Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Barbie Zelizer


This dissertation offers a re-examination of core practices and principles that have survived journalism’s transition to the digital. It reconsiders how we think about three fundamental aspects of reporting -- eyewitnessing, transparency and trauma – and examines them in one of the most fundamental types of reporting: covering war, the “litmus test of journalism” (Allan & Zelizer, 2004, p. 4). It takes as a point of departure the actual, physical field of covering crisis in Syria and Yemen, two countries that are home to the worst crises of our time. This dissertation moves to denaturalize naturalized associations which mask selective normalizations, structural inequities and a troubling legacy of racism in the press. It offers a grounded interpretation of three specific practices and principles as they play out among one of journalism’s liminal bridges: stringers. It unravels journalism's traditional claims to authority from the act of eyewitnessing, to accountability from transparency and to the claimability of experience through trauma.

This dissertation draws on years of ethnographic observations in the world of Middle East correspondence, in-depth interviews with stringers, staff reporters, editors and psychiatrists and close readings of journalistic and scholarly texts that inform how we think about journalism, how it functions and who it includes. It finds that the privileging of certain frames or associations over others is not arbitrary and has enabled metonymic discussions of journalism in which inquiry stops at the boundaries it aims to interrogate. Failure to specify exactly what is under interrogation in the study of journalism, and to look closely at how journalism functions on the ground today, has enabled the survival of problematic, exploitative structures and systems that trap all those within.


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