Citizen journalism and authority

Yesterday I wrote about how harassment of local journalists can be an even bigger problem for citizen journalists. As Bristol Post editor Mike Norton wrote about the Bristol mayor and his cabinet: “they are trying to control the narrative,” he added. “Ultimately they would prefer for journalists not to be present and don’t like the extra scrutiny the LDR is bringing.”

Today, I’m moving on to other forms of attempted censorship.

Social media has begun introducing censorship and active dispute of some posts, as was seen with Donald Trump and has been documented by Media Lens, Glenn Greenwald and Jonathan Cook.

All the writers mentioned work in a section of the media that Hallin would identify as being part of the ‘deviant’ media sphere. They do not cover issues that are attractive to public officials or the establishment and so do not get covered in the mainstream media.

Through the use of blogs and social media, their message, however, has been able to reach an audience but this might now be threatened by censorship from Facebook and Twitter [other social media too?] . YouTube has also taken down accounts and videos of those reporting within the ‘deviant’ sphere.

In local reporting, I have yet to see an instance of this. Social media platforms tend to deal with owners who deal with governments and government agencies. Local journalists are barely considered news outside of their local areas. Sometimes stories get picked up by national papers or tv stations — see Colston Statue toppling — when a local story became worldwide news, and the mayor who had previously stated he wanted nothing to do with the issue of the statue –“the best thing to do is to keep that debate away from me” [link1 link2], appeared in tens and maybe hundreds of news reports around the world [link3].

This was an anomaly. It may have been exploited to provide as much coverage of a local mayor as possible but it is not usually possible to get national coverage of a local issue.

One other time this happened was with a local story about the mayor of Bristol about to impose a charge on diesel vehicles while the council had just ordered £2.7m of diesel vehicles for their fleet. That story went from my blog to a local paper before being picked up by the Times, the Sun, the Metro, the Mirror and the Telegraph.

Again, these are exceptions.

Goings on in local councils do not tend to interest national governments or the national press. In fact, when the Huffington Post teamed up with the Bureau Local, they had to add to their stories an added note of context saying ‘this is important’. The idea being, I suspect that no one would think local matters were important even though they affect everyone reading them. [see further about ‘Westminster bubble’]

So local ‘deviant’ issues might be safer from censorship from multi-million/billion platforms than national ‘deviant’ issues. What makes it tough for local issues to reach a wider readership might also protect them from being made completely invisible.

This isn’t a topic I have read about elsewhere so it might be worth pursuing for an article in a journal.

To link these topics back to local participation; citizen journalists have to find ways to not only get their story heard — issues of distribution and reach — but also need to be trusted as sources. Which factors build authority and trust? See Mexican article about trust while anonymous too.

Other articles I found yesterday:

Ellison, Nick and Hardey, Michael (2013) Social Media and Local Government: Citizenship, Consumption and Democracy. Local Government Studies.

Bogaerts, Jo. 2011. “On the Performativity of Journalistic Identity.” Journalism Practice, 5 (4): 399–413.

Ingrid Bachmann, Teresa Correa, and Homero Gil de Zúñiga (2012) Profiling Online Political Content Creators: Advancing the Paths to Democracy. International Journal of E-Politics, 3(4), 1-19, October-December 2012.

Xiaoming, H., Nainan, W. and George, C. (2014) The Impact of Online News Consumption on Young People’s Political Participation. International Journal of E-Politics. April 2014.

Ardèvol-Abreu, A., Hooker, C., Gil de Zúñiga, H. (2017) Online news creation, trust in the media, and political participation: Direct and moderating effects over time. Journalism 1-21.

Wall, M. (2017) Mapping Citizen and Participatory Journalism. Journalism Practice 11:2-3, 124-141.

Harassment of local and citizen journalists

In 2019, the mayor is recorded as having bullied and criticised and been quite rude to journalists in the chamber. These journalists were employed by the local press however, and therefore had some support. After one of the worst occasions regarding a journalist’s use of the word ‘tip’ rather than recycling waste centre [check wording], the Bristol Post, fought back and put on their front page how unacceptable the bullying was.

Then editor of the Bristol Post, Mike Norton, told Press Gazette about the behaviour of the mayor:

“It is an abuse of the public platform which their roles bestow upon them.”

Norton told Press Gazette that such “petty and childish” behaviour “absolutely should not be in the job description of a city leader”.

“My feeling is that they are trying to control the narrative,” he added. “Ultimately they would prefer for journalists not to be present and don’t like the extra scrutiny the LDR is bringing.”

This is one of the few times that any media in Bristol has complained about the aggressive mayor and some of his cabinet.

Dan Jackson (2016) writes about “analysing the distinct challenges faced by marginalised groups who attempt to establish citizen journalism initiatives”. One of them is about “overcoming fear associated with assuming a public voice”

In various contexts—from across the world—we have seen how different forms of citizen journalism have helped marginalised communities gain public voice and empowerment, be it racial minorities (Gabriel 2016), feminist movements (Valle 2014), indigenous communities (Davies 2014) or, increasingly, globalised social movements (DeLuca and Lawson 2014).

As seen in the ability of the Bristol Post (BBC funded) reporter Postans to ‘fight back’ as such, citizen journalists do not have recourse to support from the media sphere. Bock (2011, 2) covers this and writes about citizen journalists, while having access to the public sphere, “do not have the power of news organizations behind them, nor can they claim the authority of membership in a socially recognized interpretative community”.

In Jackson’s (2016) piece, a grassroots organisation of citizen journalists was followed to assess how they participate and the process they go through.

The research identified three distinct challenges experienced by the marginalised groups we worked with in the process of learning about citizen journalism and adopting journalistic skills: firstly, low self-esteem, and physical and mental health challenges; secondly, accessible and adaptable technology; and, finally, the fear of reprisal when adopting a public voice.

In my methodology of being a citizen journalist to assess social media’s effects on political participation, I have found there is little recourse to support when adopting a public voice. I had informal help where I could ask professional journalists who were part of media organisations certain questions. They ranged from the ‘newsworthy’ value of information, whether something might be libel, whether I needed to ask other organisations for comments, ideas about who to ask for comments etc.

The difference in access to sources was also a huge issue. [Citation for literature?]

In one piece on the mayor’s faith advisor, I was advised to get a comment from the council, ask for a comment from the head of Bristol Pride, and pitch it to the Bristol Cable. I did all these and I had no response from any of them. When the Bristol City Council asked for who I was writing the piece and I answered for myself, they did not bother to reply anymore and didn’t answer any of my questions. Bristol Pride provided no reply, and the Bristol Cable editors and one of their reporters (three emails in total) did not reply at all.

So access to public information and public comment is also restricted when you are a citizen journalist. This lack of comment might also be seen as a way of showing the audience how ‘trustworthy’ (citation/sources to literature) some information or news source might be. It’s important.

It might be one of the reasons why the mayor of Bristol has set himself and presumably his cabinet members and staff (some?) a policy of ‘not engaging with the trolls’ as a strategy?


  • research article requirements for Journalism Practice
  • Find citations and sources from Daniel Jackson article about citizen journalism practices
  • Find Bock (2011) Citizen Video Journalists and Authority in Narrative: Reviving the Role of the Witness

Journalism Practice, 2016

Picking up a writing habit

Writing, writing and actually writing

Some essential elements to doing doctoral research:

  1. motivation
  2. writing
  3. a literature review
  4. a methodology
  5. writing all these things up and then writing the papers and thesis.

My next decision on my PhD is how to try to gain it and through which means. I have decided it should be a PhD by publication since that seems actually doable. That means I need to get published. To get published, I need to have written. I have yet to write much at all — if anything. So writing is my big focus.

30 minutes a day for five days a week.

Next objective:

Write an outline for a journal article — which journal and why?

Some journals: Local Government Studies, …
Read the author guidelines — follow them — word count to aim for; headings to cover, brief explanations for each.

An idea I have for an article is about citizen journalism and harassment by local government in a way that disrupts news gathering and dissemination. What are the barriers to social media as a news source?

Social media are not impartial networks or platforms. They have become the sources of wealth for a relatively few individuals. Ultimately, they are under billionaire control at the moment with Facebook owner Zuckerberg even being asked to testify in Congress.

Controlling the news also means control of social media and new censorship techniques have begun on Twitter and Facebook. Jonathan Cook has written about this in 2017 and in 2020.

Daniel C. Hallin’s Spheres of Consensus, Controversy and Deviance are relevant to mainstream media, and regional media. But might the censorship by social media be focused only on issues such as international relations and ones that affect countries such as the UK and the US?

It’s worth looking at whether the same level of censorship is prevalent at the local level too. Regional media can be seen to use the same categories as Hallin suggested, but it may not have the power to censor the news that are considered deviant in the same way as major news/social media publishers do.

The types of censorship that go on at the local level seem to be more likely manifested as harassment by local officials (their friends) and politicians, being blacklisted –i.e. having no access to press briefings or responses to press statements, FOI requests rejected or ignored, subject access requests ignored or rejected, etc.

These are all factors to consider when assessing the media effect of social media in relation to mainstream media — local and national.

Local media and trust: notes, v1

The local media scene is not the same as the national media in terms of recognition and trust. It does have a similar power structure because it is owned by a small number of wealthy owners. The influences however are different.

In the area of local news, just five companies — Gannett, JPIMedia, Reach Plc (ex-Trinity Mirror), Tindle and Archant — account for 80% of titles (back in 2015, six companies had the same share). Two companies have 46% of all commercial local analogue radio stations and two-thirds of all commercial digital stations.

The Routledge Companion to Local Media and Journalism provides a useful overview of issues and cases of local media and journalism all around the world.

The following notes are from the introduction.

The first thing they did was look to identify what are the core issues of the subject. This was through searching the

Key terms searched for were: ‘local media’, ‘local journalism’ and ‘local news’,

“40 per cent of publications were about the US, 8.4 per cent
about the UK, 7.4 per cent about Australia and 5 per cent about Canada.” A further 60 countries share the remaining 38 per cent of academic interest.

The search also revealed that the field does not seem to have a ‘home’ in terms of publications.

Of all the journals, Journalism Studies has the highest number of articles: 35, just 2.8 per cent of the publications.

“different forms of local media have been studied with
somewhat different sets of theoretical and conceptual frameworks, as well as different methodological approaches.”

“themes and issues that have been largely overlooked, but are here revealed to be of significant concern. These include the diverse processes that can lead to the formation of local ‘news deserts’; the effectiveness of different subsidy systems; and a reappraisal of issues surrounding professionalism in local journalism.”

“An important implication of the historical fragmentation of the subject area is a lack of consensus on the meaning of key terms, which are often taken for granted or defined only implicitly.”

“the three key terms that have particular significance to the field, and that feature centrally in this volume, are ‘local’, ‘local media’ and ‘community’”

What do we mean by local: “The concept of ‘local’ at its most simple refers to a place where people live their everyday lives. Importantly, in these sorts of place-based definitions, which tend to be the most common, the local has geographical boundaries. For our field of study, however, local is also a mediatised social space, which is characterised by Lefebvre (1991) as a triadic structure depending on interrelationships between perceived space (people’s activities in a landscape), conceived space (or spatial representations) and lived space (imagined through its myths, symbols and ideologies).”

Ali proposes critical regionalism as a theoretical underpinning to study the local, an approach that “forces an interrogation of localism that goes beyond place to include elements of culture, identity, and language” (Ali, 2015, 107).

“the local refer[s] both to the merchandising strategy that sustains a newspaper and the editorial philosophy that defines its mission” (Pauly and Eckert, 2002, cited in Angela
M. Lee, Chapter 40, this volume).

“On the other hand, some audience- and community-focused definitions have conceptualised local as a ‘sense of place’. Under these readings, local media offer
‘geo-social’ identification, placing readers and their locality in the context of the world, where the audience’s connection to the area is influenced by personal experiences (Hess and Waller, 2014 and 2016b)”

“‘local’ is not just a spatial concept, it is a place formed by its social setting.” Notably, US researchers have used the term ‘community newspaper’ since the 1960s to
describe newspapers of towns and cities. Whereas in the UK a distinction is drawn between local and community media, where local media are indicative of professionalised or institutional organisations and community media of a grassroots or alternative media model, often produced by volunteers.”

“new forms of local media led to new terms such as ‘hyperlocal media’ and more recently ‘bottom-up hyperlocal media’ (Jonas De Meulenaere, Cédric Courtois and Koen Ponnet, Chapter 38, this volume).”

“There is a debate in the literature about the extent to which the content of local media is really local, and the extent to which it should be. A number of researchers warn about the declining local content in local media in recent times and the implications of this trend (e.g., Franklin, 2006; and in this volume Rachel Matthews, Chapter 1; Helen Sissons, Chapter 32; Josephine F. Coleman, Chapter 33).”

As Franklin observes, “In the new millennium, local newspapers are local in name only; the town or city emblazoned on the newspaper’s masthead may be one of the few remaining local features of the paper” (cited in Rachel Matthews, Chapter 1, this volume).

local content “became whatever interested the readers, or what was useful to the readers” (Chapter 40, this volume).

Nielsen (2015) sees local media in this regard as keystone media, that are “primary providers of a specific and important kind of information” (Nielsen, 2015, loc. 1138), highlighting their role in political communication and in underpinning democratic systems and processes in local communities and beyond.

“The third key term for the field is ‘community’, which arguably is an ill-defined word much used by politicians, journalists and academics. In the local media field, ‘community’ and ‘local’ are sometimes used synonymously, reflecting the importance of social context in understanding the ‘local’.
The manner in which ‘community’ has been conceptualised has determined the practice of local journalists and local media legislation, regulation and policy formation, as well as the business models on which local journalism draws. A critical element of local
journalists’ construction of their professional identity is as the ‘community champion’. But Rachel Matthews (Chapter 1, this volume) argues that advertising-led business models “constructed the readership as a ‘community’ to be harnessed for commercial ends” in a transactional relationship with the advertiser. Similarly, Aldridge (2003) has argued, with reference to Anderson (1991), that “creating an ‘imagined community’ is seen as a market imperative” by Britain’s local press (2003, 492).

Community has been seen as an object that can be commodified and addressed; but we also see it as “less as object, more as process and practice, as action, activity, purpose.”

Walkerdine and Studdert (2012) describe the latter as “face-to-face being-ness” made up at the micro level by instances of sociality, of communal interaction. ‘Community’ in this sense resists commodification and objectification. A sense in which local journalists and local media see their practice very much as part of those processes of community interaction, rather than primarily observers and reporters of such processes, emerges in Japan’s Town Magazines and the local media’s role in times of crisis (Anthony S. Rausch, Chapter 2; Florian Meissner and Jun Tsukada, Chapter 41, both this volume); India’s networks of staff and freelance journalists, activists and grassroots organisations (Ursula Rao, Chapter 14, this volume); hyper-local developments in the Nordic region and Russia (Jaana Hujanen et al., Chapter 26, this volume); in the neighbourhood Facebook groups emerging in Belgium (Jonas De Meulenaere, Cédric Courtois and Koen Ponnet, Chapter 38, this volume); and the turn towards talanoa processes of discussion and debate in the Pacific (Shailendra Singh, Chapter 45, this volume). Irene Costera Meijer (Chapter 34, this volume) cites a case study of Norwegian local journalists’ construction of professional identity as “community members first and journalists second”.

We argue that there are three key defining features of local media that are universal, regardless of which country or part of the world they are located in:
• geo socio-political context
• relationship with the community
• position in macro media ecosystems

Geo socio-political context

Local and national media vary as much as they are similar “n terms of structure, form, content and audience consumption”; “local media, while clearly influenced by technological advances and economic fluctuations, reflect very closely the particular historical, geographical, social and political contexts out of which they have arisen (Hess and Waller, 2016b).”

“Political and power structures have been particularly significant contextual factors that have influenced the development of local media.”

In reference to the US (CH 13) , C.W. Anderson argues: “To the degree that modern US journalism is concerned with observing and checking the powers of political institutions, then, the role played by local journalism is of vital importance insofar as a great deal of political power is concentrated at the local level”.

“the different chapters show … that policy development is dialogic, as emphasised by Rose N. Kimani (Chapter 10, this volume), [and] that while at certain historical junctures the policy determines the operations in the field, at other times it is the existent context that determines which policies arise.”

Relationship with the community

Another key feature of local media lies in their relationship with their communities.

As Bill Reader and John Hatcher say in the opening sentence of their contribution to this volume (Chapter 20): “Local news media have always been conflicted by their allegiances to two masters: the communities they inform, and the revenue streams that sustain them”.

Rachel Matthews (Chapter 1, this volume) focuses on the revenue stream as the more dominant of the two masters in much of Britain’s mainstream local commercial media.

in this Companion, the relationship with the community is explored in different contexts and from different perspectives, and what is clear is that, across the world, community focus is a, if not the, key function of many local media provisions.

there are contexts in which local media’s commitment to the communities they inform is the dominant master, using Reader and Hatcher’s analogy, and that commitment is expressed in the roles they play in strengthening and supporting those communities and building a sense of belonging.

Local media and journalism are not only about providing news and information, but also binding the community together and encouraging engagement

The above is particularly relevant to my own research as I look to the effect of social media on ‘local political participation’.

Eli Skogerbø (Chapter 4) and Annika Bergström (Chapter 39) in this volume remind us that a number of studies in different parts of the world in different eras found clear links between local media use and citizens’ sense of belonging to a locality (e.g., Merton, 1949; Park, 1929; Elvestad, 2009; Gulyas et al., 2019).

Irene Costera Meijer (Chapter 34, this volume) cites Heider et al.’s (2005) study that found audience expectations in relation to local journalism are closer to ‘good neighbour’ reporting than to ‘watchdog’ reporting, including “caring about your community, highlighting interesting people and groups, understanding local community, and offering solutions” (Heider et al., 2005, 961).

Position in macro media ecosystems

the third defining feature of local media is their relationship with national and international media ecosystems, specifically the extent to and the way in which they are embedded in national and international structures, and the part they play in those.

Particular important dimensions in this relationship are regulatory systems and policies, ownership, technological infrastructures, content and format flow, industry finance
systems and structures, as well as audience practices.

local media policies are often drawn up “in accordance with regional and state interests that mediate them”, rather than responding to the needs and demands of local media and the local communities in which they operate. Mariola Tarrega and Josep Àngel Guimerà (Chapter 8)

With regards to the ownership dimension, Rachel Matthews (Chapter 1, this volume) explains the implications of national media corporations’ ownership of large parts of UK local media in the later part of the twentieth century, resulting in the dominance of a commercial agenda that concentrated on profits and circulation, sidelining newspapers’ traditions and community focus.

in exploring local media, it is important to bear in mind that
their processes and practices, institutions and organisations, form and content are informed both globally, nationally and locally.

four themes emerge as particularly significant:

• sustainability
• subsidies and state interventions
• local news deserts
• professionalism.

Sustainability “is often examined in relation to economic
concerns, changing business models and their impacts.”

Christopher Ali, Damian Radcliffe and Rosalind Donald (Chapter 27, this volume), for example, state that local media and journalism is confronted by a “financial climate that no longer supports advertising-driven news production, a fragmented audience, and multi-media, multi-content environments demanded by both
consumers and investors”.

In relation to Australia, they found:
Legacy media outlets in all four [research] locations have reduced their newsrooms.
This, in turn, has limited their practice of ‘shoe leather’ and ‘journal of record’ reporting, such as reporting courts and local councils. Fewer stories are covered, and a deficit in quantity and quality of reporting follows. Untrained reporters are less confident when dealing with controversial issues, and more easily used by campaigners and institutions. Public relations content and propaganda is often published without independent verification.

“the contributions in the Companion show that fragmented audiences, multi-media, multi-content environments and declining revenues have had, in varying degrees, a global
impact on local media and journalism.”

Florian Meissner and Jun Tsukada (Chapter 41, this volume) write about the concept “of ‘care journalism’ embodied in Japanese local journalists with close-knit local
networks acting in disaster situations as a mouthpiece for those affected.”

Bill Reader and John Hatcher’s argument (Chapter 20, this volume) that legacy local news organisations “which prioritize community service may be the most sustainable, perhaps because citizens reject media for whom ‘community service’ is empty rhetoric and support media for which ‘community
service’ is an observable practice”.

“where strong local journalism is most needed such ventures can be the most difficult to sustain.”

Jonas De Meulenaere, Cédric Courtois and Koen Ponnet (Chapter 38, this volume) found local Facebook groups in the Belgian city of Ghent – contributors of which did not conceive of themselves as journalists – creating something: that functions to some extent in similar ways as journalistic [hyperlocal media] initiatives … contain[ing] a variety of neighborhood-related and community-oriented stories … Through these, a social news stream emerges, which functions as a neighborhood awareness system that subsequently becomes a prominent gateway to neighborhood information and news.”

Subsidies and state interventions

Several nations, such as France, the Nordic countries, Britain and Australia, maintain a publicly funded, public service local media system, predominantly broadcast media, which operates alongside private, commercially funded institutions

In Britain, there have been no direct subsidies to local newspapers and overall support of local media has been less effective and more fragmented than in Scandinavia. Historically, support for the UK’s local newspaper industry has come in the form of reduced local taxes on their premises, exemption from tax on newspaper sales and an obligation for municipal authorities to pay for the regular publication of ‘statutory notices’ such as planning applications and road closures (Baines, 2014).

Phil Ramsey and Philip McDermott (Chapter 43, this volume) note that in response to the decline in the sector, the government introduced a form of subsidy system in 2017 allowing local newspapers to employ ‘local democracy reporters’ paid by the BBC, the publicly funded broadcaster. To its critics, however, the system does not address the wider issues of failing sustainability in the commercial local newspaper sector and is also accused of subsidising corporate profits rather than sustaining public interest news (Greenslade, 2018).

Local news deserts

the ‘crisis in local media and journalism’, while not universal, is affecting some areas more than others. Recently, those most severely affected have been conceptualised as ‘news deserts’ (e.g., Abernathy, 2016;
Stites, 2011).

Consequences, they warn, include less efficient, more costly, unscrutinised local government; deficiencies in citizens’ knowledge and participation in civic life; and individuals and organisations with more partisan agendas filling the vacuums. Other authors in this volume demonstrate that similar processes are taking place in Australia (Margaret Simons and Jason Bosland, Chapter 19; Simons et al., Chapter 36), where journalism of record is being eroded; New Zealand (Scott Downman and Richard Murray, Chapter 25; Helen Sissons, Chapter 32); and the Netherlands (Marco van Kerkhoven, Chapter 24), where major cities such as Almere with 200,000-plus citizens have no local media.

contributions to this volume invite a re-evaluation of the concept of the news desert to embrace the content provided by local news media.

Ilya Kiriya (Chapter 16) speaks of local newspapers’ descending into irrelevance in which people see them “not so much as ‘our paper’ or even ‘their paper’ but ‘what paper?’”.

We have seen above that local media fulfil a purpose in supporting and sustaining
the processes and practices that make up communities by strengthening people’s feelings of
belonging and connection. So rather than conceptualising the lack of local media simply in
terms of ‘news deserts’, approaching this aspect from the perspective of ‘local media gaps’ allows us to consider the loss represented by the depletion of local media ecosystems in a more holistic sense, as a diminution of the opportunities for sociality, of face-to-face encounters, of affective interactions – of ‘community’ itself.


“There is a rich tradition of research into the professionalisation of journalism and journalism
work. Deuze (2005) critiques the manner in which journalists have developed an occupational ideology to make sense of their role and societal value – “how the profession makes sense of itself” – seeing themselves as providing a public service; being objective, fair and trustworthy; working autonomously with a social responsibility and ethical sensibility.”

However, much of this attention has focused on the institutional setting of the newsroom, often neglecting the “places, spaces, practices and people at the margins of this spatially delimited news production universe”
(Wahl-Jorgensen, 2009, 23).

A consequence of these transformations has been the repeated engagement of journalists within the ‘mainstream’ sector in ‘boundary work’, “intensely debating what journalism is and who can be considered to be a ‘real’ journalist” (ibid., 168).

C.W. Anderson (Chapter 13), citing revelations relating to the 2016
US presidential election, raises concerns about state actors disguised on social media as ordinary citizens “hijacking the public discourse for nefarious purposes”, and argues that such factors as fake news and the rise of populism have rekindled debates about trust and normative functions of journalism and journalists.

Resonating with transformations recounted above of local media and journalism from observer to participant in processes and practices of community, several contributors point to emerging understandings of local media and journalism in terms of ‘collaborative practice’.

Lily Canter (Chapter 31, this volume) finds that senior editorial staff tend to use Twitter as a promotional tool on local newspapers in Britain, while individual journalists use it to interact and engage with their audience, blurring the boundaries between the professional and the personal. Tony Harcup (Chapter 46, this volume) finds in the ‘alternative’ local media in Britain media production as ‘active citizenship’, a ‘social function’ media.

Signposts to further research

The field would also benefit from more investigations into questions of power and politics in the digital age in relation to local media and journalism, which is also a call made
by C.W. Anderson (Chapter 13, this volume). For example, what are the implications of fake news at the local level? What is the relationship between local journalism and political populism?


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Heider, D., McCombs, M. and Poindexter, P.M. (2005) What the public expects of local news: views on public and traditional journalism. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 82(4), pp. 952–967.
Hess, K. and Waller, L. (2014) Geo-social journalism. Journalism Practice, 8(2), pp. 121–136.
Hess, K. and Waller, L. (2016a) Community and hyperlocal journalism: a ‘sustainable’ model? In Franklin, B. and Eldridge, S. (eds), The Routledge companion to digital journalism studies, pp. 194–204. Routledge, London.
Hess, K. and Waller, L. (2016b) Local journalism in a digital world: theory and practice in the digital age. Palgrave Macmillan, London.
Kellner, D. (2002) Theorising globalization. Sociological Theory, 20(3), pp. 285–305.
Lefebvre, H. (1991) The production of space. Blackwell, Oxford.
McChesney, R.W. (2000) The global media giants. In Andersen, R. and Strate L. (eds), Critical studies in media commercialism, pp. 59–70. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Merton, R.K. (1949) Patterns of influence: a study of interpersonal influence and of communications behavior in a local community. In Lazarsfeld, P.F. and Stanton, F.N. (eds), Communications research, pp. 180–219. Harper & Bros, New York.
Metzgar, E.T., Kurpius, D.D. and Rowley, K.M. (2011) Defining hyperlocal media: proposing a framework for discussion. New Media & Society, 13(5), pp. 772–787.
Murschetz, P. (ed.) (2014) State aid for newspapers. Springer-Verlag, Berlin and Heidelberg.
Nielsen, R.N. (2015) Local journalism: the decline of newspapers and the rise of digital media. Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Oxford.
Park, R.E. (1929) Urbanization as measured by newspaper circulation. American Journal of Sociology, 25(January), pp. 60–79.
Pauly, J.J. and Eckert, M. (2002) The myth of ‘the local’ in American journalism. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 79, pp. 310–326.
Ritzer, G. (2003) Rethinking globalization: glocalization/grobalization and something/nothing. Sociological Theory, 21(3), pp. 193–208.
Stites, T. (2011) Layoffs and cutbacks lead to a new world of news deserts. Nieman Lab. 8 December. Accessed 10 October 2019 at
Van der Haak, B., Parks, M. and Castells, M. (2012) The future of journalism: networked journalism. International Journal of Communication, 6, pp. 2923–2938.
Van Kerkhoven, M. and Bakker, P. (2014) The hyperlocal in practice: innovation, creativity and diversity. Digital Journalism, 2(3), pp. 296–309.
Wahl-Jorgensen K. (2009) News production, ethnography, and power: on the challenges of newsroomcentricity. In Bird, E. (ed.), The anthropology of news and journalism: global perspectives, pp. 21–35. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, IN.
Walkerdine, V. and Studdert, D. (2012) Concepts and meanings of community in the social sciences. Arts & Humanities Research Council, Swindon.

LitReview: Hiding in plain sight: A tale of trust and mistrust inside a community of Citizen Reporters

Mustafaraj, E., Metaxas, P., Finn, S., and Monroy-Hernandez, A. (2012) Hiding in plain sight: a tale of trust inside a community of citizen reporters [link]

“The rise of the Social Web has created a new outlet for staying informed: citizen reporting. The different social media and networking platforms, like YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, and Facebook allow everyone in the world to report in real-time what is happening in the place they live.”

“Anyone can be a reporter. However, this poses a new problem: how do we assess the credibility of citizen reporting? “

“When we read news, we usually choose our information sources based on the reputation of the media organization: BBC, New York Times, Der Spiegel, etc. We trust the news organizations, therefore we expect that their reporting is credible … (Baron 2005).”

“Citizen reporting lacks the inherent structures that help us evaluate credibility as we do with traditional media reporting. But sometimes, citizen reporting might be the only source of information. How can we use technology to help us verify the credibility of such reports?”

I couldn’t quite follow how the methodology produced a greater understanding of trust within that community but the article provided many useful ways of assessing Twitter relationships.

The idea of a social media user having gained trust is shown through how much that user is retweeted, linked to and how much content they produce, from what I gathered. The number of followers and followees are also an important criterion.

The authors write about the Twitter gardenhose and how it was accessed to find users as part of a community. Search (in 2012) could not return results older than seven days and it also could not return deleted tweets. So the authors found a particular hashtag, traced it back to the users, found their followers and followees, and then assessed the criteria and links, retweets, etc. according to that corpus.

The technique seems very useful in finding how information is spread and how much trust and reliance there is in certain users.


The technique is partially useful to me in assessing trust in a network of spreading information. However, because it is Twitter based, and my research seeks to understand how social media affects local political participation and knowledge — which can also be found outside Twitter — it doesn’t help me entirely. It’s a useful addition though.

Working differently

I haven’t published anything on the blog since May but I have done some work. This lack of posting does feel a little depressing as my intention had been to keep writing throughout. However, after a chat with Helen Kara today, I am reframing the way I see my work. I will be doing things differently rather than better from now on. If I write every week from this point on, it will be different from previously — not better. I haven’t been doing badly. Doing independent research while working full time and mumming full time is not so easy.

So between now and the next two months I’ll be working on my case studies, writing up the results and reflecting on my survey, and adding to my literature review.

Topics that have come up for me:


Citizen journalism and the effort required to build trust. A Twitter user recently wrote about a very obvious fact that struck me at how true it was. We can’t all observe, understand and know the world around us. We can’t be everywhere at once. We, therefore, rely on the media to interpret the world for us. They tell us what is true and what is important, what is news and what is not. That for me seemed huge in its importance. How can citizen journalists be in that position that what they relate can compare to what the mainstream media relate? How can they, we, be accepted as truth tellers? This is an obstacle that comes up for citizen journalists not just from the audience’s perspective but from the ones writing the news too. See Luce, Jackson and Thorsen (2016). It’s important to understand the “role in shaping journalistic identity and
self-empowerment” and “and overcoming fear associated with assuming a public voice”.

There is a truism that as an activist on the left — or anyone who works at writing about anything that is not the dominant narrative — has to work twice as hard. Mainstream narratives are accepted as given. There is no need to reinforce the idea of neoliberalism and austerity, for example, because they are the accepted truths.

Articles associated with this topic —

Mustafaraj, E., Metaxas, P., Finn, S., and Monroy-Hernandez, A. (2012) Hiding in Plain Sight: A Tale of Trust and Mistrust inside a Community of Citizen Reporters. Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence

“Is it possible for anonymous individuals to become influential and gain the trust of a community? In this paper, we discuss the case of a community of Twitter citizen reporters, located in a Mexican city plagued by the drug cartels fighting for control of territory. Our analysis shows that the most influential individuals inside the community were anonymous accounts. Neither the Mexican authorities, nor the drug cartels were happy about the real-time citizen reporting of crime or anti-crime operations in an open social network such as Twitter, and we discovered external pressures to this community and its influential players to change their reporting behavior.”

Basu, Laura (XXXX) Media Amnesia about the financial crisis. Basu examines the mainstream media’s coverage of austerity and notes how the dominant theme of austerity came to be accepted.

Luce, Jackson and Thorsen (2016): Citizen Journalism at the Margins, Journalism Practice, DOI: 10.1080/17512786.2016.1222883

“We analyse challenges they faced in this journey, including low self-esteem, physical health and mental wellbeing, the need for accessible and adaptable technology, and overcoming fear associated with assuming a public voice. We also analyse marginalised groups’ attitudes self-empowerment. Those who are marginalised are in the best position to use citizen journalism as a conduit for social change, we argue, though challenges remain even at the grassroots level to foster and sustain participatory practices.”

— Writing all these thoughts shows me how suitable they are for a chapter. When I look at my concept map of what I need to explore, this topic hadn’t even come up.

When life gets in the way

“Distracted from distraction by distraction”
― T.S. Eliot

strong coffee (series U)

I first wrote about researching my own PhD on July 27, 2019, nearly a year ago. What did I want to have achieved by the end of that first year? Had I given it any thought? I should go back and check really.

10 months on, though, I’m still here and feeling better about the research than I have had in a while. To clarify, I’d never felt badly about it but it had certainly felt like I wasn’t progressing much.

In the last two months, I’ve had two or three realisations and breakthroughs. After my last meeting with Helen in March, I knew that I wanted to write up my case studies properly so I decided to do some research. I bought Yin’s Case Study Research and its Applications (6th edition) and there made my first mistake. I decided to read all of it.

This doesn’t seem a particularly good use of my time in retrospect but I figured I would start from the beginning and carry on ‘reading all of it’ until I’d found the points that were relevant to me.

I don’t recommend this approach.

Work pressures meant that I had less and less time to read in that general-and-quite-broad way so, in time, I read less and less. Then the coronavirus lockdown hit and I had even less time.

Two weeks before my next scheduled meeting, I’d got no further in knowing exactly which theoretical parts I needed to quote and use. So I started writing up just to get the facts of the cases down on paper. As I wrote, I got a better understanding of what I had been doing and I was better able to see the gaps in my method.

The methodology has been as follows:

  • Write some stories (this is quite simplistic sounding but not in practice)
  • Note where they have been distributed and how they have been promoted,
  • Note the social media and readership statistics,
  • Survey Bristol residents and others to assess readership and reach,
  • Assess other demographic variables;
  • Construct a statistical model on the social media effect of local news while controlling for other variables.

I created a matrix of which stories I had written and could, therefore, track each one in terms of exposure and distribution to media and, therefore, people. The story writing is quite a time consuming process. Researching the stories about the mayor of Bristol and the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry took months, and is ongoing.

The matrix helped me see that I hadn’t used Facebook much in my social media promotion. In fact, in Bristol, there has been a bias towards Twitter for various reasons. The mayor himself, when referring to social media, refers almost exclusively to Twitter when it comes to criticism of him. He has called it ‘that Twitter nonsense’ and refuses to engage with those who he calls ‘trolls’. Part of that ‘Twitter nonsense’ effect is the outcome of the Bethel story I wrote last July. However, that story is not the reason why the mayor paid £90,000 of public money to scrape Twitter data and get monthly updates on what people were saying about him on social media. This story is also one I broke — it was about Impact Social.

There are two important elements to the case studies.

1. They make up the methodology of what I have been doing to answer my research question;

2. They provide the validity for my data collection rationale.

Survey and data analysis

The next part of the research, alongside the case study write-up, is to complete the survey, disseminate it, and then collect and analyse the data. The results from my data analysis should give me the information I need to answer my research question: what is the effect of social media on political participation in relation to, and compared with, local and national media.

I am still a bit wary of how I’m going to operationalise ‘political participation’. Can it be measured quantitatively? or will it need qualitative assessment?

It may be that it can be measured by assessing various means of political participation and seeing if these change over time. I will keep this in mind.

Literature Review

I also need to do the literature review. I had a real breakthrough while writing up the case studies. As I wrote, I went back to check my original wording for my research question. I returned to the output from the LitRev course and found my research outline and the research topic.

What I had been abbreviating as the social media effect on local news, had actually been originally conceived as “What is the effect of social media on [local?] political participation and knowledge, in relation to local and national media?”

I realised that it is better formed as follows: “What is the effect of social media on local political participation and knowledge, compared to local and national mainstream media?”

In practice, this translates to, “what would the effect be of relaying information about local politics if the media were either social media, local mainstream, or national media?”

Can we measure it?

The research method needed to translate this question into reality is for me a statistical model.


  1. Get a new book on case studies;
  2. Finish writing up the case studies;
  3. Finish the survey by adding in the further stories I identified;
  4. Publish the survey;
  5. Collect data;
  6. Analyse data.

The last three points are additional to the immediate actions needed but they flowed out as I was writing. I’m so excited about feeling that things are going right and that I’m on track and –importantly– I know what to do next.

Previously, I would feel that the LR was such a huge thing that it would overwhelm me. Once I’d written up most of my case studies though I felt that I knew which questions I needed to answer and how to look for those answers. I turned to a couple of articles on citizen journalism and was able to assess whether they answered any of the same questions I had and how I could use them. I didn’t feel overwhelmed.

I noted the references I needed in order to better understand the literature on ‘citizen journalism’ and I also found some useful research results from the articles, which help me validate my data selection reasoning.

Time management

It took two months to get to this point and it has taken nearly a year now to get to this stage of research. How does this all stack up?

Well, I’m not sure really. I have noticed my time usage cluster at the far points of my timescales that have been arranged to fit around my meetings with Helen. These are the only external meetings I have about the project. I get excited and re-enthused after talking to her, and I spend the new few days doing things. Then life takes over and I have to reprioritise so I can get paid work done; and then as time approaches for our next meeting, I do more work so I can have something to report on.

I would much rather have work done in shorter increments than two-monthly ones. I’m still working on this idea, however. The question becomes what slows me down? The answer is that being held accountable makes me work, and that’s what helps me progress my research. Life and paid work slow me down, and they can’t really be delayed.

So how do I increase my accountability?

I wondered whether having meetings more often would help but that wasn’t really practical. One other suggestion was to build up a network of similarly minded researchers. Getting a peer group and being able to exchange chapters and advice would be a help.


Find a peer group; find other researchers.


I’ve been both lucky and unlucky with the lockdown because while paid work has been scarce, it has given me time to research. That time has helped me realise I know what I’m doing and what I have to do next. I am very grateful to have found someone to talk to and while she just pointed me to certain things I needed to do next, having that assurance and the prompt for accountability has been a huge help.

I hope you’re all keeping well too. Until next time.

Accountability and surveys

[[What I should have posted in January 2020: As with any freelance work, it is the way we are accountable that helps us achieve things.

The way I keep myself accountable is by supporting Helen Kara through Patreon.

I had a meeting with her today and as I talked to her I realised what my next step in my research had to be. I had to do the data collection; the survey.

So that’s my next step. ]]

16 March 2020

And here’s an update on my accountability. Because I knew that I was meeting with Helen this morning, I set up a survey right at the last minute. I had been thinking about it for weeks, and had known what I was going to include for months. The first paper I read about the link between regional media and demographics had survey questions I wanted to include, and that was almost a year ago now.

That thinking and cogitating hadn’t translated to me setting up a survey. Meeting with Helen and having to explain my actions made me set it up. And I wasn’t doing it for her. I was doing it for me. I just needed that accountability to force me to act on something I wanted to do.

As I updated her on my project, I was learning about what I had been doing. It actually felt like learning. I realised that I had already written up two articles that were part of my PhD.

My topic is the media effect of social media on local news.

I have written two stories about events of public interest happening in Bristol but not being covered by the local media at all. I consider the local mainstream media to be Bristol24/7, BBC Points West/Radio Bristol, The Bristol Cable, and The Bristol Post. The reason why the stories aren’t being covered in the local media is another topic I want to examine as part of my literature review. They have been covered in other types of media: The Bristolian, and BCfm.

One article was written in July 2019 and the other in March 2020. There has been no coverage of either in the mainstream press.

The next stage is to survey people to see how much, or if, they have heard about the stories while noting that these stories are only available on social media and alternative press. The results from the surveys will provide the data for my research.

These case studies can now also provide text for the thesis.

I had been wondering how to write them up in the thesis and Helen mentioned writing them up as case studies. This is not just a simple matter of adding them in somewhere. There are certain ways of writing up case studies, and I have given myself two weeks to research case study methodology.

I will then write up my first one within two weeks after the research, and the second one three weeks after the first one. This gives me one week before my next meeting about the PhD.

I’ve been able to hold myself accountable, note down my progress, motivate myself –and get excited again–about what I’m doing, and set some deadlines for the next part of the work.

  • Survey ready and starting to pilot [23/03]
  • Case study methodology research [30/03]
  • Writing up case studies — #1 due [14/04]; #2 due [10/05]
  • Write up methodology update for Methodology chapter [19/05];

Update: mid-September

I spent a lot of time finishing the editing of a manuscript this week so I had less time to blog and research. I did achieve something significant, however, and that has opened up the level of access I have to information.

To take a quick step back, my inspiration for a while now has been Dr. Helen Kara who is a social researcher and blogs about her processes and career. This allowed me to ‘see’ in a way the kind of future that inspired me.

She wrote a while ago about how she joined the Social Researchers Association and how that provided her with access to EBSCO, which is a database of journals.

Throughout the literature review course I was doing, and which gave me a lot of inspiration and motivation as well, there was much mention of databases at universities where people could use keywords to search for articles and literature on their subject. As an independent researcher not affiliated with a university, I had no access to this. At the back of my mind was the idea of heading to a local university, UWE, and registering with them because they have a link with our public city libraries.

UWE is a bus ride away as it’s out of town. We do have a university right in the city centre and they are even currently building a £70 million+ library. They are not so sharing and caring with their resources, however. You can access their material by showing up and requesting a day pass. You will have to have ordered it online previously, wait for notification, hand over some ID and then only read it or photocopy it on the premises. You can’t use their computers.

I have accessed a couple of PhD thesis in this manner. But I need more right now.

So here comes the EBSCO reference from Helen. I checked how much the price for membership was with the SRA and joined up. It’s £60 a year for self-employed researchers. It felt a bit of an investment but £5 a month for access to knowledge is not too bad at all.

The second fluke of stumbling across information was on Twitter this early morning (2 am) and coming across Routledge’s ‘Trending’ series which is open access to December 31. It’s about social media and political activism, and that sounds like exactly what I need. It’s in sociology rather than communications or politics but still it’s an opportunity to discover my ‘colleagues’ out there.

The network of people and writing that I will be joining. My community, as such. Possibly a neighbouring commune of my community, now that I’ve taken a look at the themes being addressed. It’s still helpful though.

Literature Review — Outline

  1. Trolls, echo chambers, misogynism, abuse of politicians and d*ick pics are some of the worst elements of social media. But is that all there is to this platform?
  2. How are social media platforms used? What evidence exists of the number of users and different types of use?
  3. Who own the media?
  4. What types of political participation are out there?
    1. Ingleheart
  5. What are the various media effects on political participation?
  6. How do we measure media effects?
  7. How do we evaluate political participation?
  8. Amongst all that, what is the specific effect of social media on political participation, and more particularly on local politics?

To be continued but this is my initial outline.



Key points

  1. Perception of social media as abusive and chaotic. Things go ‘viral’ and then are forgotten about.
  2. People are increasingly using social media to be activists and discuss local politics;
  3. Local news has had so many cuts that there are few sources left these days.
  4. There are local magazines and newspapers and regional TV so how do these news and information sources affect knowledge and political participation for local residents?

Media effects

Questions addressed in this section: what are the different types of media? what are the media effects of different types of media? what characteristics of people determine certain media effects? how can we measure them?

Info sources:  Ohme (2018); Bulhoun (2015); Dahlgren (2013); Brader (2006)

Key points:

  1. How media affects people;
  2. Politically informed citizens are more easily manipulated by emotional appeals than less involved citizens;
  3. The number of users on social media is growing. Corbyn’s success in terms of numbers is often associated with the rise of Momentum and their mobilisation of the ‘youth’ vote. How is that linked to social media usage?

Local political participation

This sections looks at the following: who are the people likely to participate in local politics and activism? what types of political participation exist?

Info sources: Scheufele (2002); Dahlgren (2013); Inglehart and Norris (2016); Olson (1965; 1971; 2000)

Key points

  1. factors that are related to citizens’ involvement in their local communities, awareness of relevant issues, and attitude strength on issues;
  2. “political engagement” is needed in a democracy.
  3. Links to one’s neighbourhood and social ties are a predictor of engagement in local politics.
  4. In his 1965 book, The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups, Mancur Olson identified the difficulties groups have in organizing to further their collective interest. Does social media make it easier for groups to organise and therefore solves the collective action problem?
  5. community members have an individual interest in abstaining from collective action and free riding on others’ contributions, but no benefit is produced if nobody participates. For example, marches, rallies or other awareness-raising activities to change entrenched social norms affect the social environment shared by community members whether they participate or not. This creates a temptation to let other community members invest time and effort. 

Social media

Questions addressed in this section: the power of social media; how is it used; definitions of the types out there and how many people use it; how often do stories get picked up by the press from social media? what is its role in informing local residents about local issues?

Info sources: Alterman (2011); Dahlgren (2013) Olson (1971)

Key points

  1. The internet has changed the prior one-way media information flow into one of greater two way political engagement. (Dahlgren)
  2. Does social media solve the collective action problem for ease of communication and coordination? [[is this relevant??]]
  3. What do people do on the internet in relation to local political activism?
  4. What effect does this social media usage/action have on participation? on mobilisation?


Key points

  1. Social media is a form of information transfer similar to news and media but it includes much interaction;
  2. Interaction provides its own reward, to an extent. More followers, more kudos, etc. This could be an incentive to solve the collective action problem. People may invest the time in producing reports and news articles and organising political activism because of the immediate benefit.
  3. The reach of social media users, however, is not as great as that of newspapers and other local media. So this work examines what is the reach and how many do get informed by social media?
  4. Certain stories get covered on social media that would not be picked up at all in the mainstream media. How effective is social media at promoting these stories and informing readers and users?
  5. How effective are companies like Cambridge Analytica at affecting what people think, as compared to say individuals who would not get any space to share their stories without social media?
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