Laura Ahva: To understand journalism, we need to look elsewhere – introducing new researchers

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Laura Ahva is a researcher of journalism, media and communication. She received her PhD in 2011 at University of Tampere where she has mostly worked since; as a postdoctoral researcher and senior researcher. She has specialised in questions of participation in journalism: how non-journalists can increasingly take part in news making and the resulting public discussion. Laura Ahva is currently a senior research fellow at the Institute for Advanced Social Research at the University of Tampere.

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“There is no need for every journalist to become a coder but everyone needs to understand information technology and its logic.” This is a quotation from the university magazine, Aikalainen, where Jussi Tuulensuu, the editor-in-chief of a regional newspaper Aamulehti, reflected on the future of journalism and journalism education.

The sentence sounds familiar for many people working in journalism practice, research and teaching – in fact, I believe I said almost the exact same sentence to the students last year. On the one hand, coding and the resulting algorithms provide possibilities for journalists to analyze and present digital data in new ways, but on the other hand, algorithms as non-human actors have been given an increasingly central role in deciding the kinds of news that users get to see, a role that used to be played by professional editors.

Coding and the entire field of information technology is just one example of the various aspects that journalists need to understand better. There are many fields that are now more than ever shaping journalism’s organizational structures, ethical standards or economic sustainability.

In my upcoming research project as an IASR fellow, I will examine actors and practices that shape journalism but originate from the fields of technology, economy and culture. These practices have not traditionally been regarded as “journalistic” but are becoming more important for journalism and ultimately to the kind of public discussion we can have. The practices I will focus on, are connected to coding, entrepreneurialism and eventification. They are practised by people who actively take part in journalistic work, but whose position may not be that of a journalist. These people can be data miners, startup coaches or event organisers.

Furthermore, these people are not necessarily located in the newsrooms: journalism is increasingly happening outside or in the outskirts of traditional newsrooms, for example in hackathon meetings where technologists scrape data for stories, in business hubs where new start-ups are developed by entrepreneurs, or at theatre stages where the presentation of journalism is dramatized.

Therefore, if we wish to better assess the possible futures of journalism practice and also adjust journalism education accordingly, we need to tap into “non-journalistic” practices that emanate from the neighboring fields but result in constructing the field of journalism.

To understand journalism, I will have to look elsewhere.

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