contemporary journalism in an international context
This is a book which looks at the state of journalism (newspaper, radio, and TV) in the context of globalisation of media control and the Internet age of instant communication. Vincent Campbell starts with a look at the decline in newspaper circulation – a more-or-less universal phenomenon. The dangers he sees are the monopolisation of ownership, tabloidization, and the onset of the Internet which has thrown everything into a state of uncertainty.
He looks at the relationship between journalism and the state, arguing that whilst most people in liberal democracies want the removal of state controls, when they are replaced by the demands of the free market they do not diminish but simply change their form. This leads to a detailed examination of the concept of ‘press freedom’, with examples drawn from all over the world – only forty percent of which is ‘free’. He covers newspaper ownership, the role of advertising, and he also deals with the ethical questions surrounding the manner in which journalists gather information – their relationship with sources, and where news management ends and spin begins.
He includes a detailed analysis of the workings of a typical newsroom. This includes how news stories are discovered, selected, written, edited, then presented.
There’s a comprehensive discussion of all the ethical dilemmas commonly raised in journalism – invasion of privacy, naming and shaming, chequebook journalism, libel, blasphemy, and protecting your sources – as the editor of the Guardian, Peter Preston, spinelessly failed to do after printing Sarah Tisdall’s whistle-blowing revelations.
This leads logically enough into a consideration of objectivity, opinion, bias, and slant. Most of his arguments are illustrated by examples drawn from recent high profile cases from the print press and TV which most people will remember.
He then looks at various alternatives to conventional journalism – where one might expect to hear more radical views. These range from political satire, as in The Onion and Private Eye to literary journalists of the Tom Woolfe school.
Although it certainly makes his coverage comprehensive, I was surprised that he gave so much space to (so-called) reality TV such as Big Brother, sports journalism, confessional television chat shows, and the amazingly vacuous Cosmopolitan, which he categorises as ‘lifestyle journalism’.
The result of this is that the coverage of Internet journalism is squashed into a few brief pages right at the end of the book. No mention of blogging at all – which is strange after two hundred pages in search of something new and radical.
It’s a book which could do with a few more pictures to break up page after page of dense text. But it’s suitable for anyone who wants to make an in-depth study of journalism, particularly in an international context, or in its relationship to politics and the current ownership of mass media companies.
© Roy Johnson 2005
Vincent Campbell, Information Age Journalism, London: Arnold, 2004, pp.306, ISBN: 0340763493