The Social Fact
News and Knowledge in a Networked World
328 pp., 6 x 9 in, 10 b&w illus.
- Published: April 16, 2019
- Publisher: The MIT Press
How the structure of news, information, and knowledge is evolving and how news media can foster social connection.
While the public believes that journalism remains crucial for democracy, there is a general sense that the news media are performing this role poorly. In The Social Fact, John Wihbey makes the case that journalism can better serve democracy by focusing on ways of fostering social connection. Wihbey explores how the structure of news, information, and knowledge and their flow through society are changing, and he considers ways in which news media can demonstrate the highest possible societal value in the context of these changes.
Wihbey examines network science as well as the interplay between information and communications technologies (ICTs) and the structure of knowledge in society. He discusses the underlying patterns that characterize our increasingly networked world of information—with its viral phenomena and whiplash-inducing trends, its extremes and surprises. How can the traditional media world be reconciled with the world of social, peer-to-peer platforms, crowdsourcing, and user-generated content? Wihbey outlines a synthesis for news producers and advocates innovation in approach, form, and purpose. The Social Fact provides a valuable framework for doing audience-engaged media work of many kinds in our networked, hybrid media environment. It will be of interest to all those concerned about the future of news and public affairs.
Wihbey's book is an essential text for anyone trying to grasp how professional journalism can survive in a post-truth democracy where black-box algorithms and all-powerful technology companies have an overwhelming influence on our news and information environment.
Nikki Usher, College of Media, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; author of Making News at The New York Times and Interactive Journalism: Hackers, Data, and Code
In 2019, the question- 'what is a journalistic fact?' -- remains just as much a problem for the public as it did a century earlier in the days of John Dewey, Walter Lippmann, and Robert Park. In this theoretically creative and empirically rich volume, John P. Wihbey updates our scholarly understanding of facticity and journalistic 'fact-ness' for a wired, socially connected age. An essential and thought-provoking read.
C. W. Anderson, Professor of Media and Communication, University of Leed; author of Apostles of Certainty: Data Journalism and the Politics of Doubt
In the 21st century, journalism's goal is no longer accumulating scarce facts but instead helping the public navigate our information-rich and highly interconnected world. John Wihbey argues convincingly that journalists can make their greatest contribution when they leverage the networks in which they are embedded and help enable community members form new connections around the shared knowledge they produce.
Brendan Nyhan, Professor of Public Policy, University of Michigan
Our very definition of news is shifting, and Wihbey's The Social Fact helps us understand both why and what we might do about it. Understanding news as embedded within and shaped by different audiences online and off helps us navigate the complex news landscape journalists, readers, and citizens face today.
Ethan Zuckerman, Director of the Center for Civic Media, MIT
If, as Ken Gergen famously argued, all that is meaningful grows out of relationships, The Social Fact deploys the resources of network science to provide a road map of how old and new modes of social connectivity can reinvigorate the practice of journalism at a time when liberal democracy might need it the most.
Pablo J. Boczkowski, Professor, School of Communication, Northwestern University; co-author of Remaking the News; coauthor of The Trump and the Media
The book is about the role of journalism in our networked world, how our current information technologies and the networks that form in and through them impact knowledge, as well as what we could do to make the sharing of knowledge healthier and less susceptible to distortion and manipulation. Wihbey does this through giving readers clear and helpful primers on things like network science and artificial intelligence as they relate to the flows of information, all anchored in the history of journalism and network technologies – especially helpful because it shows the questions we face today aren't entirely different from ones that have been asked and answered in the past. I find that reassuring.
Inside Higher Education
The Social Fact is an intriguing and worthwhile read and Wihbey provides valuable insights, that while primarily for journalists, are germane to the work of news producers, social scientists, or anyone interested in disseminating more valueadded “information” in an environment where social facts coexist with fake news, misinformation, and half-truths.
Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media
This reviewer knows of no better introduction to the challenges new information technology brings to the study of media and the profession of journalism.