Constructing Journalism Practice Between the Global and the Local: Lessons From the Rwandan Journalism Field
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This dissertation shows how the journalism field in Rwanda is constructed, including how journalists learn their social role, how they decide what news they will publish, and what factors enable some journalists to produce news that does not fit the established norms. Using a network ethnographic approach, this study examined participant observation and interview data collected from fieldsites chosen based on a social network analysis of the Rwandan journalism field's Twitter presence. This dissertation brings new data to bear on a perennial question, highlighting the complexities of journalism practice and perception in a little-studied context. I answer the question, "In a field suspended between global demands communicated by field leaders and education and local pressures of governance and social context, what does it mean to be a journalist?" in three parts. The Rwandan journalism field is shaped by a series of institutions that structure action, sometimes reinforcing and perpetuating through social obligation and habit behavior that the journalist does not find ideal. While global influence is apparent in education and in field standards set in the Rwandan journalists' code of ethics and in the behavior encouraged by professional organizations, local factors specific to the Rwandan context intervene to shape how journalists view their social position and to encourage routines that result in a context-dependent journalism field whose practitioners are persistently aware of the divide between what they practice and what they are taught. To resist those pressures, journalists must be able to consistently meet field standards in their news production methods and content and they must work for an organization with economic capital outside of the Rwandan media field. Journalists who resist also share a different conception of loyalty and patriotism as rooted in information sharing rather than positive image promotion. The findings have application in journalism studies scholarship because they extend theories of how journalists navigate local and global pressures to construct fields of practice. In addition, they suggest a new perspective on autonomy and power. In Rwanda, journalists generally have some autonomy to take a powerful social position, but instead they take a relatively weak social position in part because of a shared understanding of their social role as villains. This research provides insight on the specific case of journalism in Rwanda and also on how the journalism field might be constructed in similar contexts around the world.
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