon selection, scholars will be invited to submit full papers through the journal’s ScholarOne website (select “special issue title”). Article submissions should be between 6000-9000 words in length, including references, and are subject to full blind peer-review, following the peer-review procedure of Journalism Practice.

Deadline for abstract submission: Monday 16 October 2023

Deadline for notification of accepted abstracts: Friday 17 November 2023

Instructions for AuthorsSubmit an Article