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Ethnography of diaspora journalism

Patricia Cruz



The study “Examining Diaspora Journalists’ Digital Networks and Role Perceptions: A Case Study of Syrian Post-Conflict Advocacy Journalism” by Rana Arafat from City University of London sought to understand how diaspora journalists maintain their connections to the homeland and how they advocate for human rights and political reforms from afar. 

Previous research on diaspora journalism has mainly focused on the level of professionalism in the journalists’ online media, promotion and advocacy through conflict reporting, and the threats, physical and digital, that influence the practices.

The study at hand employed digital ethnography of two digital diasporic networks, Syrian Journalists’ Association (SJA), with 500 members and 12,743 followers, and Syrian Female Journalists’ Network (SFJN), with 150 members and 7,331 followers, in order to understand advocacy content, practices, and dynamics of interaction. The networks were created by exiled journalists.

In addition to studying the interactions in Facebook, the study had a second step where 12 in-depth interviews were conducted on Syrian diaspora editors and journalists, whose work involved opposition news. The purpose was to gauge how the interviewees perceived the changing nature of their roles and the various forces influencing their efforts.

The digital networks do not serve the purpose of generating news content for the general public. Rather, they serve as gateways for the diaspora journalists to fulfill several functions. The observation revealed seven functions, ranging from promoting homeland-related advocacy and connecting the struggle to international issues to informing journalists about professional opportunities.

Syrian Journalists’ Association was more focused on the larger Syrian community including Syrian Kurdish Journalists’ Union, and assuring access for both diaspora journalists and local Syrians to the forums. Syrian Female Journalists’ Network on the other hand, involved non-Syrian actors in its work under the umbrella of the larger feminist movement in the Middle East.

Both of the forums presented the Syrian government and state-controlled media as the “opponent”, but also strongly emphasized the role of civil society organizations. , The SJFN, despite the large role of the diaspora in Turkey, opposed Turkish intervention in the area.

To link the cause to international movements, the networks engaged in hashtag activism. Additionally, the hashtags helped to organize the posts in the websites. This was combined with offline efforts to join up with the international community to take action. 

Of the journalists’ perceptions, the study found out that all the participants refused to categorize the work they do as “activism”, because the term has loaded connotations in Syria as many armed terrorists and fighters there call themselves activists. Rather, they framed their work as “advocacy” within the framework of constructive journalism. 

There were four narratives arising from the interviews of the first group: a) challenging the regime’s authoritative voice, b) truth-telling and avoiding the state-like propaganda , c) promoting opposition without being identified with any oppositional group, and d) practicing public-service advocacy while avoiding political activism and mobilization journalism.

The second group running the digitalized networks focused on two narratives:  a) mobilizing for a social change, and b) lobbying the regime and opposition authorities to defend journalists. Two among this group perceived their work as involving the empowerment of democracy and press freedom, as well as defense of human rights of journalists and human rights people. 

As for the influences the journalists encountered, organizational influences were present in the diasporic newsrooms itself, as the journalists clearly had political backgrounds at odds with the regime and this influenced the coverage despite the adoption of more international standards. The author sees a danger that if the political leanings are one-sided, the diaspora journalism becomes a mere mirror image of the state news in one-sidedness. 

Procedural influences involve the constraints for reporting transnationally. Information verification is difficult as is access to sources. This is particularly so in Syria, where all non-state media is considered “fabrication” and “against the state”, and local sources understandably fear talking to opposition journalists. The diaspora journalists depend mainly on local journalists who at times may be too shell-shocked by the events to be able to report.

Political influences involve the surveillance and transnational repression faced by the journalists. Sometimes host states such as Turkey impose censorship on certain topics. They find it hard to criticize the Turkish government without the fear of being shut out or their headquarters in Gaziantep shut down.

The author states that the study contributes to the ongoing discussion in three ways: it proposes that there are advocacy-based functions in the journalists’ networks that go beyond the normal functions.

 Second, hybridity is rethought in regards to journalistic role perceptions, by proposing two unique approaches to serving democracy in exile. The journalists do not perceive a conflict in their roles as advocates and journalists, and do not believe that they risk the quality of their media work.

Third, for the traditional hierarchies of influence, this paper adds and connects a new set of local and transnational sets of influence that shape the diasporic journalism practice. There are specific constraints on performing advocacy and storytelling in diaspora. 

The author suggests that future research should focus on cross-country comparisons between different groups of exiled journalists. 

The study “Examining Diaspora Journalists’ Digital Networks and Role Perceptions: A Case Study of Syrian Post-Conflict Advocacy Journalism” by Rana Arafat is in Journalism Studies. (free abstract). 

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Article: Trust and Journalistic Transparency Online

Patricia Cruz



The study “Trust and Journalistic Transparency Online” by Michael Koliska from Georgetown University experimented on news consumers’ trust as brought on by transparency, and further, in the second experiment, explored the reasons for the findings in the first.

Transparency in journalism is defined as opening up the journalistic processes (production, decision making) to outsiders, i.e. making journalism more transparent. Karlsson (2010, 2020) further divides transparency into disclosure, participatory, and ambient transparency. 

Defining trust, on the other hand, in journalism has been tricky, as it has been associated with credibility. Kohring and Matthes (2007) define the four elements of trust: 1. trust in topic selectivity; 2. trust in fact selectivity; 3. trust in accuracy of descriptions, and 4. trust in journalistic assessment. 

This study recruited its participants from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk) platform. There were a total of 1092 participants. They were presented with a news story about nanoparticles – a topic that was unfamiliar to most and therefore had a low risk of partisan opinions. The article was presented in six different webpages that had differing transparency items in them.

There were 11 different trust items in the first experiment. Based on the results, the hypotheses were rejected. They were H1: A a) production transparency news item and a b) producer transparency news item will be trusted more than a non-transparent item. H2: A full transparency (both production and producer transparency) news item will be trusted more than a) a non-transparent article, b) a production transparency article, and c) a producer transparency article. And H3a: A full transparency news item will be trusted more than a full transparent article that includes biased information about the producer. H3b: A producer transparency news item with neutral personal information will be trusted more than a producer transparency article with biased information.

Nevertheless, the participants agreed that the journalist was trustworthy and that they sometimes trusted the news media. On results, it was speculated that the participants did not recognize the transparency features as cognitive heuristics and did not interact much with the transparency items. 

The second experiment was similar. There were a total of 379 participants, who were not the same as in the first one. They were assigned to read the same article as in the first about nanoparticles, placed again on five different webpages with varying transparency features.  

Further on, the participants were asked to recall the transparency features (such as hyperlinks, author bio, editorial explanations etc.) and to recall specific information from the article and the transparency features. 

The participants recalled items such as the photo (84% of the ones assigned to the webpage with a photo) only 34% could correctly identify the journalist. Similarly, 53% of those who had seen an editorial explanation recalled it, but only 26% could recall a detail from it. Participants also had trouble recalling the individual transparency features they were exposed to.

It was noted that the participants had better recall on items that were part of the actual story than the ‘digitally outsourced’ transparency items. It is possible that this information is not adequately processed or they failed to acknowledge the utility of this information. 

In conclusion, it still remains unclear how the link between transparency and audience’s trust is created. The question remains on whether news consumers recognize transparency features as markers of journalistic quality.

The article “Trust and Journalistic Transparency Online” by Michael Koliska is in Journalism Studies. (open access). 

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News ideology and media storms in France and Israel

Patricia Cruz



The article “What Happens in the Eye of the Storm? News Ideology During Media Storms” by Doron Shultziner from Hadassah Academic College looked at the nexus of news ideology and media storms using two media storms to analyze the topic: the Yellow Vests Movement (2018) in France and the Occupy Movement (2011) in Israel.

Media storms are defined as events or topics that take up a substantial part of the coverage for a period of time. They typically peak after few weeks in the beginning and then begin to fade. They have been studied widely with various terms being applied to them like “media event” or “media hypes”.

In the past 15 years, there has been an increase in the amount of studies on media ideology. Measured against the hypothetical gold standard of pure objectivity, media bias can be seen when coverage varies from source to another in different weighings and so on, with professional considerations having been overtaken by ideological ones.

The ideology is often seen in framing – as in this case, left-wing media tends to frame the protests positively and right-wing negatively. This was one of the topics in this study.
There were two data sets for the study: the Israeli one and the French one. The Israeli dataset consisted of coverage from Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel Hayom, Maariv, Haaretz, Makor Rishon (a national-religious newspaper), and Yated Neeman (an ultra-religious newspaper). Israel Hayom, Makor Rishon, and Yated Neeman are right-wing, the rest are left wing.

The French dataset consisted of coverage from Le Figaro, Le Monde, Libération, and L’Obs – listed here from right to left ideologically. The articles from both datasets were coded either positive, negative, or neutral based on several criteria.

The results show that media storms are a multi-media phenomenon, affecting a number of newspapers at once. The findings also demonstrate a media bias: if professional considerations were the only thing that mattered, the coverage in left- and right-wing media would have resembled each other.

Instead, there was a trend of negative coverage in right-wing media and positive in left – and what is more, the lines of coverage moved to opposite directions, showing increased polarization. There were differences between the storms: in the Israel case the newspapers chose their sides early and there was no significant move, but in France the lines diverged as the media storm went on.

News ideology also operated through production bias mechanisms, such as sizing of articles or their placement in the newspaper (front page or somewhere else). Due to the differences of the two cases, the hypotheses regarding the decline stage of the storm were hard to assess.

The author notes that the study has implications for future research. It proposes that media storms may be high-risk events that even challenge the ideology and interests of the news organizations. As important, politically charged events become media storms, they may become political storms instead.

The article “What Happens in the Eye of the Storm? News Ideology During Media Storms” by Doron Shultziner is in International Journal of Communication. (free access).

Picture: Storm Approaching by Johannes Plenio @jplenio.
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Covering women’s sport: My sports journalism career highlights

Patricia Cruz



There has never been a better time to work in women’s sport and for early-career sports reporters, the opportunities are endless.

Here, multimedia sports reporter Milly McEvoy shares how she has covered everything from the Olympics and Paralympics to international women’s cricket and football tournaments, only a year after finishing her sports journalism course.

In June 2021, fresh off finishing my Multimedia Sports Journalism qualification with in Manchester, I made the move down to London to join Sportsbeat as a reporter.

It feels like a lifetime ago, but what has come in between also feels like a blur – it has involved international rugby and football, the British Athletics Championships and domestic cricket and netball (and lots more) in person. 

I have also covered the Summer Olympics and Paralympics, Wimbledon, the Commonwealth Games, remotely and I have had the opportunity to interview sportspeople involved from the grassroots to the top of the game. 

On top of all that, I spent two months covering the Women’s Cricket World Cup in New Zealand. 

As I came to the end of my history degree in 2020, I already knew I wanted to be a sports journalist, but I started thinking about what form that would take. 

I quickly settled on women’s sport. 

I had always kept an eye on women’s sport, and proudly say the first sporting event I ever attended was a Women’s Euros football match in 2005, but my interest in sport came from what was easily available – and even two years ago most women’s sport wasn’t. 

2020 was a slippery slope to full-on obsession including listening to the 2020 Women’s T20 World Cup final on 8 March in the early morning on the radio. 

Even across the airwaves, the sound of 86,174 people packing into the MCG showed to me that there was plenty of appetite for women’s sport, people just need to be able to see it – and read about it. 

Fast forward two years and Australia were winning another World Cup, but this time, I was there to see it with my own eyes before heading to the press conference to speak with captain Meg Lanning. 

What had led to that point at around 9pm on 3 April 2022 was two months covering one of the most exciting tournaments cricket has ever seen, and I’m luckily not yet jaded enough to have cursed having to rewrite my match reports as momentum swung wildly in several games. 

I learnt so much from covering that World Cup producing over 120 previews, reports, reaction pieces and features, but my favourite one was the last thing I did in Aotearoa, speaking with a slightly hungover Grace Harris the day after she had won the World Cup. 

Having returned to the UK, I enjoyed a full circle moment in July as I covered the Women’s Euros, and just like the 2020 T20 World Cup, I watched from afar as 87,192 fans cheered the home team to victory. 

Except, this time I was writing the match report for the Lionesses and I couldn’t get into the Wembley press box because there were so many people eager to cover women’s sports. 

It feels like England’s win will be a turning point for women’s sport, one that is long overdue, and I am excited to be part of what is to come and grateful and proud to have been a small part of what has already been. 

You can find out more about our multimedia sports journalism course here.

For a taster of our award-winning journalism training, sign up for one of our free workshops here.

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