Rethinking the Sociology of News: Global, Empirical and Theoretical Perspectives
Special Issue Editors:
Hayes Mabweazara, University of Glasgow – Hayes.Mabweazara@glasgow.ac.uk
Catherine Happer, University of Glasgow – Catherine.Happer@glasgow.ac.uk
Manuscript deadline – 1 May 2022
Journalism studies is defined by and benefits from its interdisciplinary nature and broad scope of interests and priorities. However, one consequence of this is that the way in which distinct disciplines might differentially shape and bring value to our understanding of the field can be overlooked. A key strand of the current foundational critique of journalism was established and deeply rooted in the discipline of Sociology, which gave rise to specific concerns and approaches to understanding the ways in which news organisations manage the processes through which information is gathered and transformed into news and the pressures that encourage journalists to follow familiar patterns of news making. In the British context, the late 20th century was a particularly prolific period for the sociology of news in which the empiricism of institutional research centres such as the Glasgow University Media Group (GUMG) played a leading role in setting the agenda for journalism and media studies. The conceptual basis for such work was the understanding of journalism as embedded within systems of power (economic, political, social, cultural) and as institutionalised through everyday practices, shared beliefs, and norms. Methodological approaches which involved the analysis of production processes, patterns in content, audience reception and the formation of public opinion addressed the totality of communication systems with journalism and journalists as key agents in driving a range of societal outcomes.
The body of work produced by the GUMG in particular was influenced by the political economy of the media as represented, for example, by Herman and Chomsky’s Propaganda Model, ideas of media as cultural hegemony and the role of ‘primary definers’ in the work of Stuart Hall. Shared foci around journalistic selection, inclusion, and omission paralleled work in the US, including McCombs and Shaw’s research on ‘agenda setting,’ Robert Entman’s ‘media framing’ and David Manning White’s seminal ‘gatekeeper theory,’ among others. The importance of structures of ownership and control and the extent to which the broader ideological climate shapes the thinking of journalists also came to the fore. News production was also seen as a highly regulated and routine process shaped by organisational pressures, with very little acknowledgment of journalistic agency. For some time, this pioneering body of work collectively ushered in revolutionary approaches to understanding news as a historically contingent ‘manufactured’ product.
However, the complexities of contemporary societies and their media systems have increasingly rendered these early sociological approaches anachronistic, and in some cases, inadequate as explanatory frameworks for understanding the operations of journalism in the 21st century. The systems of power or ideological climate of news production have changed significantly and the field of analysis has expanded beyond a focus on the production of information flows and their impacts within Western economies. New political and social formations, including the complexities of increased globalisation and the emergence of multicultural citizenship have become central concerns in changing social and political contexts in which new global news players are emerging. At the heart of these changes are developments in digital technologies which have radically transformed the working practices of journalists and news consumption habits. The time is long overdue for revisiting early sociological studies and their deep-rooted Western-centrism which continue to define journalism studies’ key areas of inquiry and the field’s theoretical and methodological direction globally.
This special issue addresses the question of the continuing value of the priorities of the sociology of news and the importance of a sociological critique of journalism more generally, the dynamism and adaptability of its modes of analysis to different contexts, and the validity of the conceptualisations of power and resistance built into them. Themes and areas of particular interest may include:
· Emerging methodological approaches to studying news and news organisations
· Doing content analysis beyond mass media
· Conceptualising ‘media power’ in the age of big tech
· Constructing ‘public opinion’ through social media content production
· Agenda setting on social media platforms
· News values in non-Western contexts
· The impact of technological innovation on traditional sociological understandings of news production
· Studies that challenge and throw into question Anglo-American conceptions of news
· Changing connections between journalists and news sources
· Shifts in the culture and patterns of news consumption/reception
· The shifting nature of social class identifications and media audiences
· Contestable notions of bias and objectivity in the news media