The epistemic authority of the journalistic field and its legitimation mechanisms on digital platforms: the coverage of the Chilean social uprising

The October 2019 Chilean social uprising emerges from a background of deep mistrust regarding national institutions, including the news media (Cadem, 2020; CEP, 2019). The social movement, in addition to criticizing the political apparatus and the country’s development model, turned the media into an explicit target of criticism, openly questioning current journalistic practices (Grassau et al., 2019). Therefore, the social outbreak emerges as a critical incident for the profession, which allows exploring the relationship between journalism and its audiences.

In light of these issues, this project explores how the epistemic authority of journalistic practice is built, sustained and re-negotiated in the context of the events starting on October 2019. For these purposes, we will define epistemic authority as the capacity the journalistic field has in presenting legitimate representations of the social world.

Journalism is one of the main knowledge-generating institutions of contemporary societies, while -simultaneously- an occupational field whose public authority has been affected by different concurrent phenomena. In this context, our objective is to identify elements that contribute to the construction, modification, acceptance, rejection and circulation of journalistic work as a valid form of public knowledge in the context of the social uprising media coverage and its consequences.
Our case study is based on the social outbreak media coverage and will address the following objectives (1) to explore the ways in which journalists construct and defend the epistemic authority of their practice in a context of low social legitimacy (2)  to describe and analyze how journalists negotiate their role as interactional experts, mediating between the needs of the elite and the general audience in their coverage of the social outbreak, (3) to understand the place that journalistic outputs occupied in the public narratives of political and cultural elites, as well as among regular citizens during the social outbreak (4) to identify and analyze the central arguments of legitimation and delegitimization of journalistic practices among audiences, regarding the coverage of the social outbreak.

This stage seeks to learn the experiences of an assorted group of journalists who covered the social outbreak in different media outlets, as well as understanding how the epistemic authority of their practice is built and defended. To this end, semi-structured interviews will be conducted with more than 30 journalists and editors who participated in the coverage of the social outbreak, which will be complemented with qualitative analyzes of some pieces produced during this period. 

The purpose of this stage is to analyze material traces of the ways in which audiences and elite groups interacted with journalistic content during the social outbreak. This in order to explain the actual position that news occupied in the construction of public narratives regarding the protests on Twitter. For this, qualitative and quantitative analysis will be conducted on datasets extracted from this social network.

In this stage, we will explore audiences’ discourses and their assessments on journalism, based on the representations of the social outbreak and other news processes derived from this mobilization. We aim at identifying arguments used by the audience to legitimize or delegitimize journalistic practices, and better understand the social valuation of journalism. With this objective, documentary analyzes and discussion groups will be carried out with different population groups.