Committee: Larry Gross
, Chair Patricia Riley
, Geneva Overholser
, Henry Jenkins
Making Business News in the Digital Age
This study is the first in-depth ethnography of business news in the digital age. It is also the first in-depth study of a national newspaper after online journalism has truly become part of the everyday life cycle of the newsroom. Though The New York Times is going through constant changes in order to adapt to the demands of the 24-7 newsroom, this study extracts one particular moment in the newspaper‘s evolution. This moment is a snapshot of a news organization at an especially significant time in the history of news. Not only is the traditional business model of news failing, but this period is also a moment of incredible transformation in the industry in the way that stories are told and in the way that traditional journalists relate to their audiences.
Furthermore, this work has a specific relevance to the study of business news. Situated immediately after the financial collapse of 2008 and during the “Great Recession,” the analysis details how The New York Times business desk approached business news coverage. A discussion of business news values argues that journalists are situated in a larger social reality, and share with their audience views about how the nation and society ought to be. These values shape news coverage.
Furthermore, this study attempts to define what, precisely, is business news. Beginning with an analysis of business news throughout history, I examine the expansion of the idea of business news as a specific form of coverage throughout The Times’ history. The focus then shifts to the present, when business news has a specific section in the newspaper and online. However, business news can be told in a variety of ways, and the negotiations between the various sections of the newsroom, from the foreign section to the national section, reveal how the institution itself creates a definition of business news. Narratives, too, help shape stories that appear in the business section from those that do not.
Most ethnographies that have preceded this work focus on the importance of routine in creating the news. Time and technology are two factors that influence the way that news is produced. These ethnographies are a crucial starting place to assess what remains the same in a digital age and what is different about news production. However, most of these earlier works fail to discuss what happens when there is no routine for creating the news—or establish how new routines emerge when technology interrupts existing production processes. Here, I introduce the idea of improvisation in the news as a way to demonstrate both the flexibility of individual actors in the newsroom and to respond to gaps in the literature that fail to account for the dynamics of news decision-making that is all but ignored in previous work.
The digital age requires reconsidering crucial questions, such as the relationship between journalists and their audience, the distinctions between print and online, the role of multimedia, and the place of social media in the newsroom. This study attempts to investigate these important areas of change. For instance, findings suggest the audience is crucial to how news is produced, but the online audience is often poorly understood by many in the newsroom. The relationship between print and online appear to be a closed chapter in the evolution of The Times, with journalists more than willing to write for the Web. But the relationship between the two mediums is far more complicated. Multimedia is a burgeoning area of experimentation in the newsroom. And social media remains uncharted territory as journalists are still trying to understand the most strategic ways to use it in order to take advantage of a more instantly accessible and present audience.