New Media, Old News: Journalism & Democracy in the Digital Age


Edited by: Natalie Fenton

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    This book is the culmination of a team research project including myself and including James Curran, Nick Couldry, Aeron Davis, Des Freedman, Angela Phillips, Joanna Redden, Tamara Witschge and Peter Lee-Wright, who make up most of the authors in this book. And it is the research team to whom I would first like to pay homage. We all came to the project with divergent perspectives, interests and ideas. We spent many pleasurable hours debating, critiquing, analyzing and then debating some more. The process was sometimes frustrating and often exhausting, but always fascinating and carried out in a spirit of intellectual ardour, academic passion and good humour. Indeed it was as all good research projects should be but so rarely are. These meetings, dinners, journeys, conferences, emails, phonecalls and parties have all contributed to this book. I have learnt a great deal from this genuine team endeavour, but I have also cemented firm friendships. A better experience of a research project and a better research team, one could not hope for.

    Particular thanks must go to Tamara Witschge as the Research Associate on the project for all her research skills, support and good nature throughout. I would also like to thank the occasional guests to our research meetings, Jonathan Hardy, Michael Bailey and Colin Leys, who offered their own insights willingly and openly; and the many speakers who came and shared their own research with us including Michael Schudson, Dan Hallin, Robert Picard, Greg Elmer, Lesley Henderson and Julian Petley and Jane Singer. The data collection and analysis for the project also drew on the skills of a team of research assistants - Veronica Barassi, Su-Anne Yeo, Mireya Marquez, Paulo Gerbaudo, Hatty Oliver and Emily Seymour - thank you all for your time and commitment.

    To Rodney Benson who contributed the final chapter - my gratitude for your professionalism, sound critique and useful comments throughout.

    This project is one of five under the auspices of the Goldsmiths Leverhulme Media Research Centre: Spaces, Connections and Control. Sincere thanks are due to the funders, the Leverhulme Trust for the award that enabled this project to come to fruition and to all the other staff at Goldsmiths who are part of the Centre - in particular Elisabeth Baumann-Meurer as the research administrator (and previously Guinevere Narraway) without whom things would quite simply have fallen apart; Chris Berry, Janet Harbord, Kay Dickinson, Rachel Moore, Kevin Robins and Monika Metykova from within Media and Communications but also Scott Lash and Goetz Bachmann from Cultural Studies and Terry Rosenberg and Mike Waller from Design. Their comments and all of the debate within the centre have helped form this book.

    The Goldsmiths Leverhulme Media Research Centre runs with the help of the wisdom and guidance of an excellent Advisory Committee. Two people on this committee, Anne Spackman of The Times and Georgina Henry of the Guardian, deserve special mention for their support of this research. I am constantly amazed and endlessly appreciative that in their unbelievably hectic schedules they still found the time and energy to contribute so enthusiastically to this research programme. Anne Spackman encouraged us to release the initial draft of this book for discussion at a seminar of news industry professionals which she then chaired. The event was a great success and helped further crystallize our analysis and shape the book itself. To all those who turned up to the seminar and the numerous people who contributed good ideas, critical insights and reflections - this book is all the better for it.

    This project was also conducted at a time of resurgence of academic interest in journalists and their practice. At times it was hard to imagine a single journalist who had escaped being interviewed by some wily researcher. So to all of those interviewees who gave up their time when often they had none to give, I am deeply grateful. Thanks also to the BBC, the Guardian and Manchester Evening News for opening their doors and allowing us to observe them at work - a difficult and sometimes awkward ethnographic endeavour that they consented to with good grace and a spirit of openness.

    A large project such as this, involving so many staff, inevitably puts other strains on a busy department. Sincere thanks must go to the Head of Department, Gareth Stanton, the Departmental Administrator Jim Rowland and Sarah Jackson for their assistance and cooperation with all things official; but also, importantly, to all the other staff in the department who gave encouragement and goodwill.

    Aside from the research team itself, many other friends and colleagues have supported me, often unknowingly, throughout the gestation of this project; Mariam Fraser, Angela McRobbie, Peter Golding, Milly Williamson, David Hesmondhalgh, Gholam Khiabhany, Clare Wardle, Bob Franklin, Steve Barnett, Ben Levitas, Ivor Gabor and many more - your encouragement and wisdom is endlessly motivating. And to Sage, of course, but particularly Mila Steele for making the whole process of putting the book together so straightforward and surprisingly, so much fun.

    And finally heartfelt thanks to Justin, Isaac and Jude, who forced me to forget about the book as often as they could.

    Notes on Contributors

    RODNEY BENSON is Associate Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication and Affiliated Faculty Member in Sociology at New York University. He has published numerous articles on comparative media systems and the sociology of news, focusing on the U.S. and French press, in such leading journals as The American Sociological Review, Political Communication, and the European Journal of Communication. He is the co-editor, with Erik Neveu, of Bourdieu and the Journalistic Field (Polity, 2005).

    NICK COULDRY is Professor of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London where he is founding Director of the Centre for the Study of Global Media and Democracy. He is the author or editor of seven books, including most recently Listening Beyond the Echoes: Media, Ethics and Agency in an Uncertain World (Paradigm Books, 2006) and (with Sonia Livingstone and Tim Markham) Media Consumption and Public Engagement: Beyond the Presumption of Attention (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).

    JAMES CURRAN is Director of the Goldsmiths Leverhulme Media Research Centre and Professor of Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is the author or editor of 18 books about the media, some in conjunction with others. These include Media and Power (Routledge, 2002), Power Without Responsibility, 7th edn (Routledge, 2009), Mass Media and Society, 4th edn (Hodder Arnold, 2005) and Culture Wars (Edinburgh University Press, 2005). He has been a Visiting Professor at Penn, Stanford, Stockholm and Oslo Universities.

    AERON DAVIS is a Senior Lecturer and Director of the MA in Political Communications in the Department of Media and Communications, Goldsmiths College. He has conducted research on communications at Parliament at Westminster, the London Stock Exchange, amongst the major political parties and across the trade union movement. He is the author of Public Relations Democracy (MUP, 2002), The Mediation of Power (Routledge, 2007) and Politics, Communication and Social Theory (Routledge, forthcoming). He is currently working on a book on the rise of promotional culture for Polity Press.

    NATALIE FENTON is a Reader in Media and Communications in the Department of Media and Communications, Goldsmiths, University of London where she is also Co-Director of the Goldsmiths Leverhulme Media Research Centre: Spaces, Connections, Control, and Co-Director of Goldsmiths Centre for the Study of Global Media and Democracy. She has published widely on issues relating to media, politics and new media and is particularly interested in rethinking understandings of public culture, the public sphere and democracy.

    DES FREEDMAN is the author of The Politics of Media Policy (Polity, 2008), The Television Policies of the Labour Party 1951–2001 (Frank Cass, 2003) and co-editor of War and the Media: Reporting Conflict 24/7 (Sage, 2003). He was one of the UK representatives on the management committee of the COST A20 project examining the impact of the internet on the mass media and he has taught in the Department of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London since 2001.

    PETER LEE-WRIGHT is a Senior Lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London where he leads the MA in Television Journalism and directs undergraduate television practice courses. A former BBC Television executive producer, he has been a broadcast journalist and documentary film-maker, filming in some 40 countries around the world and working for all the terrestrial television channels in the UK. His work on subjects from international child labour to religion and politics have led to him being invited to speak at international conferences from Amsterdam to Tehran; and he has taught documentary film-making at various establishments from the National Film and Television School to New Delhi.

    ANGELA PHILLIPS has over thirty years of experience in newspaper and magazine journalism and convenes the MA in Journalism at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her research looks at journalism across the divide between theory and practice. She is co-editor, with Risto Kunelius and Elizabeth Eide, of: Transnational Media Events: The Mohammed Cartoons and the Imagined Clash of Civilisations (Nordicom, forthcoming) and is also the author of Good Writing for Journalists (Sage, 2007). Recent research on the role of agony aunts in newspapers appeared in Bob Franklin (ed.) Pulling Newspapers Apart, (Routledge, 2008).

    JOANNA REDDEN is a PhD student in the Department of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her research considers news coverage of poverty in Canada and the UK and how such coverage both shapes and is shaped by politics, policy and advocacy. She holds a masters degree in Communication and Culture from Ryerson University (Toronto, Canada) and in History from Dalhousie University (Halifax, Canada). Joanna has worked in the field of politics as a legislative and policy researcher for the New Democratic Party in Canada, and in the field of journalism as a print reporter and researcher for a television documentary series.

    TAMARA WITSCHGE was a research associate in the Media and Communications Department, Goldsmiths, University of London and is now a lecturer at Cardiff University. Tamara obtained her PhD degree from the Amsterdam School of Communications Research, University of Amsterdam in May 2007. Her thesis, ‘(In)difference Online’, focused on online discussions of immigration in the Netherlands. Tamara is the General Secretary of the European Communication Research and Education Association (ECREA) and a member of the editorial board of the international journal New Media and Society.

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