Bridging Divides, A Critical Review of Participatory Dimensions of the 2012 “Journalism Strategies” Conference

TitleBridging Divides, A Critical Review of Participatory Dimensions of the 2012 “Journalism Strategies” Conference
Publication TypeConference Paper
Author(s)Crowther, C., G. King, E. Salamon, and S. Thibault
Affiliation (1st Author)Concordia University, 7141 Sherbrooke St. West, CJ-3.245, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H4B 1R6 and McGill University, 853 Sherbrooke Street West, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3A 0G5
Section or WGJournalism Research and Education Section
DateThurs 27 June
Slot CodeJRE T1c
Slot Code (Keyword)JRE T1c
Time of Session9:00-10:30
Session TitleSurveying Journalism in an Evolving World Theme V: Generic Studies of Journalism
Submission ID6872

Our objective is to critically evaluate the participatory dimensions of a public policy conference we organized in April 2012 at Concordia and McGill Universities in Montreal: “Deliberation, Diversity, and Dollars: Public Strategies for Journalism in the Canadian Media Ecology.” We ask how well the conference succeeded in its goal of undertaking a process of policy-making that is participatory. In so doing, we aim to also identify possible lessons that can be drawn from the conference – including how academics can contribute to processes of democratic reform for journalism. Conceptualization of the conference began in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. We recognized what Bohman (1996, p. 230) calls a “critical discourse moment” and what Fisher refers to as a “systems crisis” (2003, p. 86) in what was popularly referred to as the “crisis in journalism.” (Blumler and Gurevitch 1995; Christians et al 2009; Curran 2000; Habermas 1996; Raboy, 1990) We saw an opportunity to interrogate common discourses about the role of journalism in democratic life, as well as to interrupt discourses that minimized a role for public policy in supporting journalism. We undertook to imagine a policymaking process that was consistent with deliberative models of governance and of journalism we believed were important to helping address issues underlying these crises. (Dryzek, 2000; Christians, 2009; Fischer 2003; Young, 2000)Our intent was to create what Fischer (2003) calls a “collaborative planning” exercise – one in which we would, “…create political spaces for democratic participation that offers a place for reason in both goal-setting and conflict management.”(p. 236) Our goal was to create spaces for discussions between actors who rarely share conversations,, activists; audiences members; citizen and professional journalists; journalism and communication scholars; and policy makers. (Bohman, 1996; Dryzek, 2000; Fischer, 2003; Napoli and Aslama, 2011; Young, 2000) While there was clearly a critique of the existing media system underlying the conference, we believed it was important to ensure we included not only actors who were critics of existing institutions, but also those who were part of those institutions. (Fischer, 2003: p. 229)We employ discourse analysis to help analyze the conference practises. (Fairclough, 1992 and 2005) We review the discussions of thematic working groups (definitions of journalism practices that support democracy, organizational structures and financial models conducive to those practices, and public policies aimed toward ensuring sustainability) that took place on the last day of the conference, and in which small groups were asked to propose and discuss specific policy recommendations related to their theme. We also review the final plenary session – in which these recommendations were discussed, and in which we intended to develop an action plan. We analyze how participants discussed issues, negotiated conflicts, and shared experiences to formulate actionable policy recommendations. (Chambers, 2003; Dryzek, 2000; Fairclough, 2005; Fischer, 2003; Young, 2000) We conclude with observations on what did and did not work as intended, as well as observations on how researchers in other national contexts might use our conference model to build networks for their own journalism reform efforts.

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