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The Ambivalence of Voice

Fri, May 25, 15:30 to 16:45, Hilton Prague, Floor: M, Karlin II

Session Submission Type: Panel


This panel unpacks the complexities of voice in institutional journalism and reflects on the challenges voice poses to the digital public sphere. Voice, defined as the capacity to speak in public in ways that can make a difference, divides journalism studies literature. Within frameworks of democratic publicity, voice enhances the deliberative potential of public spheres, while in frameworks of digital journalism, voice problematizes the authoritative narratives of professional journalism. Simultaneously, however, the proliferation of voice is also seen as fragmenting public deliberation in echo-chambers of the like-minded, while undermining journalistic standards of truth in favour of a post-modern pluralism of opinion. Going beyond existing controversies, this panel adopts a multi-perspectival lens on the ambivalence of voice as an epistemological, political and ethical challenge to digital journalism.
The epistemological argument (Zelizer) is about the status of ‘news’ in the digital age and focuses on the role of time and temporality in constructing journalistic knowledge. It shows how, despite the celebration of digital news for speed and immediacy (‘be the first to know’), the dominant temporality of speed contributes to an incoherent ‘cacophony’ of voices that undermines the status of news. The argument concludes with reflections on an alternative conception of time that might facilitate a different, more productive organization of journalistic voice in today’s polyphonic new environments.
The political argument (Robinson; Kampf and Baden) is about the role of truth in news as a democratic institution that shapes public judgment. It problematizes voice from two different perspectives. On the one hand, we explore the role of authoritative voices and their practices of deception and propaganda in digital journalism (Robinson). The manipulation of truth today, this argument demonstrates, is a complex matter that does not only involve the rhetorical techniques of political actors, but further draws attention to the institutional pressures of the newsroom and to broader ideological shifts, such as the re-emergence of Cold War. One the other hand, we explore the role of popular voices as an emerging form of news ‘authenticity from below’ (Kampf and Baden). Based on people’s experiential forms of knowledge, this new form of authenticity has implications for the formation of political affiliations and identities.
The moral argument (Chouliaraki) engages with the question of ‘otherness’ and explores how new polyphonic testimonies from conflict zones pose new questions about how to report distant suffering but also change the ways we witness and respond to victims of war.

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