A space for the public : positioning the online commenter in the field of professional journalism
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[ACCESS RESTRICTED TO THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI AT AUTHOR'S REQUEST.] Online commenters play an increasing role in online journalism, adding content and commentary, but their role as participants in journalism is in flux as some professionals diminish the commenter role and push to delegitimize their content. This textual analysis and ethnography considers the state of the relationship between the journalist and the commenter in the journalism field broadly, as well as at one news organization. The analysis relies on boundary work, field theory, and gatekeeping in understanding how the commenter and journalist negotiate appropriate roles for one another. The textual analysis included 77 articles published about online commenting over a three-year period and the ethnographic analysis included studying one news organization by spending 90 hours in the newsroom, conducting 16 interviews, and collecting more than 8,000 comments for analysis. This study found that journalists negotiate the boundaries of the field to keep the commenter at a distance, perceive the commenter as a force for the transformation of the professional field, and adopt practices to keep the commenter from influencing professional content and the credibility of the organization. These findings suggest that journalists have used negative perceptions of online commenters to publicly shame the worst actors and institute new inhibitive practices in response, rather than seeing the commenter as a potential collaborator to professional journalism.
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