Peer-Reviewed Perspectives into Nordic Media Research: The Danish Encyclopedia

The Danish researcher community can brag about a media and communication encyclopedia in their own language, consisting of over 600 entries altogether. Since 2014, the encyclopedia, published by Samfundslitteratur, has solely been an online resource. We met the editors to discuss how to keep up with a rapidly changing research field.

What does the concept of fake news cover? How does conversation analysis work? And what is really Dogme 95?

These are a few of the many questions you can find answers to in the Danish Media and Communication Encyclopedia, edited by Gunhild Agger, Nete Nørgaard Kristensen, Per Jauert, and Kim Schrøder. The first three editions came out in print, but since 2014, the encyclopedia, published by Samfundslitteratur, has solely been an online resource.

Comprising a total of 608 entries on different concepts and phenomena within the media and communications field, the encyclopedia can be a useful tool for researchers, teachers, and not least for students. In addition to descriptions of the topics, the entries contain references to supplementary reading to be found both within and outside of the encyclopedia.

– The encyclopedia can serve two basic functions, and one is as an appetizer. If someone has a concept thrown at them and they don’t know what it is, they can look it up, and if they get an appetite to move on, they can consult the supplementary reading, says Kim Schrøder, professor at Roskilde University.

– We would like it to work as an inspiration to also go back and read the original literature. You could use this to find your way into primary literature, and not only use the content of the encyclopedia, says Nete Nørgaard Kristensen, professor at the University of Copenhagen.

– The other function is as a reminder. If someone worked with a particular topic a couple of years ago, but needs help to remember what it was about, then they can look it up in the encyclopedia, says Schrøder.

If someone has a concept thrown at them and they don’t know what it is, they can look it up, and if they get an appetite to move on, they can consult the supplementary reading.

The primary – though not the only – target group for the encyclopedia is bachelor students in media and communication studies as well as neighbouring fields.

– The reason why we ended up with the BA student was that we thought that it would be the group in the middle. If we write for people at that level of their studies, it could also be possible for bright students at the lower levels to use it, and it would be available for people in higher degree programmes as well, says Schrøder, and continues:

– When we edit new entries, we always write comments like “this is not understandable for the BA student” – that is sort of the ultimate criteria for whether something works or not.

– We also think it could be a useful resource for teachers planning BA courses. As teachers, we are often asked to teach a large variety of courses within the media and communications field, and we are perhaps not experts in all of these areas. Then this can work as an inspiration to find key readings within a particular topic or phenomenon, says Kristensen.

Editors Kim Schrøder and Nete Nørgaard Kristensen discuss the Dansih Media and Communication Encyclopedia.

Based on scholarly quality

Today, we have free access to numerous online resources, and a lot of information is available to us just “one Google away”. When asked why you should choose to turn to the Danish Media and Communication Encyclopedia instead of other sources, the editors have clear answers:

– It’s not an instead. We absolutely urge our students to consult everything they can get hold of – they should also Google things, get on Wikipedia, and so on. But what you get from our encyclopedia is something that – in contrast to, for example, Wikipedia – is peer reviewed. Every entry is written by an expert in the field and it’s peer reviewed in two stages by other scholars. So, when using the encyclopedia, you can be assured that it’s based on scholarly quality, says Schrøder.

– We have an editorial process where the entries first are read and discussed by one of ten so-called subject editors, who are experts within their particular field and know what’s going on in the different research communities. Then it’s read and commented on by all of us in the main editorial board as well, says Kristensen, and adds:

– You can also identify who’s behind the entries in the encyclopedia, which can be difficult with many other sources, and it’s important to us that everything is solid and research based.

An encyclopedia with Nordic perspectives

Another factor that might differentiate the Danish Media and Communication Encyclopedia from other similar online resources is the Nordic aspect. The encyclopedia is written in Danish, and several entries cover topics and concepts that are specifically Nordic.

– Many entries focus particularly on the Nordic and the Danish context, and in that sense, we aim to counterbalance part of the English dominance that there is in much of the international media and communication literature. This is a way to bring the Nordic research community to the attention of students and new teachers, says Kristensen, and continues:

– This is also a place where media and communication research is written and published in a Scandinavian language. I don’t necessarily think that topics need to be written in the Nordic languages to describe Nordic aspects, but I think it can be a way of saying that this is something that’s aimed for our Nordic community. For Danish students, the encyclopedia could be a first step where you get the concepts explained in your own native language, and then you can go to primary sources, which may be in English.

This is a way to bring the Nordic research community to the attention of students and new teachers.

Most of the over 200 authors and editors of the encyclopedia are Nordic researchers, and according to Schrøder, Nordic perspectives can provide a type of uniqueness in media and communication research.

– The whole welfare society that exists in the Nordic countries creates a kind of mindset which permeates the way we do media research. Of course, it’s very difficult to generalise, but I think that Nordic scholars are often able to merge perspectives from the outside world in a very unique way, says Schrøder, and explains:

– In many cases, it has to do with the existence of public service media – the way the media serve the common good. That produces a mindset, which also affects the kind of questions you ask, as opposed to a system where researchers are surrounded by almost only commercial media.

Staying on the forefront in an ever-changing field

The media and communications field is not only broad, but also continuously and quickly developing, and to keep the encyclopedia updated and relevant can be a challenge, according to the editors. Decisions and prioritizations need to be made on what new topics should be included in the encyclopedia, and which existing entries should be updated.

– On the one hand, with a field that is developing so fast, it’s important that we also have entries that mirror what is going on, and include key debates in media and communication research at the moment. But at the same time, it’s important that we don’t only run with what’s new right now, because we sometimes see concepts that are gone after two years. Of course, we also want to write about them since they’re part of our media history, but it is a bit of a balance, says Kristensen.

– It is difficult to be on the forefront of everything, and there are entries that are a couple of years old, but we try to focus on the ones in more need of updating than others. There are specific areas that don’t change that much, fortunately – like some of the theories about, say, conversation analysis. Of course, there’s new work being done in that area, but it’s not being revolutionized right now – so it will be updated, but it may not be as high a priority as, for example, datafication, says Schrøder.

This can also help to bring new young scholars into the research community and give them an opportunity to be cast as experts in their field.

One important thing when it comes to keeping the encyclopedia relevant is to involve the right competence when new entries should be written or older ones should be updated.

– We try to have a feeling of what is going on in various research communities and who is doing interesting new work. If somebody’s writing a PhD thesis on podcasts, for example, then it’s obvious that we contact them and ask if they would like to do an entry on this topic, because they are the one who is it at the moment, says Kristensen, and continues:

– This can also help to bring new young scholars into the research community and give them an opportunity to be cast as experts in their field. We try quite hard to have a broad range of people contributing to the encyclopedia – but of course people based in research environments.

Engaging the Nordic Community

The Danish Media and Communication Encyclopedia is a result of contributions from many scholars, and for the encyclopedia to live on, it is essential to keep engaging people from all across the Nordics, according to the editors.

– We want to remain on the cutting edge, and we think we have found a good recipe for doing that. One important thing is to keep recruiting Nordic authors, to make it not only a Danish thing. In the main editorial board, we share this idea with a Nordic outlook, says Schrøder.

– The ambition is to keep having many people involved, which is important to be able to keep this encyclopedia up to date. It also gives a sense of co-responsibility, I think, in our research community – that if this is to survive, all media and communication scholars, in some way, should contribute with their topics and fields of expertise, and I think we have succeeded quite well in shaping that sense, says Kristensen, and Schrøder continues:

– We have people turning up on our doorstep and offering to write about something, and we are always happy when that happens because it shows that people have some respect for this, that they want to be part of it and offer their expertise for the community.

Free trial

The editors of the Danish Media and Communication Encyclopedia are offering the NordMedia Network community a free trial period to try out the Encyclopedia without cost. Contact editor-in-chief Henrik Schjerning for more information:

Several Scandinavian universities have licences to the encyclopedia, permitting students and employees to use it for free.
Find out if your university has a licence.

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