A full professor, Sue Robinson holds the Helen Firstbrook Franklin Professor of Journalism chair at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Journalism & Mass Communication, which is ranked among the top schools in the world for media studies.  

Robinson joined the UW-Madison faculty in January 2007 after 13 years as a journalist throughout New England and New Jersey. 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 information flow as it moves through specific media ecologies and networks at the local community level.

She is currently working with on a few major projects: one, her next book project about media trust, trust initiatives globally, and journalists’ relationships with citizens and citizenship, titled How Journalists Engage: A theory of trust-building for a multicultural world, which is under review with a publisher; two, an educational video game about journalism for middle and high school students in public schools as part of a partnership with Wisconsin Field Day and the Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment; and three, curriculum overhaul for reporting skills classes in Journalism Schools around engagement practices and other trust-building strategies . 

Her 2021 co-authored book (News After Trump: Journalism’s Crisis of Relevance for a Changed Media Culture) was published by Oxford University Press as part of the Journalism and Political Communication Unbound series. News After Trump considers contemporary distrust of mainstream journalism to be about the very relevance of journalism as an institutional form of knowledge production. At the heart of this questioning is a struggle to define what truthful accounts look like and who ought to create them or determine them in a rapidly changing media culture. Through an extensive accounting of Trump’s relationship with the press, and drawing on in-depth interviews with journalists and textual analysis of news events, editorials, social media, and trade-press discussions, the book rethinks the relevance of journalism by recognizing the limits of objectivity and the way in which journalism positions certain actors as authority figures while rendering the less socially powerful invisible or flawed. This ethos of detachment has staved off vital questions about how journalism connects to its audiences, how it creates enduring value in people’s lives (or not), and how diversity needs to be understood jointly at the level of production, reporting, and audience in order to rebuild trust.

Her 2018  multi-phased, multi-method book (Networked News, Racial Divides: How Power & Privilege Shape Public Discourse in Progressive Communities) researched 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, the book is meant to be a guide for journalists, politicians, activists and others on how to navigate information networks to improve public deliberation. The book came out in 2018 with Cambridge University Press, and is part of the Communication, Society and Politics series (edited by Robert M. Entman and W. Lance Bennett). It won the AEJMC 2019 Tankard Book Award and the 2019 ICA Journalism Studies debut Public Engagement Award.

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 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, New Media & Society, Mass Communication & Society, Journalism, Journalism Studies, Journalism Practice and Convergence, among others. Most recently, she received the H.I. Romnes Faculty Fellowship, 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 working collaborations with the Kettering Foundation and the Minority Student Achievement Network. She advises The Black Voice and the National Association for Black Journalists. She also volunteers or works closely with the following youth non-profits in Madison: Simpson Street Free Press, Lussier Community Education Center, and LEAP 2 College.

A former business, technology, agriculture and seafood writer and investigative journalist, 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. She lives in Madison, WI with her husband and her two children.