Stefan Baack

Stefan Baack

  • s.baack@rug.nl
  • Universtiy of Groningen
  • Centre for Media and Journalism Studies
Participant in 2015
Work history Educational experience:
- Tutor for the 'Einführungskurs neuere deutsche Literaturwissenschaft'* (Introduction to contemporary German Literary Studies) (WiSe 2008/2009)
- Tutor for the Introduction to Media and Communication Studies 1: Theories and Basic Ideas, Prof. Dr. Andreas Hepp (WiSe 2011/2012)

University:
- Student Research Assistant for the coordinating project of the DFG Priority Program 1505 "Mediatized Worlds", Prof. Dr. Friedrich Krotz (04/2012-07/2012)

Others:
- Civilian service at Seepark Klinik Debstedt (08/2005-05/2006)
Study history MA:
Media Culture at the University of Bremen, Germany (WiSe 2009/2010-SuSe 2013)

BA:
German Philology and Cultural Studies at the University of Bremen, Germany (WiSe 2006/2007-SuSe 2009)

Erasmus:
Spring Term 2011 at the Department of Media and Communication, University of Oslo, Norway (01/2011-06/2011)

Abitur (German school leaving examination):
Oberstufe Carl von Ossletzky in Bremerhaven, Germany (08/2002-05/2005)

Phd Projects

2015

Data and the Transformation of Journalism and Civic Engagement

Modern societies are increasingly driven by data. In the often proclaimed ‘age of big data’, both governments and businesses increasingly rely on decision-making-processes based on data collection and analysis. Yet the consequences of this transformation for democratic and civic life are highly controversial. On the one hand, personalized advertisement enabled by the continuous data collection online raises concerns over ‘filter bubbles’ that only show content that confirms the views of the individual and thereby undermines consensus and shared civic spaces. Moreover, the comprehensive surveillance of online activities by commercial actors or intelligence agencies made possible by big data threatens the agency of those not in control of these technologies. At the same time, however, ‘data’ is also associated with a strengthening of democratic values and journalistic autonomy. Many accounts of data journalism are enthusiastic about the new possibilities and stress the potential of data technologies to lower the costs of investigative reporting and for creating new business models. Beyond journalism, open data initiatives promise a strengthening of democratic values and new levels of transparency and accountability through datafication.

I suggest that one reason for these contradicting visions and metaphors is our limited understanding of new, ‘data-driven’ forms of journalism and civic engagement. In my PhD project, I want to critically examine the practices and self-understandings of two of the main actors in this field: data journalists and civic hackers. With the growing computation of journalistic practices, the interaction between these actors has increased in recent years. Supported by institutions like the Knight Foundation in the US and shaped in events like Hacks/Hackers, their exchange is increasingly shaping the way data is used to facilitate both traditional journalistic values as well as values and practices typical to hacker culture. This project is unique in that it brings together perspectives from both groups equally, and does not foreground one over the other. Following a practice theory approach, I ask how data journalists and civic hackers utilize data, for what ends, and how they understand what they are doing. By gaining knowledge in the interconnections of the practices and self-understandings of these groups, I aim to reflect on the implications of the datafication of society for civic and democratic life, and to provide insight into how shared civic spaces are created and sustained in ‘datafied’ publics.

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