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How community radio performs community identity

Patricia Cruz

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The study “‘Just like us’: community radio broadcasters and the on-air performance of community identity” by Bridget Backhaus from Griffith University looked at an understudied sub-area in community media studies: community identity. The study is situated in Australia, a country with rich and diverse scholarship on the topic. 

The concept of community is foundational in community media studies. This third sector of media is separated from state-run and commercial models by being run by and for specific communities. Communities here can refer to geographical, demographic, cultural or interest-based communities. 

The traditional understanding of the term community encapsulated geographic and interest-based communities, while the more modern interpretations include communities of practice, interpretive communities and online communities. There appears to be no consensus on how the term should be understood, while the emphasis on community is clear. 

Collective identity, in order to become salient, needs to be performed by the community. The perception broadcasters have on their audience affect how they perform collective identity, which then feeds community building and the effect of community radio itself.

A key notion to defining community in this context is social contact. Carpenter, Lie and Servais (2007) consider it a defining feature of community. However, there is limited social contact from the community to the broadcasters, as the former are often merely in the audience role. 

How then, is a sense of community maintained by the broadcasters? The answer may lie in the concept of imagined communities, as explained by Anderson (2006). Anderson argues persuasively that all larger communities exist in the minds of the members, as most have no contact with each other.

This study was conducted by using critical discourse analysis (CDA) on the broadcast content of ten Australian community radio stations that were transcribed for the analysis. They were all from the Brisbane area in Queensland. 

The findings highlighted the key differences between the stations and two themes were identified: commercialization and the performance of local. Half of the stations were rather similar to their commercial counterparts, closely echoing their repertoires. 

In the study, music was the main marker of commercialization. The four local stations under analysis all opted for a mixture of 70s and 80s pop with some more recent hits in the mix. The author suspects this is due to the older demographic of the stations.

The other stations under the study had a much more specialized music selection. 4MBS is a classical music special interest station, 98,9 played more country, while 96,5 FM played more family-friendly fare with religious songs mixed in. 4ZZZ had an eclectic playlist combined with news on the music scene, and Switch FM played almost exclusively new music from the last couple of years. 

It was shown that stations with more clearly defined communities were able to more effectively target their audiences with music selections, while local radio stations serving an area were closer to commercial channels. The tendency toward commercial selection is termed by Forde, Meadows and  Foxwell–Norton (2002) as ‘creep of commercialism’.

The sense of localness was performed in several ways. The first way was overt repetition and reinforcement of place. This was seen in traffic and weather reports and advertisements. However, in addition some channels opted to use phrases like ‘Narangba, this is your station’ and ‘Toorbul, this is your station’.

According to the author, this emphasis on the local reinforces the radio’s role as a rhizome in the community. For example, in discussing building a business, local businesses were mentioned. 

Despite this local focus, however, in majority of the cases the engagement with localness remained superficial, in the level of traffic and weather. Eight of the ten syndicated news services produced out of state or even overseas. One channel had their own news service and one had no news at all. 

The second area for performing locality was the on-air discussions that took place on the channels. Of course, stations that had a disembodied broadcast role were ruled out. Stations with more than one presenter performed better in this regard, but even with one presenter it was possible to have on-air discussions. 

In the conclusion, the author raises an uncomfortable question: if a local station shares “no local news, does not create space for community voices and discussions, and echoes mainstream content, is it a community radio station at all?” Nevertheless, the results do not entirely support this negative view.

Through mediated self-disclosure, the local stations manage to sound ‘just like us’ and thus reinforce their localness and community identity. They build relationships and camaraderie through the discussions. 

The study ‘Just like us’: community radio broadcasters and the on-air performance of community identity” by Bridget Backhaus is in Continuum. (free abstract).

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Journalism

Article: Trust and Journalistic Transparency Online

Patricia Cruz

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The study “Trust and Journalistic Transparency Online” by Michael Koliska from Georgetown University experimented on news consumers’ trust as brought on by transparency, and further, in the second experiment, explored the reasons for the findings in the first.

Transparency in journalism is defined as opening up the journalistic processes (production, decision making) to outsiders, i.e. making journalism more transparent. Karlsson (2010, 2020) further divides transparency into disclosure, participatory, and ambient transparency. 

Defining trust, on the other hand, in journalism has been tricky, as it has been associated with credibility. Kohring and Matthes (2007) define the four elements of trust: 1. trust in topic selectivity; 2. trust in fact selectivity; 3. trust in accuracy of descriptions, and 4. trust in journalistic assessment. 

This study recruited its participants from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk) platform. There were a total of 1092 participants. They were presented with a news story about nanoparticles – a topic that was unfamiliar to most and therefore had a low risk of partisan opinions. The article was presented in six different webpages that had differing transparency items in them.

There were 11 different trust items in the first experiment. Based on the results, the hypotheses were rejected. They were H1: A a) production transparency news item and a b) producer transparency news item will be trusted more than a non-transparent item. H2: A full transparency (both production and producer transparency) news item will be trusted more than a) a non-transparent article, b) a production transparency article, and c) a producer transparency article. And H3a: A full transparency news item will be trusted more than a full transparent article that includes biased information about the producer. H3b: A producer transparency news item with neutral personal information will be trusted more than a producer transparency article with biased information.

Nevertheless, the participants agreed that the journalist was trustworthy and that they sometimes trusted the news media. On results, it was speculated that the participants did not recognize the transparency features as cognitive heuristics and did not interact much with the transparency items. 

The second experiment was similar. There were a total of 379 participants, who were not the same as in the first one. They were assigned to read the same article as in the first about nanoparticles, placed again on five different webpages with varying transparency features.  

Further on, the participants were asked to recall the transparency features (such as hyperlinks, author bio, editorial explanations etc.) and to recall specific information from the article and the transparency features. 

The participants recalled items such as the photo (84% of the ones assigned to the webpage with a photo) only 34% could correctly identify the journalist. Similarly, 53% of those who had seen an editorial explanation recalled it, but only 26% could recall a detail from it. Participants also had trouble recalling the individual transparency features they were exposed to.

It was noted that the participants had better recall on items that were part of the actual story than the ‘digitally outsourced’ transparency items. It is possible that this information is not adequately processed or they failed to acknowledge the utility of this information. 

In conclusion, it still remains unclear how the link between transparency and audience’s trust is created. The question remains on whether news consumers recognize transparency features as markers of journalistic quality.

The article “Trust and Journalistic Transparency Online” by Michael Koliska is in Journalism Studies. (open access). 

Picture: scrabble tiles spelling trust by Ronda Dorsey.

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News ideology and media storms in France and Israel

Patricia Cruz

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The article “What Happens in the Eye of the Storm? News Ideology During Media Storms” by Doron Shultziner from Hadassah Academic College looked at the nexus of news ideology and media storms using two media storms to analyze the topic: the Yellow Vests Movement (2018) in France and the Occupy Movement (2011) in Israel.

Media storms are defined as events or topics that take up a substantial part of the coverage for a period of time. They typically peak after few weeks in the beginning and then begin to fade. They have been studied widely with various terms being applied to them like “media event” or “media hypes”.

In the past 15 years, there has been an increase in the amount of studies on media ideology. Measured against the hypothetical gold standard of pure objectivity, media bias can be seen when coverage varies from source to another in different weighings and so on, with professional considerations having been overtaken by ideological ones.

The ideology is often seen in framing – as in this case, left-wing media tends to frame the protests positively and right-wing negatively. This was one of the topics in this study.
There were two data sets for the study: the Israeli one and the French one. The Israeli dataset consisted of coverage from Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel Hayom, Maariv, Haaretz, Makor Rishon (a national-religious newspaper), and Yated Neeman (an ultra-religious newspaper). Israel Hayom, Makor Rishon, and Yated Neeman are right-wing, the rest are left wing.

The French dataset consisted of coverage from Le Figaro, Le Monde, Libération, and L’Obs – listed here from right to left ideologically. The articles from both datasets were coded either positive, negative, or neutral based on several criteria.

The results show that media storms are a multi-media phenomenon, affecting a number of newspapers at once. The findings also demonstrate a media bias: if professional considerations were the only thing that mattered, the coverage in left- and right-wing media would have resembled each other.

Instead, there was a trend of negative coverage in right-wing media and positive in left – and what is more, the lines of coverage moved to opposite directions, showing increased polarization. There were differences between the storms: in the Israel case the newspapers chose their sides early and there was no significant move, but in France the lines diverged as the media storm went on.

News ideology also operated through production bias mechanisms, such as sizing of articles or their placement in the newspaper (front page or somewhere else). Due to the differences of the two cases, the hypotheses regarding the decline stage of the storm were hard to assess.

The author notes that the study has implications for future research. It proposes that media storms may be high-risk events that even challenge the ideology and interests of the news organizations. As important, politically charged events become media storms, they may become political storms instead.

The article “What Happens in the Eye of the Storm? News Ideology During Media Storms” by Doron Shultziner is in International Journal of Communication. (free access).

Picture: Storm Approaching by Johannes Plenio @jplenio.
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Covering women’s sport: My sports journalism career highlights

Patricia Cruz

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There has never been a better time to work in women’s sport and for early-career sports reporters, the opportunities are endless.

Here, multimedia sports reporter Milly McEvoy shares how she has covered everything from the Olympics and Paralympics to international women’s cricket and football tournaments, only a year after finishing her sports journalism course.

In June 2021, fresh off finishing my Multimedia Sports Journalism qualification with in Manchester, I made the move down to London to join Sportsbeat as a reporter.

It feels like a lifetime ago, but what has come in between also feels like a blur – it has involved international rugby and football, the British Athletics Championships and domestic cricket and netball (and lots more) in person. 

I have also covered the Summer Olympics and Paralympics, Wimbledon, the Commonwealth Games, remotely and I have had the opportunity to interview sportspeople involved from the grassroots to the top of the game. 

On top of all that, I spent two months covering the Women’s Cricket World Cup in New Zealand. 

As I came to the end of my history degree in 2020, I already knew I wanted to be a sports journalist, but I started thinking about what form that would take. 

I quickly settled on women’s sport. 

I had always kept an eye on women’s sport, and proudly say the first sporting event I ever attended was a Women’s Euros football match in 2005, but my interest in sport came from what was easily available – and even two years ago most women’s sport wasn’t. 

2020 was a slippery slope to full-on obsession including listening to the 2020 Women’s T20 World Cup final on 8 March in the early morning on the radio. 

Even across the airwaves, the sound of 86,174 people packing into the MCG showed to me that there was plenty of appetite for women’s sport, people just need to be able to see it – and read about it. 

Fast forward two years and Australia were winning another World Cup, but this time, I was there to see it with my own eyes before heading to the press conference to speak with captain Meg Lanning. 

What had led to that point at around 9pm on 3 April 2022 was two months covering one of the most exciting tournaments cricket has ever seen, and I’m luckily not yet jaded enough to have cursed having to rewrite my match reports as momentum swung wildly in several games. 

I learnt so much from covering that World Cup producing over 120 previews, reports, reaction pieces and features, but my favourite one was the last thing I did in Aotearoa, speaking with a slightly hungover Grace Harris the day after she had won the World Cup. 

Having returned to the UK, I enjoyed a full circle moment in July as I covered the Women’s Euros, and just like the 2020 T20 World Cup, I watched from afar as 87,192 fans cheered the home team to victory. 

Except, this time I was writing the match report for the Lionesses and I couldn’t get into the Wembley press box because there were so many people eager to cover women’s sports. 

It feels like England’s win will be a turning point for women’s sport, one that is long overdue, and I am excited to be part of what is to come and grateful and proud to have been a small part of what has already been. 

You can find out more about our multimedia sports journalism course here.

For a taster of our award-winning journalism training, sign up for one of our free workshops here.

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