Research Output
Inside the Palimpsest: A Study of Newsroom Information Gathering.
  The methodologies of systems design, rooted in engineering and in cognitivist conceptions
of human action, have been stretched to the limit by the complexity of uses to which
information and communication technologies are being turned. Within segments of the
broader design community there has been a 'turn to the social' - a perception that there is a
need now for richer stories about the everyday practices systems designers build tools to
support. This thesis is presented as a contribution to the corpus of 'richer stories' about the
what, how, why, when and where of information gathering.
The thesis presents findings from an ethnographic study of newsroom information gathering
at a UK daily newspaper. Adopting an analytical perspective based upon cultural-historical
activity theory (CHAT), it describes and analyses journalistic information gathering on two
mutually constitutive levels; that of activity and that of artefact mediation. Its starting point
is that neither information gathering, nor the artefacts of information gathering, can be
understood without consideration of the social, cultural and historical contexts within which
they are situated. Ethnographic data is drawn upon to argue that journalistic information
gathering can only be understood within the particular context of the 'story lifecycle'.
Stories are the principal object of journalistic enterprise, and the thesis examines in detail
how everyday working practices are oriented towards this lifecycle. Based on an analysis of
the artefacts of newsroom information gathering, and of the discourses of information
systems designers, it is also argued that the discourses of systems designers over-emphasise
the importance of the category 'information'. In palticular it is argued that sources are how
journalists orient themselves in the vast, heterogeneous information spaces they
simultaneously inhabit and populate.
The background to these discussions is the often controversial relationship between
ethnography, theory and systems design. This relationship is examined and it is argued that
the CHAT perspective provides design ethnographers with an opportunity to move from
ethnographic intuition to design insight. It is also argued that at a more pragmatic level,
CHAT helps the fieldworker navigate the apparently never-ending mass of 'potentially
interesting material' any field experience throws up.

  • Type:


  • Date:

    30 June 2000

  • Publication Status:


  • Library of Congress:

    QA75 Electronic computers. Computer science

  • Dewey Decimal Classification:

    004 Data processing & computer science


Macaulay, C. Gathering. (Thesis). Edinburgh Napier University. Retrieved from



Information systems; knowledge sharing; newsroom; information gathering; story lifecycle;

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