Covering the unknown city : citizen journalism and marginalized communities
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In recent years groups in several cities have attempted to use online media and digital technology to help the members of marginalized communities cover where they live. These initiatives have the potential to improve mainstream coverage, which relies on official sources and typically portrays these communities as deviant. But despite their relative independence, the influence of the culture of journalism itself could potentially lead these initiatives to use routines and frames that replicate the mainstream’s coverage of the marginalized. This dissertation analyzed four case studies, one based in Austin and three in Chicago, to examine this paradox. It investigated how the schools and nonprofits that maintain these initiatives balance participation with professionalism, and how participants relate to other residents, institutions, and officials within their communities and in other communities. It explored the limits of citizen journalism’s attempts to supplement and improve upon professional journalism. These cases were considered in terms of Bourdieu’s concept of the journalistic field, Castells’ network society, and Habermas’ public sphere. This theoretical framework is concerned with whose voices are heard in public discourse and in the culture overall. As Castells makes clear, access to the Internet and facility with online communication is a requirement for participation in public life, including journalism. But as Bourdieu argues, there are cultural aspects as well to the field of journalism that can limit such participation. Each initiative faced a tradeoff between adhering to traditional journalistic practices and standards and attracting participation from members of a community. A combination of elements of journalism culture (having editors and training), community media culture (advocating for communities, covering ongoing issues alongside events), and digital culture (allowing participants freedom to contribute in multiple ways, interaction) seems the most effective way to improve coverage of marginalized communities. Such a mixture would aid the creation of bonding social capital within a community and bridging social capital across communities, and presents an opportunity for the marginalized to use their cultural capital to gain social capital. Yet this hybrid model of journalism is resisted by the societal factors that influence mainstream journalism.