Digital History and Digital Journalism

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 During last week’s class, we discussed the relationship, and tensions, between journalists and historians. In reading The History Manifesto, there seemed to be a few jabs at journalists, with the authors mentioning news editorials elevating economic models applied to far-fetched concepts such as the customs of dating to sumo wrestling, and subsequently raising their creators to the status of public intellectuals (Guldi and Armitage 3). In their crusade for the longue durée, they point out seemingly inherent limitations with journalism: “Centuries and epochs are often mysteries too deep and wide for journalists to concern themselves with” (Guldi and Armitage 5).

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Christopher Daly provides useful context for the tensions between journalists and historians:

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 “Part of the friction between journalists and historians arises from the fact that the two kinds of non-fiction inquiries are asking different questions. Almost always, the foremost question on the journalist’s mind is: what happened?… The characteristic response of the professional journalist is to move on to the next event or surprise, leaving others to mull over matters of interpretation and analysis” (44).

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 In his article, Daly informs us of the different approaches journalists and historians take to big questions, but notes that the historian’s approach has its pitfalls:

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 “Most of the time, historians are not particularly interested in the question of what happened, because it is pretty well settled by the time they begin their work. They are more interested in asking how or why something happened, or what it means for later generations. Questions of interpretation and causation are paramount. Regrettably, these concerns are often emphasized over the story-telling skills of scene-setting, character development, and textual pleasure” (44).

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 What was also interesting is that Daly, a historian by training and journalist by profession, repeated a sentiment shared by Prof. Steve Brier during class:

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 “…journalists present one version of the events, only to see that draft corrected, revised, or reinterpreted by historians” (35).

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Despite these tensions, there have been ways that historians and journalists have reached out to one another in order to sustain their work, as both of their professions could be seen in crisis: the decline of humanities tenure-track positions in academia, for example, as well as economic troubles for print journalism. Horst Pöttker writes:

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 “…journalism needs history as a subject context if it is to survive the threatening challenges to the continuance of the profession from the changes caused by the digital media” (521).

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 It also seems that historians as well have been trying to find ways to cooperate, offering practical tips to historians working with breaking news outlets, such as advising academics to focus on better informing the reporter, rather than putting the emphasis on being quoted in the story.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Scholars in digital history have also advised creating partnerships with journalism to propagate their work to a wider audience. As Dan Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig in their book Digital History advise:

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 “…you should also try to reach visitors in much larger aggregates, including through the mass media of newspapers, radio, and television. If you succeed, it can dramatically expand your audience. For example, on August 19, 2002, the Associated Press ran a story on our September 11 Digital Archive that was picked up across the country and featured on the CNN.com home page. That day, the number of visitors to our site jumped almost ten-fold, from 3,700 to 36,000.”

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 The fields of digital history and digital journalism seem to have more in common in their work than scholars and journalists who have worked solely in print.

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Cohen and Rosenzweig even ask digital historians to think of the perspective of the reporter:

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 “Even if you are not the beneficiary of a catastrophe, you should still try to attract press attention to your site by thinking about it from the perspective of a reporter. What is the “news” in your site? Are you the first to make some body of historical materials available online? Have you developed an innovative way to teach history or present the past online? That news should be the headline in a press release that you write whenever you launch a site.”

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 That Digital History 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:

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 “I’ve increasingly felt that digital journalism and digital humanities are kindred spirits, and that more commerce between the two could be mutually beneficial.”

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 Cohen pointed out a number of areas of cooperation, such as the use of digital tools, but most relevant was his belief that involving the public was critical to the work of both digital historians and digital journalism, as both “do work on the open web” and face “sometimes helpful, sometimes rocky interactions with the public.”

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 His call for cooperation seems to have been taken up four years after his blog post. Later this month, there will be a digital humanities and data journalism conference held at the University of Miami. Dan Cohen is the keynote speaker, talking about the convergence of the two fields.  It would be interesting to see what comes out of this conference, particularly regarding whether a consensus towards public communication would be possible between digital historians and data journalists. It appears that the majority of sessions focus on the tools that digital humanists and journalists use (network analysis, data cleaning, text analysis, and data visualization). The conference website does name “effective communication” as a theme, which is defined as “transform[ing] scholarly articles and research papers into documents that the public can understand.” While very important, this focus on adapting scholarly text seems to be a one-way street, another dataset that journalists can pick and choose from in constructing their visualizations.

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 The conference organizers decided to limit attendance in order to foster conversation, but I wanted to mention other ways that we can observe the convergence of digital history and journalism. The Conversation is a growing website that involves academics writing about current news topics, such as a historian’s take on Brexit. This GitHub page has collected interesting links on “what digital humanities and news nerds want to explore together,” such as events, collaborative projects, and reference works. Slate has collected interesting digital history projects since at least 2013 (and here are the compilations for 2014 and 2015). It certainly appears that, with the evidence of cross-disciplinary work and conversation taking place with digital humanities/history and digital/data journalism, a focus on practical methods rather than theory makes both professions seem, as Tom Scheinfeldt put it, “nice,” a contrast to the tensions with print journalism and analog history seen prior.

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 Works Cited

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 Guldi, Jo, and David Armitage. The History Manifesto. Cambridge University Press, 2014.

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 Daly, Christopher B. “Are Journalists Always Wrong?” Journalism Practice, vol. 5, no. 5, 2011, pp. 538-550, bu.edu/history/files/2011/09/Are-Journalists-Always-Wrong.pdf. Accessed 23 Sep. 2016.

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 Pöttker, Horst. “A Reservoir of Understanding. Journalism Practice, vol. 5, no. 5, 2011, tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17512786.2011.601898. Accessed 23 Sep. 2016.

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 Wen, Shuang. “Two Sides of the History: How Historians and Journalists Can Work Together.” Perspectives on History, Oct. 2015, historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/october-2015/two-sides-of-the-story-how-historians-and-journalists-can-work-together. Accessed 25 Sep. 2016.

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 Cohen, Daniel J., and Roy Rosenzweig. Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005.

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 Daniel Cohen. “Digital Journalism and Digital Humanities.” dancohen.org, 8 Feb. 2012, dancohen.org/2012/02/08/digital-journalism-and-digital-humanities. Accessed 23 Sep. 2016.

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 Digital Humanities + Data Journalism Symposium. University of Miami, 2016, dhdj.com.miami.edu. Accessed 24 Sep. 2016.

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 Ghosh, Peter. “Britain is no longer an island: a historian’s take on the Brexit debate.” The Conversation, A List Apart: For People Who Make Websites, 13 May 2016, theconversation.com/britain-is-no-longer-an-island-a-historians-take-on-the-brexit-debate-59213. Accessed 24 Sep. 2016.

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 livlab/digital-humanities-journalism. livlab, 2016, github.com/livlab/digital-humanities-journalism. Accessed 23 Sep. 2016.

31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 Onion, Rebecca. “Small Town Noir, and Four Other Astonishing Digital History Sites We Loved in 2013.” Slate, 27 Dec. 2013, slate.com/blogs/the_vault/2013/12/27/digital_archives_five_great_sites_from_2013.html. Accessed 25 Sep. 2016.

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 Onion, Rebecca. “Five of 2014’s Most Compelling Digital History Exhibits and Archives.” Slate, 29 Dec. 2014, slate.com/blogs/the_vault/2014/12/29/historical_documents_online_five_best_digital_archives_from_2014.html. Accessed 25 Sep. 2016.

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 Onion, Rebecca. “Five Digital History Projects That Dazzled Us in 2015.” Slate, 18 Dec. 2015, slate.com/blogs/the_vault/2015/12/18/five_digital_history_projects_that_dazzled_us_in_2015.html. Accessed 25 Sep. 2016.

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 Scheinfeldt, Tom. “Why Digital Humanities Is ‘Nice'”. Debates in the Digital Humanities, edited by Lauren F. Klein and Matthew K. Gold, Universiy of Minnesota Press, 2012, dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/36

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0  

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2 Comments

  1. Posted September 28, 2016 at 2:47 am | Permalink

    Interesting. I do think there’s a real divide between historians and journalists (and academics and journalists in general). In The Awl recently, a two-part conversation between an academic, Jo Livingstone, and an editor for The Guardian, David Wolf, opened with the following headnote: “Editors think that scholars are bad writers, and they say so often and rudely. Academics think that journalists are lazy thinkers, and they’re no more polite. Neither is right, I think, but the fields are so twain that nobody really bothers to think about the why or the how or the what next except super-intellectual magazines that nobody reads.”

    Do you think the influence of public history on digital history makes it more copacetic with digital journalism, since both fields aim to educate (or at least reach) wide audiences in new forms and formats? And do you think digital journalism sees digital history less as an arena for chiding “lazy thinkers” and more as one for engaging journalists, however limited their “early” drafts of history may be?

    See below for links to The Awl articles mentioned above.
    – Part I: https://theawl.com/can-the-academic-write-part-i-24fdaf8bf422#.t9ri6jc7i
    – Part II: https://theawl.com/can-the-academic-write-part-ii-b243bc91b44a#.rah22vp2b

  2. Posted September 28, 2016 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    As an observer to both fields, I hope so! The Slate listicles seem to be an example of digital journalists reaching out to digital historians in the way you describe. Your first question made me think more on the grounds of public history and data journalism (as a subset of digital journalism). Both aim to educate wide audiences, certainly, but another similarity could be that both lack “argument-driven” scholarship and reporting, as Cameron Blevins claimed for digital history. When the New Republic cited Nate Silver saying, “we’re not trying to do advocacy here. We’re trying to just do analysis. We’re not trying to sway public opinion on anything except trying to make them more numerate”, I saw a parallel in the digital history projects Blevins describes.

    New Republic article: https://newrepublic.com/article/117068/nate-silvers-fivethirtyeight-emptiness-data-journalism

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