Submit a Manuscript to the Journal

Digital Journalism

For a Special Issue on

Reimagining Visual Journalism Theory and Practice in the Digital Age

Abstract deadline
01 June 2024

Manuscript deadline
15 February 2025

Cover image - Digital Journalism

Special Issue Editor(s)

Dr. T.J. Thomson, RMIT University
[email protected]

A/Prof Ryan Thomas, Washington State University
[email protected]

Iuliia Alieva, Carnegie Mellon University
[email protected]

Shangyuan Wu, National University of Singapore
[email protected]

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Reimagining Visual Journalism Theory and Practice in the Digital Age

Photography, followed by video, has dominated visual journalism for the bulk of its history and has been hailed for its democratic qualities (Coleman & Wasike, 2004; Scott, 2020) yet also rebuked for the sometimes othering gaze employed by those who wield these technologies (Allan & Peters, 2015). Perennial debates about camera-based journalism include the subjectivity of the “reality” presented, how the visuals are edited and displayed, and the impact they have on various publics (Thomson, 2019). Pertinent, too, are questions of who is making visual journalism and how their attributes, from demographic characteristics to visual literacies, affect the visuals that are constructed (Thomson, 2016; Lough & Mortensen, 2023). The rise of the ubiquitous smartphone, coupled with newsroom managements’ profit imperatives, has led to layoffs and less specialization (Caple, 2013; Mortensen & Gade, 2018; Nilsson, 2021). People with different backgrounds and skillsets (e.g., reporters with iPhones and computer scientists) are expected to make photos and videos and create algorithms and software, respectively, that contribute to the vision we see in the news but who might lack training in visual journalism production techniques and the ethical and legal considerations therein.

Joining photography and video, and bolstered by advances in computing, are data journalism and data visualization, which are increasingly becoming cornerstones of visual journalism. These delve into the intricacies of how data are utilized and bring to light the nuanced effects of data journalism and visualization practices (Coddington, 2015). A comprehensive investigation into the impact of human bias throughout data collection, processing, and visualization, alongside concerns related to data manipulation and visual framing is imperative to analyze in journalism research (Alieva, 2023). The exploration of numeracy, graphical literacy (or “graphicacy”) and data literacy for journalists and their audience, and the subsequent influence on visual forms and audience perception, holds significant interest for both academics and practitioners (Barnes, 2017; Segel and Heer, 2010). In addition, it is necessary to scrutinize existing social inequalities such as racial and gender disparities in data representations, employing a critical-cultural approach for a more comprehensive understanding (Hannaford, 2023). Questions arising from data journalism standards, technological constraints, data access, and availability can shape the visual representation of our social and political reality (Boyles & Meyer, 2016; Hermida & Young, 2017). The view of data as scientific and objective often obscures the external forces that might shape them - explorations into the social constructionist nature of data journalism thus become necessary to bring to light how dominant groups may use data and their presentations for the purposes of influence and control (Wu, 2021). At the same time, visual research methods and data visualization techniques can be used to map the contours of visual journalism studies and to imagine where the field should advance from here.

Framing—analysing who or what is shown and how—has been a major feature of visual journalism studies research (Bock, 2020; El Damanhoury & Garud-Paktar, 2022). However, more emergent visual technology, such as 360-degree imaging and AI-generated still and moving images, are unsettling the framing paradigm as the part is subsumed by the whole or the frame can be repositioned retroactively through AI features like “generative expand” or “zoom out,” respectively (Thomson & Thomas, 2023). Access, witnessing, and presence, too, have been key concerns of those who produce and study visual journalism (Bock, Istek, & Araiza, 2018; Nilsson, 2020; Bock, 2021). With few exceptions, visual journalists cannot “call it in” and must be physically present on the scene, save for the case of drones or remotely operated mounted cameras. But again, recent advances in AI technology mean that still and moving images can be made of places, people, and situations that can’t normally or equally be accessed, leading to both constraints and opportunities for how access, witnessing, and presence (also known as “embodied gatekeeping” [Bock, Istek, & Araiza, 2018]) are practiced and theorized within visual journalism (Thomas & Thomson, 2023).

The rise in generative AI over the past year has led the World Economic Forum to declare AI-fueled mis- and disinformation as the greatest risk the world faces in 2024, above disasters like extreme weather events, inflation, and armed conflict (Torkington, 2024). Past research has demonstrated how the visual dimensions of visual mis- and disinformation are especially potent (Thomson, et al., 2022; Weikmann & Lecheler, 2023). This leads to questions around how scholars and practitioners can use manual or automated means to detect and respond to AI-fueled visual mis- and disinformation and how audiences can hone their media literacy to be more aware, active, and engaged participants in social governance processes.

This special issue examines the intersection of visual communication, emerging technology, and digital journalism, and has two primary aims. First, it seeks to explore how visual research methods and visualization approaches can be used to help map the present and future of visual journalism studies. Second, it seeks to critically interrogate and empirically assess how emergent technology is reinforcing, disrupting, or transforming the theory and practice of visual journalism. In doing so, the issue deepens our understanding of digital visual journalism studies as a field, while also providing urgently needed insight into how longstanding models, frameworks, and theories can be adapted or recast to account for the realities, challenges, and opportunities afforded by emerging visual technologies in journalism.

In particular, this special issue asks the following questions:

  • How is the gaze within visual journalism troubled or reimagined by algorithmic logics that automate vision?
  • How do the aesthetics of computer vision compare to the aesthetics of human vision in visual journalism?
  • How do audiences perceive AI-generated or AI-augmented still or moving images? What can this contribute to theorization around perception and notions of trust within journalism?
  • How do emergent uses of AI technology, such as animations and AI illustrations, intersect with classical understandings of embodied gatekeeping?
  • How can the visual literacies of professionals inform how emerging technologies are designed, developed, and deployed within visual journalism?
  • How does the vision of non-specialists making or contributing to visual journalism compare to the vision of specialists?
  • How can data visualizations in visual journalism obfuscate or clarify audience understandings?
  • How do more emergent forms of technology, such as 360-degree video and the “zoom out” features of text-to-image generators, disrupt dominant understandings of framing within visual journalism? How can the aspects of access, witnessing, and presence within visual journalism be theorised given advances in generative AI?
  • How might new technologies pertaining to automated, data and immersive journalism enable certain groups in society to amass greater power, in ways that might be hidden from view? How might news audiences be empowered and/or disempowered when such technologies mediate their experiences with the news?
  • How can news audiences be better prepared to encounter and respond to AI-fueled visual mis- and disinformation?
  • What theoretical implications are raised by the lack of presence that many newer forms of vision entail?
  • What are the unintended consequences of automating the visual aspects of journalism? How can practitioners and audiences, alike, prepare for and counter these?
  • What can emerging visual technologies reveal about digital journalism studies and its contours? What areas of emphasis or neglect can these tools identify?

Answers to these questions can advance theory building and theory refinement within visual journalism studies. Using visual methods and approaches can illuminate which areas have received the bulk of attention and which areas within visual journalism studies are under-studied; this can lead to insights into how the field can evolve from here.

We strongly encourage submissions from different cultural contexts and from scholars working in or studying the intersections of digital journalism and visual communication in the Global South.

Submission Instructions

Proposals should include an abstract of 500-750 words (excluding references) and an abbreviated bio for each author on the submission. Please submit your proposal via this link as one file (PDF) with your name(s) clearly stated in the file name and the first page. Proposals will be reviewed by the guest editors.

Authors of accepted proposals are expected to develop and submit their original article, for full blind peer review, in accordance with the journal’s peer-review procedure, by the deadline stated. Articles should be between 7000 and 9000 words in length and follow Digital Journalism’s style guidelines.

Instructions for AuthorsSubmit an Article