The economics of social media news — modeling

The economics of running a news platform at either social, local or national level affect the process and capability of news production.

National papers have more resources than local or independent media. Local papers have more resources than independent media.

Independent media often doesn’t have the ability to go out and find a consistent set of news. With no access to public information — e.g. when it has been blacklisted from the council’s press communications — it can’t report on many local issues with the same level or before any bigger media centres.

The inability to gather their own news means that the local and national media can’t be ignored. Independent media does (often? always?) not have the resources to replace other forms of news. (Basu)

Independent media often has a different relationship to advertising than do bigger news sources.

I feel like I need some kind of chart here. Or some statistical model.

If I were to model the effect of local participation, what would my independent variable be? what measures local participation?

If I were to include say, number of statements or questions to public forum as an dependent variable, that might affect the independence of something like likelihood to vote at a local election;

I could have a combined variable of political party activism (leafletting, phone banking, election night attendance etc), voting intention/action, activity at city council.

Some of the model’s dependent variables might be:

  • number of articles produced
  • number of ads
  • number of reporters
  • topics covered
  • revenue
  • Type of advertisers
  • readership — number of hits?
  • social media share

I will check the UKDA.

Where would I get the data though? British Household study? do they have any local election data? I think the British Election Study has a question about whether people voted in their local election and to which party.

References:

Hardy, J. (2014) Critical Political Economy of the Media. Routledge.

autumn park (series C)

Article writing

Adding a bit more substance to my article outline:

From a post written on Friday but posted yesterday because for some reason WordPress didn’t publish it on Friday —

Gaining and examining authority as a citizen journalist

  • There are two types of authority — one assigned to a journalist by their audience, and two, the authority a citizen journalist internalises as part of their practice.
  • From an audience perspective:
  • News is divided into three spheres of what constitutes writing; There’s the sphere of consensus, the sphere of legitimate controversy, and the sphere of deviant writing (Hallin). The deviant sphere is occupied, “according to Hallin (1986: 117), by ‘those political actors and views which journalists and the political mainstream of the society reject as unworthy of being heard.’ The other two spheres are basically the book ends for how far you can go on a topic.
    • You can mention the mayor is Christian but you can’t discuss his faith advisor who is an alumni of a church that thinks you can heal the sick, raise the dead or such the souls from graves. These don’t come up in the pages of the media.
    • So how do you gain authority as a citizen journalist?
  • Practices geared towards validating information can include:
    • FOIs
    • ICO
    • Practices consistent with what are considered to be best journalistic practices; e.g. two independent sources, primary material, evidenced material, public evidence;
    • Validation from the political parties being discussed. Do they acknowledge the fact, do they deny it? accept it? etc.
  • Having past work published in national and local papers might provide validity.

Journalism as providing a memory is a topic that might be useful.

“As Thomas Kuhn (1964) argued long ago, what we know has a social life that privileges certain ways of knowing. Inquiry depends on consensus building and on developing the kinds of shared paradigms that name and characterize problems and procedures in ways that are recognized by the collective.” (Journalism and memory by Barbie Zelizer, p.2)

“The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting” Milan Kundera.

“in collective memory studies, [o]nce scholarship started to
amass and journalism was nowhere inside it, it became more difficult to find a place to include journalism down the line. And yet, the lack of consonance between how we think memory works without journalism and the evidence by which journalism engages in shaping our version of the past is troubling.” (Zelizer)

The suggestion in Zelizer’s work, is that the current media’s role in informing the readers of how current knowledge is presented — what is newsworthy (Hallin) — needs to be added to any argument of how to gain authority.

I need to read a little further to understand the exact nature of the memory/media literature. Basu does a great job explaining it in Media Amnesia and she cites a few of Zelizer’s works. There is no direct link, from what I remember, of authority and memory, however.

Citizen and independent journalism is seen not have the same prominence, to have different techniques and these question the process of making news — the need for simple narratives, the rushed writing, the reduced staff numbers, the emphasis on profit rather than investigative news and holding power to account — etc.

Ascertaining authority might benefit from an examination of the following:

  1. the process by which the writing is produced
  2. the length of time the author has been visible [see Mexican example of assessing validity of anonymous accounts]
  3. The importance of the information; i.e. see Mexican article – -if your life depends on knowing what’s happening and staying anonymous, then it might be easier for readers to accept one’s authority.

In local councils, however, the issues are rarely immediately dangerous in terms of being murdered, but cases of abuse (child protection) are under the auspices of the council and so they can be life-threatening.

Zelizer, B. and Tenenboim-Weinblatt, K. (2014) Journalism and Memory. Palgrave Macmillan, UK.

Nygaard, L.P., and Solli, K. (2021) Strategies for writing a thesis by publication in the social sciences and humanities. Routledge.

F

Extract from the Times, 1905

Showing up and documenting — praxis

Each morning, a worry pops up that I’ll have nothing to write that day, and each day I find a new insight without fail. It isn’t until I write out all that I know that I am able to discover what I didn’t know I knew.

So I keep showing up every morning. The showing-up part reminds me of the process in becoming a citizen journalist. It took over a year of publishing articles I considered to be newsworthy pieces before I could do it without supervision and without feedback from others.

It’s only ever in the doing, in the praxis, that we can become. It was in David Graeber’s brief history of anthropology that I first heard of the idea of anarchy as praxis. It’s the notion that you have to live and practice your beliefs and not only espouse them

As “David [Graeber] was at pains to explain, anarchism was a praxis: it was the doing, and the living of the thing, which counted”. [link]

With citizen journalism, you have to become that public voice but then you also have to deal with the consequences. When you spend a lot of time criticising decisions by decision-makers, it becomes difficult to feel comfortable [at least it was for me] to then ask them questions that are not criticisms.

When I was invited on BBC Radio Bristol to discuss the mayor’s secret social media harvesting exercise, I was introduced by an ‘impartial’ reporter as the ‘mayor’s critic’. I was then framed in a way that anything I was about to say was going to be biased towards being a criticism. This was not because of anything the mayor has done but because I was a ‘mayoral critic’.

Another example was in December 2019 when I covered the election count for Bristol South. It was a fascinating practice where I got to speak to candidates, kept up with the news of what was happening. I got home after 5am, saw journalists go and talk to candidates, get photos, and maintain a jovial detached aura from any consequences to the elections or to the candidates, etc.

If a political figure was there then they would talk to them. They could do this because they were from the ‘impartial’ BBC. They reported what they heard and not what they thought.

I won’t get into the realities of this impartiality, save to note the very useful work done by Tom Mills on neoliberalism and the BBC as a public service.

You can report as impartially as you like but when you use voices from business such as the owners rather than the workers, then your choices quite clearly state who is the voice who should be heard.

When you are reporting on Israel bombing Palestine and have killed 1500 people, including 550 children, and the person you allow to speak is only the Israeli prime minister [as the BBC did with operation iron sky] then you again make a value judgement on who is allowed to speak, have an opinion, and allowed to justify their actions.

Regardless of this, the BBC reporter had the type of stance of ‘open friendliness’ to everyone. It was a detached friendliness perpetuated with the ability to speak at length but not too long on one’s own personal needs, questions, queries, comments, etc. It’s a style one adopts at academic conferences, the art of friendly small talk. I often note it with BBC Radio Bristol people, journalists on camera, editors of Bristol24/7 etc. It’s one I can use as well.

However, it’s not an easy persona to use when you have a legitimate criticism or anger at decision-makers, and this is what drives me to an extent.

If you need to be detached, impartial, and have the aura of ‘nothing to do with me, guv’ then what about those who can’t help their anger because their 16-year old son has just been killed on an Avonmouth waste management site?

What about those whose children haven’t had a school place for over two years because the council failed to account for it? Or those who have stayed homeless or who had no health care because of council failings?

It’s important to note that powers such as local councils have the ability to withhold resources. Citizens/residents and political powers are not equal. They can’t be. While councils are meant to represent the people they serve, often they don’t even communicate with those people.

The lack of response to FOIs and subject access requests is an example of this imbalance of power. The refusal to publish reports in time for the public and for scrutiny committees to scrutinise them is also an example of an imbalance of power and a failure of democracy.

The other quite clear imbalance of power is when those in charge can be rude, aggressive and display bullying behaviour but then don’t accept ‘rude’ behaviour from the press or from citizens.

The forces towards becoming a citizen journalist might indeed be ones of constraint. If you expect the council to reply to you then you might think you need to be polite. You might think you need to cultivate a friendly relationship with the press office, as I mentioned in a previous article, and keep everything just slightly detached.

Well, what if you don’t do that? What if a rude person or an aggrieved, hurt, injured, and insulted person had exactly the same right to ask questions and report on the centres of power?

What would you need to begin to embody that?

My very first piece, which I think was an attempt to hold the centres of power under account was about the mayor’s faith adviser. The process was as follows:

  1. Was it newsworthy? Was I ‘allowed’ to write it and say it in public?
  2. Research: Was the story complete? was there anything missing from the narrative?
  3. Was it libellous? Would my house be at risk?
  4. What was the official process? Who did I have to contact for comment?
  5. Did I need a comment before I could publish? [the advice was “it’s not mandatory but if you’re going to slag someone off it’s only polite to give them a right to reply” — not that my piece slagged anyone off.]
  6. Was it publishable? Did it read ok?

For the first article, I waited months before publishing and then had a professional journalist read over it, edit it, and had them assure me it was publishable and of public interest.

One thing I’ve noticed is the ‘learned’ (?) lack of reflection on one’s practice when it comes to professional journalists. To understand what is in the public interest, and what one could and should do, I reached to a friend who did a PhD o public relations and who often writes about the media. The conclusion was pretty much that those in positions of power are open to scrutiny; private individuals should not be, etc.

strong coffee (series U)

Structuring a paper

I am aiming for a thesis by publication so my writing is meant to contribute to actually getting something published. 30 minutes a day for five days a week, minimum.

The topic that initially stands out the most for me at the moment is the authority of citizen journalists.

Some thoughts on structuring this argument.

There are two sides to the coin of authority in citizen journalism — there is the way the audience and readers decide what is authoritative news, and enough so it can be believed and acted upon (in my topic, in reference to local political participation).

There is also the citizen journalist’s perspective of feeling they have enough authority to not only take on a public voice but also to cover topics that the ‘sphere of consensus’ and ‘legitimate controversy’ won’t touch.

I have two case studies for this topic and I might just stick to one of them. In July 2019, I wrote about the mayor’s faith advisor who was an evangelist Christian and linked the mayor to types of Christianity that thought getting evangelical Christians into politics is the best way to Transform Cities. No ‘consensus’ local media covered the topic in full. Bristol247 news editor did write about it in passing when the mayor was elected.

During the mayor’s reelection campaign, however, Rees told a congregation at Christ church Clifton, that the topic of his links to evangelicals had been discussed in his office when it came up on social media and he was told to tone it all down. As he continued to say, while accepting the story was true and had merit, he would continue to pursue these links because the church brought money.

So the arguments based on the literature are as follows:

  • From an audience perspective:
  • News is divided into three spheres of what constitutes writing; There’s the sphere of consensus, the sphere of legitimate controversy, and the sphere of deviant writing (Hallin). The deviant sphere is occupied, “according to Hallin (1986: 117), by ‘those political actors and views which journalists and the political mainstream of the society reject as unworthy of being heard.’ The other two spheres are basically the book ends for how far you can go on a topic.
    • You can mention the mayor is Christian but you can’t discuss his faith advisor who is an alumni of a church that thinks you can heal the sick, raise the dead or such the souls from graves. These don’t come up in the pages of the media.
    • So how do you gain authority as a citizen journalist?
  • Practices geared towards validating information can include:
    • FOIs
    • ICO
    • Practices consistent with what are considered to be best journalistic practices; e.g. two independent sources, primary material, evidenced material, public evidence;
    • Validation from the political parties being discussed. Do they acknowledge the fact, do they deny it? accept it? etc.
  • Having past work published in national and local papers might provide validity.

From the citizen journalist’s perspective, what gives them the sense of being the right and valid person for taking on this public persona? How does that transition work in the face of silence from public officials and at times disbelief and criticism from the audience?

For the faith advisor story, everything I wrote could be found publicly and was clearly evidenced in FOIs and public documents.

For my Housing and Monastery 2.0 story. Everything I used was in the public domain. The video I quoted was in the piece. The information was clearly visible and available and yet there were people who perhaps did not want to bother reading it or watching it, who joined in with criticism.

What might be necessary in these stories is trying to find ways to make them relevant to public processes.

One story that has been covered in the media about the government’s handling of covid is where do key contracts go — with no appropriate procurement — and who gets appointed to key roles — without proper recruitment? These same issues happen in Bristol but are not covered.

sitting on the bench in autumn square (Uma painting)

Public private partnerships

City Leap could be a useful case study of the effect of social media on local political participation.

It’s a topic that on the face of it seems quite vast and full of buzzwords; so much so that it’s barely understood — but is part of a broad wave of practices through globalisation and neoliberalism brought in to increase the profit of capital. It’s a mechanism to transfer wealth from the public to the private sector.

Now, these concepts aren’t normally brought up in the local media. On a search for the use of the word neoliberalism — the label for this group of mechanisms including deregulation, lower taxes on capital, wage cuts, insecure wages, hollowing out of the state while public services are carried out by the public sector, gives an initial but crude look at how the media perform:

My assumption from past reading of the Bristol media, but not from evidenced research, is that these aren’t topics for local journalists. To quote Gary Webb, the local journalist who uncovered CIA involvement in the drug trade on the streets:

“In seventeen years of doing this, nothing bad had happened to me. I was never fired or threatened with dismissal if I kept looking under rocks. I didn’t get any death threats that worried me. I was winning awards, getting raises, lecturing college classes, appearing on TV shows, and judging journalism contests. So how could I possibly agree with people like Noam Chomsky and Ben Bagdikian, who were claiming the system didn’t work, that it was steered by powerful special interests and corporations, and existed to protect the power elite? Hell, the system worked just fine, as I could tell. It +encouraged+ enterprise. It +rewarded+ muckracking.”

Alas, then, as Joseph Heller wrote, “Something Happened”:

“And then I wrote some stories that made me realise how sadly misplaced my bliss had been. The reason I’d enjoyed such smooth sailing for so long hadn’t been, as I’d assumed, because I was careful and diligent and good at my job. It turned out to have nothing to do with it. The truth was that, in all those years, I hadn’t written anything important enough to suppress.” [medialens]

In 1996, Webb wrote a series of stories entitled Dark Alliances. The series reported how a US-backed terrorist army, the Nicaraguan Contras, had financed their activities by selling crack cocaine in the ghettos of Los Angeles to the city’s biggest crack dealer.

I have talked to journalists from the regional press, I am married to one, they are part of my life day to day and I have yet to come across anyone who thinks they are suppressed or censored or even not 100% impartial. They don’t write anything important enough to suppress. And yet some topics are just not covered. So there’s that.

From Media Lens again: “journalists are selected on the basis that they are unlikely even to attempt to report “dangerous ideas” of this kind – troublemakers are quickly identified and filtered out as ‘committed’, ‘biased’ and ’emotionally involved’.” 

But City Leap is big money in a little pond — the entire Bristol budget is around £1b and Bristol is considered one of the core cities. There are many financial interests in the city.

The Bristol Port, which can be considered part of another very important practice in neoliberal mechanisms might be another useful case study.

The Temple Quarter Enterprise Zone and Avonmouth Severnside Enterprise Zone are part of regulatory zones that give tax breaks and business rate breaks to capital, often at the disadvantage and harm of the local community.

“The ward is the biggest in Bristol but has some of the highest reported health issues, lowest social provision, high unemployment, low skills and some of the lowest satisfaction ratings with way of life and the mayor.”

But topics like this aren’t newsworthy for local media.

painting of heautiful green village on white background

Narrow range of options

Basu writes about how the media have managed a near total media amnesia about the 2008 financial crisis and its causes. She identifies three factors at play: a narrow range of elite perspectives, a lack of historical context and a lack of global context.

We can see similar at the local level. We see it not only the media but also in the narratives used by the local councillors.

One example is of the city council partnering with a company or consortium of companies to deliver a way for those companies to make a profit.

Or, as the brochure tells us, they are partnering with a multinational company in order to ‘drive’ Bristol’s decarbonisation. This project is called City Leap and initially contained the loss-making Bristol Energy (BE) company as well. BE, however, was sold off with losses at over £20m.

How has the setup of City Leap been described in the local press? [further research needed but there has been no mention of a transfer of wealth at all]

One of the first things that comes up about City Leap is about how confusing it is — this shows a lack of global context. These neoliberal structures of helping corporations profit at the cost of communities, and the very deep pockets of local and national governments. In England, local councils are so underfunded that much of their revenue comes from having to apply for grants for different streams of work.

I don’t know, but I assume and need to check, that the council are counting on money from the government for renewable energy and decarbonisation. This is also what corporations are waiting for as well. Someone with deep pockets — whether that be residents (shallower pockets but over the longer term) or government funding (deeper pockets of public tax payers’ money).

In the meeting of the overview and scrutiny management board, the executive director seemed to have a much clearer understanding of global context. In fact, with barely a relevant question from the councillors, he came up with the following points.

  • the companies themselves have been asked to draft the terms;
    • Stephen Peacock said, “what we have effectively done is given bidders and, to an extent, members, the opportunity to input into what is actually a draft document now”
  • The companies want to make a profit from this investment. The council wants the work done, is quite happy (note they’ve lost £20m in BE and no one has been fired) to use other people’s money to do this, but want to keep some control.
    • Stephen Peacock: “the challenge is the balance between allowing the commercial partners to have the freedom to operate and for this to be an attractive opportunity; whilst also keeping a level of control over those things that the council feels it needs to but obviously the way to get a billion pounds of investment in is to make this an attractive as an opportunity for, you know, some serious heavyweight companies so they will um you know I’m sure looking very closely at those issues of control to make sure that they can see a pathway to in effect making some money whilst hopefully decarbonising our energy system

The global context is very clear. There are few heavyweight companies with billions to invest. There are instead countries with this kind of funding but the Conservative government has shown that it does not intend to fund infrastructure from the public purse in situations where corporations could be benefitting from the profit instead.

This is standard neoliberal ideology. In global neoliberal critiques this would be followed-up by asking how much of the state and council’s wealth will be transferring upwards to the 1% — i.e. those who control corporations big enough to have a £1 billion to invest. For how long would Bristol be paying? The partnership would be for 20 years but as we saw with PFI, will the payments continue on past that?

No one asked about these things.

The questions were about the following points — with no one mentioning Bristol Energy and the £20m loss. I wonder if with a £1billion cooperation, what kind of public funding would be involved.

  1. Question about governance. What oversight will the council have of the work these companies/consortiums will be doing? How will the risk be managed seeing as the costs have gone up? [Paula O’Rourke Green Party]
    1. Stephen Peacock: a balance needs to be struck between control by the council and an opportunity for ‘heavyweight’ corporations to profit.
  2. What kind of companies are these — can they be checked since the council will be in partnership with them for 20 years. (this question was from Labour cllr Jo Sergeant);
    1. The answer was that along with checking how much money they have and if they can invest in Bristol £1b, are they involved with any criminal charges, modern slavery etc.
      • “as a councillor I don’t want my council personally associated with people who don’t run a good ship and aren’t decent employers”
    2. No one brought up the fact that Sumitomo corporation own a coalmine in Australia (81%), that they manipulated metal futures in London between 1991 and 1997; “The Sumitomo Corporation manipulated the London Metal Exchange (LME) copper price, which forms the pricing basis for the world copper market” [link] — they only recently sold their copper mine to Mazda; etc.
  3. The third question was how to make sure the huge corporation wasn’t stifled in its ‘innovation’ by the council [LibDem cllr Negus]

I don’t know long the councillors had to research City Leap but these are not questions the scrutinise very deeply and they will not have made any of the dangers more visible, at least not to a great extent.

Tomorrow: The Racket by Matt Kennard. Why we need to understand what has happened previously (historical context — what have other councils done? also BE) and around the world (global context — Latin America), to see that this very narrow perspective of how to proceed has no alternative options.

Note that no one suggested the government might fund this; in fact, Labour MPs and the mayor and his cabinet in Bristol pretty much seem to espouse anti-socialism as a way of getting ‘stuff done’. They were happy when Starmer became leader. Socialism does not come up at all as an option. Now, maybe that’s rational because this government would never fund it, but there has been no mention (sources) of how this would be a cheaper option for tax payers and with less risk.

At the end of the OSMB meeting, the cllrs all seemed to be agreed that this was a positive project with potential but needed some oversight.

pumpkin house

First of the month

Here’s something I didn’t know before a different local (self-funded) journalist told me; Each council has to produce spreadsheets of all invoices over £500. They need to publish these quarterly but I never knew of this requirement.

Two things strike me about local reporting, which can be applied to most situations:

  1. there is legislation that covers all/most activities;
  2. there are other people doing what I do.

Nothing is new under the sun, which isn’t exactly encouraging for trying to find a new topic to write about. But not everyone writes about your patch.

Another thing that struck me as I was reading Gary Younge’s article about the changing role of media, and then watching my children’s YouTube shows with millions and millions of subscribers and views; advertising is still there. It hasn’t disappeared. It just goes to where the eyeballs go.

These advertisers have found a new source of revenue — note the backward nature of that statement in relation to what we are used to hearing about the media.

Newspapers and the media are there to provide viewers and consumers for the advertisers. That’s their job. One thing I noticed in the G&M piece I cited yesterday was that another reason for the breakdown of the left-wing papers is that they did not attract the type of consumers that advertisers were interested in — i.e. lower-income consumers.

You can’t advertise a Rolex watch to people who can’t even afford a holiday, for example.

In the same article, Younge (who has had access to a media platform for decades and so doesn’t consciously think about, I suspect) is quite disparaging or unenthusiastic about social media:”

I try not to reply to people… people I don’t know, or don’t care about. And whenever I violate that rule, I usually regret it. I don’t think Twitter is the real world. It is a part of the world, but it is not the world. And I worry, quite a lot actually, about younger journalists, activist-journalists for whom it is their world.

Similarly, you get these stories about a Twitter storm. I think, well, did it rain anywhere else or was it just a storm on Twitter? And it is very alluring. I understand that people can build big followings, big profiles, and I would never say don’t do it. I use it sparingly.

He writes:

I see mostly younger journalists get into furious battles and I want to tell them, read a book, take a break, go on holiday. This is taking up too much time and too much energy. You are using it as a proxy for the world. The world doesn’t need a proxy, there is the world so go out.

He takes a very specific position here about ‘journalists’ getting into ‘furious battles’ and by the ‘world’ he I would suggest means the readership. Or at least that’s how it makes sense to me.

The journalists in this case seem to have a platform. They have somewhere to publish their work and have it read. More importantly, they already have access to prominence. Younge was The Guardian’s editor-at-large and long-time U.S. correspondent, [he] left the newspaper recently, after 26 years as a staff writer and 20 years as a columnist.

That’s a long time to have access to something that those of us in the deviant spheres, who can barely get any hits or readers, will never have a hint of. The journalists he talks to are not the journalists I talk to. They are not the ones scouring public-spend spreadsheets out of interest and a desire to do something useful. They are the ones who are paid to do it. If advertisers aren’t interested in the kind of people who care about where councils spend their money, then those journalists [who are told to go find the real world] don’t care either.

The issues once you’ve got a platform are different to when you don’t have a platform. There is a legitimacy to that writing. The topics have been approved by the paper itself. The person with a platform still gets insulted and dismissed but before that, they get heard. They get read.

So when we use social media and blogs to publish what sections of the media with narrow interests [consumer friendly advertisers of a certain demographic] wouldn’t touch then we see things differently.

Which brings up another theme for me. If the media are primarily vehicles for getting consumers to advertisers, then how do local media and national media affect local political participation? What is the literature on that?

One of the first articles I encountered in the communications literature about this tested the hypothesis of a link between property ownership and the local media. The idea is that those who already have a vested interest in the effects of local governments, will be more interested in participating. This makes some initial sense [link].

the idea—vocalized by many political scientists—that demographic variables and ideological differences explain most of the variance in people’s involvement in politics and attitudes was not supported by our data. Ties to the community, social networks, and other communication variables also played a key role. Both the direction and the extremity of ideological beliefs were related to the strength with which respondents held their attitudes on a local issue. Even when these more stable predictors were controlled for, we again found strong influences of heterogeneous discussion networks, local newspaper use, and local political involvement.

The idea examined in this research was whether those who were already interested in local politics would be the ones who participated. The conclusions were that ones social networks and their engagement with the local press affected their political participation.

A question: if there is no media that represents your political leanings are you less inclined to be politically active, and are those who are widely represented by the media, the right-wing capitalists, then more inclined to participate?

There is some data on the variability in ‘non-voters’ in terms of political choice.

So one question I’ll take away with me from this exploration: which topics, suggestions and solutions about topics, do not get coverage in the local press?

Greece (series C)

Looking at access to prominence

[Citations are from Media Amnesia by Laura Basu]

Concentration of the media has been accompanied by an ‘obliteration of a left and social democratic tradition in the press’ (Golding and Middleton 1982 — Images of Welfare: Press and Public Attitude to Poverty: 217).

This happened in three ways:

  1. the death of individual titles
  2. the deradicalisation of the surviving working-class press, and
  3. through barriers to entry by new titles.

Market dynamics did this.

“Several left-wing titles closed in the 1960s, not because they had insufficient readers but because they had the kind of readers that failed to attract enough advertising revenue — those in lower income groups (218 of original as cited in Basu). Increased concentration of ownership” diminished the “range of newspaper opinion (219). At the same time, production costs were high, barring new titles from entering the market.”

“due to market forces, ‘the contemporary press is predetermined to lack a political commitment to the poorest and weakest in society (222)” (Basu, 206)

In the internet age, anyone can write anything they like so barriers to entry have been reduced. However, “barriers to prominence are still high (Chakravartty and Schiller 2010 https://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/view/798/491 ).

Some ways this manifests is which media sources turn up on search engines (see Redden 2011 as cited in Basu). On Twitter, some 0.5% of users attract 50% of all attention — probably those with the resources (Freedman 2014: 96).

This probably explains why topics get coverage only as suggested by officials rather than in-depth coverage of topics from other sources. Basu explains how in her research of examining all news articles from main news sources over a few weeks of the financial crisis in 2008, only suggestions that had come from official sources received any prominence.

This line of thinking and research helps with some of the methodology I’m thinking about. Dr Tessa Coombes has just been awarded her PhD for an examination of the “Agenda setting during the Bristol mayoral election
in 2016: a multiple streams approach”. “

The research identifies how mayoral candidates
operate across the streams, seeking ideas and solutions, from within and outside of the party system. It illustrates the strategies and tactics used by policy entrepreneurs to bring their issues to the attention of the candidates.

The articles I have written touch upon housing in Bristol. The mayor’s faith adviser has seemingly gone on to work for Nat Wei — an entrepreneur evangelical Christian who is a Conservative peer and who hires many ex-Bethel graduates, according to him. Nat Wei’s company, the Shaftesbury Partnership is a partner in the Bristol Housing Festival.

I wrote about Monastery 2.0 and how the mayor has been convinced to provide 20 sites in the middle of Bristol for this attempt at bringing the city back into the monastery.

In another article, which was more of a brief extract than anything else, the mayor talks to a congregation about how due to the stories that ran about his faith adviser and his links to evangelical churches, he should tone it down a bit. He refused to do so but note that the story about the faith advisor was not mentioned in any other media source apart from what Hallin would call the ‘deviant’ sphere. It was not on the BBC, Bristol Post, Bristol247 or Bristol Cable.

This seems one way of assessing the social media effect on politicians. However, the thesis question is ‘what is the effect of social media on local political participation’ and that hasn’t been assessed yet.

The mayor did not change his behaviour although the information did make the agenda for his office discussion. Unless he has to act on it though, does it affect the public?

Also, when confronted by a cabinet member on my housing story — with admittedly more PR denials than anything concrete; the concrete information I had was in a video so it could hardly be refuted — there were members of the Twitter public (users who had followed me for a long time) who sided with the cabinet member.

This seems to be a clue as to who people rely on for authoritative news. They will go along with the articles for a while but are not always happy to change their minds when authority figures tell them so.

Freedman, D. (2014) The contradictions of media power. London: Bloomsbury.

painting of carved door on white bachground

Information decay and methodology — agenda setting

My topic is “what is the effect of social media on local political participation and knowledge, compared to local and national mainstream media”.

One way to explore this was to measure the different effects. I published a few stories within the following types of media:

  • social media alone (including blogs)
  • social media and local media
  • social media, local media, radio
  • all the above and national media.

The idea was to see which stories were accepted by the local readers and which weren’t. And when I say accepted I also mean, which stories had informed people and which weren’t even registered.

Things I hadn’t considered when creating this methodology, dispersal or decay rate of information; i.e., people may have read about it at the time and then forgotten about it or dismissed it. How long does a media effect last? Do the effects diminish over time?

How local does the radius of information have to be?

How authoritative does it have to be? Does a well-known newspaper have the same decay effect? I wasn’t sure if decay effect was even a real term but it is: [link]. It makes sense, much like propaganda is said to need constant repeating to be remembered. [Bernays]

The delayed effects of marketing campaigns have been well understood and have been successfully leveraged to measure short- and long-term effects on revenue and brand equity.

The above article might not be relevant enough so I’ve look at others: Trends in Social Media : Persistence and Decay

Abstract:

Social media generates a prodigious wealth of real-time content at an incessant rate. From all the content that people create and share, only a few topics manage to attract enough attention to rise to the top and become temporal trends which are displayed to users.
The question of what factors cause the formation and persistence of trends is an important one that has not been answered yet. In this paper, we conduct an intensive study of trending topics on Twitter and provide a theoretical basis for the formation, persistence and decay of trends. We also demonstrate empirically how factors such as user activity and number of followers do not contribute strongly to trend creation and its propagation. In fact, we find that the resonance of the content with the users of the social network plays a major role in causing trends.

This isn’t a topic I had considered before.

As with all new papers, I have learnt to look at the earliest sources in the references to help me find the literature. All the references in this paper are set in the 2000s bar one. That one is from 1993 so this seems the most useful to me.

M. E. McCombs and D. L. Shaw. The Evolution of
Agenda-Setting Research: Twenty Five Years in the
Marketplace of Ideas. Journal of Communication, (43
(2)):68–84, 1993.

Surveyors presented a variety of “maps” of the agenda-setting process, including the competition between direct and mediated information (D’Alessio, 19921, decay of memory for TV news (Watt, Mazza, & Snyder, 19921, and personal versus social issues (Weaver, Zhu, & Willnat, 1992). Other maps documented linkages between the media and public agendas, such as media cues about issue importance (Schoenbach & Semetko, 1992) and agenda competition among issues (Brosius & Kepplinger, 1992). Researchers also presented new explorations in two major areas, political advertising (Roberts, 1992) and the consequences of agenda setting for subsequent behavior (Brosius & Kepplinger, 1992). These scholars-from China, Germany, and the United States-are contributors to an international marketplace of ideas.

fishing

Fake news and streetlights

Citizen journalists are often hampered by lack to official information and delays with freedom of information requests. Social media often gets blamed for fake news and councils’ comms teams are often the first to blame newspapers and social media for fake news.

One example FOI request is useful at showing how communications and statements can be sought and produced very quickly when needed. Interest from the national press helps in this feeling of urgency. And it’s also an excellent example of how a newspaper item is called ‘fake news’ by the council but in fact is found to be fake news by the council itself.

Also, note the different power balances between the roles in councils and the speed with which some questions are answered.

In March 2019, a video was taken of old streetlights being removed from Bedminster — a poorer area in the city — and being installed in a wealthier area — Sneyd Park.

The FOI requesting emails about the situation showed the mayor’s assistant fervently chasing up responses from officers and getting lengthy replies.

In contrast, the cabinet member responsible was identified as someone different from the Cabinet member who asked questions about what was happening [he was the central ward councillor Kye Dudd]. The cabinet member responsible did not ask any questions at all in the emails and is not seen to have been involved.

This shows a curious balance of power. When talking about local participation, I refer to types of participation such as voting, participating in public meetings, writing to councillors etc.

The public facing and policy creating part of the council is vested in the cabinet members and mayor. Politicians decide policy and civil servants/officers implement it.

The mayor’s assistant is a political role. They are not elected. They are accountable to the council’s code of conduct perhaps and to their boss, the mayor — also to HR? I’m not sure. [research]

Cabinet members are appointed by the head of the cabinet and as councillors are elected by their constituents.

The streetlight example highlights who has what power to achieve which aims. In this case, the aim was to identify whether a practice was taking place and who benefited.

The first article came from the Bristol Post, which, according to the council emails, said that “(nice)” lamps were being taken from poorer areas and being placed in wealthier areas. This would in consequence benefit the wealthier areas to the detriment of the poorer areas.

The first statement from the press office was intended to dispute this fact.

They at this point had already been contacted by the Mail Online:

From the Public Relations email account to the mayor’s assistant, executive director of Growth and Regeneration and others redacted: “Just to add that Mail Online have also called about this now. They are obviously all going for the ‘class war’ angle, which is not helpful.”

To who and why the ‘class war’ angle is not helpful is not mentioned. I would guess that feeling under pressure from enquiries by newspapers and residents, it was not helpful for the council having its own perspective believed. The writer may have other interpretations of ‘not helpful’.

The beginning of the first press statement was drafted as follows:

“It is totally inaccurate to suggest the council is stripping some areas of the city of historical assets to benefits other
areas.

It is as simple as needing to replace the lampposts as they don’t work well anymore and this is a health and
safety risk. There are no plans to put the old lampposts anywhere else. We would not usually consult residents
regarding changes to the type of lamppost, however are happy to chat through any concerns they may have.”

The response to the statement is as follows:

“Have spoken with Kevin [mayor’s assistant (MA)]– He is clear that we need to go further than the highlighted section”

This can clearly be seen as taking directions from the MA.

The director of place and management, in a follow-up email just minutes later [between 1pm and 2pm], explains what is happening and concludes with:

“They are certainly not being reused in Clifton or Redland”

Between 4pm and 5pm, there was a follow-up email about what had been happening.

The next day, after the context of the situation had been deduced — a historical policy decision to replace rotten lamplights but with the decision to also maintain the style of the most lamplights in the area, if most are new replace with new, if most are old (nice) replace with old etc. — the MA issues a policy decision:

By the time the final press statement was released, it had lost its aggressive stance that affectively called the Bristol Post liars (purveyors of fake news) — “totally inaccurate” –and acknowledged wealthier areas had benefited from a historic policy:

This has had the long term effect of concentrating heritage lampposts in affluent areas. The final press line
we arrived at yesterday was:
“We have suspended the streetlight replacement programme while we fully explore its consequences. For
decades many areas of Bristol have lost their older lampposts while some areas have retained them. We intend to have a policy that ensures all areas are treated equally.”

painting of scarecrow in a field

[to be continued]

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