The first book in the Distribution Matters series that I co-edit with Ramon Lobato is out now! Emily West’s monograph, Buy Now examines how Amazon uses its unique branding practices to protect its monopoly status. Emily’s work is incredibly sharp and we’re immensely proud to have this book as the inaugural volume in the series.
Hi there! I’m an Associate Professor in the Journalism Department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I’m also a former graduate fellow of the National Academy of Sciences and an affiliated fellow of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School. My work examines sociological questions surrounding online media distribution, as well as the influence of business-to-business enterprises, like ad tech firms, on the health of the media ecosystem. My first book, on digital distribution of TV news, was published in 2015 by Yale University Press. I am currently at work on a second book — this one on the civic impacts of media circulation — for The MIT Press.
My papers have appeared in Communication Theory, Communication, Culture & Critique, Journalism, Digital Journalism, and Journalism Practice. I’m also the co-editor of Distribution Matters, a new series of books on media distribution from The MIT Press.
I received my Ph.D. and M.S. in Communication from Cornell University, where my work earned me the Anson E. Rowe award for research productivity, teaching excellence, and service to the community. I also hold a master’s in Bioethics from the University of Pennsylvania and an individual-concentration bachelor’s degree in “Sciences in the Media” from the University of California Santa Barbara, where I graduated with honors. I’m a former science journalist, having worked as a junior editor for Seed Magazine and contributed to WNYC’s Radio Lab.
If you’re looking for something that used to be here, let me know. I’ve pared this site down quite a bit and removed a few bells and whistles to make it simpler to update.
At UMass Amherst, I teach “Media, Technology & Culture,” “Media Criticism,” “Journalism Ethics,” “Web Design for Journalists,” and “Science Journalism.”
A major goal of mine is to support students in engaging directly with the work of the scholars and industry observers writing and speaking about their field. The readings for my undergraduate classes therefore often include journal articles, chapters of books from university presses, and other readings more typical of graduate-level courses. In my work as a professor, I view my role not as the person who delivers you a bunch of summarized research, ideas, and debates, but rather as the person who’s there to support students as they engage directly with the sources of contemporary research, ideas, and debates.
A good analogy would be visiting an unfamiliar country with a traveling companion who knows the culture. You may not be familiar with the language or the history of the place, or you may have an outsider’s view of these things. A good traveling companion is one who can help you to engage with the locals and the regional culture without getting in the way of you experiencing things for yourself. Wherever possible, they facilitate your interactions and conversations rather than becoming a filter for them.
This is how I view my job as an instructor. I’ve spent a lot of time familiarizing myself with the larger conversations my students are about to explore, learning the specific jargon of various scholars and industry critics, and doing research on particular case studies. And I’m here to provide students the benefit of that experience: to give background on the larger conversations and trends of which our readings and various materials are a part and to explain unfamiliar terms and references, as well as to help students engage in conversations that are important to them while making their points in ways that will be received by the locals in the spirit in which they intend them.
This is inevitably a bit of a balancing act on the part of a traveling companion. Even when they are dedicated to giving you the most direct experience possible, they are nonetheless inevitably tasked with boiling down regional turns of phrase and the larger contexts in which you find yourself — things which may have long and complicated histories — in ways that allow you to engage immediately with the conversation and the task at hand. This is invariably a messy process that involves your guide filtering questions through the lens of personal biases and experiences. Often the questions of tourists are the ones that most thoroughly test the boundaries of locals’ knowledge and assumptions.
My job is no different from the traveling companion’s in these respects. The best I can do is to try always to be vigilantly self-aware, to be frank about my biases and the boundaries of my experience, and to always be willing to say, “I'll find the answer for you,” even when I might get away with saying, “I know the answer.” Student questions help me with this process. In fact, as with many professors, some of my best research questions come out of conversations with my students. Their questions force me to confront the limits of my knowledge, to understand what I need to learn more about in order to help them, as well as to become a better scholar. The phrase “learning communities” has become an oft-abused buzzword at universities — so much so that I hesitate to use it. But whatever phraseology I might invoke, the underlying truth remains that when higher education is working at its best everyone grows and learns together in a collective that includes both students and their professors.
Through the implementation of a “flipped” classroom and other strategies, I have done my best to design classroom experiences that facilitate lively critical conversations to this end. I also hold that an engaging course is one in which students are cognizant of what they will be able to do with the skills and concepts they are learning, and glean from them a sense of personal accomplishment, while at the same time developing a critical understanding of the field they are studying and the work they are doing.
All of us inevitably do most of our learning outside of formal education contexts — the role of a good course, and a good professor, is to equip students to make the world their classroom, to teach the tools and critical thinking skills that will enable students to continue to glean the best learning opportunities from their experiences long after they’ve left a particular course or university.
This Program is Brought to You By…
Distributing Television News Online
Journalism, television, cable, and online media are all evolving rapidly. At the nexus of these volatile industries is a growing group of individuals and firms whose job it is to develop and maintain online distribution channels for television news programming. Their work, and the tensions surrounding it, provide a fulcrum from which to pry analytically at some of the largest shifts within our media landscape. Based on fieldwork and interviews with different teams and organizations within MSNBC, this multi-disciplinary work is unique in its focus on distribution, which is rapidly becoming as central as production, to media work.
Excerpt From the Review in Journalism by David Domingo
Every now and then there are books that not only describe in great detail how contemporary journalism is being reconfigured but that also contribute new conceptual tools that advance our ability to make sense of the changes. This Program Is Brought to You by… brilliantly achieves both aims and goes further by actually laying out in the conclusions a whole research program with the tools to put it in practice. Josh Braun makes a compelling case to create the disciplinary subfield of ‘distribution studies” (p. 256). He rightfully claims that Journalism Studies have mostly focused so far on production and reception, neglecting the exploration of the processes that connect the two, probably because during the 20th century distribution was ‘standardized enough to go unnoticed’ (p. 7).
The case presented in the book powerfully shows the relevance of thoroughly deconstructing the multitude of actors, decisions, and technologies involved in the delivery of news content: distribution shapes how that content is accessed, who can reach it, and eventually even what content ends up being produced. On the Internet, the sense of immediacy obscures even further the visibility of the social, economic, and technical infrastructures involved in the distribution of online news, when it is even more urgent to understand them as they are in a period of intense tensions between innovation and continuity.
Very much like the journalists, web programmers, and marketing strategists portrayed in the book, the author does an exercise of ‘heterogeneous engineering’ (p. 8) to put together the theoretical framework that enables a nuanced analysis of the construction and evolution of the distribution of television news online. Drawing from Science and Technology Studies (mainly from the sociology of sociotechnical systems of Thomas Hughes and the work on actor-network theory by John Law) as well as from the sociology of organizations (Robert Chia, Gernot Grabher, Katherine Kellogg, etc.) and the sociology of knowledge (Knorr Cetina), Braun advocates to move beyond the homogeneous portray [sic] that the sociology of journalism tends to offer of media companies outside of their newsrooms. He suggests considering them as ‘heterarchies’ (p. 109), a complex layering of systems for the production and distribution of content in which a myriad of actors (human and technical) interact to pursue their provincial aspirations, achieving momentarily isometric pressure of their tensions to shape a contingent configuration that will surely be reorganized as new actors enter the scene.
“As we spend most of our time online, what remains unseen are the ways in which media travel to meet us there. Joshua Braun’s brilliant book shows what that takes.”
—Mark Deuze, author of Media Work and Media Life
“Understanding the tremendous transformation now taking place in the news industry requires knowing the nuts and bolts of digital distribution as well as production. Josh Braun shows us what this means in a vivid study of how the people at MSNBC sort and circulate journalists' work as they respond to new competition, technology, and constructions of audience. Read this book and you will never look at television news — or for that matter ‘television’ — in the same way again.”
—Joseph Turow, author of The Daily You
“Elegantly interweaving past theories and studies with new data, Braun brilliantly dissects the consequences of the sociotechnical structure of distribution systems for who gets to know what and how they know it.”
—Gaye Tuchman, author of Making News and Wannabe U
“Braun opens the black box of how television news today reaches its audiences. Through in-depth fieldwork, he provides fresh insights into the complex diversity of today’s media organisations, and makes a major contribution to organizational sociology too.”
—Nick Couldry, author of Media, Society, World: Social Theory and Digital Media Practice
“Braun is an original and bold thinker. This book is a tremendous contribution to the study of digital distribution infrastructures and practices, with a focus on contemporary news media that is truly exceptional.”
—Jennifer Holt, author of Empires of Entertainment
“This Program Is Brought to You By… is a ground-breaking work that offers an ambitious conceptualization and rigorous empirical study of contemporary multi-platform journalism. This book will define the study of media distribution in the decades to come.”
—Daniel Kreiss, author of Taking Our Country Back: The Crafting of Networked Politics from Howard Dean to Barack Obama
“How do media messages move in the 21st century? Fusing perspectives from science and technology studies and communication research, Joshua Braun takes us a long way towards an answer in this theoretically rich, empirically fascinating study of televisual and digital distribution practices. This Program is Brought to You By… is an essential read for both scholars and citizens looking for insights into our digitally mediated age.”
—C. W. Anderson, author of Rebuilding the News: Metropolitan Journalism in the Digital Age
“Building on the literature on news production in the digital age, Joshua Braun provides a masterful portrait of news distribution. In an original and readable account of MSNBC’s teams and organizations, Braun explores how and why a large legacy news organization develops and deploys content distribution.”
—Valérie Bélair-Gagnon, Executive Director and Research Scholar, Yale Information Society Project and author of Social Media at BBC News: The Re-Making of Crisis Reporting
“In an era of always-on media, it’s easy to forget how information reaches our screens — and yet that process of distribution, often following a tangled path through digital intermediaries, is an increasingly central part of media work. Meanwhile, scholars have remained focused on media production and consumption at the neglect of distribution. This book tackles that problem head-on, providing a richly constructed analysis of networked distribution systems and the ‘heterogeneous engineering’ behind them. Just as important, this book makes a key interdisciplinary contribution — an artful synthesis of journalism and television studies and the systems-focused insights of science and technology studies.”
—Seth C. Lewis, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Minnesota
“A nuanced and enlightening account of the networks defining the future of news — a wonderful contribution to multiple fields.”
—Mike Ananny, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, University of Southern California
Distribution Matters Series
Distribution Matters is a new series of books forthcoming from The MIT Press. It’s co-edited by Ramon Lobato and me, with the help of MIT editorial director Gita Devi Manaktala, acquisitions editor Justin Kehoe, and a wonderful advisory board.
Check out the series page on The MIT Press website and take a look at DistributionMatters.net to see the call and other information on the series, as well as additional content related to research on media distribution.