Publications

  • Becoming the News: How Ordinary People Respond to the Media Spotlight. Forthcoming from Columbia University Press, 2017.
    • This is the first book-length academic study of what it feels like for ordinary Americans to be named in mainstream news stories. Based on in-depth interviews with subjects of newspaper articles in New York City and a mid-sized city in the American West, the book follows their journey ¨making the news,¨ from the events that brought them to journalists´ attention, through their decisions to cooperate with reporters, their interactions with journalists, and their reactions to the news coverage and its aftermath.
    • The book fills a conspicuous gap in the journalism studies literature. That literature usually focuses on news producers and consumers, while ignoring the voices of news subjects. News subjects provide untapped insights into practical and ethical questions that are interesting to journalists and scholars alike, such as what constitutes ethical treatment of subjects during interviews, and whether and why subjects feel misrepresented or exploited by journalists.
    • News subjects also provide urgently needed insight into how ordinary Americans regard the mainstream news media. Surveys find Americans distrust the news media more now than ever. In-depth interviews with news subjects—non-journalists who get a brief, intimate look at news processes—can help us understand why.
  • ¨A ´Deep Story´ About American Journalism: Using ´Episodes´to Explore Folk Theories of Journalism, Journalism Studies. Published online October 10, 2017.
    • A recent rise in anti-media political rhetoric in the United States and Europe, which aims to tap into and stoke citizens’ beliefs and attitudes about journalism, raises the stakes for understanding those beliefs and attitudes. This article explores how the “episodes” method can be used to study citizens’ “folk theories” and feelings about journalism. The method asks interviewees to describe concrete episodes in which complex, potentially abstract concepts or institutions played a role in their lives. I illustrate the method using interviews with ordinary people who were named in mainstream news stories in the US. Interviews focused on participants’ experiences as news subjects, but in discussion their more general beliefs and attitudes about journalism emerged organically. I detail two specific folk theories about journalistic ethics that interviewees embraced. First, many people felt “good” reporters should not seek out quotes to fit into stories that had largely been written already. Second, interviewees believed that journalists should take responsibility for the outcomes of their stories. I go on to describe a broader, more emotional narrative about the relationship between the news media and the citizenry that emerged in interviews. In that “deep story” citizens saw journalists more as bullies than as advocates.
  • The Journalist and the Murderer Revisited: What Interviews with Journalism Subjects Tell Us About a Modern Classic, “ Journalism. Published online March 11, 2016.
    • Do journalism subjects invariably feel betrayed and misrepresented by journalists, as Janet Malcolm claims in her seminal 1990 book The Journalist and the Murderer? If not, what explains the ongoing appeal of her now famous conclusion? Based on interviews with 83 people who were named in newspapers in the New York City–area and a southwestern city, this article takes up these questions by putting journalism subjects’ own descriptions of their experiences with the journalistic process in dialogue with Malcolm’s central argument. I conclude that Malcolm’s conman–victim model for the journalist–subject relationship fails, in some key ways, to describe journalism subjects’ experiences; and yet, Malcolm does capture important emotional truths at the heart of the journalist–subject encounter. In the end, the hyperbolic versions of the journalist and subject she portrays may continue to resonate not because they are strictly accurate, but because they play a role in journalistic boundary work, simultaneously probing and reinforcing the boundaries of acceptable journalistic practice.
  • “Context Matters: What Interviews with News Subjects Can Tell Us About Accuracy and Error,”Journalism Studies. Vol. 13, No 6. December 2011, 46-61.
    • Also available here, on academia.edu.
    • Part of a larger study about the experiences of private citizens who suddenly find themselves in the news, this paper addresses one aspect of that experience: how people feel about errors in the stories in which they were named. The study is based on in-depth interviews with 64 individuals who were named in newspaper articles in the New York area and a mid-sized city in the Southwestern United States. As in past, survey-based studies, findings indicate subjects are often quick to dismiss many inaccuracies. But it also emerges that for many subjects other aspects of the experience of being in the news matter more than the strict accuracy of the article, and that circumstances surrounding an article’s publication influence error perception. The paper discusses four features common to subjects’ encounters with the press that have bearing on how they interpret an article’s content in general, and errors in particular: the newsworthy events themselves, subjects’ objectives, subjects’ expectations, and the feedback they receive from others.
  • “The Hoax, Uncanny Identity, and Literary Journalism,”Literary Journalism Studies. Vol. 2, No. 1. Spring 2010, 81-100. 
    • The coalescence of literary journalism as a genre in the late 20th century gave rise to a particular manifestation of the uncanny, experienced by writers and readers alike. In this paper I explore the role of the uncanny—the peculiar disquiet Freud associated with that which is simultaneously alien and familiar—in literary journalism, by examining three book-length examples from the genre: Emmanuel Carrère’s work, The Adversary: A True Story of Monstrous Deception, Janet Malcolm’s The Journalist and the Murderer, and Matthew Finkel’s True Story: Memoir, Murder, and Mea Culpa. All three works draw explicit parallels between the authors’ journalistic projects and the hoaxes perpetrated by their protagonists—a comparison that suggests the blurring of the boundary between author and real-life subject that lies at the heart of literary journalism’s particular uncanny aesthetic.