Breaking Through the Ambivalence: The Future of Security Cultures in the Newsroom

To be free and independent as media, it is important to have baseline protections such as security and privacy; yet over the last several years, numerous journalists and news organizations have reported incidents in which their communications have been hacked, intercepted, or retrieved (Der Spiegel staff, 2015; Wagstaff, 2014). When journalists’ digital accounts are vulnerable to hacks or surveillance, news organizations, journalists, and their sources are at risk.

This study is interested in analyzing 1) how surveillance and concerns about surveillance have changed/are changing journalists’ digital newsgathering practices, including interactions with their sources; 2) how security culture is being established and maintained in leading news organizations in the United States; and 3) motivations and barriers to the adoption of information security practices by journalists in the newsroom. This study will clarify how information security practices by journalists and newsrooms more generally may be changing journalistic culture and norms of professionalism at a time of increased labor precarity and loss of trust in the media. In so doing, this study will connect the empirical study of journalists’ changing digital news practices and newsroom culture to the larger question of what journalism is and what it can be in an age of surveillance.

This study is important and timely amidst the rise and rhetoric of “fake news”, which is leveraged by populist and authoritarian politicians to discredit and delegitimize truths and the watchdog role of the press. This study will shed light on how socio-technical processes are shaping journalism culture and the professionalization of norms in the newsroom and how security culture is being established or inhibited as a result.

Project lead: Jennifer Henrichsen

January 01, 2018