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Journalism as an Inferential Community

The final paper in this Future of Journalism 2017 session is by Henrik Bødker and Scott Eldridge, which begins by positioning journalism as an inferential community. Journalism often operates in a context where there is an absence of facts, but in writing about matters of societal significance rumours and other unsubstantiated information cannot be ignored and excluded. Instead, inferences – statements about the unknown, based on the known – need to be made.

Such inferences are being made within news texts, across texts, and across institutions, as a communally elaborated text. One example for this is the supposed dossier of kompromat that Russia could use to blackmail Donald Trump; this story first emerged on CNN and Buzzfeed, and was subsequently widely reported across other mainstream media around the world. Such reporting employed a variety of disclaimers and disclosures, cross-media referencing, metajournalistic commentary, and hypotheticals.

Another is the coverage of Donald Trump's claims that the Obama administration wiretapped Trump Tower, where a great deal of subject/object switching also appeared as coverage focussed less on the substance of Trump's claims than on his actions in making such claims via Twitter.

Much intermedia commentary also focussed on journalistic verification practices, differences between the coverage approaches of different news outlets, journalistic ethics and disclosures, and related matters; in this, there's also a certain closing of ranks especially amongst established news outlets (with Buzzfeed positioned somewhat separately from this community). This is an example of an inferential community, which moves speculative discussion towards meaning-making.