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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

shifts in the mediascape « Previous | |Next »
March 20, 2005

I started reading Catharine Lumby's Gotcha: Life in a Tabloid World on the way back to Adelaide from Canberra on the Thursday shuttle service. The text feels dated--1980s--despite its easy style and its successful bridging of the academic/popular divide.

The text is basically a defence of the tabloid world and a criticism of the elitist views of the old liberal quality media who see themselves acting as watchdogs for democracy. Lumby highlights, and defends, the television-style tabloid rhetoric--emotion over abstract reasoning, images over discursive analysis, narrative over analysis, entertainment over information etc. Lumby displaces high culture in favour pop culture, and she celebrates the diversity of voices, forms, readers and ideas created by the tabloid media.

Fine. We now live in a postmodern world where tabloid is everywhere, the old modernist values are crumbling, populism drives the content of showbiz politics and we are all fans of celebrities. The text looks old fashioned because it underplays the way the media landscape is changing, as the underpinnings of the old media order weaken. Some indications:

#the big mainstream free-to-air media is losing its dominance, due to challenges from the new media technologies of cable TV and the Internet.

# weekly magazines such as The Bulletin are declining.

#the understanding of journalism is changing as its classic definition of objective, neutral reportage gives way to the partisan politics (rightwing) ideology (free market + one nation nationalism) of Murdoch's Fox News and Australian.

This shift in the mediascape is more than tabloid versus broadsheet, television versus print. A new mediascape is in formation. This is going to be deepened and broadened by the forthcoming changes in media ownership.

Update: 21/2
Les Carlyon has an op.ed. on journalism in The Age entitled, 'The write stuff'. He says:

The main troubles with journalism are sloppy writing and sloppy editing, advocacy masquerading as reporting, gossip masquerading as reporting, stories that abound in loose ends and cliches, stories that are half-right, stories that insult the reader's intelligence..In other words, most of the problems of journalism are our fault. They're matters of craft, not ethics.

Carlyon, a former editor of The Age, says that the problems of journalism come from the inside not from outside.

The op.ed makes no mention of the way that the changes from reportage journalism to political weapon journalism are being driven by the new kind of media and the partisan practices currently exemplified by Murdoch. Carlyon's op.ed. also looks dated.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:31 AM | | Comments (2) | TrackBacks (1)

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» media & democracy from
I'm reading the last chapter of Catherine Lumby's Gotcha: Life in a Tabloid World. The chapter is entitled 'Media Culpa--democracy and the postmodern public sphere.' Tabloids promote democracy is her argument and she spells it out by criticizing a popu... [Read More]



Curious to know more about this blog and what the focus is. Your precis of my book is very simplistic - but hey, I tend to skim books when I'm on a plane myself - and thanks for reading it. For the record, I'm not actually arguing *for* tabloidisation - just examining the way a traditional liberal public sphere model is unable to account for the (often disturbing) diversity of voices and genres. It's a diagnosis - not a prescription. A small point - because I'm picky about details - it's Catharine, not Catherine. Thanks for your interest in my work.

I've changed your name. My sincerest apologies for getting it wrong. I'm not known for my attention to detail.

What can I say? I did link to a further post on (comments not working there) to show that I had continued to read your book to the end. From memory on this post I was referring to a particular chapter in your book.

Alas, I contined to read your book on the shuttle plane to and from Adelaide to Canberra. In my defence I can say that it is the only time I have to read outside of work. I no longer have the academic luxury to read books in terms of a close read.

I'm a simplistic kind of guy as I work as an advisor for Senator Meg Lees.

All I was doing was undermining the liberal broadsheet vs the conservative populist duality to explore the middle ground in terms of a shift in the mediascape.

I would stand by that. Another account of that shift.

The focus of the blog is public policy, given my job, and it includes media issues off and on.

Initially the posts on media issues were framed by the politics of the proposed changes in media ownership. That politics was (is) on both sides of the political fence and the lobbiests was premised on the modernist high (broadsheet) low (tabloid) duality.

I was uncomfortable with that frame as my experience of working on the internet in writing my blogs lead me to consider that the diversity of the internet needed to be bought into view.

I'm quite happy to turn over public opinion for future posts that give a much deeper and ongoing consideration of media issues than I am capable.