Jennifer Rauch Purveyor of Fine Erudition in Journalism, Communication & Culture

RESEARCH.

For a complete list of publications and presentations, please see my curriculum vitae. Full articles and book chapters are available here.

My research interests lie at the intersection of alternative journalism, media audiences, communication technology, media activism, and discourses about social and environmental sustainability.

In the forthcoming book Slow Media: Why Slow is Satisfying, Sustainable and Smart (Oxford University Press), I examine innovative theories and practices that foster social and environmental sustainability in mediated life. The book presents ideas for transforming the way we produce and use media, just as the Slow Food movement changed how people grow, buy and eat food. Slow Media promotes alternatives to global, corporate media that are often unresponsive to the situated needs of human communities and natural environments. For instance, the Slow Journalism movement and the slogan “Good, Clean, Fair” provide an ethical framework for making the news industry more sustainable. I also explore novel concepts such as mindful media, green citizenship, and Post-Luddism that help readers understand complex relationships between everyday media choices, human well-being and the natural world. With this book, I hope to propel public conversations about how individuals and groups can challenge and change the status quo — as users, consumers, and citizens.

Some of my earlier work focused on the dialectical relationship between alternative and mainstream conceptions of media. In studies of the Inter Press Service, independent zines and blogs, and civic journalism, I explored how various news sources and communication models might constitute “alternatives” in terms of their content, forms, practices, ideologies, uses of technology and engagements with the public.

Through discourse and content analyses, I have examined journalistic framing of issues such as international development efforts and the democratic globalization movement. One study found substantive differences between the stories produced by the U.N.-sponsored Inter Press Service and those of the U.S.-based Associated Press (‘Rooted in Nations, Blossoming in Globalization? A cultural perspective on the content of a “Northern” mainstream and “Southern” alternative news agency,’ Journal of Communication Inquiry). The former focused on cooperation and achievement among developing nations, while the latter emphasized competition and controversy.

My research has looked at the evolution of newspaper coverage of so-called “anti-globalization” protests during a five-year period following the movement’s definitive emergence in Seattle in 1999 (‘From Seattle 1999 to New York 2004: A longitudinal analysis of journalistic framing of the movement for democratic globalization,’ Social Movement Studies). My co-authors and I identified a phenomenon called the “tabloidization of protest,” wherein newspapers increasingly feature photographs over texts and celebrities over other sources. Such coverage has the potential to oversimplify and trivialize issues while also publicizing and popularizing activist causes.

Another study made connections between my research and teaching. In a survey of 405 students’ attitudes toward civic journalism, my co-authors and I explored possibilities for curricular reform in news-editorial classes (‘Clinging to Tradition, Welcoming Civic Solutions: A survey of college students’ attitudes towards civic journalism,’ Journalism & Mass Communication Educator). The study found that while students are loyal to traditional news values such as objectivity, they also approve of public-minded approaches to journalism. Students working in traditional news environments—such as campus papers or local media internships—were least receptive to civic journalism, underscoring the role of professional socialization.

One project spurred me to realize how theories of “ritual communication” relate to alternative media use (‘Hands-on Communication: Zine circulation rituals & the interactive limitations of Web self-publishing,” Popular Communication). Through in-depth interviews with independent producers of printed “zines” (a subject for which I also wrote the entry for Blackwell’s International Encyclopedia of Communication), I found that self-publishers saw virtual distribution as inferior to physical practices of handing out, mailing, and exchanging their creations. They described their communication ideals as hands-on, participatory and two-way. Based on this, I argued that interactivity is not a technological feature but a mental and social characteristic. The concept of ritual can be extended to encompass not only rituals of media production and consumption, as typically understood, but also of media distribution and circulation.

Building on these research experiences, my dissertation studied how readers perceived differences between mainstream and alternative media (“Looking at It Sideways: Alternative Media and the Activist Critique of News”). My interest shifted toward audience interpretations, rather than presented or intended meanings. I investigated how active (and activist) audiences interpret media messages and how they challenge mainstream culture through ritual and resistant uses, as well as non-use, of media. My dissertation research yielded two articles. One employed group interviews, diaries and discourse analysis (‘Activists as Interpretive Communities: Rituals of consumption and interaction in an alternative media audience,’ Media, Culture & Society). These mixed methods helped me locate a discrepancy between the media use that activists recorded in diaries and the media that they presented themselves as using in conversation with other activists. Namely, they performed (in Goffman’s sense) what I called a “ritual rejection of the mainstream” that downplayed exposure to corporate, commercial media—which they in fact used frequently, more than the general public.

Another article showed how audience members spontaneously compare themselves to others while talking about media messages (‘Superiority and Susceptibility: How activist audiences imagine the influence of mainstream news messages on self and others,’ Discourse & Communication). I led focus groups of activists in watching and discussing a television news program with non-directional questions in a naturalistic setting, a qualitative approach that contrasts with the surveys and experiments of most third-person effect (TPE) research. My analysis revealed that participants used the pronoun “they” and related words to distinguish themselves from out-group members. This article expanded TPE research by identifying three distinct conversational practices —role-playing, inventing dialogue, and posing hypothetical statements— through which activists imagine the “average” audience. I proposed that some people with high ego- involvement in and self-perceived knowledge about public affairs feel a sense of "media superiority" over members of the mass audience.

In another study in this stream of research, I found that respondents shared a distinct system of values associated with the term “alternative” (‘Exploring the Alternative-Mainstream Dialectic: What “alternative media” means to a hybrid audience,’ Communication, Culture & Critique). While they professed that corporate-commercial practices were serious problems for mainstream media, they were tolerant of corporate management and commercial financing when it supported alternative content or critical projects. Scholars and producers have struggled to define alternative media, with some suggesting that digital technologies make the category obsolete. Yet, no researcher had ever asked audience members what “alternative media” meant to them. My survey helped to bridge this gap, concluding that users associated a distinct system of values with the term “alternative.” I had anticipated finding differences between progressive and conservative audiences, but instead the data showed a great deal of overlap in their views.

I revisited the theme of ritual in my contribution to a Wiley-Blackwell volume on Audience & Interpretation in Media Studies (‘Participation Beyond Production: Possibilities for reception and ritual in the study of activist audiences,’ ed. Radhika Parameswaran). Researchers often conceptualize activists’ media use as participation in message production and dissemination, while overlooking practices related to reception and interpretation – that is, activists as audiences. I proposed that activists’ engagement with media as listeners, readers, and viewers are just as interesting to scholarship as when they create or share media content. By shifting some emphasis away from the transmission mode of activist media use and toward the ritual or symbolic dimension, we can better understand how media habits help sustain activist identities and a sense of belonging, which serves as precursor to participation. I also identify some social limitations in technological activism and reassert the importance of low-tech media, face-to-face communication, and offline participation for such audiences, who aim to connect mediated activities with real-world ones.

Ritual also provided a useful theoretical framework to my work on demediatization (‘Constructive Rituals of Demediatization: Spiritual, corporeal and mixed metaphors in popular discourse about unplugging,’ Explorations in Media Ecology). Mediatization, the process whereby society is increasingly submitted to or becomes dependent on media and their logic, has emerged as a key concept for analyzing the changing relationship between media, communication, culture and society. Yet few theorists have considered possibilities for demediatization. My article examines practices of “unplugging” that people have constructed to challenge media logic and contest dominant cultural values, by creating create times and spaces without media. This work sheds light upon new rituals related to media use/non-use and demonstrates how these constructive rituals not only critique mainstream culture but also enact an alternative vision of life.

In other recent projects, I have looked at media from the viewpoint of cultural and environmental sustainability. My chapter on ‘Slow Media as Alternative Media’ in The Routledge Companion to Alternative & Community Media (ed. Chris Atton) considers the 21st-century resurgence of low-tech forms such as printed zines and vinyl records. Slow Media practitioners both articulate a critique of consumer culture and promote collective intervention in the cultural domination and commodification that they perceive. In my analysis, this phenomenon is founded upon anti-capitalist and anti-corporate philosophies, but is not anti-digital or anti-progress. That work continues an exploration that I began in an article for the journal Transformations (“The Origin of Slow Media: Early diffusion of a cultural innovation through popular and press discourse”) and that culminates in the Slow Media book project.