Newsrooms As Sites of Knowledge Production: On Information Transfer and the ‘Translating' Role Played By Journalists in Two Brazilian Newspapers

Saturday, 4 July 2015: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
TW1.3.01 (Tower One)
Tomas Undurraga, University College London, STS Department, London, United Kingdom
Media vehicles play a fundamental role in socializing public information in contemporary societies. Outside of educational institutions, the media is the one venue where intellectuals, ‘experts’, government officials and the lay public routinely meet to discuss public information. Media professionals manage this encounter (Mata, 2012). More than playing the part of passive translator, journalists are engaged in what science studies scholars call “boundary work” (Gieryn, 1999). They mediate between competing claims of expertise. Journalists must routinely ask who are the experts that can talk authoritatively about certain subjects? And how can the interests represented by these authorities be critically assessed?

In line with recent ethnographic research concerned to shed light on knowledge production in advertising agencies (Ariztia, 2013), trade floors (Beunza & Stark, 2012) and news agencies (Boyer, 2013), this paper explores the newsroom as site of knowledge production (Mata, 2012). It asks what sort of knowledge is produced in the newsroom, and what varieties of knowing are facilitated by different media organizations. By looking at the dynamics of journalists in newsrooms, this research is situated at the intersection of STS studies and cultural sociology (Magaudda, 2013). According to the later perspective, journalists’ mundane practices as well as their dynamic interaction with sources and editors are considered fundamental to the production of news. According to the former perspective, that of STS studies (Latour, 2005; Callon, Millo & Muniesa, 2007) it is not only journalists’ practices that influence the production of news but also the material culture of journalism, it’s tools and technologies, objects, screens and spaces.

The paper draws on a multi-site ethnography conducted in the newsroom of Globo  (Rio de Janeiro) between September and December 2013 and in that of Valor Economico (Sao Paulo) between January and March of 2014, and from 70 interviews with media professionals. Using the newsrooms at Globo and Valor Economico as a departure point, this paper contrasts the conditions for knowledge transfer and organizational learning in two contemporary newspapers. This article is organised as follows. First, it discusses the role that journalists play in circulating news in the public sphere, exploring the nature of the ‘knowledge’ produced by media professionals and the ways in which they translate information from various interest groups. Although journalists are active agents in building news, many do not consider themselves ‘producers of knowledge’, but as amplifiers of information or mediators between private and public spheres. The exceptions to this tended be those engaged in investigative journalism and columnists who aim explicitly to influence public affairs. Second, the paper contrasts how the distinctive culture and organizational structure of these particular newsrooms affect the knowledge production that happens there. To conclude, the article considers the working conditions under which journalists contribute to knowledge production in an industry that is under huge pressure to adapt to changing digital realities and changing business models, in a society obsessed with feeding knowledge-based economies with innovative information.