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Doctoral defense: Making the voice of visual journalists in news websites


Yiyun Zha’s doctoral thesis suggests how the practices of visual journalism are varied due to significant media alterations in recent years. Therefore, it focuses on how design professionalism can be understood in news websites and how in-house visual journalists’ work and organizational cultures change in the process of visual transmediation. The common ground of the different findings of this research is that media facilitation and media convergence has an enormous influence on the visual information structure as well as visual practitioners’ daily routines and practices.

The emergence and proliferation of new media have challenged newspapers. Technological developments and changes in people’s reading habits regarding the news have led to the growing importance of the online reader experience in an era of increased competition among media companies. Finland is among the top countries that started online newspapers quite early, yet the implementation of new media techniques that have led to enhanced journalism has been overlooked, especially in Northern Finland.

As Yiyun Zha points out, “The challenge, perhaps, is no longer to prove whether readers are passive objects in their engagement with the media, but to argue that reader experiences should be improved through new modes of communication on news websites.”

In her dissertation Making the Voice: Exploring Design Professionalism in Visual Information Structure of News Websites, Yiyun examines the design principles applied in the visual information structure and visual journalists’ professional identities when digital news distribution has gained much attention. The scientific component of the dissertation consists of fieldwork conducted in two Finnish newsrooms, respectively Helsingin Sanomat in the capital and Lapin Kansa in Lapland.

The dissertation is featured for the four published articles to present the visual information structure as a visual transmediation product, and to outline the visual practitioners’ daily routines and practices in Finnish newsrooms. In practice, more attention has been focused on the cultural differences regarding narratives in technological and social moments by explaining the interrelations of pictures, texts, genres, and interpretation. With the ethnographic research methodologies of qualitative observation and quantitative analysis, it is possible to monitor trends in the development of newsroom cultures and visual journalists’ professional identities.

Although hard skills should not be ignored in the visual transmediation process when crafting visual journalism in news websites, soft skills in visual journalists’ work are equated with the ability to communicate effectively and to work cooperatively with others as a part of a team. Yiyun elaborates: “This discourse unfolds in the dissertation by deepening our knowledge of how aesthetic inputs create information salience, analyzing the in-house visual journalist’s situation and ideology in the newsrooms, and investigating the origins of the communicative tensions between visual journalists and reporters.”

Visual transmediation is a prevailing feature of the visual journalists’ professional life that is frequently mobilized to serve the function of multimedia delivery, which emerges from a bottom line to an institutional level. After all, media changes have raised the bar of visual journalists’ capabilities; visual journalistic professionalism is conceptualized with the specific newsrooms and visual production in news websites. Therefore, new requirements have been addressed for creative workers in newsrooms.

Information on the defense:

Yiyun Zha will be defending her dissertation, Making the Voice: Exploring Design Professionalism in Visual Information Structure of News Websites, in the Faculty of Art and Design on Saturday, 10 November 2018 at 12 am. The defense will take place in Esko ja Asko Hall, located at the University of Lapland, Yliopistonkatu 8, Rovaniemi. The Opponent will be Dr., Professor Markus Schröppel from HMKW Hochschule für Medien, Kommunikation und Wirtschaft, Cologne (Germany), and the Custos will be Professor Emerita Riitta Brusila from the University of Lapland. Welcome!

Information on the doctoral candidate:

Yiyun Zha is an interdisciplinary researcher born 27th of July 1987 in Shanghai, China. She completed her bachelor’s degree at Fudan University in China and master’s degree from the Faculty of Art and Design at University of Lapland in Finland. Yiyun has previously worked as an assistant researcher in the project of Integrating media production with the new modes of communication (MEDIA). In the course of her career, Ms. Zha has gained extensive experiences in the area of communication. In practice, she works in corporate communications as a graphic designer in organizations, such as the United Nations Office for Project Services. Meanwhile, she is working as a freelancing editor both in marketing areas and academic field.

Additional information:

Yiyun Zha
eve.yiyun (at) gmail.com
Tel. 044 276 4326

Information on the publication:

Yiyun Zha: Making the Voice: Exploring Design Professionalism in Visual Information Structure of News Websites. Acta Universitatis Lapponiensis 377. Hansaprint Oy, Turenki 2018. ISBN 978-952-337-101-9. E-version: Acta Universitatis Lapponiensis 244. ISBN 978-952-337-102-6.