Strangers to the game: Unpacking journalism’s peripheral actors

Presentation by Avery E. Holton, Vice President's Clinical and Translational Research Scholar in the Department of Communication at the University of Utah. Holton is an OsloMet Digital Journalism Research Fellow in March 2019.

Please note that time and place may be subject to changes.

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


Over the last two decades they have come swiftly, a multitude of strangers to journalism working with and through new and innovative technologies and challenging the authority of news organizations and journalists alike while also opening new pathways for journalism’s relevance and sustainability. Amateur journalists, bloggers, mobile app designers, programmers, and web analytics managers have joined an extensive and growing crowd of professionals who have, whether considered or not by journalists and news organizations to actually be journalists, introduced innovations into the news production process.

They have challenged traditional definitions of what it means to be a journalist and to produce news while augmenting a news production and distribution process that relies more than ever on outsider perspectives to institute engaging and sustained content and content delivery (Westlund & Lewis, 2014; Lewis & Westlund, 2015a). While evidence suggests journalists are more aware of and accepting of the contributions these strangers have made (Baack, 2017), they continue to be cast as peripheral actors in journalism (Nielsen, 2012; Tandoc & Oh, 2017).

This may be partly due to the ways that scholars discuss these strangers. In our broader discourse, by introducing these actors as strangers, we risk marginalizing their contributions. But as this talk contends, understanding more clearly, and more categorically, who these strangers are and how they are shaping the contours of journalism, the reluctance among journalists and media scholars to position them more squarely within the process of news production and distribution may diminish.

As Vos and Singer (2016) suggest, by understanding who is creating journalism, where they position themselves within the practice, and how they are received by journalists and their audiences, a more holistic understanding of journalism’s norms and practices may emerge. By adding to the discourse surrounding journalism practice, such explorations can contribute to a clearer conceptualization of what journalism is and what it may become (cf. Carlson, 2016). This talk seeks a beginning point for such clarity through the offering of categorizations that may begin to remove the stigma of “outsider” from journalistic strangers.

Taking up recent calls to consider the organizational field of journalism as one undergoing a near-continuous process of normative and productive change (Anderson & Revers, 2018; Eldridge, 2018; Ferrucci, 2017; Usher, 2016;  Vos & Singer, 2016), this talks suggests that while various strangers are bringing change to journalism, their position within news production is not as dichotomously straightforward as insider/outsider or interloper/journalist.

By first reviewing the state of research on innovation in journalism and its emphasis on individual actors as agents of change in terms of journalism, this talk then offers a consideration of three categorizations of journalistic strangers before discussing how these strangers may be changing current epistemologies of journalism as well as the practice of journalism itself. These categorizations provide a more systematic way of examining who exactly these strangers are and what impacts, real or potential, they may be having on the epistemology and practice of journalism. Thus, this talk provides possible means for media scholars and practitioners to unpack the complex changes journalistic strangers may have on journalistic theory and practice individually and collectively.


Avery E. Holton is a Vice President's Clinical and Translational Research Scholar in the Department of Communication at the University of Utah, where his research navigates the intersections of digital and social media, news and information, and constructs of health and identity.

He concurrently serves as the Undergraduate Journalism Sequence Coordinator in the University of Utah's Department of Communication as well as the Student Media Advisor for the University. He also serves as an appointed Humanities Scholar, working with first year students as they transition from high school into Humanities courses at the university.

He was named a 2018 National Humanities Center Fellow for his work in the area of genetic information and its translation into digital and social media. This work is part of a larger collaborative project run through the Utah Center for Excellence in ELSI Research (UCEER), which is supported by a $3.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health and the National Human Genome Research Institute.

Dr. Holton's research has appeared in more than 60 journal articles and book chapters and has been presented as more than 80 studies at national and international conferences. His work has been published in Communication Theory, Mass Communication & Society, Journalism Studies, and Health Communication, among others, helping him earn Faculty Researcher of the Year in 2014 at the University of Utah and the 2018 Rising Star in the Humanities Award at Utah.

His courses focus on digital and social media, innovative technology, and Journalism. He previously collaborated on an H2 Honors Fellowship with Dr. Sean Lawson, helping construct and teach multiple courses in the University of Utah's Honor College centered on drones and emerging technology.

He joined the University of Utah in 2013 after completing his doctoral dissertation as a William Powers Fellow in the College of Communication at the University of Texas Austin. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy for his work on social media and health communication as well as a Doctoral Certification for his work on disabilities studies.

Related Publications

Belair-Gagnon, V. & Holton, A. E. (2018).  Boundary work, interloper media, and analytics in the newsroom. Digital Journalism . (in press)

Coddington, M., Lewis, S. C., & Holton, A. E. (2018).  Measuring and evaluating reciprocal journalism as a concept. Journalism Studies .

Holton, A. E. & Molyneux, L. (2017).  Identity lost? The personal impact of brand journalism. Journalism, 18 (2), 195-210.

Holton, A. E. (2016).  Intrapreneurial informants: An emergent role of freelance journalists . Journalism Practice , 10 (7), 917-927.

Holton, A. E. , Lewis, S. C. & Coddington, M. (2016).  Interacting with audiences: Journalistic role conceptions, reciprocity, and perceptions about participation. Journalism Studies , 17 (7), 849-859.