IRC16 - Proposed Session - #FollowTheMedium

Posted by Sumandro Chattapadhyay at Nov 23, 2015 03:40 PM |
This is a session proposed for the Internet Researchers' Conference (IRC) 2016 by Zeenab Aneez and Neha Mujumdar.

 

Session

It was media theorist Marshall McLuhan who popularised the phrase ‘the medium is the message’; to him, different kinds of media engage the senses in different ways, affecting how we process it and engage with its contents. Before situating research in the digital space, it is important to ask ourselves: what is the nature of the medium are we dealing with here? How do people interact with it? What are the opportunities it provides and the risks it poses? How can we study new digital objects, such as online-first news outlets, podcasts, etc in a way that recognises the medium’s newness?

The proposed session is an exploration of a methodology that is informed and defined by specific characteristics of the medium, with a special focus on digital news and journalism in India. Through this, it seeks to tackle the first of the four key focus areas of the conference: How do we conceptualise, as an intellectual and political task, the mediation and transformation of social, cultural, political, and economic processes, forces, and sites through internet and digital media technologies in contemporary India?

Keeping this key question in mind, we ask: how can digital methods research contribute to the study of news and journalism in the digital space? How can we use digital objects such as tags, Likes, and Comments to understand how user feedback works in the new information economy? What can the interface of a news creation platform tell us about the changing roles of Indian journalists in today’s media environment? How can we formulate a methodology for studying the metamorphosis of a news story by using Twitter and what skills are required to gather and process information for research of this nature?

In order to inform our responses to such questions, we borrow from Richard Rogers’ adage ‘Follow the medium’ (Rogers 2013), which argues that “natively digital”(Ibid. 19) objects like tags, links, Likes or Comments, which originate in digital networks, cannot be fully understood with methods, such as, say content analysis; an example of a non-digital method that does not recognise its digital nature. The proposed session will make use of the general philosophy embodied by Rogers’ approach and urge participants to acknowledge the specific properties of the Internet as a medium and look at news and journalism as part of the larger media ecology of the web. This calls for the use of new methods that are digital in nature; the discussion on contemporary news should expand from how the news industry is coping with the digital transition, to how we can better understand the specific elements of this transition and use this understanding to reflect upon the changing nature of journalism and news itself.

In order to channel the discussion, the session proposes using the framework from one particular field of digital research: platform studies. With the advent of Web 2.0 and the emergence of the ‘web as platform’ (O’Reilly 2007) and the strengthening relationship between the news industry and social media platforms(‘Reuters Institute Digital News Report’ 2015), traditional as well as digital-born news sites are increasingly adopting a platform model. Therefore, platform studies makes for a fitting framework within which to understand the workings of these platforms, their technological and formal structures, and the specific ways in which they allow users to interact with news content.

 

Plan

The session will begin with a brief introduction to digital methods (Rogers 2013) and the field of ‘platform studies’ (Bogost and Montfort 2009; Gillespie 2010; Dijck 2013), which will serve as a loose framework through which to study existing news platforms as well as perform analyses on social media platforms as sites for news and journalism. This will be supplemented by the works of Anne Helmond (2015) and Tarleton Gillespie (2010).

Following this, participants will be divided into groups of four-six, with each group anchored by a volunteer, with added support from the two co-leaders. They will then be given the task of formulating a research question that makes use of one or more of the digital methods presented and are also required to frame a methodology that makes allowances for the particularities of the Indian news environment. The session will conclude with a brief discussion based on their findings.

The goal of the workshop will be to explore how digital methods can be aligned with current concerns about news and journalism in India, and open up avenues for research that acknowledges that online news occupies a space that includes natively digital objects and information architectures and hence demands research methods specific to this environment. The workshop also aims at reflecting on potential collaborations between researchers in media studies, data scientists and technologists in developing a comprehensive methodology using which to study digital media in India.

 

Readings

Gillespie, Tarleton. "The Politics of 'Platforms'." New Media & Society 12, no. 3 (2010): 347-364.

Rogers, Richard. "The End of the Virtual: Digital Methods," Digital Methods. MIT press, 2013: 19-38.

Van Dijck, José. "Disassembling Platforms, Reassembling Sociality," The Culture of Connectivity: A Critical History of Social Media. Oxford University Press, 2013: 24-44

 

References

Anderson, Christopher W. "Towards a Sociology of Computational and Algorithmic Journalism." New Media & Society, 15, no. 7 (2013): 1005-1021.

Bogost, Ian, and Nick Montfort. 2009. "Platform Studies: Frequently Questioned Answers." Digital Arts and Culture 2009 https://escholarship.org/uc/item/01r0k9br.pdf.

Helmond, Anne. 2015. Presentation by Anne Helmond - Becoming Data Point. Panel. Transmediale. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=smXLCAGafqs

Lovink, Geert. 2008. Zero Comments: Blogging and Critical Internet Culture. New York: Routledge.

O’Reilly, Tim. 2007. ‘What Is Web 2.0: Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software’. SSRN Scholarly Paper ID 1008839. Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network. http://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=1008839.

Procter, Rob, Farida Vis, and Alex Voss. "Reading the Riots on Twitter: Methodological Innovation for the Analysis of Big Data." International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 16, no. 3 (2013): 197-214.

Reuters Institute Digital News Report. 2015. Oxford, England: Reuters Institute for the study of Journalism, Oxford University. https://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/sites/default/files/Reuters%20Institute%20Digital%20News%20Report%202015_Full%20Report.pdf

Rogers, Richard. Digital Methods. MIT press, 2013.

 

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