critical incidents in journalism

An International Communication Association Preconference

In partnership with the ICA Journalism Studies Division

Sponsored by Nanyang Technological University, Oslo Metropolitan University, University of Missouri,

and the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

May 24, 2019

Washington Hilton Hotel, Washington DC



Submissions now being reviewed.

Journalism’s ongoing metamorphosis around the world has been marked by numerous critical incidents that have led journalists to publicly reflect on the practices and principles that define their profession. From the Gulf War in the 1990s, when journalists were forced to examine the implications of real-time reporting on journalistic autonomy and verification (Zelizer, 1992), to the gruesome attack on the editorial offices of the satirical French publication Charlie Hebdo in 2015, when news organizations invoked safety and solidary in determining how to cover the events (Jenkins & Tandoc, 2017a), critical incidents have provided opportunities to examine how journalists construct the boundaries of appropriate practice and discern their public service roles in a continually changing field.

Critical incidents refer to events or developments that lead journalists to reconsider “the hows and whys of journalistic practice” (Zelizer, 1992, p. 67). These events or developments serve as discursive opportunities for journalists to ensure the wellbeing of their interpretive community by reconsidering, rearticulating, and reinforcing their boundaries and authority. Critical incidents are important for interpretive communities, such as journalists, as they compel reflection on their practices and values (Zelizer, 1993). Such critical incidents, such as the negotiation of journalistic identities, roles, and responsibilities in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the US (Parameswaran, 2006); the terror attack and massacre in Norway on July 22, 2011 (Konow-Lund et. al, 2018); the phone hacking scandal that rocked the UK news media in 2011 (Thomas, 2012); the entry of BuzzFeed as a legitimate journalistic organization among legacy media (Tandoc & Jenkins, 2017); and Rolling Stone magazine’s decision to feature a photo of the Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on its cover (Jenkins & Tandoc, 2017b), have led journalistic communities to reflect on the boundaries of acceptable professional practice.

But while some critical incidents attract global attention, such as the Charlie Hebdo attack, meriting cross-country reflections on journalistic practice, many critical incidents in journalism go unnoticed. Because some occur in relatively smaller journalistic communities or marginalised media systems or affect less prominent groups of journalists or news outlets, they rarely translate to larger conversations. However, these critical incidents are equally, if not more, important, for they also have the potential to reshape day-to-day journalism practice. Therefore, we encourage studies of critical incidents occurring in these smaller communities as well. By analysing critical incidents from an array of journalism communities, we begin to understand the diverse ways journalists navigate the challenges to, and the contours of, their professional practice. These events have also engaged non-journalist stakeholders, most notably audience members, who have shared their perspectives on what they perceive as appropriate approaches to journalistic practice.

This preconference seeks to bring together analyses of various critical incidents around the world, with the goal of synthesizing how journalists reflect on their practices, based on what parameters, and with what resolutions when they face challenges. Specifically, we encourage submissions related, but not limited, to:

1. Case studies and historical analyses of critical incidents, outlining how a specific event, scandal, or controversy fits into the framework of critical incidents in journalism;

2. Analyses of journalistic discourse around a critical incident in journalism, discussing themes that journalists articulate in making sense of the issue;

3. Comparative analyses of discourse from different media systems or journalistic communities about a particular critical incident;

4. Conceptual essays problematizing the consequences and implications of critical incidents to the study and practice of journalism.

While studies of critical incidents in journalism are mostly based on discourse analysis or metajournalistic discourse (Carlson, 2016), we also consider other methodological approaches to analysing journalistic reflections during critical incidents in journalism, including interviews, ethnography, surveys, and others. The preconference will also address areas in journalism studies scholarship that could be illuminated by examining these critical incidents, including history, ethics, new media, audience studies, critical studies, and others.

We hope that this preconference will help us consolidate journalistic reflections and research findings across different media contexts to allow us to theorize on conditions defining the emergence and impact of critical incidents, the discursive function of critical incidents, the utility of analysing journalistic discourse, as well as the patterns to journalistic reflections during critical incidents.

February 5, 2019: Submission of extended abstracts with a maximum length of 1,000 words. Please follow American Psychological Association (APA) style (6th edition). Submissions further require a shorter abstract (to be included in the program) of no more than 150 words. Please delete any identifying information in the text of your proposal as it will be subject to a blinded peer review. You can submit your proposals by clicking on this link.