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He is the author of "Imagined Audiences: How Journalists Perceive and Pursue the Public" (Oxford University Press, 2021). The book draws on ethnographic data collected from the Chicago Tribune, City Bureau, and Hearken to examine how journalists' think about and approach their audiences. Nelson complements these data with audience studies research to explore the extent to which journalists' assumptions about their audiences align with how audiences actually behave.
His research has also been published in academic journals including New Media & Society, Digital Journalism, and Journalism Studies, as well as in public-facing presses such as Columbia Journalism Review and The Conversation.
Nelson earned his doctorate from Northwestern University’s Media, Technology, and Society program in May 2018. Before graduate school, Nelson was as an editor for Patch, a hyperlocal, online newspaper. He covered Highland Park, a small suburb north of Chicago.