Audience as Journalistic Boundary Worker: The Rhetorical Use of Comments to Critique Media Practice, Assert Legitimacy and Claim Authority
Boundary Work, Legitimacy, Authority, Online Comments, Mass Shooting, Live Coverage
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Through a textual analysis of online comments in response to live broadcast from the San Bernardino shooters’ apartment, we explore the rhetorical strategies the audience used to legitimate its participation in boundary work. Our study demonstrates that audience members can operate as resourceful boundary workers with a sophisticated, multifaceted understanding of journalism that echoes scholarly and normative professional discourse. Their critique was not limited to questioning unambiguously pernicious practices, such as glorifying violence, tabloidization, pack journalism, and violating the ethical obligation of minimizing harm. Instead, they went beyond that to problematize the practice of breaking news live as underdelivering on the promise of connecting audiences to newsworthy events of social significance, promoting voyeurism, and overusing the format as an end in itself. We also demonstrate that commenters operate as competent rhetorical agents. Although they did rely on established legitimating strategies (e.g., acting as proto-professionals), they appropriated them at the level of tactical moves in distinctive new ways (e.g., by parodying, rather than authentically emulating, the journalistic style of delivering breaking news live). They also deployed novel ways of establishing their authority as boundary workers, such as rhetorical questions and direct address, often using them in conjunction with other authority-claiming moves.
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Citation / Publisher Attribution
Journalism Studies, v. 22, issue 3, p. 322-341
Scholar Commons Citation
Kananovich, Volha and Perreault, Gregory P., "Audience as Journalistic Boundary Worker: The Rhetorical Use of Comments to Critique Media Practice, Assert Legitimacy and Claim Authority" (2021). School of Advertising & Mass Communications Faculty Publications. 43.