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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Algorithms and the Organization of Independent Journalism

  • Author(s): Headley, Lyn Adams
  • et al.

Against a background of fundamental change in American journalism, I argue in this dissertation that journalism as an independent, distinctive practice is produced by news organizations. I begin by situating this topic within a historical context. I describe recent changes in the normative, economic, and technological bases of American journalism through an organizational lens. In particular, I relate the decline of the traditional normative basis of American journalism with its declining organization and independence. Given this decline, I argue that recently developed forms of organization offer suggestive matter for the study of the organization of independent journalists. In particular, I show that algorithmic forms of organizing the production and distribution of communication media are compelled to deal with questions of independence and distinction. I argue that this fact makes these forms of organization relevant to journalism scholars. In order to treat these disparate forms of organization in a unified fashion, I develop a theoretical framework to treat both traditional, corporate forms of organization as well as algorithmic forms. In chapter one I outline this framework and support it using interview data collected from contemporary journalists. In chapter two I describe the organization of independent journalists in its traditional, corporate American setting. In chapter three I describe the Google search engine as an organization of independent media producers, and relate it to the news department. In chapters four and five I describe an experimental news aggregator developed in the course of this dissertation research and deployed with the help of 25 participants. I argue that algorithms like help us see and understand that existing forms of organization are not inevitable or natural outcomes, but are contingent on specific values and choices. I therefore argue that algorithm design may be consciously employed as a method of social science research, as in this case it has been

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