Review: Specialist Journalism, edited by Barry Turner and Richard Orange

by Tor Clark, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK

I used to get a cheap laugh from students when introducing the craft of specialist journalism by telling them amongst the scores of fishing magazines there was even one called Total Carp.

They loved the concept so much one group even brought me a copy at the end of their module. Imagine my amazement (and horror) on a recent visit to my local newsagent to find no less than seven magazines for our carping piscatorial brethren enticing me from the shelves. If I can buy seven separate (and there are probably more…) magazines about one fish, the era of specialist journalism is truly well established.

Now thanks to Barry Turner and Richard Orange we have a useful and interesting edited collection from which our students can begin to study this now essential part of any Journalism course’s curriculum.

The editors’ introduction provides ample evidence of the need for specialism and indeed its value in a journalistic market which forever moves from the general and towards the specialist platform, with the rise of specialist newspaper sections, specialist magazines and of course every type of digital specialist facility.

An impressive range of authors describe specialisms ranging from the areas we might expect – sport, crime, politics, war – to others which have more recently elbowed their way into the mainstream, environmental, media and wine, for example. Other areas covered include business, automotive, fashion, food, science, medical, legal affairs and travel.

Contributions are knowledgeable and interesting, if a little uneven between their approaches, some favouring a more sociological analysis and others offering more in the how-to vein. The hugely informed Paul Bradshaw, for example, offers excellent pointers on how to cover the media beat using the very latest and most effective technologies, as those familiar with his work would expect. Other contributors tend more towards talking about the legitimacy and impact of the specialist, rather than how they actually do their job on a day-to day basis. This is hard one for the editors to handle because on the one hand this text will be a real bonus to students looking at specialism for an essay, dissertation or research project, but students trying to find their feet and possible future career specialism might have liked more on what the day-to-day work of a specialist actually involved – contacts, research, diary, sources etc.

Chapters were also of varying length, which left me longing for more on political journalism, where, for instance, Kevin Rafter dealt very well with Westminster lobby journalism, but didn’t have the space to develop his analysis into the rest of the vast area of political journalism outside that narrow village, but Paula Hearsum had space to include lots of insider comment on music journalism, in a chapter likely to be well-thumbed by students.

Given editor Orange is well known for his own agency work, I might also have hoped he would have offered a chapter on news agency journalism, a much under-exposed area, especially in post-Leveson times, but he took legal affairs journalism as his brief instead. No problem in itself, but perhaps a missed opportunity – or better still maybe a starter for volume two…

So overall, this will make a great impact on journalism courses across the UK and fits in well with the way the industry and its study is going. It is an interesting and useful addition to the journalism bookshelf and the university library, and though I do have a couple of little gripes, in the great scheme of the value of this book, they are certainly nothing to carp about. Recommended.

Specialist Journalism, edited by Barry Turner and Richard Orange, published by Routledge, 2013. 216 pages. ISBN 978-0-415-58285-8; RRP: £21.99. 

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