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The Life Informatic

The Life Informatic: Newsmaking in the Digital Era

Dominic Boyer
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    The Life Informatic
    Book Description:

    News journalism is in the midst of radical transformation brought about by the spread of digital information and communication technology and the rise of neoliberalism. What does it look like, however, from the inside of a news organization? In The Life Informatic, Dominic Boyer offers the first anthropological ethnography of contemporary office-based news journalism. The result is a fascinating account of journalists struggling to maintain their expertise and authority, even as they find their principles and skills profoundly challenged by ever more complex and fast-moving streams of information.

    Boyer conducted his fieldwork inside three news organizations in Germany (a world leader in digital journalism) supplemented by extensive interviews in the United States. His findings challenge popular and scholarly images of journalists as roving truth-seekers, showing instead the extent to which sedentary office-based "screenwork" (such as gathering and processing information online) has come to dominate news journalism. To explain this phenomenon Boyer puts forth the notion of "digital liberalism"-a powerful convergence of technological and ideological forces over the past two decades that has rebalanced electronic mediation from the radial (or broadcast) tendencies of the mid-twentieth century to the lateral (or peer-to-peer) tendencies that dominate in the era of the Internet and social media. Under digital liberalism an entire regime of media, knowledge, and authority has become integrated around liberal principles of individuality and publicity, both unmaking and remaking news institutions of the broadcast era. Finally, Boyer offers some scenarios for how news journalism will develop in the future and discusses how other intellectual professionals, such as ethnographers, have also become more screenworkers than fieldworkers.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6735-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Prologue
    (pp. xi-xxii)

    This book is an ethnography of the practices and understandings of digital information in contemporary news journalism. It is also a work of digital information in its own right. One of the most striking realizations for me in doing fieldwork with news journalists was how much of their practice was intimately familiar to another office-based, digitally enabled professional like an anthropologist. Although anthropologists happily consider themselves as fieldworkers at heart, the truth is that we spend most of our time as screenworkers, even in “the field.” Like my journalistic research partners, my average workday unfolds in front of a personal...

  5. Introduction: News Journalism Today
    (pp. 1-12)

    Truth may seem an ever more plural and slippery concept in public and political culture today. But news journalism retains a certain romance for its dogged pursuit of all things factual. Even in a time of endless complaints about the growing sensationalism and ethereality of “the media,” one continues to find journalists positioned in heroic roles in Hollywood films and bestseller fiction. We find the hard-nosed beat reporter, the relentless investigative journalist, the cantankerous desk editor, the fearless foreign correspondent, all fighters for the objectivity of truth against forces of deception and dissimulation.

    There are so many examples one could...

  6. Chapter 1 The Craft of Slotting: Screenwork, Attentional Practices, and News Value at an International News Agency
    (pp. 13-46)

    There is no way to begin talking about the craft of slotting without talking about the screens. They are the centering point of a slotter’s work, the alpha and omega as the Germans would say. To be sure, the taskscape of slotting is manifold and its interruptions and distractions are many—the news ticker scrolling across the large television monitor above, a query from one of the writers, a phone call, what has just been disgorged by the fax machine or the printer, the radio blaring out the top-of-the-hour news. Observing slotters at work, I tracked an average of ninety-seven...

  7. Chapter 2 Click and Spin: Time, Feedback, and Expertise at an Online News Portal
    (pp. 47-89)

    Sometime shortly after 2 a.m. UTC on June 1, 2009, Air France Flight 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris lost contact with air traffic controllers somewhere between Brazilian and Senegalese airspace and disappeared into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. At the time of writing, the circumstances of the crash remain a matter of debate, long-distance forensic science, and lawsuits. The plane had flown into an area of significant, but seemingly not atypically severe, thunderstorm activity three and a half hours after takeoff but there was no communication from the pilots to indicate trouble. About fifteen minutes after encountering...

  8. Chapter 3 Countdown: Professionalism, Publicity, and Political Culture in 24/7 News Radio
    (pp. 90-124)

    The 2009 national elections marked the nadir of the New Left in Germany. Like most political crises, this one was years in the making. In 2003, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder—a politician whose combination of market-friendly centrism and televisual charisma prompted frequent comparisons with Tony Blair and Bill Clinton—pushed his Social Democratic Party (SPD)-Green coalition government to support a major campaign of economic growth-oriented social reforms: Agenda 2010.¹ Schröder argued that Germany’s high unemployment (9.6 percent in March 2003) and economic “stagnation”² could not be cured without “courage for change.” The ultimate goal of Agenda 2010 was, the chancellor said,...

  9. Chapter 4 The News Informatic: Five Reflections on News Journalism and Digital Liberalism
    (pp. 125-151)

    This author grew up in a world where broadcasting represented the dominant model of newsmaking and news circulation—a model that seemed destined to endure indefinitely. A few decades later, very little seems durable about the broadcast model of news, except perhaps its process of diminishment. Indeed, we live in a media environment today in which the model of broadcasting that Raymond Williams described so elegantly and accurately in his 1974 study, Television, seems increasingly quaint. Over the past thirty years, broadcasting has not only experienced a pluralization of national and transnational production centers (e.g., cable and satellite broadcasting). But...

  10. Epilogue: Informatic Unconscious: On the Evolution of Digital Reason in Anthropology
    (pp. 152-176)

    As promised at the outset, readers interested solely in the story lines of news journalism today could stop here. These final sections of The Life Informatic cycle back to the meta-anthropological concerns outlined in the prologue, and especially to the question of how studying the impacts of digital information and communication in contemporary news journalism brings into focus a parallel legacy of digital mediation and digital thinking in anthropology. Throughout the book, we have encountered praxiological and mediological certainties echoing among news journalists. And we have explored how the rapid fluctuation of praxiological and mediological understandings is sensible, even necessary,...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 177-198)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 199-214)