New book from Rice anthropologist explores journalism in the digital era

Journalism has undergone a dramatic transformation, due to new technologies and the onset of the digital information era. A new book from a Rice anthropologist offers the first account of how these changes are impacting the inner workings of news organizations.

In “The Life Informatic: Newsmaking in the Digital Era,” Dominic Boyer, professor of anthropology, offers the first anthropological ethnography of modern office-based news journalism.

The book was based on eight months of fieldwork inside three news organizations in Germany, a world leader in digital journalism, and interviews in the United States.

“News journalism is in the midst of a radical transformation brought about by the spread of digital information and communication technology and by the increasing power of financial markets,” Boyer said. “‘The Life Informatic’ shares the experiences of journalists struggling to maintain their expertise and authority, even as they find their principles and skills profoundly challenged by evermore complex and fast-moving streams of information.”

Boyer’s findings challenge popular and scholarly images of journalists as roving truth-seekers and show instead the extent to which sedentary office-based “screen work” (such as gathering and processing information online) has come to dominate news journalism. He explains the phenomenon by putting forth the notion of “digital liberalism” — a merging of technological and ideological forces over the past two decades that has rebalanced newsmaking from the broadcast tendencies of the mid-20th century to the peer-to-peer tendencies that dominate in the era of the Internet and social media.

“Under digital liberalism, an entire regime of media, knowledge and authority has become integrated around principles of individuality and publicity, both unmaking and remaking the news institutions we inherited from the broadcast era,” Boyer said.

Boyer said he hopes the book will illuminate the challenges and opportunities that news journalists face today and inspire the public to become more involved in supporting and improving news institutions.

For more information on “The Life Informatic: Newsmaking in the Digital Era,” visit

About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.