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Valerie Belair-Gagnon

Assistant Professor: Journalism Studies
May 16, 2016

The proliferation of chat apps like Facebook Messenger, What’s App and WeChat has created new territory for journalists and news organizations. Valerie Belair-Gagnon, who joins SJMC as an assistant professor in journalism studies this fall, regards chat apps as the modern day foreign correspondents’ club – a place to share news and a place for journalists to connect with people during crises, disasters and political unrest.

Belair-Gagnon is currently executive director and research scholar at the Yale Information Society Project and a research fellow for the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. Her work, which intersects media sociology, news production and emerging media, puts her on the forefront of research on the journalistic implications of these new frontiers. As social media play an increasingly important role in newsgathering and production, Belair-Gagnon said more research must examine practices and ethics of using such technology as reporting tools.

“I am looking at the ways in which journalistic norms and practices, such as objectivity and verification change with emerging technology,” Belair-Gagnon said. “The growing integration of data into journalism leads to different kinds of news production, forms, content and distribution.”

Most recently, Belair-Gagnon and her co-researchers at the Tow Center interviewed journalists who made extensive and pioneering use of chat apps during instances of political unrest. In those cases, journalists followed events in real-time, developed sources to interview and engaged with participants and audiences via chat apps. This work builds on her book on how BBC News integrated social media into its international crisis reporting.

“We are developing a typology of old and new spaces of reporting – from coffee shops to WeChat – in which journalists perform their roles as observers and chroniclers of major crises,” Belair-Gagnon said.

Belair-Gagnon plans to write a series of articles and a book chapter based on the research. She has presented her work in lectures and at conferences around the world, including the recent International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy. Her teaching experience includes graduate-level courses in big data and global media, media law and policy at Yale Law School, as well as undergraduate courses at City University London and Université de Montréal.

At SJMC, Belair-Gagnon will teach Mass Media and Popular Culture (JOUR 3745) and New Media and Culture (JOUR 3751). Her research will give students a bird’s eye view of the latest industry trends and best practices for the use of emerging technology in the gathering and production of news.

“I can have conversations with journalists in news organizations I am studying and share my results,” Belair-Gagnon said. “That can have an impact on journalistic practices and implications for students who are thinking about practicing journalism.”