Nikki Usher

Professor, Journalist and more…

Research


Here are some highlights:

My core research agenda is to understand journalism’s transition (or not) to the digital age. I am interested in journalism in all forms: traditional legacy news outlets, citizen journalism, social media, new business models for news, online start-ups, and user-generated content. While the past few years have been spent trying to unravel the patterns and processes behind news production at major news organizations undergoing digital transitions, I’ve also increasingly developed an interest in new business models for news and the intersection between technology, data and journalism. As of late, after six years of being surrounded by political communication colleagues and in DC, I’ve started a new project that looks at the political communication of elites in the age of algorithms, personalization, social media, user-generated content, and am working on big data! for the first time.

My first book, Making News at The New York Times, came out in 2014 with the University of Michigan Press. The book is an in-depth portrait of the newspaper in the digital age based on over five months of research and over 700 hours of field work. In it, I argue that the values of immediacy, interactivity and participation are fundamentally reshaping newswork. The book gives an inside look into the daily life of the newspaper – check out this excerpt from Nieman Journalism Lab to see what life is like behind the home page.

My second book, Interactive Journalism: Hackers, Data, and Code, came out in November 2016 with the University of Illinois Press. The book explores the rise of hacker journalism/data journalism/programmer journalism in the news industry and looks at some of the largest radio, TV, and newspaper organizations in the world from The Guardian to The BBC to The Times to Al Jazeera English. My theoretical aim was to advance a theory of subprofessions within the field of journalism charting why some might emerge and what challenges (or opportunities, in this case) these new fields of newswork might suggest. This book was well-timed given the subsequent implosion of data journalism following Brexit and the 2016 election.

I am currently at work on my third book, tentatively titled the How, What, and Where of News, under contract with Columbia University Press. This project began in 2014 with my report for the Tow Center on post-industrial newsrooms (see below). The project looks at the space, place, things, and materialism of journalism through the lens of news as industry. The book is methodologically sophisticated, employing archival research, ethnographic approaches, interviews, and big data analyses to understand the changes in the news environment from the perspective of the “stuff” of news. Post-election, I’m thinking a lot about the role of trust in this picture: for example, when people had tweens as newspaper carriers and lived next to community journalists, news was a neighbor. Today, local news might not even be an option in these places–they might be “news deserts.” A material, geographic process of stuff, people, and physical distribution has morphed into a digital, omnipresence but distance source of information to many communities.

Other major works included a project about new business models for news through the Reynolds Journalism Institute, where I examined the role of venture-backed news start-ups and the future funding, editorial and technical models for journalism. In 2014, I went around the country looking at newsrooms moving newsrooms – chronicling this latest downsizing of news- and wrote a major report for the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. Do not take flights in the summer that leave in the afternoon, ever. Thunderstorms. 

Though it isn’t a major focus of my work, I pay close attention to issues of news and diversity. While in graduate school, from January 2008- June 2009, I was part of the storied Metamorphosis research team at USC Annenberg. Metamorphosis uses multimethods, from field visits to interviewing to focus groups to quantitative survey analysis to gain a better picture of the communication ecology of neighborhoods in Los Angeles. From this experience, I learned the value of working on a research team and I was introduced to mixed-method research from a ground-up approach.