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‘Weaponizing Memes: The Journalistic Mediation of Visual Politicization’
Chris Peters & Stuart Allan
This article develops the concept of “mimetic weaponization” for theory-building. Memes recurrently serve as identificatory markers of affiliation across social media platforms, with ensuing controversies potentially proving newsworthy. Our elaboration of weaponization refers to the purposeful deployment of memetic imagery to disrupt, undermine, attack, resist or reappropriate discursive positions pertaining to public affairs issues in the news. For alt-right memetic conflicts, impetuses range from “sharing a joke” to promoting “alternative facts,” rebuking “political correctness” or “wokeness,” defending preferred framings of “free speech,” or signalling cynicism, distrust or dissent with “mainstream” media, amongst other drivers. Of particular import, we argue, is the politics of othering at stake, including in the wider journalistic mediation of a meme’s public significance. Rendering problematic this contested process, this article focuses on Pepe the Frog as an exemplar, showing how and why variations of this mimetic cartoon have been selectively mobilized to help normalize – ostensibly through humour, parody or satire – rules of inclusion and exclusion consistent with hate-led agendas. Digital journalism, we conclude, must improve its capacity to identify and critique mimetic weaponization so as to avoid complicity in perpetuating visceral forms of prejudice and discrimination so often presented as “just a bit of fun.”
If you would like to read a free copy, please click here.
All comments welcome, of course (email probably best!)
Sharing a reminder that the deadline for submitting an abstract to Cardiff University’s biennial Future of Journalism conference (@cardiffjomec) is this Friday, 5th March.
Abstracts as first author (500-750 words maximum), with no more than two abstracts in total, should be sent to the conference email address:
The conference, hosted by the School of Journalism, Media and Culture (JOMEC), will be virtual and held on September 23rd and 24th with ticket prices at £50 for the two days, £20 concessions.
The keynote speakers for this year’s theme: “Overcoming obstacles in journalism” are:
* Danielle K. Kilgo, author, researcher and the John & Elizabeth Bates Cowles Professor of Journalism, Diversity and Equality, Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota, USA.
* Gary Younge, author, journalist, broadcaster and Professor of Sociology at Manchester University, UK.
* Cherian George, author, journalist and Professor at the Hong Kong Baptist University’s School of Communication, Hong Kong.
We are delighted that a selection of papers presented at the conference will be published in special issues of international peer-reviewed journals, such as: Digital Journalism, Journalism Practice and Journalism Studies. Website link
Should you have any questions, please contact us at
Our main twitter handle for engagement with the community is @foj2021<https://twitter.com/foj2021>. Details on the conference theme below.
2020 has been a year of unprecedented challenges and obstacles for journalism as an institution, and journalists as professionals. At the same time, journalism has never been more important. With audiences around the world urgently requiring reliable information on the coronavirus pandemic and major breaking news events, journalists have carried out their work under difficult and often dangerous circumstances.
In doing so, their storytelling has shed light on, and made tangible, the realities on the ground which would otherwise be inaccessible. Audiences, in turn, have altered their news-seeking behaviour and engagement with traditional and alternative media. Against this backdrop, news organisations around the world have had to operate with unprecedented agility and flexibility, changing their routines and practices to overcome the many obstacles thrown in their path. The Future of Journalism conference 2021 invites contributions that engage with the theme of “overcoming obstacles,” examining areas including, but not limited to:
Transformations in journalistic practices
* How have news organisations around the world covered the pandemic? What have been the major logistical and ethical challenges in doing so?
* How have news organisations managed the coverage of major events beyond the pandemic (e.g. the Black Lives Matter movement and critical race theory, and the US presidential elections)?
* How have news organisations responded to unprecedented attacks on journalists as professionals and journalism as an institution?
* How have journalists changed their working routines and practices given the challenges of covering the news in a pandemic?
* How has journalism fared in holding governments to account?
* How have the experiences of journalists varied across national contexts and types of journalism?
* How has journalism responded to embrace greater diversity and inclusion?
* How has journalism’s role changed?
* What new storytelling formats, techniques and platforms have journalists developed to cover the pandemic?
* What has been the role of emerging practices (e.g. data journalism, fact-checking artificial intelligence, constructive journalism) in shaping storytelling?
* Which theoretical approaches can help us understand changes in storytelling techniques?
Engaging and supporting audiences
* How has audience engagement with the news changed?
* How have news organisations responded to the “infodemic” of misinformation, disinformation and conspiracy theories? What role have social media played in this context?
* How have audience members changed their news-seeking behaviour?
* What have we learned about news avoidance?
Building resilience for the future
* What has been the emotional impact of covering news in crisis, and how can news organisations ensure support for the mental health of journalists in the future?
* How have news organisations maintained their commitment to longer-standing projects (e.g. investigations and experimentation) in the face of the pandemic?
* How have business models in journalism coped with the pandemic?
* What are the most promising avenues for financial sustainability in the future?
* What research agendas and theoretical approaches are most helpful to understand the future of journalism?
* How can practising journalists and academics strengthen their ties and work to better inform audiences?
The inaugural issue of the new journal Digital War, edited by Andrew Hoskins and William Merrin, is taking shape. It was kind of the editors to invite me to contribute an article:
‘Im/partial inflections of 9/11 in photo-reportage’
Abstract: Photo-reportage of the 11 September 2001 attacks represented a formative moment in the emergent visual ecology of digital photojournalism. In addition to throwing into sharper relief incipient technical factors being inscribed in refashioned protocols of form and practice, it signalled a disruption of corresponding professional boundaries, inspiring a more egalitarian participatory ethos to surface and consolidate. The influx of raw, typically poignant ‘amateur’ or ‘personal’ digital images, captured and relayed by those who happened to be in the wrong place at the right time, proved to be a precipitous impetus recasting visual truth-telling. In briefly assessing this inchoate moment of convergence in and between professional and civic repertoires of photographic documentation, this article argues its journalistic appropriation and remediation legitimated in/visibilities of othering that continue to reverberate to this day. More than a transitional point in the evolving reportorial commitments of photojournalism, the onset of this digitalisation of vision signalled an epistemic shift with profound implications for public perceptions of the ‘new normal’ of the US-led war in Afghanistan, and with it the moralising valorisation of perpetual militarism and its lived contingencies.
Allan, S. (2020) ‘Im/partial inflections of 9/11 in photo-reportage,’ Digital War, 1(1). https://doi.org/10.1057/s42984-020-00011-0
Chris Peters and I have co-written a new article for the journal Communication Theory, published by Oxford University Press. Here is the abstract:
“This article’s contribution to theory-building focuses on the everyday circumstances under which journalism encourages a civic gaze. Specifically, it elaborates our heuristic conception of the “visual citizen” to explore journalism’s mediation of a politics of seeing, paying particular attention to how and why renderings of in/visibility signify varied opportunities for civic engagement within digital news landscapes. In recognizing a distinction between direct and virtual witnessing, it establishes a conceptual basis for an inductive typology delineating interrelated, potential citizen-subject positions across a continuum. Four such positions are identified and appraised, namely the visual citizen as: (a) news observer and circulator, (b) accidental news image-maker and contributor, (c) purposeful news image-maker and activist, and (d) creative image-maker and news commentator. Evaluating these positions in relation to their significance for visual journalism, this article aims to advance efforts to rethink the inscription of imagery in news reportage and its import for public life.”
Happy New Year! I am pleased to contribute to 2020 Vision: Forecasts for the year ahead from Cardiff University School of Journalism, Media and Culture with this post:
With allegations of ‘fake news’ continuing to spark acrimony across the breadth of public life, photojournalism’s privileged status in the pictorial mediation of the world around us is increasingly open to question – indeed, some would say it is poised to unravel in the weary, cynical swirl of ‘alternative facts’ associated with a ‘post-truth’ society. Accordingly, this blog post aims to encourage efforts to revitalise the visual authority of the news photograph – and with it the photojournalist’s claim to reportorial integrity – in the search for positive ways forward.
In considering several factors at stake, it is necessary to first recognise the harrowing personal risks confronting photographers in crisis situations – professionals and ordinary citizens alike – striving to capture and record imagery of newsworthy significance. Acutely aware they may well be deliberately targeted in warzones, imprisoned for documenting human rights abuses or, closer to home, forced to cope with intimidation, legal censure or fear of arrest, she or he will likely set forth an impassioned defence for visual truth-telling in the public interest. Placing themselves in harm’s way to bear witness is a demand consistent with their role, particularly when media freedoms are being violated.
Turning to more everyday news environments, photojournalism’s once sharply cast priorities are blurring under intense commercial pressures, its social responsibilities in danger of succumbing to the chimerical charms of click-bait infotainment. To the extent an ethical commitment to dispassionate relay is deemed to be an impossible achievement, the professional may well stand accused of imposing a selective, self-interested narrative to advance a prefigured editorial agenda. Impartiality will be derided as a contrivance in the eyes of some, a deceptive pretence which fares badly when compared with the raw honesty of the smartphone-equipped amateur who happens to be on the scene.
At the same time, we are all too aware of how the shifting, uneven imperatives of a ‘photo-saturated’ lifeworld engenders its own perils, with the glut of compromised images streaming through social media feeds inviting a corrosive scepticism regarding what can be verified as credible or authentic. Familiar platitudes that ‘seeing is believing’ because ‘the camera never lies’ seem anachronistic, if not touchingly naïve, even when the ‘acceptable limits of Photoshop’ are being respected rather than transgressed. Meanwhile the algorithms driving sharing platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, Snapchat, Pinterest or Tumblr are inscribing new visual sensibilities, the participatory logics of which embedding an ethos of acquiescent consumerism over active citizenship.
Identifying these and related factors is the first step in reversing them. Quality journalism demands proper investment, yet most news organisations deny it the resources required to foster cultures of experimentation and innovation. This when public trust in ‘mainstream’ reporting appeared to be reaching a crisis point even before the scourge of ‘fake news’ rhetoric began contaminating perceptions. Photojournalism has not been immune from sustained criticism, making it all the more important lessons are learned (the partisan manipulation of visuals by the popular press during the recent national election campaign being a case in point).
Now is the time to create alternative conditions of possibility for new forms of dialogue and debate over how best to recalibrate photojournalism for a digital age. We need evidence-led analyses bringing together diverse, challenging perspectives to inspire progressive change. To rethink longstanding responsibilities will not be easy, particularly when engaging publics less inclined to believe photojournalism is fit for purpose than previous generations, but all the more necessary for its future viability in 2020 and beyond.
Global Media and China Volume 4, Number 1, March 2019
Special Issue: Citizen Journalism in China
Guest Editors: Xin Zeng, Stuart Allan, Savyasaachi Jain and An Nguyen
Introduction: New perspectives on citizen journalism — Xin Zeng, Savyasaachi Jain, An Nguyen and Stuart Allan
Is citizen journalism better than professional journalism for fact-checking rumours in China? How Weibo users verified information following the 2015 Tianjin blasts — Jing Zeng, Jean Burgess and Axel Bruns
Prosumers in a digital multiverse: An investigation of how WeChat is affecting Chinese citizen journalism — Yan Wu and Matthew Wall
User-generated news: Netizen journalism in China in the age of short video — Yu Xiang
How citizen journalists impact the agendas of traditional media and the government policymaking process in China — Yumeng Luo and Teresa M. Harrison
The professional boundaries of journalists in Hong Kong: Strategies of accepting and dismissing citizen journalists — Florin C Serban
Blurred boundaries: Citizens journalists versus conventional journalists in Hong Kong — Karoline Nerdalen Darbo and Terje Skjerdal
Delighted to announce the publication of a new book featuring chapters written by a remarkably impressive range of leading scholars:
Carter, C., Steiner, L. and Allan, S. (2019) (eds) Journalism, Gender and Power. London and New York: Routledge.
Journalism, Gender and Power revisits the key themes explored in the 1998 edited collection News, Gender and Power. It takes stock of progress made to date, and also breaks ground in advancing critical understandings of how and why gender matters for journalism and current democratic cultures.
This new volume develops research insights into issues such as the influence of media ownership and control on sexism, women’s employment, and “macho” news cultures, the gendering of objectivity and impartiality, tensions around the professional identities of journalists, news coverage of violence against women, the sexualization of women in the news, the everyday experience of normative hierarchies and biases in newswork, and the gendering of news audience expectations, amongst other issues.
These issues prompt vital questions for feminist and gender-centred explorations concerned with reimagining journalism in the public interest. Contributors to this volume challenge familiar perspectives, and in so doing, extend current parameters of dialogue and debate in fresh directions relevant to the increasingly digitalized, interactive intersections of journalism with gender and power around the globe.
Journalism, Gender and Power will inspire readers to rethink conventional assumptions around gender in news reporting—conceptual, professional, and strategic—with an eye to forging alternative, progressive ways forward.
Cynthia Carter, Linda Steiner and Stuart Allan
Section I: The Gendered Politics of News Production
1. Getting to the Top: Women and Decision-making in European News Media Industries
Karen Ross and Claudia Pado
2. Women and Technology in the Newsroom: Vision or Reality from Data Journalism to the News Startup Era
3. When Arab Women (and Men) Speak: Struggles of Female Journalists in a Gendered News Industry
Jad P. Melki and Sarah Mallat
4. Seeking Women’s Expertise in the UK Broadcast News Media
Suzanne Franks and Lis Howells
5. Pretty in Pink: The Ongoing Importance of Appearance in Broadcast News
April Spray Newton and Linda Steiner
6. Women, Journalism and Labor Unions
Carolyn M. Byerly and Sharifa Simon-Roberts
Section II: News Discourses Sexualisation and Sexual violence
7. Trending Now: Feminism, Postfeminism, Sexism and Misogyny in British Journalism
Rosalind Gill and Katie Toms
8. U.S. News Coverage of Transgender Lives: A Historical and Critical Review
9. Gendered Violence in, of and by Sport News
10. Irreconcilable Differences? Framing Demand in News Coverage of United Kingdom Anti-Trafficking Legislation
Barbara Friedman and Anne Johnston
11. Patriarchy and Power in the South African News: Competing Coverage of the Murder of Anene Booysen
12. No more Page 3? Sexualisation, Politics and the UK Tabloid Press
13. “Page 3 Journalism”: Gender and News Cultures in Post Reforms India Section III: Engendering News Audiences and Activism
14. Refugees and Islam: Representing Race, Rights, Cohabitation
Beverly M. Weber
15. Black Lives Matter and the Rise of Womanist News Narratives
Allissa V. Richardson
16. Be Cute, Play with Dolls and Stick to Tea Parties: Journalism, Girls and Power
17. Mediated Gendered Activism in the “Post-Arab Spring” Era: Lessons from Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution”
18. The (In)visibility of Arab Women in Political Journalism
19. Obstacles to Chinese Women Journalists’ Career Advancement
Section IV: Politics and Identities in the News
20. Feminism and Gender in the Post-Truth Public Sphere
21. Women and War Photography: En/gendering Alternative Histories
22. The Gendered Racialization of Puerto Ricans in TV News Coverage of Hurricane Maria
Isabel Molina Guzman
23. When Women Run for Office: Press Coverage of Hillary Clinton During the 2016 Presidential Campaign
24. Conceptualising Masculinity and Femininity in the British Press
Paul Baker and Helen Baker
Reminder — Call for Papers closes at the end of January.
Future of Journalism, Cardiff University, UK, September 2019
Conference theme: “Innovations, Transitions and Transformations”
The School of Journalism, Media and Culture (JOMEC) at Cardiff University will host the seventh biennial Future of Journalism conference on 12-13 September 2019.
The conference will take place in JOMEC’s new state-of-the-art home in Cardiff’s city centre. The theme will be “Innovations, Transitions and Transformations.”
Our distinguished keynote speakers are Professor Andrew Chadwick (Loughborough University), Professor Adrienne Russell (University of Washington), and Professor Nikki Usher (University of Illinois). Please see their bios below.
The call for abstracts is now open. We invite contributions on all aspects of journalism, with those addressing the conference theme particularly encouraged. Issues to be addressed may include:
- How are definitions of journalism changing in an evolving news ecosystem?
- What is the future for today’s journalist in an environment increasingly shaped by artificial intelligence, big data, algorithmic processing and “liminal” journalism practices?
- How are standards of quality, balance and fairness changing, including with regard to the perceived decline of ‘mainstream media’ and the rise of hyper-partisan outlets?
- To what extent are social media democratising citizens’ engagement with news across mobile platforms?
- How best to encourage new cultures of experimentation and innovation for rethinking journalistic form and practice?
- How should journalism studies respond to these shifts, conceptually and methodologically?
A selection of papers presented at the conference will be published in special issues of the international peer-reviewed journals Digital Journalism, Journalism Practice and Journalism Studies. Routledge / Taylor & Francis have kindly agreed to sponsor the conference.
The conference will take place on Thursday 12th and Friday 13th September 2019. The registration fee will be £250 (£200 for postgraduate students), which includes tea and coffee breaks as well as the conference dinner (to be held on the evening of 12th September).
The deadline for submitting abstracts (250 words maximum) for papers is January 31st, 2019. Please submit your abstract via the conference email address:FofJ2019@cardiff.ac.uk
Please do not submit more than one abstract as first author, with no more than two abstracts in total.
Should you have any questions, please contact Bina Ogbebor at FofJ2019@cardiff.ac.uk
We hope to see you there!
Bios for our Keynote speakers:
Andrew Chadwick is Professor of Political Communication, Director of the Online Civic Culture Centre (O3C), and a member of the Centre for Research in Communication and Culture at Loughborough University, where he is also the University’s Research Beacon leader for Political Communication and developed and launched Loughborough’s new MA Social Media and Political Communication.His books include The Hybrid Media System: Politics and Power (Oxford University Press, 2013; Second Edition, 2017), which won the 2016 International Journal of Press/Politics Book Award for an outstanding book on media and politics published in the previous ten years and the American Political Science Association Information Technology and Politics Section Best Book Award, 2014; The Handbook of Internet Politics, co-edited with Philip N. Howard (Routledge 2009, 528pp), and Internet Politics: States, Citizens, and New Communication Technologies (Oxford University Press, 2006, 400pp), which won the American Sociological Association Best Book Award (Communication and Information Technologies Section) and is among the most widely-cited books in its field. Andrew is the series editor of Oxford University Press’ book series Oxford Studies in Digital Politics, which currently features 27 books. His website is www.abdrewchadwick.com and he is on Twitter at https://twitter.com/andrew_chadwick
Adrienne Russell is Mary Laird Wood Professor in the Department of Communication and Associate Director of the Center for Communication and Civic Engagement at the University of Washington. Her research focuses on the digital-age evolution of activist communication and journalism and explores communication related to climate change and social justice. She is the author of Networked: A Contemporary History of News in Transition, which came out in 2011, and Journalism as Activism: Recoding Media Power, which was published in 2016. She is co-editor of the volumes Journalism and the NSA Revelations (2017) and International Blogging: Identity, Politics and Networked Publics (2009). Her work has been published in the top journals of the communication field. She recently co-launched “2K,” a special section of Social Media + Society that’s dedicated to public scholarship related to media and technology.
Nikki Usher, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor at The School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University and an associate professor at The University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) in the College of Media. Her research focuses on news production in the changing digital environment, blending insights from media sociology and political communication. Her first book, Making News at The New York Times (University of Michigan Press, 2014) was the first book-length study of the US’s foremost newspaper in the Internet era and won the Tankard Award, a national book award from the Association for Education and Mass Communication in Journalism. Her second book, Interactive Journalism: Hackers, Data, and Code (University of Illinois Press, 2016), focused on the rise of programming and data journalism, and was a finalist for the Tankard Award, making Usher the first solo author to be a two-time finalist. Usher co-edits the Oxford University Press book series “Journalism and Political Communication Unbound.” She has been a fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and a fellow at the Reynold’s Institute at the University of Missouri. She is the winner of the AEJMC Emerging Scholar Award and was named the Lillian Lodge Kopenhaver Outstanding Junior Scholar, in addition to joining the Kopenhaver Center as a leadership fellow.
Very much looking forward to speaking at the Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia (JERAA) annual conference being held in Tasmania, Australia, 3-5 December, 2018.