Fake News and authority

Local news doesn’t have a ‘fake news’ issue so it was surprising to go to a Points West filming news anniversary and see them invite along someone from Cardiff University (they have an excellent media department) and Kerry-Anne Mendoza from the Canary to talk about the fake news issue.

Fake news is usually associated with fake websites or memes being spread across social media in the same way other news article are and, therefore, people believe them. [add definition]

In local news, there aren’t that many other news sources — certainly not enough to be populated by people spreading false messages. There is the Bristolian, which has been running and published for years — the writers are generally (always?) unaccredited and they attack power, which is the council and corporations in the city. They are often forceful in their language (euphemism for ‘swear a lot’) and their targets and topics are quite different to the mainstream local media (MSLM).

While the MSLM often report on stories by and about politicians, they report on senior officers less often. [Data on this would be useful]. The conflicts of interest or the story have to be quite dramatic — such as Colin Molton, the executive director of regeneration and growth being paid £1500 a day for an interim position. Even when the position was filled by a full-time employee, he is still on the payroll.

The first story, about his daily pay, was newsworthy — It may have made the front page. The second story about his continued presence, and continued excessive pay, has not made as prominent news. Issues to do with SEND payments and education, often need to be linked to something like a failed judicial review or a letter of complaint from a meeting against other officers.

On their own, these issues of highly paid senior officers and their failings are not deemed ‘newsworthy’. They are seen as too complicated to be covered easily and some local papers have no budget, others have reduced numbers of staff, and for others it just doesn’t come up.

Back to fake news, it was astonishing to have a program that finally had a chance to look at local news, giving so much of its time to issues that weren’t really part of the many problems that local media are facing.

Mendoza, the editor of the Canary was there seemingly as a way to be made an example of. One of the Canary journalists quite rightly at the time had pointed out the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg’s links with the Conservative party. His censure for not getting a quote from her really was a way of saying don’t raise issues about the establishment. The chair of the session, when introducing Mendoza, referred to her media channel’s ‘inaccuracies’. Instead of disputing it, she confirmed it and said we have dealt with it, apologised — or similar. Kuenssberg’s own inaccuracies in one of the most widely read media sources in the world — the BBC, never came up.

In the News at Six report, Kuenssberg said she had asked Mr Corbyn “if he were the resident here at Number 10 whether or not he would be happy for British officers to pull the trigger in the event of a Paris-style attack”.

He was seen to reply: “I am not happy with a shoot to kill policy in general. I think that is quite dangerous and I think can often be counter-productive.”

The BBC report faked an answer to a question from Kuenssberg, which had been given to a different question. This is quite clearly fake news but would never be labelled as such.

Fake news in local media often comes from the administration itself. For example, In replies [purportedly] by the mayor in public or member forum or in the chamber itself, inaccurate figures seem to be repeated with no censure.

In a question about local democracy, the mayor refers to the arena project he cancelled as “a situation that would have exposed BCC to £160m worth of debt.”

The Value for Money report that the council and tax payers payed £100,000 for, states the following about the arena costs:

“We note there is no ongoing revenue cost for the Council:

There is “a total estimated cost (excluding land contribution and car parking) to develop the Arena of £156.3m”

£53m of that cost come from south west LEP as a grant. £65.6m would come from the public works loan board.

“After BCC’s own capital contributions of £38.4m, including land of £12.5m and the borrowing costs associated with the PWLB lending are factored in the Arena delivers a small nominal terms surplus of £1.3m in BCC’s own financial projections.”

The figures to justify the mayor’s claim of being ‘exposed to’ £160m debt do not seem to be in the VFM report that Bristol tax payers paid for.

What has come up is the next project for which the administration has lined up the land at what would have been the arena. The contract with L&G guarantees 40 years of office rents and a 250 year lease of the land. There has also been no procurement process.

Next: fake news about streelights

See about MPs campaign for media literacy: [link]

Following up on literature and trolling

As mentioned in one of my previous articles, the mayor has a declared policy of ‘not engaging’ with the ‘trolls’, which doesn’t seem to include not calling people trolls, as he is alleged to have done.

He has allegedly called activists or people who write opinion pieces in local media, trolls in public meetings, and at least in one case is alleged to have called a person a troll to their face in conversation with others.

Trolling comes up a lot in relation to the mayor because not only has he emphasised it, but he also paid £90,000 of tax-payers’ money to find out what people were saying about him on Twitter — mostly.

An example of how he refers to Twitter can be found in an interview he gave at Christ Church, Clifton. He was asked about combining his faith with politics.

As part of his answer, he said: “There was a discussion in my office because we did begin to get some heat, yeah. It was all Twitter and all that kind of nonsense about ‘look Marvin’s trying to introduce a theocracy.

I challenge anyone who wants to challenge me for engaging with faith organisations; well, you step up and offer the level of solutions that are being offered by the faith community. Then you’re welcome through the door. But if all you wanna do is come and moan, and make snide comments on Twitter, I ain’t got time to expend my emotional energy on that.

Interestingly, the issue of Rees’ involvement with faith groups or the way of running public services through volunteers and churches is not a topic that gets covered on the BBC or the local Bristol papers/magazines. It’s not seen as newsworthy presumably. [sources]

So while noting the purported lack of engagement the mayor has with ‘that Twitter nonsense’, the council pays £3000 a month to get analysis on what social media are saying about the mayor.

We can know that it’s information gathered about the mayor specifically because of the keyword search used. Further information is available in the following article [link].

Topics needing literature:

  • journalistic authority [see sources, find literature]

Bock, M (2011) Citizen video journalists and authority in narrative: Reviving the role of the witness. Journalism
13(5) 639–653

Access to the public sphere, however, is not equivalent to authoritative power within it. Citizen video journalists (VJs) do not have the power of news organizations behind
them, nor can they claim the authority of membership in a socially recognized interpretive community.

Unlike typical news websites, community video websites do not use balanced language or make claims to journalistic objectivity. Their purpose is to give voice
to new and discernible points of view (Coffman, 2009).

To claim authority is to claim legitimate power. In the public sphere, authority is claimed as a discursive power to make declarations: to name things, frame things, or present them as ‘true’. Journalism is a specialized discursive practice that presumes to tell the truth – that is – to act authoritatively. Max Weber (1947) identified three sources of authority: rational, (rooted in law or social sanction), traditional (rooted in established social beliefs), and charismatic (derived from exemplary behavior or heroic acts on the part of an individual). Carlson (2006) noted that conventional journalism can claim all three
legitimating dimensions.

Citizen VJs, however, cannot claim rational authority because they operate outside of, and contest with, conventional journalistic institutions. Because they challenge traditional journalistic boundaries, they are also unable to draw upon Weber’s notion of ‘traditional’ authority. All that remains for the citizen is the charismatic authority that rests in the individual.

how, in practice, is such authority claimed?

Two primary bodies of discourse can be identified: first, the discourse surrounding practice, and second, the products of that work.

professional journalists continually defend their ‘territory’ as cultural arbiters of truth through discourse about their
own work (Bennett et al., 1985; Carlson, 2006, 2007; Zelizer, 1990a, 1993). Studies of journalists at work find that members of the profession share an ideology based in the norms of objectivity and public service, and they delineate their territory through discourse regarding those norms (Carlson, 2007; Deuze, 2005; Zelizer, 1990b, 1993).
Citizen VJs similarly delineate their boundaries through discourse, but it is a discourse of contestation, of working as outsiders to ‘big’ or ‘mainstream’ media (Garcelon, 2006; Platon and Deuze, 2003; Rosen, 2000).

The second discursive arena for establishing authority lies within the stories themselves, which are the focus of this article. Here the everyday decisions for crafting a story
are elements in constructing authority: the choice of facts to include or emphasize, the choice of literary voice, the choice of quotations or soundbites, the choice of visuals and sound, and the employment of vocal narration all become part of the way a story represents the authority of its creator (Allan, 1998; Chatman, 1978; Hall, 1973; Knobloch et al., 2004; Montgomery, 2006; Raymond, 2000; Van Dijk, 1985; Zelizer, 1990a).

… matter of factual and self-assured, with little or no trace of self-doubt, emotionality or uncertainty about the material it presents. It conveys seriousness, and where appropriate, urgency and even light touches of irony. News talk is confident talk, secure in its professionalism.
(Dahlgren, 1987: 42)

Textual narrative theory notes that writers can assume various forms of narration, and that these choices change the audience’s perception of the identity of a narrator and
author: (Chatman, 1978, 1990).

Hiding the creator is one way to shore up the story’s authority, as the subjective nature of human choice is subsumed by declarative narration.

birdhouse on a pencil

Discourses of witnessing — eyewitnesses vs secondhand sources.

Only actual acts of physical viewing constitute ‘pure’ witnessing as conceived by Durham Peters (2001). Witnessing in its purest form is imbued with a moral imperative to give testimony, whereas mediated witnessing does not (Ellis, 1992; Sontag, 2003, 2004; Taylor, 1998; Zelizer, 1998).

Ethnographic part:

The analytical method was adapted from propaganda scholar Siegfried Kracauer (1947) and allows for the examination of the verbal text, the images, and – significantly – their interrelationships in terms of diegetic and mimetic dimensions.

professional journalists are presumed to have the authority to tell news stories; in contrast, citizen VJs must use other strategies for establishing authority.

  1. The literary voice becomes more fluid.
  1. The creator is more likely to be known through script and image.
  2. Testimony of witnessing takes a more subjective tone.

Using elite voices to claim authority?

Traditional journalistic narrative blends testimonies of witnessing with the language of objectivity. A reporter is expected to observe, not participate; to report, not feel.

video has long functioned as an evidentiary tool for activists, but it is fast-becoming a part of community organization strategy

[interesting point. Might this be a clue as to which methodology to follow?]

In the conclusion: Citizen VJs changed authorial voice in the middle of stories and they mixed performance and observation without explanation. Such presentations have come under fire by one Columbia Journalism Review critic for turning ‘even the most compelling footage into a mish-mash’ (Massing, 2009).

A more significant impediment to full participation in the mediated public sphere for citizen VJs is the matter of time and money.

One non-professional who runs a local news website in San Mateo was initially enthusiastic about providing an alternative to the mainstream, but quickly discovered that, ‘I wish I’d known how hard it is to do journalism well. I’ve now learned by doing it how time-consuming it is to report, write, edit and fact-check news stories with integrity’(Parr, 2005).

The democratization of video technology, therefore, is only part of the equation: without significant support and resources, it is difficult for the occasional, unpaid citizen journalist to consistently produce counter-narratives


Allan S (1998) News from NowHere: Televisual news and the construction of hegemony. In: Bell A and Garrett P (eds) Approaches to Media Discourse. Oxford: Blackwell, 105–141.

Bennett WL, Gresett LA and Haltom W (1985) Repairing the news: A case study of the news paradigm. Journal of Communication 35(5): 50–68.

Bird SE and Dardenne RW (1987) Myth, chronicle, and story: Exploring the narrative qualities of news. In: Carey JW (ed.) Media, Myths and Narratives: Television and the Press. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE Publications.

Carlson M (2007) Blogs and journalistic authority. Journalism Studies 8(2): 264–279.

Cook TE (2005) Governing the News: The News Media as a Political Institution. Chicago, Il: University of Chicago Press.

Deuze M (2005) What is journalism? Journalism 6(4): 442–464.

Garcelon M (2006) The ‘Indymedia’ experiment: The internet as movement facilitator against institutional control. Convergence 12(1): 55–82.

Glasgow University Media Group (1976) Bad News. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Hartley J (1982) Understanding News. London: Methuen.
Hess S (1981) Washington reporters. Society 18(4): 55–66.

Massing M (2009) Out of focus. Columbia Journalism Review March/April: 41–44.

Parr B (2005) Things I wish I’d known before I became a citizen journalist. Neiman Reports
Winter: 29–31.
Peters JD (2001) Witnessing. Media, Culture and Society 23(6): 707–723.

Platon S and Deuze M (2003) Indymedia journalism. Journalism 4(3): 336–355.
Raymond G (2000) The voice of authority: The local accomplishment of authoritative discourse in
live news broadcasts. Discourse Studies 2(3): 354–379.
Rosen J (2000) Questions and answers about public journalism. Journalism Studies 1(4): 679–694.

Sigal L (1973) Reporters and Officials: The Organization and Politics of Newsmaking. Lexington, MA: DC Heath and Co

Tuchman G (1978) Making News: A Study in the onstruction of Reality. London: The Free Press, A division of Macmillan Publishing

Van Dijk T (1985) Structures of news in the press. In: Van Dijk T (ed.) Discourse and Communication: New Approaches to the Analysis of Mass Media Discourse and Communication. Berlin: deGruyter, 69–93.

Zelizer B (1990a) Achieving journalistic authority through narrative. Critical Studies in Mass Communication 7(4): 366–376.

Zelizer B (1990b) Covering the Body: The Kennedy Assassination, the Media, and the Shaping of
Collective Memory. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Zelizer B (1990c) Where is the author in American TV news? On the construction and presentation
of proximity, authorship and journalistic authority. Semiotica 80(1): 37.
Zelizer B (1993) Journalists as interpretive communities. Critical Studies in Mass Communication
10(3): 219–237.
Zelizer B (1995) Text, talk and journalistic quoting practices. The Communication Review 1(1): 33–51.

Zelizer B (2004) When facts, truth and reality are God-terms: On journalism’s uneasy place in cultural studies. Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 1(1): 100–119.
Zelizer B (2007) On ‘having been there’: Eyewitnessing as a journalistic key word. Critical Studies in Media Communication 24(5): 408.

  • journalistic practice
  • how reporters understand the media spheres (Hallins) — do they even have a concept of it?
  • Are citizen journalists more likely to be aware of the media spheres because they are more likely to be participating in the ‘deviant’ sphere?

Sea-lioning and relationships — part I

Sea-lioning as a tactic by the council administration for dealing with criticism. To be followed up in part II.

I have written before about how official communications now make up a big part of the narrative found in newspapers and any media. Reasons for it can include fewer staff in papers, fewer staff in other other countries, cutting costs, a need for a simplicity in news since reporters often cover topics they know little about etc (Laura Basu — Media Amnesia; Hallins).

So what are the interactions with official businesses and authorities when you are a citizen journalist and aren’t part of the press conferences or on any mailing list with press statements? The comms team do not reply to requests made to the newsdesk so how do they interact?

To see this it is important to examine how information is found in the first place. Councils produce a fair amount of information as standard. [check legislation about the democratic requirements for councils and the council’s own constitution]

Each meeting has rules about which items go on the agenda, who allows them, how democratic services at the council are involved, how the public can interact and what information they can ask for.

There is also the freedom of information act and then recourse to the ICO with any complaints. The issue with these avenues is one of time. It takes time to make FOI requests and a very long time to hear back. The responses are meant to be made within 20 working days but I have FOI requests that have been outstanding for 6 months to over a year. The ICO then takes its time as well. One complaint lodged in April 2020 is still outstanding with them now in November.

The benefit of having access to the newsdesk is that when the council want to, they provide a quick response. Various FOIs of the internal workings of the council press team show that they can provide replies quickly.

One downside to relying on the administration’s (as it seems to be rather than the ‘council’s’ comms team) is that the veracity of those responses might not be complete.

In one example when the Bristol Post editor asked the press team/comms team about an issue concerning street lights being moved to rich areas from poor areas, the response came almost immediately from the mayor’s assistant and the reply was ‘fake news’. [foi link]

And this is all part of the reporter/comms team relationship. Other ways of noticing the social capital and connections between them is seeing the small niceties in the emails — tiny bits of information from ones social and daily life in between the ‘routine’ work questions.

Political editor: “Sorry, I’ve been suffering from a horrendous migraine over the past two days.”

Comms: “No worries. Are you feeling any better?”

These parts of the conversation are not only naturally arising because the people in conversation have probably been in touch a lot. These are social relationship skills that we naturally pick up. [see citations in transaction analysis]

But the pleasantries also help separate the requests.

  1. The niceties are who I am, we are fine, friendly, have a good relationship.
  2. When I ask work questions that may seem critical of the administration, It’s not personal, I’m just doing my job.

And it maintains a relationship where newspapers can get the information they need quickly and can go to press. There have been complaints from journalists about the council not replying and therefore the story not being able to be published. [two sources]

One way of dealing with this is to go to print and state the council have been contacted for comment. For some stories, however, this might not be possible.

The Bristol Post FOI had many interesting things in it but one that stood out was the quote provided by the council comms person very quickly, even when not required. It was a general quote so it may have been seen as trivial. But that compares to no responses at all from the comms team to citizen journalists like myself.

See below for the interaction.

Information and sources

Information Commissioner — very slow responses and a bias towards councils during lockdown (and at all times?)

Getting information from the council can be very slow. FOIs are meant to be answered within 20 working days but I still have some FOIs that are outstanding now for over a year.

The council ran one consultation for a too-short length of time to be officially called a consultation, for a project we couldn’t read the official report about and they wanted us to fill out the local plan consultation without reading the Arup report that advised them about a certain area — the Western Harbour. I have written about this before [link] but it’s useful to note that access to information is not given and is not a given.

The council paid £90,000 to gather information about what residents and the public in general were saying specifically about the mayor on Twitter. I discovered this in December 2019, wrote about it in February 2020. I put in a subject access request to find out what information the council held about me and they refused. In September 2020, the ICO told Bristol City Council that they had to fulfil my request. The council wrote and told me they would answer my subject access request but had identified 3.5gb of information so it would take some time. By November 2021 they still have not sent me any information.

Two issues that come up with this are

  1. Timeliness of news. When is news new and how long before it no longer has any purchase?
  2. The obstructive force of local councils and other government departments and officials. This plays into how journalists need to maintain some form of impartiality and friendliness even with communication officials.

There is an asymmetrical relationship at times between officials and journalists. The government/council officials can be rude, unhelpful, aggressive and defensive and yet the journalists have to maintain some form of politeness.

One part of this is about time. Journalists who have been in the job long enough see administrations come and go. New administrations come in and get reports written up [see Bundred but this is not isolated] about how bad the previous administration handled things. They then go on to handle things just as badly until the next administration gets voted in and they do the same.

Aggression in this current administration is particularly marked but it’s not only seen in the mayor but also in the staff at the council, and not only the comms team.

In one way, it’s handy because citizen journalists are perhaps not impacted as much by having access to public information. They don’t get the press releases or the zoom calls.

This then brings us back to how much the public information/official information serves to indicate to the public that the journalist has the authority to be writing about any of the things they do.

The other point about news is that there is a seeming bias towards simplicity (Hallins). One factor that reproduces this need is the staff cuts and the need for reporters at regional papers to write about many things and often without leaving their desks. The turnover is quite high, and the latest changes at Reach Plc, for example, show a propensity for centralising news and all local papers covering some of the same topics but occasionally with a regional slant.

One reason given to me by an editor of a regional magazine for why he couldn’t publish my article about the mayor’s faith advisor was that it was too complicated for their readers.

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. https://www.mediareform.org.uk/media-ownership/who-owns-the-uk-media

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 https://clarivate.com/webofsciencegroup/solutions/web-of-science-core-collection/

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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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.

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