Journalistic Heretics and Observants

Presentation by Scott Eldridge II, Assistant Professor, Centre for Media and Journalism Studies, University of Groningen

The presentation is part of the OsloMet Digital Journalism Focus Seminars, organised by the research group Digital Journalism.


In turning his attention to journalism, Bourdieu (2005) writes of a field taking shape around an idea of what it is to belong; a vision of coherence. The product of ‘actions and reactions’ between social agents, this vision shapes the field’s dimensions, allowing journalists to gauge their fitness both in terms of ‘belonging’ and in conveying a core idea of journalism to society more broadly. Building on Bourdieu’s work, this talk explores new understanding of a field stretching beyond

 its core. It shows where dominant visions of journalism reflecting a consolidated idea of journalism in modernity may be lingering past their prime. It also shows where journalistic ‘heretics’ who chafe against an observant orthodoxy of journalism point to a more dynamic picture of journalism unfolding in a digital age. This begins by exploring the field as born of an occupational belief system, reinforcing a picture of journalism that is agreed to even when unarticulated.

Such a vision of journalism girds the journalistic doxa as a set of wink-and-nod criteria of belonging and is found in the habitus of structures and dispositions of those who have ‘regularized’ their journalistic practices to better reflect (and reinforce) coherent belonging. Thus, when we see journalists carrying out their work we can understand their actions as ‘of the field’, and as ‘reflecting the field’, and we can therefore see visions of the journalistic field as dually directed – towards peers, reinforcing coherent belonging; and towards society, engendering public assessment of journalism as distinct.

By focusing on the periphery of the field, and specifically on journalistic actors who defy these dynamics, we see where ‘coherence’ in the dominant vision is viewed instead as undercutting a more complete picture of journalism. Rather than “falling into line with good form” (Bourdieu 1977: 22), ‘heretical’ actors running in opposition to journalism’s occupational belief systems have embraced a journalistic identity that is aggressive, simultaneously chastising ‘observants’ for upholding an overly narrow vision of journalism while defending their own journalistic contributions as distinct.

Beginning with those producing antagonistic work at the edges of journalism’s core, this talk draws on recent research data from interviews with digital-peripheral journalists, qualitative and discourse analysis of online news content, and an innovative audience research study which uses WhatsApp as an interactive research diary to document how audiences engage
with digital-peripheral journalism in their day-to-day activities.

By engaging controversy at journalism’s edges through Bourdieu’s work, this talk offers a way to resolve tensions in understanding journalism at a time when agreement over what it is to belong has become elusive. It draws our attention back to the way the macrocosms of society are reiterated in the microcosms of fields – translating oppositions, antagonisms, and the rest of society’s messiness into the journalism’s own melees – and sees where concepts of fields, doxa, and habitus come into play with journalistic actors who insist they are playing the journalistic ‘game’, even as they follow a different set of rules


Scott Eldridge is an assistant professor with the Centre for Media and Journalism Studies at the University of Groningen. His research focuses on antagonistic journalistic actors and journalistic boundaries, towards advancing conceptual understanding of a changing journalistic field. His work has been published in Journalism Studies , Digital Journalism , the Journal of Applied Journalism & Media Studies , and in several book chapters.

Eldridge is the author of the book Online Journalism from the Periphery: Interloper Media and the Journalistic Field (2018) and is co-editor with Bob Franklin of the Routledge Companion to Digital Journalism Studies (2017) and the forthcoming Routledge Handbook of Developments in Digital Journalism Studies (2019).

He is an Associate Editor and Reviews Editor for the journal Digital Journalism , and on the editorial boards of Digital Journalism, Media and Communication , and the Journal of Applied Journalism & Media Studies . He earned his PhD in 2014 from the University of Sheffield, where his thesis explored reactions to WikiLeaks’ emergence, and its implications for the journalistic field.

Related publications

Eldridge, S. (2018) “Thank god for Deadspin”: Interlopers, metajournalistic commentary, and fake news through the lens of “journalistic realization”, New Media & Society  DOI: 10.1177/1461444818809461 at: (open access)

Eldridge, S. and Bødker, H. (2018) Negotiating Uncertain Claims: Journalism as an inferential community, Journalism Studies 19(13), 1912-1922. at (open access)

Eldridge, S. (2018) Online Journalism from the Periphery  Abingdon: Routledge (sample/preview at:

Eldridge, S. (2016) Hero or Anti-hero?  Digital Journalism  5(2), 141-158. (open access)

Eldridge, S. (2014) Boundary Maintenance and Interloper Media Reaction, Journalism Studies , 15(1), 1-16.