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Journalism and Sociology: Comparative Epistemologies, Boundaries, and Ways of Knowing the World

Sat, May 27, 9:30 to 10:45, Hilton San Diego Bayfront, 3, Aqua Salon C

Session Submission Type: Panel


Today, the disciplines of both sociology and journalism seem to be shifting in ways that are drawing them closer together. On the side of sociology, a resurgence of neo-Chicago School ethnographic research, particularly about cities, minority communities, policing, and income inequality has attracted a great deal of journalistic attention (particularly when this research becomes the object of controversy, as in the case of Alice Goffman). Changes in academic publishing markets make accessible books on topics of timely interest more desirable for acquisition editors. The structure of the new networked public sphere gives younger sociologists a more visible platform to speak publicly than they might have had in an era in which only “senior” scholars were “allowed” to be public intellectuals. On the side of journalism, the growth of data journalism and other forms of pattern-oriented reporting seems to be giving some journalism a more high-level, structural cast that draws it closer to sociology (and quantitative political science).

Are journalism and sociology merging? Or are the changes surface level only? What does this mean for how knowledge professionals create public understanding of the social world? The papers in this panel tackle these questions through a variety of lenses and frameworks. The first two return to sociology as a lens for understanding the news. Barbie Zelizer revisits classic sociological theorizing about group behavior to demonstrate holes in much theorizing about “pack journalism.” Natacha Yazbeck draws on labor theory in sociology to analyze the chain of local labor involved in international reporting. The final three papers discuss the journalism and sociology relationship more explicitly. Shannon McGregor and Ben Lyons provide one of the first formal analysis of the Goffman controversy from the point of view of traditional social science. Anderson explores the different ways sociologists and journalists negotiated the boundaries of data journalism in the 1960s. Silvio Waisbord, finally, provides an in-depth content analysis of reporting of the Freddie Gray case in Baltimore to demonstrate how different ways reporting often fall short of the sociological ideal.

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