network news logo surrounded by web icons My Research

My field sites include the Web operations of MSNBC TV and NBC News in New York, as well as Newsvine in Seattle—a social news startup acquired in 2007 by MSNBC.com, which now powers the vast majority of the site’s social features.

I’ll obviously be writing a good deal about them and my other field sites in the future. In the meantime, to see some concrete examples of my recent work, I recommend jumping to my list of recent presentations and publications, or taking a look at my CV. What follows is a general description of some of the areas I’m interested in.

Journalism, New Media, and Digital Culture

My research takes place in a growing intersection of several disciplines—journalism studies, science and technology studies, and the sociology of new media—that I’ve taken to calling “journalism, new media, and digital culture.” My dissertation looks at digital distribution of the news—specifically how sharing and search have become essential aspects of the way news travels online, making explicit in new ways the manner in which users pick and choose content that meets their personal needs and those of the communities/networks in which they’re involved.

Moreover, to survive in an environment like this, many news outlets are designing their products to do well in the networked information environment by making their content “epistemically interoperable” with the requirements of their desired audiences’ communities. From hosting online communities to headline writing that improves search engine optimization to the commissioning of stories based on trending topics on Twitter, Yahoo, and Google, different news agencies are entering new territory.

Media sociologists have a well-developed literature on how interest groups attempt to game the selection mechanisms of the news media to get their stories out. But here something different—if related—is going on. In short, while scholars have long focused on the ongoing issue of how non-journalists package their stories for propagation by the news media, increasingly the news media must also package its stories for propagation by non-journalists.

The new task, then, is to develop a theoretical lens for looking at how journalistic accounts are “made” to circulate in this new and extended information ecosystem. My dissertation is intended to develop such a lens using tools not just from traditional media sociology and journalism studies, but by introducing concepts from the sociology of knowledge developed in science studies, an idea for interdisciplinary research first put forward by Gaye Tuchman over thirty years ago, but relatively seldom undertaken.

In including these lenses, I’m seeking to paint a reasonably well-rounded portrait of digital news distribution. In other words, my dissertation should not be a shrill polemic about news made-to-order, but instead an honest look at journalists who are seeking to better know and serve their audiences, while preserving the integrity and authority of their profession.

Likewise, I’m not suggesting that “sharing the news” is a Twenty-First Century phenomenon. The observation that our experience of news is socially mediated is as well-rehearsed as the “two-step flow” model of communication. What is new, however, is way in which the Web—where users leave digital traces in the form of page impressions, backlinks, media embeds, social media shares, and so forth—has made many of these processes explicit and newly influential to production. This is another challenge my research attempts to tackle by developing ideas from the sociology of knowledge and the sociology of new media.

Additional Interests

I got to my present research by moving from an original interest in science communication on to health and risk communication and eventually to looking at communication technology. My initial masters degree was also an M.B.E. in applied ethics from the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. As a result, you’ll see my CV peppered with a few examples of this other work. I still maintain an interest in each of these fields, even if my focus has turned to examining new media and communication technologies.