New Discussion Paper

Pleased to share with you Eva Nieto McAvoy‘s and my study, ‘Assessing the impact of COVID-19 on the arts and cultural sector: British newspaper reporting of the Culture Recovery Fund,’ published by the AHRC-funded Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre (London: Nesta).

Here is the abstract:

This Discussion Paper presents the findings of a study examining British
newspaper coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the cultural and
creative industries (CCIs) from 1 January to 31 December 2020 (n.4,162). It
assesses the broad contours of this coverage before focusing on a pivotal week
– 3 to 10 July – where we find the highest concentration of items reporting on
the Culture Recovery Fund (CRF) and on freelancers in the arts and cultural
sector (n.215). We explore the following questions: (1) how are issues central to
the Culture Recovery Fund and freelancers framed / represented in the
coverage? (2) How is the government response to the crisis in the cultural and
creative industries characterised and responsibility attributed?; (3) what actors
(sectors, institutions, locations) are present in the coverage, which ones are the
key sources, and how are their views represented? We found that the framing of
the issues in news items mostly offered narrow parameters of discussion, proving
overly reliant upon official press releases, and affording space to a limited range
of voices.

Available for free here. All comments and suggestions welcome!

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New blog posts on Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) in the UK

Tom Chivers and I have published two new posts on the PSB Blog with the Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre (PEC) website (Nesta, London).

Chivers, T. and Allan, S. (2022) ‘Privatising Channel 4: The evidence behind the debate,’ 12 April, Creative Industries Policy & Evidence Centre. London: Nesta.

Allan, S. and Chivers, T. (2022) ‘Envisioning Broadcasting Anew: Responding to the White Paper on the future of UK broadcasting policy,’ 11 May, Creative Industries Policy & Evidence Centre. London: Nesta.

Please follow Tom and me on Twitter for further posts.

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New articles in The Conversation and

Chivers, T. and Allan, S. (2022) ‘BBC funding: licence fee debate risks overlooking value of UK’s public broadcasters,’ The Conversation, 19 January.

“The proposed two-year freeze in the TV licence fee has prompted a lively debate about BBC funding…

Here is a link to our (free) article, a version in The Western Mail, plus an earlier one (also free) published by CITYAM newspaper and website:

Chivers, T. and Allan, S. (2022) ‘In an age of Netflix, Britain’s public broadcasters must step up to the challenge,’, 11 January.

“The BBC has become a lightning rod for debate over the role of public service broadcasting and its role in our society. As the broadcaster prepares for its mid-term charter review and Channel 4 faces down the challenge of privatisation, we must re-evaluate how we look at the notion of maximum possible benefit to the public…”

Please see other Public Service Broadcasting research published by the Creative Industries Policy & Evidence Centre.

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What is the Public Value of Public Service Broadcasting?

Pleased to share a discussion paper Tom Chivers and I have co-written:

Chivers, T. and Allan, S. (2022) ‘What is the Public Value of Public Service Broadcasting?: Exploring challenges and opportunities in evolving media contexts,’ Creative Industries Policy & Evidence Centre. London: Nesta.

This discussion paper elaborates the concept of ‘public value’ to inform an evaluative
framework for examining public service broadcasting (PSB) in the UK, particularly with
respect to emerging debates on the future of policy-making in rapidly evolving media
contexts. We begin with a case study of the implementation of public value tests at the
BBC from 2004 to the present day, analysing how this strategic concept has
encapsulated a varying set of principles, regulatory objectives, political challenges
and economic pressures facing the UK’s largest public service broadcaster. Following
this, we offer a prospective typology of six values — social, cultural, economic,
industrial, representational and civic value — for defining and assessing the public
benefits of PSB within a new media ecology. In so doing, we discern various tensions
warranting greater attention in forthcoming discussions regarding a renewed policy
settlement for the UK’s PSB model.

Please click this link for a PDF copy. All comments and suggestions welcome!

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Today – 12 noon – Citizen journalism in China

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New article in Digital Journalism

Hoping you are well.

I’m pleased to say a conceptual article Chris Peters and I have co-authored has appeared in the journal Digital Journalism. DOI: 10.1080/21670811.2021.1903958

‘Weaponizing Memes: The Journalistic Mediation of Visual Politicization’

Chris Peters & Stuart Allan

This article develops the concept of “mimetic weaponization” for theory-building. Memes recurrently serve as identificatory markers of affiliation across social media platforms, with ensuing controversies potentially proving newsworthy. Our elaboration of weaponization refers to the purposeful deployment of memetic imagery to disrupt, undermine, attack, resist or reappropriate discursive positions pertaining to public affairs issues in the news. For alt-right memetic conflicts, impetuses range from “sharing a joke” to promoting “alternative facts,” rebuking “political correctness” or “wokeness,” defending preferred framings of “free speech,” or signalling cynicism, distrust or dissent with “mainstream” media, amongst other drivers. Of particular import, we argue, is the politics of othering at stake, including in the wider journalistic mediation of a meme’s public significance. Rendering problematic this contested process, this article focuses on Pepe the Frog as an exemplar, showing how and why variations of this mimetic cartoon have been selectively mobilized to help normalize – ostensibly through humour, parody or satire – rules of inclusion and exclusion consistent with hate-led agendas. Digital journalism, we conclude, must improve its capacity to identify and critique mimetic weaponization so as to avoid complicity in perpetuating visceral forms of prejudice and discrimination so often presented as “just a bit of fun.”

If you would like to read a free copy, please click here.

All comments welcome, of course (email probably best!)

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Deadline fast approaching for Future of Journalism conference abstracts

Sharing a reminder that the deadline for submitting an abstract to Cardiff University’s biennial Future of Journalism conference (@cardiffjomec) is this Friday, 5th March.

Abstracts as first author (500-750 words maximum), with no more than two abstracts in total, should be sent to the conference email address:

The conference, hosted by the School of Journalism, Media and Culture (JOMEC), will be virtual and held on September 23rd and 24th with ticket prices at £50 for the two days, £20 concessions.

The keynote speakers for this year’s theme: “Overcoming obstacles in journalism” are:

  *   Danielle K. Kilgo, author, researcher and the John & Elizabeth Bates Cowles Professor of Journalism, Diversity and Equality, Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota, USA.

  *   Gary Younge, author, journalist, broadcaster and Professor of Sociology at Manchester University, UK.

  *   Cherian George, author, journalist and Professor at the Hong Kong Baptist University’s School of Communication, Hong Kong.

We are delighted that a selection of papers presented at the conference will be published in special issues of international peer-reviewed journals, such as: Digital Journalism, Journalism Practice and Journalism Studies. Website link

Should you have any questions, please contact us at<> .

Our main twitter handle for engagement with the community is @foj2021<>. Details on the conference theme below.

Conference theme

2020 has been a year of unprecedented challenges and obstacles for journalism as an institution, and journalists as professionals. At the same time, journalism has never been more important. With audiences around the world urgently requiring reliable information on the coronavirus pandemic and major breaking news events, journalists have carried out their work under difficult and often dangerous circumstances.

In doing so, their storytelling has shed light on, and made tangible, the realities on the ground which would otherwise be inaccessible. Audiences, in turn, have altered their news-seeking behaviour and engagement with traditional and alternative media. Against this backdrop, news organisations around the world have had to operate with unprecedented agility and flexibility, changing their routines and practices to overcome the many obstacles thrown in their path. The Future of Journalism conference 2021 invites contributions that engage with the theme of “overcoming obstacles,” examining areas including, but not limited to:

Transformations in journalistic practices

  *   How have news organisations around the world covered the pandemic? What have been the major logistical and ethical challenges in doing so?

  *   How have news organisations managed the coverage of major events beyond the pandemic (e.g. the Black Lives Matter movement and critical race theory, and the US presidential elections)?

  *   How have news organisations responded to unprecedented attacks on journalists as professionals and journalism as an institution?

  *   How have journalists changed their working routines and practices given the challenges of covering the news in a pandemic?

  *   How has journalism fared in holding governments to account?

  *   How have the experiences of journalists varied across national contexts and types of journalism?

  *   How has journalism responded to embrace greater diversity and inclusion?

  *   How has journalism’s role changed?

Enhancing storytelling

  *   What new storytelling formats, techniques and platforms have journalists developed to cover the pandemic?

  *   What has been the role of emerging practices (e.g. data journalism, fact-checking artificial intelligence, constructive journalism) in shaping storytelling?

  *   Which theoretical approaches can help us understand changes in storytelling techniques?

Engaging and supporting audiences

  *   How has audience engagement with the news changed?

  *   How have news organisations responded to the “infodemic” of misinformation, disinformation and conspiracy theories? What role have social media played in this context?

  *   How have audience members changed their news-seeking behaviour?

  *   What have we learned about news avoidance?

Building resilience for the future

  *   What has been the emotional impact of covering news in crisis, and how can news organisations ensure support for the mental health of journalists in the future?

  *   How have news organisations maintained their commitment to longer-standing projects (e.g. investigations and experimentation) in the face of the pandemic?

  *   How have business models in journalism coped with the pandemic?

  *   What are the most promising avenues for financial sustainability in the future?

  *   What research agendas and theoretical approaches are most helpful to understand the future of journalism?

  *   How can practising journalists and academics strengthen their ties and work to better inform audiences?

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New article: ‘Im/partial inflections of 9/11 in photo-reportage’

The inaugural issue of the new journal Digital War, edited by Andrew Hoskins and William Merrin, is taking shape. It was kind of the editors to invite me to contribute an article:

‘Im/partial inflections of 9/11 in photo-reportage’

Abstract: Photo-reportage of the 11 September 2001 attacks represented a formative moment in the emergent visual ecology of digital photojournalism. In addition to throwing into sharper relief incipient technical factors being inscribed in refashioned protocols of form and practice, it signalled a disruption of corresponding professional boundaries, inspiring a more egalitarian participatory ethos to surface and consolidate. The influx of raw, typically poignant ‘amateur’ or ‘personal’ digital images, captured and relayed by those who happened to be in the wrong place at the right time, proved to be a precipitous impetus recasting visual truth-telling. In briefly assessing this inchoate moment of convergence in and between professional and civic repertoires of photographic documentation, this article argues its journalistic appropriation and remediation legitimated in/visibilities of othering that continue to reverberate to this day. More than a transitional point in the evolving reportorial commitments of photojournalism, the onset of this digitalisation of vision signalled an epistemic shift with profound implications for public perceptions of the ‘new normal’ of the US-led war in Afghanistan, and with it the moralising valorisation of perpetual militarism and its lived contingencies.

Allan, S. (2020) ‘Im/partial inflections of 9/11 in photo-reportage,’ Digital War, 1(1).

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New article – ‘The Visual Citizen in a Digital News Landscape’

Chris Peters and I have co-written a new article for the journal Communication Theory, published by Oxford University Press. Here is the abstract:

“This article’s contribution to theory-building focuses on the everyday circumstances under which journalism encourages a civic gaze. Specifically, it elaborates our heuristic conception of the “visual citizen” to explore journalism’s mediation of a politics of seeing, paying particular attention to how and why renderings of in/visibility signify varied opportunities for civic engagement within digital news landscapes. In recognizing a distinction between direct and virtual witnessing, it establishes a conceptual basis for an inductive typology delineating interrelated, potential citizen-subject positions across a continuum. Four such positions are identified and appraised, namely the visual citizen as: (a) news observer and circulator, (b) accidental news image-maker and contributor, (c) purposeful news image-maker and activist, and (d) creative image-maker and news commentator. Evaluating these positions in relation to their significance for visual journalism, this article aims to advance efforts to rethink the inscription of imagery in news reportage and its import for public life.”

Allan, S. and Peters, C. (2019) ‘The visual citizen in a digital news landscape,’ Communication Theory, Ahead-of-print. Doi:

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“Photojournalism’s 2020 Vision”

Happy New Year! I am pleased to contribute to 2020 Vision: Forecasts for the year ahead from Cardiff University School of Journalism, Media and Culture with this post:

With allegations of ‘fake news’ continuing to spark acrimony across the breadth of public life, photojournalism’s privileged status in the pictorial mediation of the world around us is increasingly open to question – indeed, some would say it is poised to unravel in the weary, cynical swirl of ‘alternative facts’ associated with a ‘post-truth’ society. Accordingly, this blog post aims to encourage efforts to revitalise the visual authority of the news photograph – and with it the photojournalist’s claim to reportorial integrity – in the search for positive ways forward.

In considering several factors at stake, it is necessary to first recognise the harrowing personal risks confronting photographers in crisis situations – professionals and ordinary citizens alike – striving to capture and record imagery of newsworthy significance. Acutely aware they may well be deliberately targeted in warzones, imprisoned for documenting human rights abuses or, closer to home, forced to cope with intimidation, legal censure or fear of arrest, she or he will likely set forth an impassioned defence for visual truth-telling in the public interest. Placing themselves in harm’s way to bear witness is a demand consistent with their role, particularly when media freedoms are being violated.

Turning to more everyday news environments, photojournalism’s once sharply cast priorities are blurring under intense commercial pressures, its social responsibilities in danger of succumbing to the chimerical charms of click-bait infotainment. To the extent an ethical commitment to dispassionate relay is deemed to be an impossible achievement, the professional may well stand accused of imposing a selective, self-interested narrative to advance a prefigured editorial agenda. Impartiality will be derided as a contrivance in the eyes of some, a deceptive pretence which fares badly when compared with the raw honesty of the smartphone-equipped amateur who happens to be on the scene.

At the same time, we are all too aware of how the shifting, uneven imperatives of a ‘photo-saturated’ lifeworld engenders its own perils, with the glut of compromised images streaming through social media feeds inviting a corrosive scepticism regarding what can be verified as credible or authentic. Familiar platitudes that ‘seeing is believing’ because ‘the camera never lies’ seem anachronistic, if not touchingly naïve, even when the ‘acceptable limits of Photoshop’ are being respected rather than transgressed. Meanwhile the algorithms driving sharing platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, Snapchat, Pinterest or Tumblr are inscribing new visual sensibilities, the participatory logics of which embedding an ethos of acquiescent consumerism over active citizenship.

Identifying these and related factors is the first step in reversing them. Quality journalism demands proper investment, yet most news organisations deny it the resources required to foster cultures of experimentation and innovation. This when public trust in ‘mainstream’ reporting appeared to be reaching a crisis point even before the scourge of ‘fake news’ rhetoric began contaminating perceptions. Photojournalism has not been immune from sustained criticism, making it all the more important lessons are learned (the partisan manipulation of visuals by the popular press during the recent national election campaign being a case in point).

Now is the time to create alternative conditions of possibility for new forms of dialogue and debate over how best to recalibrate photojournalism for a digital age. We need evidence-led analyses bringing together diverse, challenging perspectives to inspire progressive change. To rethink longstanding responsibilities will not be easy, particularly when engaging publics less inclined to believe photojournalism is fit for purpose than previous generations, but all the more necessary for its future viability in 2020 and beyond.

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