In this episode we hear from digital journalism scholar Gregory Perreault, who discusses how power and justice is distributed among news outlets and reporting niches, and how the internet and digital technology has generated hostility towards journalism.
About Our Guest:
Gregory P. Perreault (Ph.D., Missouri) is a scholar of digital journalism, focusing on journalistic epistemology, hostility in journalism and digital labor.
He currently serves as Vice Chair of the Standing Committee of Research for the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) and as Reviews Editor for Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly. He served as Fulbright-Botstiber Professor of Austrian-American Studies at the University of Vienna Journalism Studies Center (2020-2021). His work appears in New Media & Society, Digital Journalism, Journalism, Journalism Studies, Journalism Practice and Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly. His book Digital Journalism and the Facilitation of Hate (Routledge) was published in 2023.
An avid runner, he most recently ran the 39.3 Asheville Marathon and a Half in Asheville, North Carolina. This episode was recorded while he was an Associate Professor of Digital Journalism at Appalachian State University. From Fall 2023, Perreault is now an Associate Professor of Media Literacy & Analytics at the Zimmerman School for Advertising & Mass Communication at the University of South Florida.
Find Gregory Perreault Online:
ResearchGate Author Page
OSF Author Page
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Maxwell Foxman 00:02
Hello, and welcome to the Demystifying Media Podcast. I'm Maxwell Foxman, assistant professor of Media Studies and game Studies at the University of Oregon. And today we're going to be talking about the importance of genre, industry and power in journalism. To help us discuss this, I'm joined in the studio today by Gregory Perot, a journalism researcher and professor at Appalachian State University. Greg has joined us on campus throughout the week meeting with students and faculty to discuss these subjects. Perot started his career as a journalist reporting on a variety of subjects ranging from sports for his local paper in West Palm Beach, Florida, to religion in Missouri. This work acted as the foundation for his research career, which looks at a variety of new genres, ranging from rural journalism to one of my areas of research, games journalism, to better understand how it's produced, the changing role of journalists, their use of new technologies, and ultimately how they define their work and what it means to make the news. This work is taking them all over the world, including as a Fulbright Scholar, where he spent time in Vienna, Austria. He's also published literally dozens of articles on these subjects just within the last few years, all of which I highly recommend. And most recently, he's actually published a book through ratledge Press, called Digital Journalism and the facilitation of hate. When not doing all this, he contributes his book review editor to journalism and mass communication quarterly, and is a member of the Association for Education in journalism and mass communication. He lives in Boone, North Carolina, with his wife and four children, where you can catch him hiking and running, in addition to doing his daily work. So let's start at the beginning. Why don't you tell us a bit about your transition, Greg, from journalism to academia, and what you hope to uncover as a researcher that you couldn't as a journalist?
Gregory Perreault 01:52
Thanks, Max. You know, I think that for many of us, in academia, we all have moments where the veil gets pulled back. And you realize there's quite a bit more to the work that you do than you initially thought of. In my case, I was a sports reporter for the Palm Beach posts. And I noticed over time that my coverage was getting, for lack of a better word sort of weird, just in terms of the information that I was receiving from press releases, obviously, not entirely how I built my beat, but I was getting press releases from Evan Jellicle, softball associations, you know, primers on, you know, covering a variety of different things through with the local yoga studio. And I was reading in my newspaper, one morning that there was a growing Muslim population in Palm Beach County. And it struck me that I had never interviewed someone who identified as Muslim. And I was deeply troubled by this, how could this be the case? How could this be this rising population in Palm Beach County that I'd yet to encounter as a journalist? And this made me quite introspective? What was I doing wrong, that I had not found this audience or reached out to this audience? And so a couple of a couple of potential.
Gregory Perreault 03:18
There were a couple of potential things that could have been the case. Right. So I mean, it could be that just in terms of the way that I received news and was looking for news, I was not looking sort of in the right place. But the thing that occurred to me that made me consider maybe I need to go back to graduate school and think more deeply about this. Is it occurred to me that if I didn't count on this story, would I be able to do a great job at this, and I really had almost no confidence that I would do a great job reporting that which made me think about a whole host of things about who is it that appears in the news? Why do they appear in the news as opposed to other groups? What kinds of stories get caught told, and how they get told? This really motivated me to think far more deeply about what it is we do in journalism, and why we do things the way that we do it? And obviously, these are sort of core questions for news, media sociology.
Maxwell Foxman 04:17
Yeah, and it also those questions really tie I think, to some of the work that you've been doing recently, I actually saw you guest lecture earlier in the week, and he spoke a bit about your ideas concerning what you call journalism at the periphery, which has to do with, among other things, who's represented and what types of journalism are represented, sort of, in the mean, of our view and what are at the periphery, as it suggests? Can you tell us a little bit about what exactly journalism at the periphery is and how do various journalism genres fit into it?
Gregory Perreault 04:52
So there's a fantastic book that I read last year, surviving Mexico by Celeste Gonzalez Bustamante and Jennifer Lay the details the life experiences and the reporting circumstances of Borderlands journalists in Mexico. And I was struck by their use of that exact term journalism at the periphery. And the concept there was quite literal, these are journalists at the periphery of the country at the periphery of power. But in reading their descriptions of the circumstances in which journalists found themselves, it struck me that that is not unlike what many journalists face that are not tied to places of power. I approached Celeste at one of our academic conferences, and I wanted to know a little bit more about her thoughts about this term and how it could be applied. I mentioned in particular, I have this study of rural journalists where it seemed like, obviously, the experience of borderline journalists there's the safety issue is much higher than what is faced by real journalists. Nevertheless, real journalist did report issues of concerns for their own physical safety in certain types of reporting. And so in conversation with some of the work that she had done, I began applying this term a little bit more broadly. And I think, if we even think about the idea of being at the periphery, it sort of makes sense that it would apply to a variety of different journalists who are not in the centerpieces of power. So physically, of course, I think this would look at look towards the dichotomy of elite newsrooms, Metropolitan newsrooms, as opposed to rural community, smaller, less resourced, right. But I think we could also say that there are genres of journalism that innately tend to have less power. We No, of course, that there's many genres of journalism, that can be quite precarious, for the journalists operating in them precarious, both financially, but also, sometimes physically, because the journalists or perhaps freelancers lack support for the work that they're doing through an institution, it's important for us to realize that there are qualitatively these are qualitatively different experiences of journalism, that of being in an elite, perhaps more centered part of the journalistic field, as opposed to what it would be like in a less central part of the journalistic field, perhaps distanced from some of those places of power.
Maxwell Foxman 07:29
So when you're saying power for you, does that mean economic power? Does that mean influence in terms of sort of the everyday conversations that happen on news? Does that mean, technological power? Or is it all those different forms of power? Where it tell, tell, tell me a little bit more about what you mean, specifically, by power here?
Gregory Perreault 07:49
I think I think that is including quite a bit of that. So obviously, we know that some of those forms of power are transferable. If you're in a place that has a lot of money, you tend to have a lot more opportunities to apply for, you know, really great awards, you have the resources to throw at producing really great coverage that can build a strong audience socially, right. So some of the work that I do I look at, I use the term capital, but we know that in journalism, there's various forms of capital that motivate us to do the work that we do. There's, you know, social capital, like, you know, is this growing my Twitter following? There's cultural capital, you know, is this gonna get me a Pulitzer? Should I be doing different kinds of work? And then there's financial capital, like, I don't know if this will get the clicks? A lot of times those forms of power are transferable, sometimes not. But we know that when journalists have less access to resources, those are tend to be more more peripheral situations for journalists.
Maxwell Foxman 08:55
So what genres then fit more or less into this kind of journalism at the periphery? Which Which ones which forms of journalism are, have less power, or more peripheral? How, as you're putting it,
Gregory Perreault 09:10
certainly soft news, I think, is one of those genres that tends to be pushed towards the periphery. Part of that is just because they can't easily attach themselves to the normative, democratic expectations of the field. If you're a games journalist, and you're saying, you know, this coverage that I've done today is really important. It's very hard to say that your coverage has somehow enhanced democracy in some sort of vital way. In sports journalism. I remember this quite vividly. We were definitely told within the newsroom and it was very much made clear that sports journalism was not quite as essential as the other forms of coverage being done. I of course take umbrage to this just because I feel quite strongly about sports. But also because I think that that does not take into account that there's are there is really Certain societal value to soft news, right? So in terms of genres, I think there's a whole host of soft news genres that fit into journalism at the periphery. But physically, of course, this would also include community newspapers, this would include rural newsrooms as well.
Maxwell Foxman 10:21
And those things kind of can work hand in hand as well. I mean, if you look at sort of the centers of game journalism, they're not exactly falling in, in rural spaces. So as a game journalist, in a rural writing for their local rural paper, if they are indeed doing that, would probably get even less power than a game journalist who already as you're saying, maybe has a little bit less power than a hard news journalist working for the times or something like that.
Gregory Perreault 10:53
And there's probably something to be said for why journalism tends to be at its strongest closest to places of industrial power. Because if you think about the journalistic hubs, in the United States, they're often places that have quite a bit of power, financially, New York, political power, DC, social power, San Francisco, places that, you know, are tied to some of our platforms, right? There's not a ton of demand as best as I can tell from our news organizations to open up in Gastonia North Carolina.
Maxwell Foxman 11:22
That makes sense. What about you know, is is your your sort of envisioning of these different forms of drills with the periphery? Are there genres that are more in the view, while still at the periphery? I'm thinking of something like science, communication and science journalism, where, you know, when I saw reporting from the 1990s, when I was growing up, I don't think that science quite had the same impact for probably pretty obvious reasons. Things like climate change, but I still don't necessarily know if it's something that is in the center of journalism today, or if that is a more peripheral form of journalism.
Gregory Perreault 12:01
It's such a great point, because I don't, I'm wondering if there are other genres that can really compare to science journalism, it's really singular. And its ability to go from what used to be sort of ride along peripheral section of the news. Of course, you know, I think we could talk about it in terms of even in a physical newspaper, the science part of the newspaper used to be sort of like this one of the back sections, right. Whereas now, I think it would be quite common, even frequent to open up a newspaper, one of our main newspapers and see science journalism, integrated quite thoroughly into the main section of the news. If we were to try to conceptualize other genres that have made that transition, maybe technology would be one of the few, I could just be primed because of how central the debates over Twitter have been over the past couple months at the time of this this interview. But it seems to me that actually technology could be maybe one of the only other comparable genres that has perhaps moved up the hierarchy and become more central to the field.
Maxwell Foxman 13:12
Yeah. And then there are also genres that I at least imagine might be somewhere in the maybe, maybe not primed yet, but maybe on the horizon. I mean, as someone who studies game journalism, the rise of eSports allows for coverage that is often geographically based, though International to be realistic, that is involving a lot of money that is involving a lot of cultural capital, in terms of fans, stadiums, investment by major brands. I wonder if there are any others any other genres that sort of fit into that? Well, they're not completely on the periphery, but maybe they're moving ever so slowly towards the center of our view, which might not be the case.
Gregory Perreault 14:05
That's an that's a really interesting point. I mean, I think religion journalism is certainly one where journalists in that space, have been told, told that their coverage has become all the more important. And of course, from a cultural capital standpoint, you look at you know, a lot of the news that has won awards, you look at news that tends to be at the top of most read articles in a given year, oftentimes, religion journalism is in there. However, I would say that religion journalism, it does feel like there's been a little bit more of a bait and switch there, at least that's what journalists in that space would say. So in that, in that space, they were most certainly part of the periphery, where I believe in the 90s even when religion journalism was at its height, it was still considered the quote unquote, news ghetto. And so it's interesting indeed, to see that, you know, over the years, it's been there's been all this service paid to oh, you know, it has to be The central part of our, you know, main section. And so the you know, the peripheral sections have been closed the desks of enclosed in religion journalism, and yet we have not seen really corresponding specialists in those main new sections. And of course, I would say that religion is quite a bit like science in the sense that it probably requires quite a bit of specialty to be effective in that form of reporting. And so whereas my perception, science journalists tend to be quite well trained, that are reporting in the main news section, sometimes the people reporting on religion, not necessarily trained to religion.
Maxwell Foxman 15:37
Yeah, that I mean, that makes sense. And one could say actually, the same thing, I guess, about eSports reporters, I mean, to know, the inner workings of a game does require some training, and often game journalists have even less training then I would say, mainstream traditional journalists, though, there are plenty of exceptions to that rule as well. So it depends on outlet, it depends on so many different factors. On that note, though, we're talking about games journalism and religion, religious journalism, interesting bedfellows to think about together, but I'm wondering, they they share something in common, which is a real connection to the larger organizational structure that surrounds both those topics. I mean, you can't talk about religious journalism with really, without really talking about churches, you can't talk about game journalism without talking about games and game publishers. So I'm wondering how those organizations, at least in the case of game journalism, you might call them industry partners fit into the way that you understand journalism at the periphery?
Gregory Perreault 16:47
So of course, you know, when you're talking about religion, journalism, you know, people certainly don't like to think of religion as an industry. But certainly, I think there's something corresponding there in the sense that these, as you said, you described it quite right as institutions, right. These are institutions who play quite an outsize sized role in the ability to obtain information and to understand really the inner workings of how, what is happening within that specialty. I think given that, like science journalism, like eSports, and some of these things, there's quite a bit of specificity required, it depends, we're dependent quite a bit on these institutional partners. This would seem to me to be part of perhaps the lack of power, we ended up receiving within the field, because I think, an essential component of what makes the journalism more journalism is this perception of independence from other forms of power. And if you're looking at religion, journalism, if we're looking at, you know, gaming journalism game shows on eSports, right, these are places that seem to have much closer ties to industry and other institutions. And hence, you know, are these journalists is independent, as they say they are.
Maxwell Foxman 18:08
Yeah, and it's interesting to think about also, because if we start thinking about those peripheral places, for journalists, I mean, the amount of training and the relationship to institutional partners in something like sports journalism, it's pretty well established. I mean, those those pages of the newspaper have long had conventions built into them. And yet, for some reason, that the, the notion of what makes something like a games journalist, or a religion, journalist, or religious journalist, sort of be perceived as more at the periphery is a is an interesting cultural question. I mean, I don't really have a question, per se, to, to ask about that. But I'm wondering what you think about sort of that perception of something like a sports journalism, because it does have a lot of conventions built into it, that I think I'll keep it very much not at the periphery. I mean, maybe more peripheral. Again, if we start trying to figure out those details, but it is, perhaps less at the periphery than a religious reporter. Though, that might just be my perception.
Gregory Perreault 19:21
I certainly agree. So I mean, I think that there's certainly a range. It's not sort of black and white, there's sort of a range of what brings one closer to the center point of power sports journalism, I would say is perhaps a little bit closer than some of these other places that are at the periphery. And I would say that perhaps that's because of the financial power that sports journalism has audiences. You know, they might not read anything else in your community newspaper, but they want to know who won the high school sports games. Right. So they are going to make a point to read those stories. And so I think that that power, that tie to, not just the audience, but to building social cohesion, I think that allows sports journalism to have perhaps more of a play towards democratic norms than perhaps other specialties have.
Maxwell Foxman 20:11
I could see that and also having that fan base that even if you're even if you're a you're your kid is on the the rural high school baseball team that might get coverage, and you have a built in readership. I'm wondering about the role of audience in this conversation as well. What about the fans? I mean, you can't talk about game journalism without talking about the fans, they are a an integral part of understanding how games are perceived, and can often make or break a game. Again, I don't want to suggest necessarily that religious, religious journalism readers or fans, but the audience, obviously is very important. So maybe you could tell us a little bit about how you see the audience contributing or not contributing to this kind of peripheral view of journalism or journalism genres?
Gregory Perreault 21:11
Such an interesting question, because I think, you know, there's some really great work by Jacob Nelson, where he I think, says and demonstrates quite well, that journalists don't know who their audiences quite as well as we think we do. Right. And certainly, this is a central notion to journalism, it's written into many of our sort of expectations for the field that we should be serving our audience. This proves all the more problematic if we don't know who our audience is, or if the audience we think we have is quite a bit different. You and I have talked before about Gamergate, which, of course, is a controversy that still is quite singular within journalism, and in particular, within games journalism, just for how bizarre it was. But I think that was certainly a case where games journalists felt that they had a particular audience perceived that they had a particular audience, and found themselves quite shocked to see that, oh, our audience includes a male supremacist organization known as GamerGate. How do we manage that in our coverage? Coming back to training, certainly gaming journalists aren't trained necessarily to manage that sort of coverage. Whereas someone who is used to covering white nationalist rallies might be better prepared to navigate that kind of a situation. So games, journalists there, I think, found themselves in kind of a tight spot, and navigated the coverage, my perception, the best way that they could, which was sort of trying to find ways to manage their own audience, not a typical role, we would expect of a journalist to have to try to find ways to to manage their own audience.
Maxwell Foxman 22:47
Yeah. And also, especially with Gamergate, as an example, the different outlets would, would would react very differently. I imagined to this. I mean, you talk about how a game journalist might not have that, that background or training? Well, they might at the New York Times, or they might know someone at the New York Times, at least, who's covered those white nationalist rallies. If you're working in a magazine like IGN, chances are your editors have just never dealt with this. So I'm also wondering how when you're thinking about different genres, and how that might had more or less power, how does outlook factor into that, because there are very different outlets, from a rural small newspaper to a gaming magazine to, I guess, the athletic. If we want to think about sports journalism, there are so many different types of outlets that fall under the purview of what you're describing.
Gregory Perreault 23:43
I think that's the good news and bad news. As a news consumer right now, in that, you know, there's so many different outlets of every variety on every topic really imaginable. My favorite that a student brought to me at one point was a Call of Duty news site, and they do nothing except cover Call of Duty and they cover you know, the culture of Call of Duty, they cover new games, they cover old games, you know, memorialize old games, right. But they are able to successfully host a website funded just covering Call of Duty. However, I would say that one of the things that is quite a bit different in these sorts of outlets that might not have a robust infrastructure, is that of course, dealing with situations like management of hostility from an audience proves to be quite a bit more challenging, not just because you don't necessarily have the infrastructure to effectively respond. But also just as a journalist receiving that hostility, there's just no one to offer you the emotional support. Whereas if you're in a larger news organization, working as a part of a team, people can say, hey, you know, gosh, I saw that the email you got that's awful, you know, shouldn't have had to go through that. But if you're working alone, we're Remote and alone. That's quite a bit of a different situation for journalists to manage.
Maxwell Foxman 25:06
Yeah. And it strikes me that that outlets have to make really concerted efforts to think about their sort of human infrastructure. In that context, I'm thinking of outlets like.ea sports, which really made an effort as as essentially a vertical of another organization to invest heavily in their, their writers hired quite a few writers. My understanding is from ESPN, EA Sports, now shuttered eSports, vertical, and really tried to, to sort of infuse that culture those norms into their organization, in order to allow for more consistent and more deep coverage of that particular area of of gaming, competitive gaming. It's just to me that there are some really practical and also organizational implications for this idea of journalism at the periphery. So I'm wondering if maybe you could talk a little bit about that, you know, what, what do you think editors or even journalists themselves should do with this concept? What What, what are the implications for how they can take this concept and bring it to their work?
Gregory Perreault 26:26
I think one of the things that newsrooms often feel if they are not large newsrooms, is that if they can replicate the work of larger newsrooms, that will somehow make them bigger. And so I think we have seen this in the past good example. This, of course, was with the release of snowfall, which was groundbreaking piece of journalism from New York Times where I think a lot of news organizations saw their use of html5 and said, Wow, if we could if we could just snowfall, a project, you know, imagine the attention we would be able to get. However, if you are a journalist, the periphery you don't have necessarily the resources to do that effectively. And you can put quite a bit of strain on the work life of journalists strain that far outpaces what journalists are able to manage strain that certainly decreases their longevity. I think the perhaps the word that's under the surface here is this idea of burnout. We know that a lot of journalists face burnout, we know that the cost of burnout is significant in our newsrooms, I believe it's two thirds of a journalist salary for that particular year if they burn out to try to retrain replace a journalist. So implications, I think for the strain of being without a place of power. I think one of the things to be considering is absolutely burnout of our journalists from a range of the things that we've discussed already. Today. Its hostility, workload, labor, right. In terms of what editors and journalists can best do, I think it does come down to offering reasonable support to the journalists in those newsrooms. So if you're working alone, as a journalist, of course, structurally, there's not much you can do about the structure of an organization. If it's structured a certain way. There's there's not much you can do. But I think, perhaps in journalism, we have quite a strong, individualistic streak. I'm not sure that that always serves us because our our news is almost never individual. Right? It might be just my name on the split story. But realistically, it went through a copy editor, you know, there was an assignment editor who also looked at it, you know, there's usually a range of people who are associated with that story. I think we forget that. And I think that in general, particularly when we're dealing with difficult issues within journalism, working as a team is something that can make that work quite a bit more palatable in journalism at the periphery.
Maxwell Foxman 28:49
So is there something even more fundable fundamental to how we have to think about the work that journalists do that is underlines that I mean, for full disclosure, for those listening, Greg and I are working on a special issue of what what is called the epistemologies of digital journalism production with two of our colleagues from Europe. And epistemologies in this context is really about the ways that journalists produce knowledge. And I'm wondering, you give that example of sort of breaking from the idea that we think of our, you know, our reporters as producers of knowledge where they go out into the field, and, you know, it's me out in the field. I'm finding the story, I'm writing the story, and I'm getting it published with my byline. I mean, are there epistemological issues here that that that both we as academics and journalists should be thinking about?
Gregory Perreault 29:53
I mean, I think certainly when we're talking about the production of knowledge, one thing that's essential in conversation with what What I mentioned earlier is that you know, knowledge, even when there's one person's name associate with the idea. Usually there's there's a range of people who've sort of spoken into that idea. I think that's an important aspect to consider. But I would also say that the knowledge we produce is certainly contextual to a certain degree. Right. So what are we able to produce knowledge about? If we're a twitch journalist or producing journalism about Max, you could speak to this as well. Right. I mean, I think that that's, that would certainly be in conversation with what it is that we are expected to do as a twitch journalist and what the audience expects and what the technology itself affords. Right. But if we are a journalist, perhaps in a rural area, and our identity is tied to the land that we are on, and the people we're reporting on are not just the county commissioner and the members of the town council, but they're our neighbors. They're our, you know, fellow parishioners, they, they're in the farm next door, right? I think the knowledge that we're producing is quite a bit different, because our identity is wrapped up in the production of that knowledge. So I think thinking through the ways that our knowledge is, first of all, that what journalists do is an essential piece of producing knowledge. That's that idea of journalism producing a rough draft of history. Sometimes it's very, very rough. But I think that it does point to the knowledge producing function that journalists serve up that journalists provide that's a very important function for our world. But one that we necessarily must think of, where can we best place journalists? Where should journalists best be located in order to produce the valid knowledge that our society needs?
Maxwell Foxman 31:43
Yeah, and I think if you if you go back to that example, you mentioned a twitch journalist, I mean, that is a genre of journalism, a very nascent genre, to say the least, but one where the expectations are not that you're going to be out in the field at all, to which journalists mostly are reporting as much as they're reporting from their rooms, often in between or while playing games. And so the knowledge that they can produce is almost by default, remixed and taken from other sources. And some, some Twitch journalists literally do that. They're literally just streaming their desktops as they pull videos from, you know, YouTube, from Twitter, from CNN, and are creating a narrative, re mixing history, maybe more than writing the first draft.
Gregory Perreault 32:31
You know, if I can just add one thing there, because I think that what you pointed to sort of like being in the field, I think that also points us towards considering what does it mean to be in the field? Because there's the digital field to Right, yeah. And I know, this is something you and I have spoken about, you know, shouldn't journalists be in a variety of places that are digital as well. So I mean, we place so much emphasis on journalists being physically at the town council meeting have to be there cannot watch it remotely, it's essential that you sit through all four hours, including the public comments in order to get the best impression of what's happening in town council. But yet, we placed far less resources on journalists being in specific digital spaces, which would seem to be equally more important sometimes, that in terms of producing the knowledge that our world needs a
Maxwell Foxman 33:19
think about the amount of people even outside of sort of competitive gamers, but just people that congregate socially on platforms like discord. I mean, getting into that discord channel or knowing which discord channel to go to is the equivalent of knowing which coffee shop to go to, to hear the local news of the day. It has its own localities, its own geographies, so I couldn't agree more. I am wondering, though, sort of underlying at least my examples, is this question of technology a little bit. Talking about something like Twitch, it has very interesting technological affordances. Certain innovations that are pretty powerful. Same thing with something like discord. I'm wondering, these are some very specific examples that may or may not apply to the the the religious journalist though I know plenty of people that attend services online. So it is certainly something that I could imagine overlapping with that might not apply as much to a rural journalist, though, I'm sure. That speaks to my own naivete about rural journalism. How does technology and innovation you know help or hinder this idea of journalism at the periphery? And what How does it connect to this knowledge production that we were just talking about?
Gregory Perreault 34:43
I mean, I think to start with, I would detach a little bit technology innovation, even though we often placed them together. There's a recent study I did of rural journalists were very interesting. The rural journalists we talked to we asked them about responsible I work in innovation this project actually with fellow balloon ganyan, your next demystifying media speaker small plug for that. And Jennifer Henrickson of Washington State University, talk to a set of real journalists and one of those journalists pointed out, you know, the innovation we need is not some sort of technology are our residents can't read this content. Because if you're doing some sort of complex data visualization, or you know, trying to do something fancy for lack of lack of a better word, you know, with the website, sometimes the text is too small for many residents, particularly older residents to be able to make it out. This particular rural community had an older resident population. Furthermore, the internet penetration was not overly expansive in this region. So their ability to get access to the resources that the journalists were creating was already quite low, just even physically having to go into town to get the newspaper. And so and they had some access to the internet, not necessarily reliable access to the internet. So what is innovation look like? There, we know that in journalism, in order to be able to be continued to be relevant in order to survive, adaptation is essential. Innovation is essential. But innovation I don't think is always technological. Sometimes it's also aimed towards what an audience needs. And so in this case, one of the things that was suggested is why not build our newsroom into more like a library where rural residents can come in, find the information, congregate share information, may perhaps they don't have another place in which to do that, right. And so for physical periphery, I think innovation technology, there's quite a difference there. And sometimes technology doesn't provide the solutions that we would think that it does to journalists in those situations. That said, I think that there, you know, in different forms of peripheral journalism, there's some affordances that are really, really helpful for journalists at the periphery. Travel journalism, for example, I think has provided been provided with a lot of options based on new technologies, just in terms of, you know, ability to do zoom calls with people. I'm thinking of a former colleague from University of Missouri, who has done remarkable work as a travel journalist. And one of the things that, you know, she's often had to describe as the ability to get sources was so dependent on the ability to get to the country and go to the place. And her ability to make effective use of zoom and other people to make effective use of zoom, I think has been really important in opening up that genre in some ways.
Maxwell Foxman 37:45
That's really interesting example, do you think innovation then has a kind of normative dimension here, when you start thinking about, again, these kinds of geographic and genre based questions, I'm thinking of a twitch journalist, again, whose primary way of innovating might be how they interact with their audience, you know, there's a chat there, that chat is just integral to the platform, but it's not technological, it is technologically integrated, but its its prominence is outsized compared to other platforms. I mean, you look at something like Facebook, the comment section just doesn't exactly exist in the same way, there's not an normative expectation about how you deal with your audience. So I'm wondering if that's a factor is the kind of innovating within the bounds of, of a particular journalism at the periphery?
Gregory Perreault 38:41
I'm nominating you for a new class here, Matt met Max that's like, you know, developing news through platforms, because I think oftentimes, we focus on disseminating news through platforms, you know, not much better than perhaps, you know, shovelware 2.0, where we've just figured out a better way to just sort of shuffle the information on to you know, Twitter, and Mastodon, and Twitch and whatever. But I think perhaps what you're pointing towards is that actually, you know, there's a lot of innovation that can be done just in terms of how we can make use of these platforms to gather new information. Right. So I mean, when we're talking about use of, you know, comments, things like that, on Twitch, it strikes me that those are spaces where perhaps journalists should be in the field, doing air quotes here, you know, in the field, in the sense that this is a way that we can obtain valid knowledge valid information that, you know, might not have other ways of getting to the public, right?
Maxwell Foxman 39:39
Absolutely. So, I know that you're recording a video about this as well, which should be available through the University of Oregon's YouTube channel. But separate from this, you do quite a bit of work on hate speech, and I was wondering if you could talk a little bit on Even though this is a bit of a divergent subject about how hate speech and hostility are dealt with at the periphery by journalists.
Gregory Perreault 40:12
In short, I mean, I think that one of the things that we see with journalists the periphery is that they end up doing what you'd sort of expect when they're distanced from places of power, which is, in many cases, journalists feel the need to sort of self censor. Because physically responding to and covering hostility if you're at a national news outlet, and you have parachuted in and can parachute out, that's, that's one thing, right reporting on, you know, a hostile group or a hostile source. But if you live there, and they know where you live, I mean, on the one hand, is, of course, the safety issue, of course, right. But on the other hand, there's also the human side, where I think that journalists, in some cases really felt the need in some of the work that I did. Peripheral journalists covering hate speech, I think in some cases, they really felt the need to try to give the benefit of the doubt of, you know, somebody that they knew for some, I mean, for one study that I did, for example, journalists really did not want to apply the term hate speech and hate crime to things that were absolutely hate speech and hate crime. So for example, you know, there was some anti semitic graffiti and one of the rural newsrooms that I spoke to journalists, and journalists really struggled to find the words to describe what it was that they were they were using, but did not feel like they should use the word hate in their coverage. One journalist talked about a church burning and had had actually sort of a bizarre rationale that, oh, this wasn't a hate crime, this was over religious differences. Which feels a little bit laughable, because I mean, in this case, this is a black church that was burned, almost certainly a hate crime, right. And so I think that when you're a journalist, the periphery because you're distanced from those forms of power. I mean, certainly, in many cases, these journalists are well trained, right. But I think there's quite a bit more at stake for journalists in those areas, and for journalists trying to do that reporting, in some cases, sort of unenviable, what's at stake, to have to navigate that coverage and navigate it alone.
Maxwell Foxman 42:20
And not to put too fine a point on it. But I would imagine that this would also compound I mean, you spoke a little bit earlier about the loneliness of some of these journalists at the periphery, having to deal with these issues alone. And again, without that, not just the the sort of centers of power, but literally just the loneliness of that must be. I mean, trying to say the least.
Gregory Perreault 42:45
Absolutely. And so I mean, when you look at some of the data related to you know, closures of community newsrooms, rural newsrooms, I think it's unsurprising, you know, when you look at that data and see it closing, you know, because of the financials and stuff, but I think that there's also a human story to this, too, right. This is not easy work that we're asking journalists to do for lower pay than they're worth. And for longer hours than any human should have to work. So I think that there's a human story that we sometimes forget to those closures beyond just obviously, the also very important story about, you know, the importance of that information to our democracy.
Maxwell Foxman 43:24
So I think we could talk about this for hours. But I thought maybe just to conclude on one, one final thought I know that, despite the sort of some of the difficulties in talking about some of these subjects and these issues of power, you are quite optimistic about the journalistic profession. both academically and and in terms of I think, professionally, so maybe for the potential listener, who is at the periphery or the potential, the potential academic interested in the subject matter? What are some of the particular particularly positive or optimistic parts of your research that you want to sort of emphasize as a as a final point?
Gregory Perreault 44:13
Absolutely. And thank you for asking that. Because I do delve into some pretty dark stuff in the reporting. I do. But I really believe in the profession of journalism. And, you know, it's I have to say, it's intriguing and inspiring to see that, despite the many, many challenges that journalists face, people still enthusiastically enter this field. People enthusiastically go to journalism school people, like me enthusiastically teach journalism. And that's because this, it is essential, democratically, of course, but you know, and even if you can't lay claim to some of those democratic elements, as in soft news, I think that there's still a really important role played by journalists in building social cohesion and creasing the US in our world. There's, you know, turn seems to get used aspirational labor, whatever, I would point towards the fact that journalists also find great joy in this field. And what a privilege really, that we get to hear people's incredible stories, and are privileged to be able to share those stories with other people. What an incredible job to think for a living. So I believe in journalism, I believe people should do journalism. Unless you don't want to, then that's okay. But, but I think it's an incredible field and it's why I study it so passionately.
Maxwell Foxman 45:34
Terrific. Well, I know I've enjoyed this discussion. I hope you have as well. Do keep an eye out for other materials from Greg's visit to the University of Oregon, which you'll be able to find on our website http colon slash slash demystifying dot you oregon.edu In the meantime, it just remains for me to thank my guest today, Gregory perot. Until next time, thank you so much for listening