Posts tagged ‘journalism’

24 May 2011

Journalism and the Political

New book announcement:
Macgilchrist, Felicitas (2011): Journalism and the Political: Discursive tensions in news coverage of Russia. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. (Discourse Approaches to Politics, Society and Culture, Vol. 40) (full price; slightly less expensive)

Summary: Journalism is often thought of as the ‘fourth estate’ of democracy. This book suggests that journalism plays a more radical role in politics, and explores new ways of thinking about news media discourse. It develops an approach to investigating both hegemonic discourse and discursive fissures, inconsistencies and tensions. By analysing international news coverage of post-Soviet Russia, including the Beslan hostage-taking, Gazprom, Litvinenko and human rights issues, it demonstrates the (re)production of the ‘common-sense’ social order in which one particular area of the world is more developed, civilized and democratic than other areas. However, drawing on Laclau, Mouffe and other post-foundational thinkers, it also suggests that journalism is precisely the site where the instability of this global social order becomes visible. The book should be of interest to scholars of discourse analysis, journalism and communication studies, cultural studies and political science, and to anyone interested in ‘positive’ discourse analysis and practical counter-discursive strategies.

The thing is, critical discourse analysis has done a huge amount to draw attention to the role of language, and other forms of semiosis, in shaping what counts as politics, as acceptable, as thinkable and “normal”, i.e in what becomes (however temporarily ad precariously) hegemonic. But, how do we now respond to for instance Latour’s call to re-arm? Using very military metaphors, he worries that the critical spirit, now ensnared in deconstruction, may no longer be aligned to the right target.

To remain in the metaphorical atmosphere of the time, military experts constantly revise their strategic doctrines, their contingency plans, the size, direction, technology of their projectiles, of their smart bombs, of their missiles: I wonder why we, we alone, would be saved from those sort of revisions. It does not seem to me that we have been as quick, in academe, to prepare ourselves for new threats, new dangers, new tasks, new targets. Are we not like those mechanical toys that endlessly continue to do the same gesture when everything else has changed around them? Would it not be rather terrible if we were still training young kids–yes, young recruits, young cadets–for wars that cannot be thought, for fighting enemies long gone, for conquering territories that no longer exist and leaving them ill-equipped in the face of threats we have not anticipated, for which we are so thoroughly disarmed? (Latour, Bruno. 2004. “Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern.” Critical Inquiry 30(2): 225-48.)

Journalism and the Political is one attempt to retool. It uses a pinch of deconstruction, a splash of CDA and a dash of (other) post-foundational political/cultural theories to explore the fissures and gaps in what seems to be hegemonic discourse. Perhaps a critical spirit, which forces these fissures into the foreground, can widen the gaps, target new threats, and broaden new possibilities?

30 August 2010

Putin, Bush and the photo-op

Things are changing among Euro-American Putin observers. Even the New York Times today compares Putin’s antics in chasing photo-ops as a hard man with Bush’s.

24 November 2008

War of Images

The Caucasus conflict was a central topic at the “European Television Dialogue” on 20 November, in particular the way the media reported it. Quote of the day today comes from Deutschlandfunk’s reporting of the discussion. Talking about the different ways of dealing with information and foreign correspondents, Stephan Stuchlik, correspondent for the main German television station ARD, said:

On the second day I tried to get into Tskhinvali. I waited for seven and a half hours at the border, and I only managed to get into South Ossetia with extremely Russian methods. Whereas the Georgian side immediately understood: aha, we need to offer journalists a service. There were little buses going from Tbilisi, driving people there and saying: Something really awful has happened here; here are the relatives, feel free to ask them. (my translation; full text here).

Deutschlandfunk’s report continues by telling listeners how Stuchlik tried to get his editors to cover the victims and eyewitnesses who spoke of Georgian atrocities. His reports met with disbelief:

You could see that the three days of anti-Russian reporting had left its mark. Not only on the public, but also on my bosses and the news editors.

And once again, we see the dispositif at work: Journalists are based in Tbilisi, are bussed into the region by their Georgian hosts. It fits a certain expectation that the Russian army will have been involved with atrocities. The Georgian leadership activates welcoming information managment techniques; local news and bloggers are onside. At the same time, the Russian side fends off the western journalists (annoying them in the process by making their work more difficult) rather than welcoming them into their information zone. Thus is hegemony is fed.

I still think one of the most interesting things about the conflict, however, is that – contrary to Stuchlik’s comment – the first three days of reporting did not leave its mark on very large swathes of the public. Why, in this one incident, did so many people not believe the reporting? They usually have a good deal of faith in western reporting when it comes to Russia, but not this time. Answers on a postcard to…

5 November 2008

Books: Language and news/media

News media receive a good deal of attention from linguistically-sensitive discourse analysts (scroll down for some recent books). Two new reviews of books in this field are available on linguistlist.

1. Martin Conboy (2007) The Language of the News. Routledge.

Conboy situates his book within Critical Linguistics, i.e., the paradigm (as outlined in Chapter 1), which describes news as a socially-situated linguistic activity. Newspapers are considered in this book to both inform broader linguistic trends and be influenced by these trends. The book touches on issues of news language features, the economic imperative driving news media, objectivity, the development of ‘news communities’, argumentation, rhetoric, social semiotics, ideology, gender, narrative, the nation, exclusion and political correctness. The reviewer, Mekki Elbadri, evaluates the book thus:

Evaluation: This book is an important addition to research in the area of critical linguistic analysis of media discourse in general, and news language in particular. It supplements works such as Bell (1991), Fowler (1991) and van Dijk (1988a, 1988b) by providing new insights and considering more recent literature. The book’s methodological orientation places it clearly in the framework of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) (see, for instance, Wodak 1989, Wodak and Meyer 2001, Fairclough 1995). However the author avoids using the term CDA and opts for the older, and less commonly used, term ‘Critical Linguistics’, as used by Fowler (1991). The author doesn’t specify the audience addressed by his book; nevertheless, the book’s treatment of terminology and theories indicates that it targets beginners, undergraduate students and a generally non-specialized public. Mainly it speaks to those who the author calls ‘critical readers’. The book contains some short analysis activities, although some of them are rather simplistic. Furthermore, the author avoids entering into detailed theoretical discussions and focuses instead on providing extensive practical examples. For instance the word ‘discourse’ is only defined in Chapter 5, page 117. In spite of the book’s title, ‘Language of the News’, it presents mainly the language of British newspapers, with hardly any place for other international news media, other languages, or even media other than newspapers. The British focus makes some of the examples, puns and contextual information incomprehensible for readers who are not well acquainted with British English and British politics. [… The] book constitutes an important resource for learners and teachers of linguistics, discourse analysis and media studies.

2. Sally Johnson & Astrid Ensslin (Eds.) (2007) Language in the Media: Representations, Identities, Ideologies. Continuum.

This collection of chapters on language and the media. The reviewer, Francisco Yus, begins his review by voicing surprise at the very specific focus on the collection, which focus on particular language-related topics within media discourse, not on more general issues concerning the language of media. It deals primarily with media practices/texts which explicitly deal with language. Appraoches include conversational/text analysis, critical and multimodal discourse analysis, corpus linguistics, pragmatics, stylistics, speech act theory, historiography and ethnography. In his evaluation, he reflects on his own change of heart after reading the book:

The book ”Language in the Media” explores language in different media but, unlike my initial impression, it exhibits several underlying linking qualities that give the book a desirable level of coherence, which is also enhanced formally by the fact that there is only one bibliographical section at the end of the book. The book is not the typical book on language and the media, since it focuses on very specific and ideology-connoted aspects of the relationship of language and media, but at the same time it will no doubt draw the attention of readers from a wide range of research perspectives, including pragmatics, (critical) discourse analysis, ethnological approaches, etc. As such, the book is invaluable and no doubt offers interesting insights in a field on which so much has been published already.

A random selection of recent books in this field:

And the classics of linguistically-sensitive critical news/media discourse analysis:

(…apologies for the amazon links… still looking for an alternative comprehensive online bookstore… check betterworldbooks first if you buy second hand…)

18 October 2008

Muckraking sources

US-based innovative projects promoting critical, investigative journalism in the tradition of the muckrakers of old (descriptions from the organisations’ websites):

The Center for Investigative Reporting is a nonprofit organization that reveals injustice and strengthens democracy through the tools of journalism. Investigative reporting — requiring long lead times and significant investment of resources — is in short supply. Under increasing pressure to deliver higher profits for publicly traded media companies, editors and producers cut back on time and people first. The predictable outcome: a shortage of original, in-depth and risk-taking reporting, and a citizenry deprived of the information required to maintain a vibrant democracy.

ProPublica is an independent, non-profit newsroom that will produce investigative journalism in the public interest. Our work will focus exclusively on truly important stories, stories with “moral force.” We will do this by producing journalism that shines a light on exploitation of the weak by the strong and on the failures of those with power to vindicate the trust placed in them.

The Center for Public Integrity is dedicated to producing original investigative journalism about significant public issues to make institutional power more transparent and accountable.

The Pulitzer Center promotes in-depth engagement with global affairs through its sponsorship of quality international journalism across all media platforms and an aggressive program of outreach and education.

29 September 2008

Citizen’s Journalism

In a recent issue of Journalism Studies, Zvi Reich presents a thought-provoking investigation into the daily practices of citizen’s news media, arguing that ‘ordinary citizens can serve as a vital complement to mainstream journalism, however not as its substitute’. Although he lists several advantages of citizen reporters, one central issue is couched in a lexis of deficiency. Citzen reporters have ‘inferior access to news sources’, an ‘aversion of human agents’ and thus ‘limited news access’.

Reich thus opens up fascinating terrain for those exploring citizen’s media. Is it necessarily a deficit that citizen reporters do not rely as heavily as their mainstream counterparts on elite sources, given that, as he points out, mainstream reporters are regularly criticised for giving some of their elite sources ‘extensive and favored coverage’?

The paper also – controversially – implies an analogy between (i) the differences between citizen’s journalism and mainstream journalism and (ii) traditional modes of describing the differences between the genders: women have well-developed intuition; men have authority and rationality:

[The study] may very well yield significant insights concerning mainstream journalism as well. For instance, the present study’s findings may point to those elements of journalism that can be tackled by lay citizens, on account of their developed intuition or common sense. Conversely, the findings may shed light on those areas that are best left to the discretion of professional journalists. (p. 740)

Worth reading:
Reich, Z. (2008). How citizen’s create news stories. Journalism Studies, 9(5), 739 – 758.

11 September 2008

Islam in the media

Although more of a fan of qualitative research, the quantitative ‘bean-counting’ done at Media Tenor can be very illuminating. Their most recent press release tells us that:

Even seven years after the attacks on the World Trade Centre media coverage has not changed at all: Religion is primarily associated with terrorism. Almost half of all statements about Islam have been negative in the American ABC, CBS and NBC network news. In the UK, BBC and ITV news showed a slightly less negative tone towards Islam, but violent attacks dominated the news. Thus high awareness is triggered by the news value of conflict. In Germany Muslims receive 20 times the coverage of Buddhists or the Jewish communities, as the latest analysis of the Zurich-based research institute MEDIA TENOR shows. But the religious life of Muslim plays no major role in the news reports – which is very much in line with the TV coverage of other religious groups.

Conflict, violence. Twenty times more coverage than other religious communities. Not, perhaps, surprising. But seeing the numbers is still quite disheartening.This research was based on extensive content analysis of

— 11,294 statements in 3 US main evening TV news from Jan 2007 to March 2008

— 12,861 statements in 3 British main evening TV news.

Augmented by long-term content analysis of German news. The report available from Media Tenor (pdf) includes these slides:

New Research

This is necessary research, but surely now it’s time for a study analysing the significant changes in media coverage of Islam. In Germany, for instance, in the 1960s, ‘Turks’ were the ‘good immigrants’ (hard working, traditional values, strong moral, ethical, etc.). It was the Italians who were the bad guys (Communists). How were Muslims represented across Europe? What was changing? When did it change? In line with which other political and social changes? Etc. Unfortunately, a study on this topic recently proposed by a historian friend of mine was not awarded funding.

5 September 2008

RNC and BBC World

BBC World reporting on the Republican National Convention. About 8pm Berlin time.

Good long piece: television news tackling new trends in journalism by inviting two bloggers into the studio. One Democrat blogger and one Republican (balance is still key in the journalistic epistemology). So far, so good. Interesting though, that despite the length and breadth of the comments (go Sarah Palin), there was not a word — no question, no blogger comment – on the protests accompanying the RNC, nor was there any mention of the journalists, bloggers, videomakers, etc. arrested during the convention. Wonder if The Daily Show mentioned those?