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New Ethics for Civic Journalism: Press Observatory, Pedagogy, Alternative Practices

New Ethics for Civic Journalism (A Research Proposal; Gascher, Gabriel, Legros, Lynch, Nielsen, Razlogava, Roth)

A recent addition to the multi-sided pressures bearing on the news industry (corporate media concentration and convergence, audience fragmentation, citizen journalism {bloggers}, fusing of news and entertainment, shifts in advertising revenue streams) is a growing international demand to restore an ethics of social responsibility for both the print and electronic press so that the cultural diversity of the world may be fairly represented through stories, images and voices that are more inclusive.(UNESCO Declaration on Cultural Diversity, 2001, and Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, 2005). Our project addresses this problem by focusing on the news media in urban settings. The research addresses the following assumptions and question: If it is assumed that mainstream journalism constructs the poor, immigrants, refugees, indigenous peoples, or other excluded groups through third person sources, and, if it is assumed that mainstream journalism rarely includes the voices of marginalized groups or addresses them directly, can the profession of journalism claim that it fulfills an ethical mandate to inform its audience of the diversity of cultural expressions, which exist on the frontiers of the dominant group?

This project proposes to create a network of interdisciplinary researchers and journalists who will develop a new ethics for what many scholars have identified as civic journalism (sometimes referred to as public journalism). Civic journalism seeks to reduce the gap between groups being reported on and the journalist’s implied audience by developing stories from where the subject (citizen or non-citizen) is situated. The new ethics defines journalism as a mediator of an ongoing public conversation among diverse groups rather than as a provider of neutral descriptions of agents, events, and issues. This definition will be deepened through the first innovation in methodology which is the diagnosis and putting into question of genealogies of how subjects are conventionally framed. The second level of innovation contrasts genealogical critique of mainstream news framing with a blending of more inclusive storytelling techniques and pedagogical alternatives that will be tested through field experiments with practitioners, communities, and researchers.

Our team bridges several disciplines to create new principles of dialogue between journalists, the excluded, and news-media audiences. The initial mixture includes journalism, sociology, communications, anthropology, and history. As we develop the letter of intent we anticipate adding members from other disciplines to strengthen our coverage of Montreal and other cities in most global regions. We also plan to collaborate with multimedia specialists from the humanities and fine arts to develop alternative storytelling practices.

Our three overlapping research axes focus on case studies that address tensions between practitioners, theorists and pedagogues, on the one hand, and a press observatory that provides systematic textual analyses, on the other:

(content, discourse, and framing analyses of the Montreal press with a selection of other cities around the world according to the projects and specialties of the research team members). Focus on newspapers; newscasts and reporting through new media are placed in the context of global mapping of news flow headlines and how the mainstream press and electronic media from a variety of cities and regions compare with Montreal.

(ethnography, new pedagogy; focus groups, curriculum development). How do we raise awareness about the blind spot in training journalists? How can critical theory be integrated into journalism pedagogy? Many practicing journalists are aware of the state of the industry. What field experiments can we propose with them?

designing for excluded audiences (new media design politics, alternative storytelling medium, electronic archiving, measuring accessibility) Our objective is not simply to document the trend toward integrating alternative media into the mainstream but to contrast established and older forms of storytelling for a new ethics of civic journalism that would better report subjects in multicoated environments and reduce the gap with implied audiences.

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