Bearing Witness while Black: Theorizing African American Mobile Journalism after Ferguson

Richardson, Allissa V
Digital Journalism

Modern black citizen journalists have embraced the mobile phone as their storytelling tool of choice to produce raw reportage that challenges long-standing narratives of race, power and privilege in America. This dissertation investigates specifically how leading anti-police brutality activists—especially those affiliated with the Black Lives Matter Movement—leverage the affordances of mobile and social media to report original news within the contemporary social justice “beat”. Through semi-structured interviews and a descriptive analysis of the activists’ Twitter timelines, I explore the journalistic roles that these activists perform, the types of stories that they produce most often, and the relationships that they have formed with their audiences. I argue that the reportage from these black witnesses forms the vanguard of modern protest journalism, which functions from a positionality of sousveillance to watch powerful authorities from below. This evolving genre of protest journalism fills the editorial voids that the dying Black press has left behind, and invents ripe areas of inquiry for journalism studies.