Susan Robinson

Helen Firstbrook Franklin Professor of Journalism


Order her new book
Networked News, Racial Divides: How Power and Privilege Shape Public Discourse in Progressive Communities

Sue Robinson headshot

Sue Robinson joined the UW-Madison faculty at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication in January 2007 and now holds the Helen Firstbrook Franklin Professor of Journalism endowed research chair. As a scholar, she explores how journalists and news organizations adopt new information communication technologies to report on public affairs in new forms and formats as well as how audiences and individuals can use the technologies for civic engagement. Central to her work is the consideration of power dynamics such as race, class and areas of marginalization in information flows as content moves through media ecologies at the local community level.

She is currently at work on two new books: one, on media trust that will be multi-phased and a long-term exploration of trust in all its dimensions; and two, a book with Matt Carlson of University of Minnesota (first author) and Seth Lewis of University of Oregon about Trump and the media. For the first one, she is working with Hearken, Trusting News, the Membership Puzzle Project and Democracy Fund as well as a consortium of about 30 professors across the country on creating and implementing trust-building models for newsrooms and journalism college curriculum for Fall 2020. The second one is due out in 2021, published by Oxford University Press, and tentatively titled: Redefining Journalistic Relevance: The struggle to claim what’s true.

Her 2018 multi-method book called Networked News, Racial Divides: How Power & Privilege Shape Public Discourse in Progressive Communities (Cambridge University Press) researches how digital platforms enable and constrain citizens – especially those in marginalized communities – who produce and share information in the public sphere about racial achievement disparities in the K-12 education system. Using Bourdieu’s field theory as its theoretical framework and a complex methodology called network ethnography, the book is meant to be a guide for journalists, politicians, activists and others on how to navigate information networks to improve public deliberation. This book won the 2019 Tankard Book Award with the Association of Educators in Journalism & Mass Communication and contributed to her earning the 2019 debut award for Public Engagement with the International Communication Association’s Journalism Studies division.

Her interests include:

  • Journalism studies
  • Media ecology
  • Power in information flows and exchange (as it related to cultural, social, political, ethnicity, sexuality, and class)
  • Social justice in media
  • Identity constructions
  • Collective memory in media
  • Digital technologies, especially social media, in mediated public spaces like journalism
  • Networks (particularly as examined through a qualitative lens)
  • News narrative
  • Civic engagement & public deliberation (in mediated spaces)

In her work, she questions: How do our stories – in journalism, social media etc. – flow through our society? Who gets heard and who gets left out of this storytelling and why? How does the use of new-media technologies change the ways we learn about and interact with each other through public, mediated spaces? She is particularly keen to appreciate who exerts authority over information during the adoption of new technologies, and how are people feeling empowered by or excluded from civic, cultural and professional conversations. Where are there opportunities for contestation in emergent networks of these information flows? What does all of this mean for the press and other entrenched institutions central to democratic deliberation and community life?

Her methods (generally a qualitative, cultural studies perspective) include:

  • Ethnography (newsrooms, community observation)
  • In-depth interviews
  • Focus Groups
  • Textual analyses
  • Network Analysis, Network Ethnography

Her past work includes a comprehensive, multi-year newsroom ethnography and corresponding in-depth audience study that led to a recently published monograph in Journalism and Communication Monographs as well as numerous articles and book chapters. Her work has been published in Journal of Communication, Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, New Media & Society, Mass Communication & Society, Journalism, Journalism Studies, Journalism Practice and Convergence, among others. She is currently a William T. Evjue Faculty Fellow and an H.I. Romnes Fellow.In addition, she received the Maier Faculty Development Endowment Award and the AEJMC Krieghbaum Under-40 Award.

Robinson teaches journalism studies, qualitative methods, news reporting, multimedia and social media, literary journalism, and other classes at both the graduate and undergraduate level.

She is a consultant for a number of news organizations and has had collaborations with the Aspen Institute, the Kettering Foundation and the Minority Student Achievement Network. She advises The Black Voice and the National Association for Black Journalists. She also volunteer, works closely with, or has had collaborations with the following youth non-profits in Madison: Goodman Community Center, Freedom Inc., Simpson Street Free Press, Lussier Community Education Center, Centro Hispano, and LEAP 2 College. A former business, technology, agriculture and seafood writer for a dozen years, Robinson earned her BA in journalism from the University of New Hampshire in 1994, her MA in journalism from Northeastern University in 2000, and her PhD in mass media and communication from Temple University in 2007.