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Why one Fulbright ambassador chose Austria to study digital journalism

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“Austria offers many opportunities for the study of digital journalism given the vitality of the news environment, the consolidation of news organisations and the development of digital outlets — similar developments to those in America, which operates from a different cultural and political context,” he wrote on his blog. Source: Gregory Perreault

Multimedia journalism fuses text, images, sound, videos and graphics to bring a story to life. More interactive than newspapers, it harnesses the best of advancements in technology to fulfill some of journalism’s core obligations: to tell the truth as well as to keep the significant interesting and relevant. 

Take for example, BBC’s interactive sports test to find out which sport you’re made for, CNN’s viral video of the little boy in Aleppo, New York Times’s virtual memorial for COVID-19 victims, and so forth. From the first glance, they are able to do so much more than physical newspapers or rows of black text on phone screens.

PhD in Journalism graduate Gregory Perreault decodes how technological changes such as the above are shaping journalism and how journalists conceptualise them in relation to their work. The media sociologist and professor at Appalachian State University is now on a Fulbright grant to teach and conduct his research at The University of Vienna Journalism Studies Centre.

“Austria offers many opportunities for the study of digital journalism given the vitality of the news environment, the consolidation of news organisations and the development of digital outlets — similar developments to those in America, which operates from a different cultural and political context,” he wrote on his blog. “Digital news has progressed less quickly in Austria than in the US, resulting in a more vibrant newspaper culture.”

Find out more about why he chose Austria, new findings from his research and his future plans below:

Tell us more about your career since graduating. What made you apply for the Fulbright programme?

I really admire the work done at the University of Vienna Journalism Studies Centre. The Department of Communication at Vienna is on the cutting edge of research and when I saw the Fulbright award, I knew I would love to have the opportunity to work with and learn from them.

Do you have any interesting stories you can share with us in your field of work?

Many! My research is on how news narrates issues of difference — and in general, journalists reporting of race, gender, religion have all been shaped by technology implemented. I was in sports journalism when we made the decision to switch our focus from print to digital. 

This was forward-thinking and one of the best decisions we could have made at the time. However, it would be disingenuous to ignore that it also decreased the quality of much of our reporting. 

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PhD in Journalism graduate Perreault seeks to understand how technology is shaping journalism. Source: Gregory Perreault

What were the practical learning elements in your project research in Austria?

We’re interested in how journalists use Instagram. Twitter and Facebook have both gotten a lot of scholarly attention, but we believe it would be valuable to understand more about how journalists use Instagram — particularly given that particular types of journalism would likely use this platform a lot.

What skills or knowledge have you gained so far?

So far, I think we’re finding that although lifestyle journalists who cover topics like food, beauty and gaming face competition from influencers on Instagram, there’s no real rivalry. The influencers don’t necessarily regard them as professional competition — they see what they do and the independence they have from topics, as making their work essential to audiences. 

What skills or knowledge do you wish you had learned more during uni?

I wish I’d had more experience in cultural exchange. As the pandemic has shown us, our world is very intricately connected in a way that necessitates intentional work to understand other cultures. 

What advice do you have for international students who want to study journalism?

You should learn journalism but the most important things you can build are things that can’t be taught. These are things you develop, like character and curiosity — the most valuable traits that you can develop that will give you the foundation to learn anything else that you’ll need. 

In 10 years, where would you like to be living, and what would you like to be doing?

Exactly what I’m doing — teaching the next generation of journalists and researching journalism. 

Are you missing anything from home at the moment? If so, how do you substitute it?

I miss my friends from Appalachia, of course, and family, but I call them often and have worked to make new friends here in Vienna. Keep up with this professor on Twitter.

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