American Sociological Association

Lee Rainie

Lee Rainie, Pew Research Center

The ASA award for Excellence in the Reporting of Social Issues honors individuals for their effective translation, promotion and dissemination of a wide range of information, including reporting that conveys a sociological perspective on social issues to the general public. This year’s award honors Lee Rainie and the Pew Internet & American Life Project for their significant contributions in reporting on the varied ways in which the internet, to include mobile and digital media, email, the blogosphere, and social networking sites, has effected profound social change.

Lee’s current work grew out of his experiences as managing editor of U.S. News & World Report. During his tenure at the magazine he covered American politics, and edited sections of the magazine that covered national news, developments in science and society, and broad cultural trend. These interests lead him to establish, through the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Pew Internet Project.

Since its inception in 1999, Lee has lead his Washington D.C. team’s exploration of how people’s internet use affects their families, communities, health care, education, civic and political life, and work places. Their work explicitly examines the ways in which the rapid technological changes related to the internet are dramatically altering social structures in society as well as the daily lived experiences of people. The rich array of work covered by Lee and the Pew Internet Project includes: the impact of people’s use of social media, email, and cell phones on their key relationships; the way that internet users act on the health information they get online and how they share their stories in peer-to-peer health communities; the impact of the internet on campaigns, elections, and Americans’ overall civic life; how people across the spectrum of demographic groups differ in their use of the internet with their mobile devices, such as tablet computers, smartphones, and digital cameras; and Americans’ attitudes about trust and privacy online and the way people manage their digital identities.

Lee and his research team have had a significant impact on our understanding of the effects of the internet on people’s lives. In the 14 years that the Pew Internet Project has been in operation, Lee and his team have collectively published over 450 reports, many of which reference the work of sociologist. The Pew Internet Project has been a leader in making both its reports and its data broadly available– not surprising, leading the way in leveraging the internet and social media to do so. All of their reports can be accessed online for free at pewinternet.org. Additionally, Lee has co-authored six books based on the Pew Internet Project’s research, the latest, written with Barry Wellman, entitled Networked: The New Social Operating System and released in 2012 by MIT Press, examines the ways broadband, social networking, and mobile connectivity have affected the lives of “networked individuals” and it explores the challenges and pleasures of living connected lives.

Lee and other Project staff have briefed their findings on the social effects of the internet and mobile connectivity to many of the top leaders and organizations in the U.S. They have testified before Congress on the new media environment, privacy issues, and family issues related to internet use. They have also given briefings and presentations to White House officials, several government commissions, the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, the U.S. Departments of State, Justice, Defense, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Agriculture, the U.S. Conference of Governors, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, the National Conference of State Legislators and hundreds of other local, state, and federal officials. Project findings are used by the U.S. Census Bureau, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the World Economic Forum communications and media group. Lee and members of his team have also presented project findings at dozens universities around the U.S.

Lee’s work, and that of his team, is widely regarded as the most authoritative source of reliable data on the use and impact of the internet and mobile connectivity on the lives of people in contemporary society. Supporters of Lee and the Pew Internet Project applaud their ability to identify the most interesting and profound effects of the internet and mobile technology on changes in individual behaviors and social structures. Perhaps most importantly, Lee and the members of the Pew Internet Project effectively and enthusiastically bring sociology into the public view, and facilitate conversation between researchers, policy makers, and the general public. In this way, their work has benefited several constituencies and has advanced our discipline through so broadly encouraging a sociological imagination.

In honor of these outstanding achievements and many others, the 2014 ASA award for Excellence in the Reporting of Social Issues goes to Lee Rainie and the Pew Internet & American Life Project.