Pablo Boczkowski
Lecture, "Past Knowing?:
The Practice and Infrastructure of Imitation in Contemporary News Work"
February 29, 2008

On the right, Pablo Boczkowski talks with Thomas Haigh (left) and Center Director Daniel J. Sherman in Curtin 118

Pablo Boczkowski presents his lecture


A talk given by Pablo Boczkowski (Communication, Northwestern) on February 29 suggested a meaning of the current research theme, Past Knowing, the Center had not yet considered. Boczkowski presented a story of a technology-driven trend in news reporting where the need for constant news updates leads to widespread imitation and similarity at the expense of original news gathering and genuine knowledge. His lecture analyzed the way news gathering and news reporting in Argentina has changed since 1995 as a result of the rise of newspaper websites.

After an introduction discussing the mechanics of imitation in news work—through elements such as visibility or “observability”; the importance of technology, especially the internet; the interpretation of the preferences of others; and reputation and how it tends to promote conformism—Boczkowski turned to the case of the two major Argentine newspapers, Clarín and La Nación.

Boczkowski provided a detailed description of how the frequency of user visits to newspaper websites have led journalists at both Argentine papers on an increasingly frantic quest for news updates. In practice, much of this quest takes place as the incessant monitoring of other news sites, “surfing for information,” rather than original news gathering. 96 percent of stories, Boczkowski said, get produced within two hours, and 88 percent of content comes from other news media. Incentives to be different hardly exist, given the newspapers’ main audience: people at the office who check news sites all the time and expect something new every time. If newspapers want to keep their audience, they need to provide constant updates, and they need to make sure that they cover everything the competition covers also. Only the newspapers’ feature writers are rewarded for being original—the others are penalized for being different.

In conclusion, Boczkowski pondered the social and political implications of this process of monitoring-imitation-similarity: What will happen to the watchdog role of the media in a democratic society or the balance of power there? What will be the long-term consequences for diversity in the public sphere? Could it be that we’re living in an information revolution where more is actually less?


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