New Article: Indonesia’s English-Language Press

Last year John Carpenter, a PhD student in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication, asked if I would be interested in working with him on a project about English-language journalists in Indonesia. John had just spent six weeks in Jakarta observing and interviewing journalists and editors at privately owned news organizations that publish in the English language.

John’s interest in English-language journalism in countries where English is not the primary language meshed well with my interest in global imaginaries. The result of our collaboration is an exploration of how English-language journalists conceive of public service when their audience is local, regional and global. The resulting manuscript, “Service at the Intersection of Journalism, Language, and the Global Imaginary,” is available online in Journalism Studies.

Here’s the abstract:

Drawing on interviews with journalists who work in Indonesia’s locally owned-and-operated English-language press (ELP), we argue English’s status as the language of global and regional imaginaries informs how ELP journalists negotiate their understandings of public service. This study contributes to research on the contextual negotiation of professional ideologies of journalism by considering how publication language—here, English in a country where it is a foreign language—shapes the ways journalists conceive service to their various publics.

Book Review: The Naked Blogger of Cairo

Below is the pre-publication text for a review published in the Journal of Communication Inquiry. The final, published review can be found here behind a paywall. 

In February 2011, a month after the “Day of Revolt” in Egypt, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker proposed union-busting legislation under the guise of a budgetary repair bill. Then a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, I joined thousands of other concerned citizens in occupying the state capitol to protest the bill. Contrary to claims by Walker and conservative talk radio, liberal sympathizers did not send professional activists to flood the capitol. What they did send was pizza. Local restaurants received orders from all 50 states and at least 14 countries, including Egypt, to deliver pizzas to protestors at the capitol. As much as those on the ground were encouraged by messages of support, it was the constant stream of baked cheese and dough that sustained their bodies. Bodies that marched, barricaded doorways, and shouted “Shame! Shame! Shame!”

Marwan Kraidy’s The Naked Blogger of Cairo captures this centrality of the physical body during times of dissent. Rather than write another meditation on how new communication technologies shaped the actions of activists in the Arab world, Kraidy centers his analysis around the oldest communication technology. In doing so, Kraidy offers a refreshing take on the Arab uprisings, one in which Facebook and Twitter are not framed as revolutionary agents but rather as tools used to publicize corporeal dissent.

Central to the book is the concept of creative insurgency, artistic creations and innovative actions that spur and sustain collective uprisings. Kraidy presents creative insurgency as having two modes: radical and gradual. Radical creative insurgency describes discreet “violent and spectacular” acts in which “the survival of the human body itself is at stake” (p. 18). Such acute moments of extreme sacrifice and tragedy, such as Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in Tunisia, call into question the legitimacy of authoritarian rulers. Gradual creative insurgency works more slowly and erratically. Exemplified by subversive humor and sustained critique, gradual creative insurgency can challenge authoritarian rule by chipping away at a ruler’s authority bit by bit. Although Kraidy distinguishes the radical from the gradual, he quickly acknowledges that many forms of creative insurgency are a blend of the two. Sometimes the radical inspires the gradual. Sometimes the gradual culminates in the radical.

Kraidy is not concerned with answering existential questions about the Arab uprisings—why did they happen when they happened, were they successful, what happens now? Instead, The Naked Blogger of Cairo presents a collection of stories about individual bodies that defined a series of collective struggles. Kraidy situates these tales within their context, laying out the historical and cultural trajectories for corporeal dissent in Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria.

In Part 1, Kraidy presents the body, both physical and metaphoric, as an organizing principle for understanding authoritarian regimes. Authoritarian rulers see their kingdoms as extensions of their bodies and seek dominion over the bodies of those they rule. Citizens, in turn, can voice their dissent by regaining control over their bodies. At its heart, creative insurgency is an attempt by members of the public to wrestle control over their individual bodies as well as the body politic.

Part 2 focuses on radical creative insurgency and draws most of its examples from Tunisia. From protest suicides to hunger strikes, radical protestors exert agency over their bodies through acts of violence and sacrifice that demonstrate the limits of authoritarian control. Part 3, then, turns to gradual creative insurgency, focusing mostly on Egypt. Through parody, name-calling, and other forms of subtle resistance, gradual protestors seek to expose the bodies of authoritarian rulers as feeble and grotesque. The culmination of gradual creative insurgency is best captured through the demise of Hosni Mubarak, his physical and metaphoric dissolution made clear when he arrived at his trial in tears and wheelchair-bound. Kraidy writes, “Mubarak’s teardrops authenticated his demise; his body, incapable of dissimulation, marked the autumn of the autocrat” (p. 90).

Part 4 looks at forms of creative insurgency that feature elements of the body (e.g., hand gestures, eye sniping) or extensions of the body (e.g., puppets, graffiti) that demonstrate the blending of the radical and the gradual. This section focuses mostly on Syria but also includes examples from several other global uprisings. Part 5 introduces the book’s titular character through an exploration of naked activism and the contentious politics surrounding nude, sexualized, and exploited female bodies. Although women’s bodies are central to creative insurgencies, they typically are deprived of agency and turned into “props, incentives, and sites for men’s battles” (p. 198).

The book closes with a discussion of the creative-curatorial-corporate complex—where protest art and global capitalism intersect—and the increasing threat of Daesh (also known as ISIS), which has appropriated the tactics of creative insurgency to support its violent and repressive ideology. In his final tale, Kraidy questions whether the murder of Shaimaa al-Sabbagh represents a return to the status quo ante in Egypt. Sadly, al-Sabbagh, who was shot by police during a commemorative march at Tahrir Square, exemplifies the continued vulnerability of Egyptian activists as a new authoritarian ruler works to wrestle back control over the body public.

Wonderfully written and cleverly organized, The Naked Blogger of Cairo arrives at a time when Benjamin Peters (2016) traces the word “digital” to its indexical root, the finger, and Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015) reminds us, “in America, it is traditional to destroy the black body” (p. 103). Kraidy’s focus on those who use their bodies as technologies of dissent is a welcome contribution to scholarship on communication for social change and activism, which is experiencing a period of digital euphoria. In short, The Naked Blogger of Cairo is certainly not the first scholarly account of the Arab uprisings, but it is one of the most original and essential.

References

Coates, T. (2015). Between the world and me. New York: Spiegel & Grau.

Peters, B. (2016). “Digital.” In Peters, B. (ed.) Digital keywords: A vocabulary of information society & culture (pp. 93–108). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

New Article: Music Videos, Global Imaginaries and Frictions

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been studying Kenyan music videos. My first article from this research project, “Global frictions and the production of locality in Kenya’s music video industry,” was just published online at Media, Culture & Society. I’m really excited about this piece, and I hope that it will be useful to other scholars of global media.

The article’s main contribution is an analytical framework for studying global cultural production. Here are the main points:

  • People feel a sense of belonging with those outside their direct proximity. This is illustrated nicely by Benedict Anderson’s book Imagined Communities and also by Charles Taylor’s book Modern Social Imaginaries. Within the context of globalization, Manfred Steger and others have written about “global imaginaries”—imagined communities that extend beyond national borders.
  • These social and global imaginaries shape our social practices. Our sense of “fit” with others contributes to our self definition, which, in turn, informs what we do. In this framework, I’m particularly interested on how social imaginaries help shape the practices of media and cultural producers.
  • Frictions occur when cultural producers with different global imaginaries are put in contact with each other. This concept of “friction” was introduced by Anna Tsing in her book, Friction. Tsing writes that when people ostensibly work together, there are differences in how they approach and understand their work. These difference result in frictions that are “productive,” in that they shape the outcome.
  • In the context of cultural production, frictions between hybridized subjects shaped by disparate global imaginaries result in what Arjun Appadurai calls “the production of locality.” These frictions are the building blocks of media and cultural production.

In short, this article provides a framework for scholars of global cultural production to study hybridity as both an antecedent (via global imaginaries) and an outcome (via frictions) of transcultural exchange. I use three cases from the Kenyan music video industry to illustrate how to use this analytical framework. These case studies also reveal three different types of frictions that occur in cultural production.

Here’s the abstract:

This article explores the relationship between global imaginaries, frictions, and the production of locality through an examination of the Kenyan music video industry. Localities are constructed, in part, through the constitutive work of the imagination. Friction occurs when divergent constructions of the global imaginary become entangled with each other. Through an examination of the production, distribution, and reception of Kenyan music videos, this study identifies three types of friction that occur in cultural production: collaborative frictions, in which collectivities work across differences toward a common cause; combative frictions, in which collectivities are positioned in direct opposition to each other; and competitive frictions, in which the interests of different collectivities conflict at times and align at others. This study contributes to scholarship on cultural production in non-Western contexts by articulating hybridity as both an antecedent to and outcome of transcultural exchange.

New Article: Citizen Journalism Beyond the Hype

Recently, I had the great opportunity to work with Joanna Krajewski (a Ph.D. candidate in SJMC at Iowa) on a project about the limits of citizen journalism, using a case study of CNN iReport coverage of cholera in Haiti. While citizen journalism offers the potential to elevate marginalized voices and challenge dominant discourses, it is important to critically examine the content of citizen journalism to better understand how well it lives up to this potential. Although others have published useful political economic critiques of CNN iReport, we focus less on the institutional structure of iReport and more on the iReports themselves. Such an approach runs the risk of “punching down” (something we took great care to avoid), yet we argue for the need to deeply engage with citizen journalism content to see whether it reproduces or challenges dominant discursive formations.

The resulting article, “Constructing Cholera: CNN iReport, the Haitian cholera epidemic, and the limits of citizen journalism,” was just published online by Journalism Practice. The article will appear in print in 2017 as part of the special issue “Mapping Citizen Journalism: in Newsrooms, Classrooms and Beyond,” guest edited by Melissa Wall.

Here’s the abstract:

Ten months after a catastrophic earthquake struck Haiti, the country was forced to confront what has since become the worst cholera outbreak in modern history. Haiti’s reputation as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and cholera’s stigmatization as a disease of the poor contributed to a dominant narrative in Global North news media in which the outbreak was seen not only as tragic but also inevitable. The failings in traditional news media provided a valuable opportunity for citizen journalism to elevate marginalized voices and challenge dominant narratives. Our study examines whether citizen journalism lived up to this potential through a discourse analysis of CNN iReport coverage of the Haitian cholera epidemic. Our findings demonstrate that iReport coverage failed to close the participation gap between the Global North and Global South, reproduced familiar narratives of Americans as heroes and Haitians as victims, became home to rumors and misinformation, and reproduced tropes of Haitians and cholera victims as backward and ignorant. In short, our study found that iReport coverage of Haiti’s cholera epidemic embodied the same discursive formation as that of traditional Global North news media. In closing, we argue that scholars must exercise caution when applauding citizen journalism without first critically examining citizen journalism content.

New Technologies and the “Friend or Foe” Question

REPOST: This article was originally published in the Iowa City Press-Citizen (without links/media). Read the original article

In 1997, when fewer than a quarter of Americans were online, telecom giant MCI released a TV commercial that captured the cyber-optimism of the time. Over a montage of diverse faces, a chorus of voices declared: “There is no race. There are no genders. There is no age. There are no infirmities. There are only minds. Utopia? No, the Internet.”

No ad executive would dare pitch such a concept today, unless she hoped to get laughed out of the room. If you still believe the Internet is a utopia, I recommend you read the comments section of an article about immigration. Instead, cyber-optimism largely has given way to serial hand-wringing by those who denounce various digital technologies: selfies epitomize the narcissism of millennials; Tinder marks the end of dating and romance; Yik Yak is destroying college campuses, and so on.

So, is the Internet friend or foe? Before answering this question, I think it is important to recognize that the Internet is not the first technology to illicit extreme and often contradictory responses from the public. In The Phaedrus, Socrates dismissed writing, arguing it was merely a “semblance of truth” that would encourage forgetfulness. More recently, Julian Hawthorne romanticized the telephone’s impact in a 1893 sci-fi story that imagined a future inhabited by global citizens “almost as closely united as the members of a family.” The truth is, once a technology becomes part of our daily routines, the “friend or foe” question largely disappears.

Your opinion on the Internet also depends on how you understand the relationship between technology and society. Some believe new technologies are powerful forces that dictate social, cultural and political relations. These “technological determinists” focus on the technology itself, questioning whether it produces positive or negative outcomes in society. Others believe people use technologies in ways that suit existing goals and interests. These “social constructionists” think about new technologies as tools that can be seized, adapted, and appropriated by the public.

While there is plenty of middle ground between these two perspectives, this dichotomy draws attention to a key question in the study of new technologies. Who has the most power: technology or people?

This question, and how it has been answered throughout history and around the world, will be central to an upcoming WorldCanvass discussion, featuring University of Iowa faculty from Communication Studies, Journalism & Mass Communication, and Computer Science. The program, “Encountering New Technology,” will be held February 9 at 5 p.m. at Iowa City’s non-profit cinema arts organization FilmScene on 118 East College Street. The program is free and open to the public. Audience members are invited to enjoy a social hour from 4 to 5 p.m. preceding the show.

I encourage you to attend the program and think about how you encounter new technologies: as friend or foe, tool or totalizer. As someone who teaches courses on digital media, I frequently get asked the “friend or foe” question about the latest app or social media phenomenon. I am more of a social constructionist than a technological determinist, so my response mirrors the famous quip about enemies: We have met social media, and it is us.

How Journalists and the Public Get It Wrong About African Poverty

REPOST: This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Ordinary people’s stories can change the world’s views about Africa

We cannot see salary data in the faces of others, but most of us have similar mental images that structure how we think about poverty in Africa. Search Google Images for ‘African poverty’ to see how yours match up. Dilapidated housing. Tattered shirts. Blank stares. Bellies protruding from parasitic infections. Skin clinging to bones from starvation. Tears.

The visit to South Africa by French economist and author of Capital in the 21st Century, Thomas Piketty, should lead us to reflect on how we understand poverty.

To speak of poverty in monetary values, such as living on US$1 or US$2 a day, is to view it as an absolute concept. To approach poverty as a relative concept is to recognise that poverty is contextual – US$1 a day in London is not the same as US$1 a day in the South African township, Diepsloot – and relational, shaped by the expectation gap between the those deemed impoverished and those writing the definitions.

For decades, scholars have criticised media representations of African poverty. Disease, disaster, conflict and poverty have long been hallmarks of global media coverage of Africa and, therefore, have coloured how the rest of the world views the continent.

While more nuanced coverage exists within Africa itself, poverty is still a topic defined by difference. The poor are different from the rest of the public. The poor are different from the journalists who cover poverty. The poor are different from us.

But media coverage of poverty does not reflect how the poor see themselves. There is a gulf between mediated poverty and the lived experience of poverty. So how have journalists and the public gotten it so wrong about African poverty?

Tales of doom and gloom

Members of the press have always struggled to tell the stories of those who do not look, sound, or live like them. While it is easy to blame individual journalists, there are structural explanations for this problem.

Journalists would love to function on an anthropologist’s time table, spending years getting to know the communities they discuss. Instead, most journalists must quickly file stories on deadline while chasing their latest editorial assignment. The daily news cycle does not leave much room for reporters to challenge preconceived notions and question personal biases.

In stories about poverty, journalists typically rely on local nongovernmental organisations to provide local sources and basic information. Resource-strapped nongovernmental organisations are pleased to oblige because any outside attention offers the potential for increased funding and support.

Though most nongovernmental organisations are hard working and well meaning, the nonprofit industry incentivises organisations to continue spreading tales of gloom and doom about African poverty. Donors respond to stories about extreme needs and the good work being done to address those needs. Stories which emphasise community features that locals value are not great avenues for fund raising.

Poor residents also recognise that they can benefit personally from magnifying their struggles when speaking with reporters. In Kenya, for example, journalists regularly compensate slum residents for interviews. The more tragic the tale, the easier it is to play upon the reporter’s sympathies.

That said, we should not criticise the poor for benefiting from their struggles. Interviewees offer value to journalists and news agencies, who turn around and sell their stories to the public. Considering high unemployment rates throughout the continent, being interviewed can serve as a profitable source of income.

Another worrisome trend in poverty coverage is the first-person travel narrative, in which journalists claim to understand poverty by experiencing it for themselves. In these stories, journalists embody pseudo-anthropologists, sharing their newfound experiential knowledge with the public after spending only a few days in poor communities.

The BBC has invested heavily in first-person travel narratives, first with Famous, Rich, and in the Slums, then later with Slum Survivors and Reggie Yates Extreme South Africa.

Though first-person travel narratives reflect the reporter’s experience, these stories fail to question the privilege of the storyteller. Such reporters see themselves as a bridge between the audience and the impoverished, but their stories overshadow the voices of those who understand poverty through living it every day.

Celebrating common humanity

During my research in Kibera, a densely-populated low-income community in Nairobi, residents criticised the gap between how they experienced life and how the media covered their community.

Residents were deeply concerned about insecure employment, disease, and other hardships unfamiliar to those living outside of poverty. But they also voiced great frustration that the media only reported negative stories about their community. Kibera’s media narrative did not capture the fullness of day-to-day life as they experienced it.

Residents told me stories that were complex and contextual, where the homes were of substandard quality but the cost of living suited their lifestyles. They spoke about the vibrant community in Kibera and the kinship they felt with their neighbours while dismissing the isolated nature of Nairobi’s wealthier neighbourhoods. They presented stories in which poverty constrained but did not define their lives.

Journalists who cover poverty would be wise to remember these lessons. They should view their interactions with nongovernmental organisations and local residents with healthy scepticism. They should acknowledge their biases and restrain themselves from projecting unwarranted expertise.

Journalists also should find out what works in poor communities as well as what doesn’t work. They should look beyond the familiar images of dirt, disease, and despair to seek out the mundane. Not to diminish poverty, but to celebrate our common humanity.

 

New Article: Touring Slums and Telling Stories (About Ourselves)

Five years ago, when wrapping up fieldwork in Kibera, I blogged about the controversy surrounding slum tourism. While many Kibera residents resent the fact that so many foreigners tour their community, a few told me they believed there would be less misunderstanding if more outsiders visited Kibera.

In a previous article, I discussed the complex feelings residents have about their home community and, in doing so, tried to challenge the dominant discourse about slums. In a new article, titled “Ironic Encounters: Posthumanitarian Storytelling in Slum Tourist Media,” David Tuwei and I look at the stories slum tourists are telling about their encounters with global poverty.

The article examines three texts produced by tourists of Kibera: the BBC special Famous, Rich and in the Slums, the book Megaslumming: A Journey Through Sub-Saharan Africa’s Largest Shantytown, and a White House slideshow about Jill Biden’s tour of Kibera. We draw from Lilie Chouliaraki’s The Ironic Spectator and H. Leslie Steeves’ article about representations of Africa in U.S. reality television to argue that slum tourist media exemplify a narrative genre in the post-humanitarian era, which we call “ironic encounters.”

Structurally, an ironic encounter is one in which:

  1. A Global North traveler visits a place of perceived suffering in the Global South
  2. The account is told through the visitor’s voice using narration and/or confessional interviews
  3. The story is structured chronologically around the visitor’s trip

More important, ironic encounters make three normative claims that are consistent with Chouliaraki’s account of post-humanitarianism:

  1. They position experiential knowledge as better than detached learning about global inequality
  2. They present tourists as more knowledgeable about the conditions and consequences of global poverty than those who live it daily
  3. They depict the visitor’s journey as a source of encouragement and enlightenment for those being toured

The article is a part of an upcoming special issue of Communication, Culture & Critique edited by Steeves on the topic of “Africa, Media and Globalization.” The abstract is below:

We argue that slum tourist media exemplify a distinct and growing narrative genre about post-humanitarian travel: ironic encounters. In ironic encounters, Global North tourists construct a humanitarian Self through their first-hand engagement with suffering in the Global South. In these stories, tourists present their travels as essential for coveted experiential knowledge while depicting locals as the true beneficiaries of the tourists’ self-discovery. We examine three high-profile texts produced by visitors of Kibera, a densely populated low-income community in Nairobi, Kenya: the BBC special Famous, Rich and in the Slums, the book Megaslumming, and a White House slideshow about Jill Biden’s tour of Kibera. Emblematic of ironic encounters, these texts ultimately justify slum tourism as a humanitarian act.

New Article: Innovation Clusters & Newsroom Change

The second article from my collaborative newsroom study with Jane SingerMelissa Tully, and Shawn Harmsen has just been published by Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly. Whereas the first piece looked at job insecurity and newswork, this article uses diffusion of innovations theory to examine the various changes happening in American newsrooms. In Diffusion of Innovations, Roger’s notes that innovations rarely appear one at a time; instead, they typically overlap with each other or are introduced as packages. While most diffusion studies isolate and track a single innovation, we used Roger’s concept of “innovation clusters” to parse out three interdependent yet distinct changes taking place at the newsroom that was the focus of our case study. This cluster of innovations includes changes in technology use, changes in audience relationships, and changes in professional culture. Using survey and interview data, we conclude (spoiler alert):

Although our findings demonstrate that many respondents are broadly accepting of all three types of innovation, responses to changes in professional culture are generally more tepid than responses to changing community relationships and the adoption of new technologies. Overall, reaction to change hinges greatly on issues of relative advantage, compatibility, and complexity. Changes that newsworkers see as beneficial to the news product and consistent with their understanding of journalism are viewed favorably, while journalists are resistant to adopt changes that they believe challenge journalistic autonomy and judgment, hurt the quality of the news product, and/or have been communicated poorly by the company’s leadership. (p. 18)

The article, “Making Change: Diffusion of Technological, Relational, and Cultural Innovation in the Newsroom,” will be out in print later this year, but it is currently available through JMCQ’s OnlineFirst. The abstract is below:

Diffusion of innovations theory typically has been applied to the spread of a particular technology or practice rather than the interplay of a cluster of innovations. This case study of a news company undergoing significant change seeks to offer a deeper understanding of multi-faceted industry upheaval by considering the diffusion of three interdependent yet distinct changes. Findings suggest technological change faces the fewest hurdles, as journalists recognize the need to adapt their practices to newer capabilities. Changes to audience relationships face greater resistance, while responses to changes to the professional culture of journalism remain the most tepid.

Economic Ingenuity among Nairobi’s Poor

A recent story in the The Standard details the various ways Nairobi’s low-income earners maximize their earning potential and spending power. The article, “How Thriving ‘Reject Economy’ is Allowing the Poor to Live High Life of the Rich,” by Dominic Omondi looks beyond the “Dollar a Day” trope to reveal the economic ingenuity of Nairobi’s underclass. A few of the examples:

  • Getting discounted prices for cracked eggs, bruised vegetables, misshapen bread, and defective clothing
  • Finding deals from street vendors and informal markets
  • Recovering and washing discarded, but still trendy, hair weaves
  • Selling old newspapers by the page to butchers and shopkeepers
  • Buying scrap electronics for pennies, fixing them, and selling them for a sizable profit

During my fieldwork, I became fascinated by the economics of Kibera. Inside Kibera, there are lots of people struggling to afford food and rent, but there are also plenty of working televisions, stylish dressers, and fresh fruits and vegetables.

Last summer, I learned about the cracked egg discount when helping a friend sell eggs at the market. It’s not surprising that this same logic holds true for a number of different products and services in the informal economy. You just have to know how to navigate the system.

Needless to say, I was captivated by the stories Omondi recounts in this article.

But here’s the problem.

While I saw this as a story about economic ingenuity, Omondi frames it as a morality tale about the frivolity and irrationality of the poor. For instance, he opens the article by introducing a man whose “love for all things luxurious” and his “life of extravagance” belies his “tiny, mud-walled shack in the squalid Korogocho slum.”

Later, Omondi interviews a University of Nairobi economist and a Moi University sociologist who both cast these efforts by the poor as foolish attempts to live symbolically above their means.

Dr XN Iraki, an Economics lecturer at the University of Nairobi, says: “People in slums and poor people in general aspire to be better than they are economically. In reality, that would take a long time, maybe even a generation.”

As such, Dr Iraki adds, the poor go through shortcuts by using symbolism like clothing labels or other visible signs of affluence.

“This provides a great market for fakes, making the business very profitable.”

Moses Mutua, a Sociology lecturer at Moi University, adds that this situation is further fuelled by what he terms “comparative need” — wanting to have a TV set in your house because your neighbour or someone you know has one.

“They [the poor] also want to show that they are in a class of their own. They suffer false consciousness; they are low-income earners, but would not want to show their predicament to their neighbours, children or extended family.”

The implication is clear: the poor should act poor.

I don’t want to completely dismiss the influence of social comparison. At the same time, why should we interpret someone making stew with chicken scraps or fixing a broken TV as false consciousness? Why not see this as an example of resourcefulness?

If the characters in this story have discovered ways to maximize their spending power, why view their consumption desires as any less valid than anyone else’s?

While I appreciate Omondi’s final point that the best way to improve living standards is to increase jobs and wages, he takes an unfortunate detour to get there. The takeaway from this story should be that Nairobi’s underclass has developed tactics (in the de Certaeu sense) to navigate an economic system that is structured around their marginalization.

This is worthy of our admiration, not our contempt.

New Article: Precarious Newswork

In the past few years, Jane SingerShawn HarmsenMelissa Tully and I have been looking into the changing newsroom. If you haven’t noticed, the news industry in the United States has been experiencing tremendous change. The four of us have been exploring how these changes affect those at the front lines of producing news.

Our first manuscript from this project was published online at Journalism Practice. The article “Newswork within a culture of job insecurity: Producing news amidst organizational and industry uncertainty” examines how uncertainty in the industry and at a specific company with a history of layoffs affects the news practices of those who remain behind. In it, we argue that a culture of job insecurity has a limiting effect on newsroom change as those who fear their jobs are in danger are unlikely to risk altering well-understood practices, while many others who perceive job security would rather accommodate than initiate change.

Here’s the abstract:

Rapid change in the news industry and the prevalence of layoffs, buyouts, and closings have led many newsworkers to experience job insecurity and worry about their long-term futures in journalism. Our research uses a case study of employees at an independently owned media company in the United States to explore the various ways newsworkers respond to this culture of job insecurity and how their responses affect efforts to change news practices. Findings demonstrate that those who believe their jobs are at risk are unlikely to change their practices and even some who perceive job security are reticent to initiate change. As a result, the culture of job insecurity in the news industry has a limiting effect on changes to journalism practice.

Featured image courtesy of Poynter.