As part of my ongoing attempt to get out of Cornell and into the field, I’ve been in the process of honing my proposed PhD research. Based on the productive interactions I’ve had with people at events like NewsFoo, and drawing upon some really wonderful work that’s already been done in this area by a number of anthropologists, I’m proposing to study interactions between “hacks” (aka journalists) and hackers (including, but not restricted to programmers, DB folks, visualization experts, etc).
This, the second of two documents, is a broad outline of how I hope to structure my fieldwork. The other document, found here, is my attempt at defining the larger (still too large) scope of my project.
BTW, if you’re with a start-up or Newspaper in the US who’d be interested in working with a young (career-wise at least) anthropologist please feel free to contact me. Likewise, if you’re from a Foundation or Center interested in supporting or otherwise collaborating on this project, please drop me a note as well.
Outline of scope and approach for ethnographic fieldwork
This project is conceived, following the work of George Marcus and others, as a multi-sited ethnography. While the majority of my fieldwork will be anchored within a US City, the nature of this study requires me to follow my interlocutors as they, and their words and works, circulate within a broader network of individuals and institutions collaborating to “dream” the future of news.
The choice of city is based on weighing four primary factors. First, the ability to conduct research within and around existing, “legacy” news institutions engaged in news R&D. The second factor is the presence of start-up news enterprises. These range from community media outlets to start-up organizations specifically working to develop new “news” applications. The third factor is the presence and activity level of industry networking groups such as “Hacks/Hackers,” which work to foster conversation and collaborations between journalists and technologists. Finally, I am also looking for cities in which there are academic centers which are actively involved in the study of the future of the news.
As part of this research involves mapping the terrain of this collaborative space of dreaming, in addition to local research, I also plan to conduct supplemental research at a number of extra-local sites, in particular, trade meetings and conferences. Because the size, scope, format, and influence of these events can vary greatly, the choice of which ones to attend will be largely shaped by the priorities of my interlocutors. In addition to these sites, it’s my hope to conduct brief in-person research sessions at one or two of the non-profit institutions, like the John and James L. Knight Foundation, which are helping set and shape these discussions at a national level.
Additionally, I also plan to follow my interlocutors on-line, as social networking tools have become a critical part of the day-to-day productions efforts that I hope to track. In addition to staying abreast of discussions carried out via blogging platforms, I plan to conduct participant observation around various news related “tweet-ups”, regularly scheduled chat sessions in which groups of journalists hold guided open, public discussions about a specific “news topic.” My research methodology for this aspect of the project will draw upon the tools of linguistic and media anthropology to consider the interaction of individuals, culture, and mediating software, while, at the same time maintaining attention to the embodied grounding of all interactions.