The Rise of Brand Journalism: Understanding the Discursive Dimensions of Collectivity in the Age of Convergence

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Convergence culture
Interpretive communities
New media
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How does today’s convergence culture affect the communities that evolve in its wake when the hybridization of formerly distinct cultural forms, practices and professions is not only possible but actively promoted by various individuals, organizations and institutions? This dissertation answers this question through a study of one particular form of emergent collectivity – that uniting journalism and public relations under the label of “brand journalism.” It examines how this hybridization practice occurs, what it suggests about the existing communities of cultural producers, and how it changes the established power relations between different groups. It explains the processes through which a hybrid “interpretive community”--brand journalism--comes into existence, establishes its identity and authority as a collective, challenging the boundaries between existing communities. In particular, this dissertation studies the tensions over cultural authority, identity and discursive power that play into the rise of hybrid cultural practices by examining three sets of discursive qualities of the brand journalism community: 1) articulated vs. unarticulated; 2) intrinsic vs. extrinsic; and 3) indicative vs. subjunctive. The tension between articulated and unarticulated voices suggests that there exist unequal power relations within and among interpretive communities. The tension between intrinsic and extrinsic discourses illustrates how the boundaries of a community are permeable, sometimes offering membership to “others.” The tension between subjunctive and indicative discourses in the community shows how the boundaries of interpretive communities are discursively imagined and maintained to decrease the gap between collective vision and practice. Contrary to Fish (1980)’s theory on interpretive communities, this dissertation suggests that collectivity in a community is not merely about consensus or agreement. Instead, it is an ongoing process that often creates discord and mobility. In addition, the discursive shape of interpretive communities is more dynamic, unstable and complex than existing theories on interpretive communities suggest. The dichotomies between us and them, inclusion and exclusion, permissible and impermissible, and central and marginal are neither stark nor clear-cut as scholars have argued. Borrowing, tweaking and reinterpreting journalistic discourse, brand journalism also poses a critical question to journalism scholars: What is journalism when “the classical modes of journalism production and dissemination” are radically changing and corporate brands are increasingly becoming a part of the news ecosystem? This dissertation suggests that brand journalism emblematized one response to the challenges, confrontations and tensions that journalism has to face in the changing information environment.

Barbie Zelizer
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