Amplifying a public's voice : online news readers' comments impact on journalism and its role as the new public space

Loke, Jaime 1979-
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This dissertation is concerned with the impact online news readers comments have on the role of journalists and the implication it carries in shifting private sentiments onto a public space. Online news readers comments have recently grown in popularity and journalists across the United States are divided on how best to host this new public space. Drawing perspectives from new forms of journalism, sociological studies in race and gender, critical race and feminist studies, this dissertation focuses on a) the challenges of news organizations as hosts of this new public space and b) the racist and sexist discourse generated by audiences of certain online news stories. This dissertation employs a multi-method research design that combines a large scale survey of journalists in the United States, in-depth interviews with journalists, content analysis and a discourse analysis of online news readers comments from five selected news stories with strong race and/or gender elements in order to 1) gain journalists’ perspectives in this new electronic landscape and 2) examine the content of the comments that pose the most challenges to journalists in terms of hosting this space. The survey and interviews revealed how journalists are divided in wanting to serve their public by providing a space for dialogue but yet refusing to host hate. Faced with this challenge within the new electronic landscape, a majority of journalists are left on their own to determine how best to handle this new public space with hardly any guidance or support from news managers. The analysis of the comments showed that the articulations of race and gender in the discourse were not erratic expressions of a minority but instead repertories of racism and sexism that mirrored the string of findings from race and gender scholars. This dissertation finds that online news readers comments section have emerged as the space for unconstrained expressions to flourish without the constraints of political correctness and within the safe confines of anonymity.