Digital Journalism and Digital Humanities

I’ve increasingly felt that digital journalism and digital humanities are kindred spirits, and that more commerce between the two could be mutually beneficial. That sentiment was confirmed by the extremely positive reaction on Twitter to a brief comment I made on the launch of Knight-Mozilla OpenNews, including from Jon Christensen (of the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford, and formerly a journalist), Shana Kimball (MPublishing, University of Michigan), Tim Carmody (Wired), and Jenna Wortham (New York Times).

Here’s an outline of some of the main areas where digital journalism and digital humanities could profitably collaborate. It’s remarkable, upon reflection, how much overlap there now is, and I suspect these areas will only grow in common importance.

1) Big data, and the best ways to scan and visualize it. All of us are facing either present-day or historical archives of almost unimaginable abundance, and we need sophisticated methods for finding trends, anomalies, and specific documents that could use additional attention. We also require robust ways of presenting this data to audiences to convey theses and supplement narratives.

2) How to involve the public in our work. If confronted by big data, how and when should we use crowdsourcing, and through which mechanisms? Are there areas where pro-am work is especially effective, and how can we heighten its advantages while diminishing its disadvantages? Since we both do work on the open web rather than in the cloistered realms of the ivory tower, what are we to make of the sometimes helpful, sometimes rocky interactions with the public?

3) The narrative plus the archive. Journalists are now writing articles that link to or embed primary sources (e.g., using DocumentCloud). Scholars are now writing articles that link to or embed primary sources (e.g., using Omeka). Formerly hidden sources are now far more accessible to the reader.

4) Software developers and other technologists are our partners. No longer relegated to secondary status as “the techies who make the websites,” we need to work intellectually and practically with those who understand how digital media and technology can advance our agenda and our content. For scholars, this also extends to technologically sophisticated librarians, archivists, and museum professionals. Moreover, the line between developer and journalist/scholar is already blurring, and will blur further.

5) Platforms and infrastructure. We care a great deal about common platforms, ranging from web and data standards, to open source software, to content management systems such as WordPress and Drupal. Developers we work with can create platforms with entirely novel functionality for news and scholarship.

6) Common tools. We are all writers and researchers. When the New York Times produces a WordPress plugin for editing, it affects academics looking to use WordPress as a scholarly communication platform. When our center updates Zotero, it affects many journalists who use that software for organizing their digital research.

7) A convergence of length. I’m convinced that something interesting and important is happening at the confluence of long-form journalism (say, 5,000 words or more) and short-form scholarship (ranging from long blog posts to Kindle Singles geared toward popular audiences). It doesn’t hurt that many journalists writing at this length could very well have been academics in a parallel universe, and vice versa. The prevalence of high-quality writing that is smart and accessible has never been greater.

This list is undoubtedly not comprehensive; please add your thoughts about additional common areas in the comments. It may be worth devoting substantial time to increasing the dialogue between digital journalists and digital humanists at the next THATCamp Prime, or perhaps at a special THATCamp focused on the topic. Let me know if you’re interested. And more soon in this space.

15 responses to “Digital Journalism and Digital Humanities”

  1. Anne Trubek Avatar
    Anne Trubek

    Dan–Huzzah! I would love to be involved in any further discussions, THATCamps, etc.


  2. Digital journalism and humanities scholarship has increasingly powerful multimedia tools (e.g. gigapixel images, photosynth, Zeega, etc.) that can support rich, explorable online image production, mapping, layering and interconnectivity between content sources.
    In addition to big data visualization, I’d consider big images and visually locating information (in spatial rather than lexical or hierarchical-based ways) and how journalism and scholars can become better mediamakers to share their content and scholarship.

  3. Lisa Lynch Avatar
    Lisa Lynch

    Something I’ve been interested in for a long time (was actually hoping to talk about this at a ThatCamp a few years back, but life got in the way.) Keep me posted as well.

    — Lisa

  4. Dan,
    I am planning on attending the THATCamp that is to be hosted in Luxembourg in mid-March and they are requesting ideas for workshops now. Would love to suggest the discussion of this topic! Perhaps I could do so in combination with a discussion of Omeka? They are already planning to do something on Zotero…

  5. I can certainly attest to the degree of overlap between the two. As an LIS student at the University of Missouri, I worked for the School of Journalism on a couple of projects (both were within the past two years). One was a photojournalism archive where we used Omeka to post ~40k photos. The other was a conference on preserving print and born-digital newspaper content . For the latter, I interviewed a number of people at born-digital only newspapers (e.g. Christian Science Monitor) and it was interesting to hear the variety of answers to the question “how do you archive a day’s content” with regard to practices for capturing content, ads, comments, and so forth. I’d be happy to share my experiences at Prime or another THATCamp.

  6. […] Cohen writes that historians should be taking more queues from digital journalists and outlines some areas where historians can collaborate and overlap. These are exciting […]

  7. […] Cohen writes that historians should be taking more queues from digital journalists and outlines some areas where historians can collaborate and overlap. These are exciting […]

  8. […] Cohen writes that historians should be taking more queues from digital journalists and outlines some areas where historians can collaborate and overlap. These are exciting […]

  9. Sam Franklin Avatar
    Sam Franklin

    Yes yes. And to shift the focus from the tools to the method: how can historians and journalists help one another produce better, more informed, more informative, stories? Twentieth century historians, especially, often feel slighted when journalists repeat conventional wisdom about the precedents for stories on, say, urban poverty or party politics. Journalists, meanwhile, have a nuanced, almost ethnographic grasp of some of the structures and institutions that historians study in the abstract, plus they’re bold, resourceful researchers. So how can we use digital tools set up working partnerships so that, say, readers of the news have a deeper sense of context every day?

  10. […] I blogged a few months ago, it has become increasingly clear that digital humanities has a kindred spirit in […]

  11. […] –Dan Cohen, 2012 […]

  12. […] harnessing the power of big data, it will be in the service of telling stories more effectively. Digital journalism and digital humanities are merging in the service of more informed […]

  13. […] left untouched, would leave users facing ‘historical archives of almost unimaginable abundance’ [1]. As a result, the digital offered and continues to offer new ‘sophisticated methods for finding […]

  14. […] of journalism and scholarship in mid-length forms online. (For those keeping track at home, #7 on my list of ways that journalism and the humanities are merging in digital media). You’ve seen it on […]

  15. […] That Digital History book included explicit advice to digital historians to work with the news media perhaps set a precedent, having been published in 2005. In 2012, Dan Cohen made this post on his blog: […]

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