What does a public right to hear mean in networked environments and why does it matter? In this talk I’ll describe how a public right to hear has historically and implicitly underpinned the U.S. press’s claims to freedom and, more fundamentally, what we want democracy to be. I’ll trace how this right appears in contemporary news production, show how three networked press organizations have used Application Programming Interfaces to both depend upon and distance themselves from readers, and describe how my research program joins questions of free speech with media infrastructure design. I will argue that a contemporary public right to hear partly depends upon how the press’s technologies and practices mediate among networked actors who construct and contest what Bowker and Star (1999) call “boundary infrastructures.” It is by studying these technosocial, journalistic systems—powerful yet often invisible systems that I call “newsware”—that we might understand how a public right to hear emerges from networked, institutionally situated communication cultures like the online press.

Talk given at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, May 22, 2012.

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