WRITING & RESEARCH.
- “The Pleasures of Digital Denial: If unplugging for a day feels like deprivation, here’s a better strategy,” Thrive Global
- “Five Reasons to Get Serious about Kicking Smartphones out of School,” with audio narration by yours truly, Medium
- “Why I Heart Slow Media (and So Can You),” with audio narration by yours truly, Medium
- “How Disconnecting from Digital Pressures Can Boost Learning,” OUPblog
- “Suitably Slow: My nine-year path to Slow Media,” Slow Media
- “Living Offline: Artifacts of Life Before the Smartphone,” with audio narration by yours truly, Medium
“Right-Wing Audiences for Alternative Media: Comparing progressive and conservative attitudes towards journalism,” chapter in Activist Nation Rising, Joshua Atkinson and Linda Jean Kenix (eds.), Rowman & Littlefield, forthcoming.
This study helps fill gaps in our knowledge of the relationships among right-wing activists, conservative media, and alternative journalism. Most research on alternative and activist media, especially in the U.S., has assumed a progressive orientation and focused on liberal sources, messages and audiences. By contrast, this chapter revisits the literature to illuminate how the field has variously examined and neglected the ideas, practices and publics of right-wing media users. It reports a new analysis of survey data revealing both similarities and divergences between conservative and progressive audiences in regards to their attitudes toward alternative and mainstream media—in particular, toward the individual and structural biases of professional journalism. These findings can help scholars, journalists and other actors to better understand, theorize, and study the role of alternative media users in mainstream political communication. It also suggests several points of departure for future work on alternative journalism, partisan rhetorical strategies, media criticism, and public engagement.
“Are There Still Alternatives? Relationships Between alternative media and mainstream media in a converged environment,” article in Sociology Compass, 2016.
This essay examines how theorists and researchers have attempted to clarify the term ‘alternative media’ and to explain why this category remains relevant in a networked society. Academics largely reject the alternative–mainstream dichotomy and view these media on a continuum, featuring many hybrids and few pure instances. While differences between the two forms are less apparent in liberal democracies than in authoritarian regimes, alternative media persist in being less commercial, producing more critical content and being more committed to social change than their mainstream counterparts. In a converged context, the idea of ‘alternative media’ with a dialectical, inter- dependent relationship to the mainstream remains important to many producers, users and scholars.
“Slow Media as Alternative Media: Cultural resistance through print and analog revivals,” chapter in The Routledge Companion to Alternative & Community Media, Chris Atton, (ed.) 2015.
“Constructive Rituals of Demediatization: Spiritual, corporeal and mixed metaphors in popular discourse about unplugging,” article in Explorations in Media Ecology, 2014.
The increasing mediatization of everyday life has raised many concerns about the cultural consequences of digital technology and possibilities for individual self-determination. This article examines innovative practices of unplugging that people have constructed to challenge media logic and contest dominant cultural values – by creating create times and spaces of demediatization. The media ecology perspective, especially the work of James Carey, helps to shed light upon new rituals such as digital Sabbaths, fasts, diets and detox that advocate reducing or avoiding media use. An analysis of the spiritual and corporeal metaphors in popular discourse about unplugging reveals many symbolic and instrumental meanings that motivate resistant media users, a group oft-neglected by researchers. This article considers the collective obstacles to such individual practices and demonstrates that through constructive rituals, unpluggers not only critique mainstream culture but also enact an alternative vision of life.
“Exploring the Alternative–Mainstream Dialectic: What “alternative media” means to a hybrid audience,” article in Communication, Culture & Critique, 2014.
This article enriches debates about “alternative media” by exploring what the term means to users through an audience survey (n=224). Responses revealed values and practices that respondents agreed were important to alternative media. Users deemed a wide array of media “alternative”: political blogs, public broadcasting, foreign sources, and alternative-press institutions, as well as The Daily Show, Facebook, Fox News, and The Huffington Post. Despite criticizing corporations and advertising, this audience considered some corporate, commercial outlets “alternative media.” Respondents valued alternative content (neglected issues, diverse voices, mobilizing information) more highly than alternative form (being nonprofit, noncommercial, small-scale). I argue here that the dialectic of alternative media/mainstream media continues to provide a critical andcultural touchstone for users in a converged environment.
“Participation Beyond Production: Possibilities for reception and ritual in the study of activist audiences,” chapter in Audience & Interpretation in Media Studies, volume of the International Encyclopedia of Media Studies, Radhika Parameswaran & Angharad Valdivia (eds.), Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.
In this chapter I propose that the moments in which activists engage with media as listeners, readers, and viewers are just as interesting to scholarship as those in which people create and/or share media relevant to activism. By shifting some emphasis from the transmission mode of activists’ media use to the ritual or symbolic dimension, we can better understand how media habits help sustain activist identities and a sense of belonging, which serves as a precursor to participation. I also assert the importance of low-tech media, face-to-face communication, and offline participation among such audiences, whose members aim to connect mediated activities with real-world ones, and identify some social limitations in technological activism. The chapter concludes by suggesting avenues for future study that explore why activists choose to receive certain messages and how ritual contributes to people getting and staying involved with activist communities.
“The Origin of Slow Media: Early diffusion of a cultural innovation through popular and press discourse,” article in Transformations, 2013.
The emergent concept of “Slow Media” marks a cultural innovation, a new way of thinking about and engaging with communication technologies. I create a snapshot here of Slow Media’s origins by looking at its early diffusion through popular and press discourse. My analysis focuses on three periods of development: precursors who envisioned such a cultural movement; the de facto emergence of Slow Media in 2009; and the idea’s diffusion during the first year. I discuss chronological, geographic and institutional patterns that show when and where people began talking about Slow Media, how it entered the public agenda, and which discourses have been influential in its wider dissemination. By constructing this preliminary history, I aim to help scholars interested in Slow Media, or other aspects of the media-avoidance and –resistance subcultures, to locate avenues for future research.
“Superiority and Susceptibility: How activist audiences imagine the influence of mainstream news messages on self and others,” article in Discourse & Communication, 2010.
This article examines how US activists articulated the third-person effect, a widespread perception that others are more influenced by media messages than the self is. The discursive, qualitative approach used here contrasts with surveys and experiments prevalent in TPE research: groups watched a news program and responded to non-directional questions in a naturalistic setting. Group members, who reported feeling better informed about current events than the average person, alternately identified themselves as invulnerable and vulnerable to media influence. Discourse analysis showed participants using the pronoun ‘they’ to distinguish themselves from the mass audience; however, they also used ‘I’, ‘we’ and ‘you’ to convey first-person and second-person perceptions, suggesting multiple and shifting identifications. This study reveals three conversational strategies — role-playing, inventing dialogue and posing hypothetical statements — through which even people who feel a sense of ‘media superiority’ over others imagine themselves being susceptible to mainstream news. The results, derived from a context allowing people to express mobile and conflicting identities, have implications both for communication scholarship and for social-change agents.
‘Zines,’ entry in International Encyclopedia of Communication (Wolfgang Donsbach, ed.), Wiley-Blackwell, 2008.
“Activists as Interpretive Communities: Rituals of consumption and interaction in an alternative media audience,” article in Media, Culture & Society, 2007.
This multiple-method study bridges what John D.H. Downing has called a ‘distinctly disturbing gulf’ between our knowledge of social actors and theories about alternative media by considering the symbolic uses of news in an activist audience and by extending theories of news reading as a ritual act through which social bonds are produced. Because people often read news in private or diffuse situations, reading must be represented to other community members through discourse in order to communicate those information sources – and hence social ideals – they have in common. In interviews, activists downplayed consumption of corporate media, but diaries confirmed that they used a wide range of both alternative and mainstream sources. I propose that this interpretive community achieved its identity in part by rejecting mainstream media, so that performing the role of ‘alternative reader’ served as a marker of individual taste and group belonging.
“From Seattle 1999 to New York 2004: A longitudinal analysis of journalistic framing of the movement for democratic globalization,” article in Social Movement Studies, 2007.
This article examines how journalistic framing of the democratic globalization movement evolved in the five years after its 1999 emergence in Seattle. It takes a longitudinal approach to analyzing social movement coverage by looking for changes in news reporting over time. Protests against the World Trade Organization put this movement on The New York Times’ map, with ‘Seattle’ enduring as a symbolic reference connoting the threat of civic disorder. We found signs of both resilience and change in the newspaper’s coverage, which demonstrates complex interactions between reporters, activist groups and real-world events. Delegitimizing language was constant over time, evoking the protest paradigm and riot, confrontation and circus frames as templates. However, this analysis also found evidence of frame dynamism, suggestive of a possible evolving sympathy through which movement members improve access to reporters and get their issues across to the public. Journalists increasingly used movement members as sources, described the movement with fewer marginalizing terms and framed protests more favorably. Our findings about the increased presence of celebrities over other sources and of photographs over text – a phenomenon we call the tabloidization of protest – could have important strategic consequences for social movements. We argue, based on news values relevant to this activism, that mainstream spokespeople and tabloid-like coverage – which may indeed oversimplify and trivialize issues – also have the potential to publicize and popularize social movements.
“Gender in Crime News: A case study test of the chivalry hypothesis,” co-authored with M.E. Grabe, K.D. Trager and M. Lear, article in Mass Communication & Society, 2006.
This content analysis tested the chivalry hypothesis in 6 months of crime reporting in a local U.S. newspaper. The chivalry hypothesis posits that female criminals receive more lenient treatment in the criminal justice system and in news coverage of their crimes than their male counterparts. The study found partial support for the chivalry hypothesis and prompts a more nuanced formulation of the hypothesis-here termed patriarchal chivalry. This study also produced evidence that news coverage is harsher when men and women collaborate in crime than when men and women act independently of each other in criminal pursuit. The authors called it the Bonnie-and-Clyde effect.
“Hands-on communication: Zine circulation rituals & the interactive limitations of Web self-publishing ,” article in Popular Communication: The International Journal of Media & Culture, 2004.
The Internet seems to promise the producers of zines-independent publications characterized by idiosyncratic themes, low circulation, irregular frequency, ephemeral duration, and noncommercial orientation-an irresistible alternative to the medium of print. However, this study finds that many zine editors have resisted migrating to the Web and that those who have published online remain ambivalent toward this new communication technology, in large part due to perceived deficiencies vis-a-vis their established circulation rituals. I argue, based on in-depth interviews, that interactivity is a mental and social characteristic of these self-publishers, who believe that paper and xerography work better to achieve their goals of hands-on participation in a subcultural community.
“Clinging to Tradition, Welcoming Civic Solutions: A survey of college students’ attitudes towards civic journalism,” co-authored with K.D. Trager and E. Kim, article in Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, 2003.
“Rooted in Nations, Blossoming in Globalization? A cultural perspective on the content of a ‘Northern’ mainstream and ‘Southern’ alternative news agency,” article in Journal of Communication Inquiry, 2003.
This study compares news coverage produced by the mainstream Associated Press (AP) and the alternative Inter Press Service (IPS), an organization that highlights development issues and seeks balanced geographic representation in journalism. A cultural analysis of the two agencies’content provides a concrete example of how AP and IPS articles represent the South differently at the level where audiences actually experience news: the text. The qualitative analysis finds that in reporting on the Group of 77 Summit that convened in Cuba in 2000, IPS discourse emphasizes Southern nations’ cooperation, achievement, and goals, while the AP frames the event in terms of their disunity, neglect, and controversy. It concludes that the dominant agency filters news through U.S. hegemonic interests and assumptions, underscoring the need for more diverse sources of information in order for the public to adequately assess world events.