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Dialogues in Journalism Studies: The New Gatekeepers

Mon, June 13, 11:00 to 12:15, Fukuoka Hilton, Navis A

Session Submission Type: Panel


In 1950, David Manning White applied Kurt Lewin’s social-psychological theory of gatekeeping to the process by which newswire editors decide which stories will make it to print and which will not. Since then, gatekeeping theory has become a foundational premise for understanding media and communication, with gatekeeping theorists Pamela Shoemaker and Tim Vos (2009) declaring that the process of gatekeeping “is the center of the media's role in modern public life” because “(p)eople rely on mediators to transform information about billions of events into a manageable subset of media messages.” (Shoemaker and Vos, 2009, p. 1)

The emergence of the internet and user generated content has complicated this theory. While some early internet scholars (e.g., Benkler, 2006) declared that the age of the media gatekeeper was over, it is the perspective of this panel that, instead of the removal of the gatekeeper, we are now witnessing the emergence of new information channels and new gatekeepers. Novel theoretical lenses as well as strong empirical research are required in order to understand new groups of individuals who have significantly greater power to represent the world than ordinary users. This shift in focus also requires some adjustments in the traditional toolkit of journalism studies, which continues (despite some criticism, eg, Nielsen 2012) to primarily study news organizations, news rooms, and traditionally “journalistic” processes.

This panel will respond to early conceptions of gatekeeping theory in order to understand how news, information and knowledge are mediated today. In doing so, we hope to contribute to the emerging scholarly understanding of how networks are serving to catalyse a major reconfiguration of the groups and individuals who have significantly greater power to represent the world than others.

Heather Ford argues that experienced Wikipedia editors constitute a new set of gatekeepers who are able to deploy coded objects effectively in order to stabilize or destabilize articles dealing with breaking current events. Elizabeth Dubois examines the social underpinnings of modern gatekeeping in an analysis of political chat on Facebook and Twitter. Stefanie Duguay explores how Facebook Trending Topics and Twitter’s Moments tab acts as gatekeepers through a combination of authoritative curation and algorithmic personalisation. C.W. Anderson returns the focus of the panel to organizational-level processes, discussing how newsroom interactions with digital knowledge ontologies are shifting conceptions of objectivity and thus transforming definitions of news. Steven Reese, finally, will act as a panel respondent.

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