Add your Insight
01 August 2021
06 December 2021
Special Issue Editor(s)
Jannie Møller Hartley,
Rutgers School of Communication and Information
Danish School of Media and Journalism
The Platformatization of News: Platform Logics, Journalism and the Future of Publics
As platforms and other algorithmic systems have become increasingly important constituents of contemporary societies, data-analytics driven practices increasingly reshape the frameworks and functions of social and economic systems. As part of this development, they also shape how journalism engages, interacts with, and cultivates its publics. Newsrooms implement algorithmic systems (often developed by international technology companies) in both production and distribution (Bélair-Gagnon, Nelson & Lewis, 2019; Thurman, 2011), and platforms both support and shape practices and sensemaking in news organizations. On social media platforms, for example, algorithms not only generate news feeds based on signals from our networks and the preferences of advertisers, but also assume agency by presenting “algorithmic publics” to actors in the newsrooms (Christin 2019).
In this way, technology companies such as Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and Google have rapidly become major players within the journalistic field, contributing to what van Dijck, Poell & de Waal (2018) have labelled the ‘platformatization of news’. Increasingly serving as the dominant distributors of news content (Newman et al., 2017), these powerful new entrants transform not only journalism as we know it but entire news ecosystems, business models, distribution infrastructures, modes of audience engagement, possibly even the concept of news itself. These transformations foreground diverse concerns about the platform-publisher relationship(s), including the formation of publics, datafication of audiences, spaces for public deliberation, and the differential responsibilities and accountability of the stakeholders involved.
Facebook’s recent move to ban all news content from their platform for its Australian users is only the latest example of how the current information landscape is challenged by difficult relations between journalism and platforms. Facebook’s radical ban came as a result of a proposed legislation by the Australian government to make platforms pay publishers for distributing their journalistic content. The question quickly arose as to which party might have more to lose, the platforms or the publishers, with many commentators erring on the side of the publishers. Still, empirical research is needed to better understand how cases like this are re-shaping journalism and what is at stake, especially in terms of audiences information-seeking practices and democratic engagement. Furthermore, we must examine how news organisations might themselves play an active role in re-shaping the relationship between platforms and publishers in different cultural and political contexts, either from a regulatory perspective (e.g. by lobbying for certain interests), or discursively in their coverage of the platforms.
To date, what van Dijck et al. have theorized as the ‘two large platform ecosystems’ has mainly been uncovered and examined from a macro level. Yet empirical studies of newsmaking and news consumption in different contexts and systems are needed if we are to understand the consequences of platformatization for journalism and audiences. How does platformatization shape the formation of publics both actual and imagined?
For example, global platforms have contributed to the massive accumulation and production of personal information and data about citizens and audiences. Adapting to these logics of datafication, news media increasingly ground their decision-making practices on the algorithmic processing of audience and user data (Christin, 2020). Not only do algorithms create possibilities for filtering, they also work invisibly to sort users into particular spaces by highlighting certain content, users, and paths. In this way, algorithms turn audiences into highly datafied publics, raising crucial questions about the influence of algorithmic curation on the quality and breadth of information the public can access. How can we methodologically study the platforms themselves, when access is so limited? How can we study the ways in which platforms have become the object of policy debates in a range of national contexts?
What is at stake, then, in the increasingly messy relationship between publishers and platforms is not just the algorithmic and data-driven shaping of publics, but also a potential reconfiguration of the very idea of a public. What vision of the public does the platformization of news assume? What visions are assumed in the policy debates on platformatization? What sociotechnical infrastructures need to be in place to ensure a public’s right to hear (Ananny, 2018) and how is platformatization affecting these infrastructeres?
There is also a need for more research that attends to the ways in which platforms affect the business models of journalism, its distribution systems, and the values embedded in news organisations. As the production of news becomes progressively tailored to obey the mechanisms and organizational principles driving the platform ecosystem, this special issue asks: how is this unfolding, and with what implications? What does it mean that the same global platform logics are implemented across vastly different cultural contexts?
Ultimately, this special issue aims to understand the shifting role of journalism within an evolving platformized media system that has become increasingly complex and contested. We welcome contributions related (but not limited) to topics such as:
- Theoretical conceptualizations: How can we understand and explain these transformations theoretically?
- Methodology: How can we methodologically approach the entanglement publisher and platforms, especially given that the innerworkings of platform companies and technologies are often inaccessible to outside researchers?
- Algorithms and data-driven logics: How do the values and underlying assumptions of algorithmic operations on platforms compare to those of news organizations?
- Infrastructures: How are platforms involved in news distribution infrastructures, and what are the consequences for journalism and publics?
- Business models: How are data flows gathered by platforms changing the news media industry’s relation to audiences? How are platform logics informing in-house personalisation projects and other digital innovation projects?
- Reporting and work routines: How do platform logics change news work, journalistic practices and working conditions, and news values?
- Publics: How do processes of platformatization change audiences’ news consumption, public connection, and how publics are envisioned?
- Audience practices: How do platform logics change audiences’ practices and agency?
- Comparative research: What do these transformations look like across countries, media systems, media organizations, beats, and/or audiences?
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Abstract deadline the 1st of August 2021, please send abstract proposal of max 500 words (exclusive references) to [email protected] as one pdf file with your name clearly stated on the first page as well as a full list of authors and affiliations and abbreviated bios. Notification of abstract acceptance September 18th 2021.
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