• Gregory Perreault

Field Insurgency and the Fulbright Virtual Seminar

Last week, I led an informal research chat with the Journalism Studies Center team on the topic of "Field Insurgency," a topic which has been on my mind a good deal over the past year. In the lens of field theory, there are incumbents--actors who hold a dominant position within a professional field (such as traditional, hard news journalists); and at times, professions also have insurgents.

Insurgents are actors who are not of the field but at often wish to be in the field. In the process, they shift the field in meaningful ways toward their own interests and values. I've seen what's at stake in a few recent studies:

  • (1) Socialization-Even when new entrants are trained as journalists, there is a concern if they’re not the “right kind of journalist” among traditional journalists. This leaves new entrants feeling like a liability in their own newsrooms. In this Perreault & Stanfield (2019), we found that mobile journalists were even trained as journalists but, given that they were acting as lifestyle journalists in hard news topics, were given a frosty reception within the field.

  • (2) A place for new journalists- Insurgents in the sports journalism field are represented by in-house sports reporting teams and unpaid, enthusiast bloggers. In the role conception of the field, journalists often articulate their roles as an opportunity to expel others from the boundaries of the field and, in Perreault & Bell (2020) the digital sports journalists here did not delineate such boundaries.From the perspective of the digital sports journalist then, such insurgents have been invited into the field, thus requiring digital sports journalists to redefine what makes them essential--and digital sports journalists could not do so except that they brought money into the newsroom

  • (3) A changed landscape- In large part, I argue in Perreault & Ferrucci (2020) that with the entrance of digital journalists, traditional journalists nevertheless continued to hold the power. The concession was that, to some degree, they had to embrace the values and practices of insurgents. In maintaining their own position of power, they also created space for insurgents to operate within the field.

Yesterday and today, I took part in the Fulbright Austria Virtual Seminar which brought together Fulbright students and Fulbright Scholars both from Austria and the US. Thought provoking questions from students at the end of the first day on the topic of political communication. As a journalist, the most frustrating part of the discussion was a single phrase "the media." With a category as large as "media"--a category that would include cable news, traditional print and wire service, digital news and Hollywood--could any unifying traits be meaningfully discussed? I certainly don't perceive a world where Tucker Carlson, Rachel Maddow, Thomas Friedman and Wright Thompson meet for brunch to plan out the news cycle--an implication seemingly leveled when "the media" is called into question.

How did describing "media" get so muddied? I wonder to what degree it actually reflects the impact of insurgency, particularly given the rise of Fox News Channel (which describes itself as an "entertainment channel" in its own legal documents). Perhaps its the entrance of cable news in the 90s that has muddied the issue in popular discourse, although the gray of entertainment and journalism certainly has long standing historical precedent as well.

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