County Magazines: pride, and a passion for print

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by Clare Cook and Catherine Darby, University of Central Lancashire


This article examines why county magazines are bucking the trend to online publishing by actively prioritising print products over digital extensions. The printed county magazine is proving buoyant despite widely acknowledged difficulties in the publishing industry as aspirational advertising still commands a premium. Content is engineered in a way that would not be possible online to create a utopian version of county life which is publicly consumed. This paper examines the capacity of the county magazine in print to create brand communities that flourish thanks to distribution and content which champions their readership. It uses case studies of county magazines in two neighbouring counties to analyse why their publishers see a bright future for print, and why they view as unimportant the challenge of moving their successful formula from the coffee table to the PC. There are nearly 300 county, regional and local magazines around Britain, with upwards of six million readers per month (Brad 2011), yet this vibrant sector has received little attention from academic researchers. County titles, with their high production values, aspirational content and positive local coverage, offer an instructive contrast to newspapers’ steeply falling circulations and profits. This paper examines the potential of county magazines to fill the growing void left by the negative crime and cuts fare of regional newspapers and offers insight into how their visual and tactile pleasures are not being translated to the fragmented virtual world of the internet. It also presents the opportunities afforded by county magazines to students as case studies through placements and employment in a diminishing local newspaper landscape.


This article examines why county magazines are bucking the trend to online publishing by actively prioritising print products over digital extensions.

This significant sector of the magazine market provides a useful counter-example when teaching digital journalism or discussing the decline of print journalism as the brand communities examined here can enhance students’ understanding of the business of the media industry, notably the role of advertising and development of brand extensions. As we argue below, they are a distinctive market, where the usual rules often do not apply, and can therefore be used in exercises on writing to meet the needs of a targeted audience, or feature writing and lifestyle journalism more broadly. As this article demonstrates, county magazines provide a stimulating case study of the challenges of translating successful print products into profitable online operations. Finally, county magazines offer opportunities for work placements, freelancing and even jobs. Students at Staffordshire University write, take photographs and design a double-page spread for a county magazine every month, to the mutual benefit of the students and the publisher, while eight out of 22 University of Central Lancashire magazine students 2012/13 went on 11 placements to nine county magazines and subsequently analysed them for their industry assessment

County magazines are part of a provincial magazine tradition stretching back to the eighteenth century. They developed into a format we would recognise today in the 1930s. The largest publisher of the genre was English Life Publications, based in Derby, which launched five titles in the 1930s and eight in the 1940s, including Lancashire Life. Many began as rather serious, scholarly publications, or aimed to promote economic develop- ment in their counties, but by the late 1950s most had embraced the consumerism of the post-war boom. In the 21st century the biggest player in county publishing is Archant Life, based in Norwich, which publishes a million copies of its 30 titles every month.

They are typically printed in full colour on glossy paper with features-led editorial content. Topics include people and places, natural history, the countryside, walking, arts and crafts, gardening, eating out, fashion, property and interiors. County magazines are distinct from lifestyle magazines due to the geographical focus of the content. However, where they have traditionally focused on the entire county, there is currently a shift to divide areas into smaller niches by either distribution models or content selection. For the purposes of this paper, this trend is known as hypercounty publishing.

County magazines have been the staple of newsagents’ shelves and coffee tables since their advent in the 20th century. In the early 21st century they are now also available to buy in print form at supermarket check-outs and garden centres, while some are delivered free to your door (if you have the right postcode). This article maps how county magazines are proving buoyant in print, capable of stepping onto turf previously dominated by local newspapers, and the challenges they face online.

The county magazine “is thoroughly middle-class yet rooted to place … Few other genres address the county as a geographical category, and county magazines contain useful information of a kind not found in newspapers” (Hobbs 2012, 26, 25). Unlike the eclectic national magazine Country Life, county magazines place “greater interest in people rather than things – buildings, antiques, animals and sport” (Hobbs 2013, 7). County editors cite this trend as evidence they are becoming more of a people’s magazine.

The market highlights the sense of place in a fascinating and neglected sector of magazine publishing. In 2011, the sector totalled 277 county and regional magazines across Britain, third in popularity behind leisure interests (421) and then sport (283) but ahead of women’s magazines (227) (Brad 2011). This multi-million-pound publishing genre boasts a monthly readership in the order of ten million.

However the county magazine sector remains an under-researched academic area with much of it biased towards exploring it as a celebration of county life (Colbeck 1993, 109) and as general constructs of the consumer magazine sector (Riley 1993, 25; Consterdine 2002, 21). Consterdine also asserts the importance of the county magazine as carrier of deep psychological values of self image within a “geographical boundary that is hallowed and prestigious” (19). In this respect this study offers a timely assessment of how county magazines are formulating their priorities in the digital age. Consumers’ demand for printed magazines has increased by 4.1%, according to a survey by the Professional Publishers Association (PPA 2010). The Publishing Futures survey, which asked 101 companies for plans for the near future, also found that turnover was predicted to increase by 6.8%, with print contributing 86% of total revenue for consumer publishers.

The success of magazines is maintaining reader engagement and loyalty by the quality of the content. Jann Wenner, Rolling Stone co-founder, told the US Advertising Age about the advantages of quality reads and design:

Magazines are going to do just fine despite the internet… Because there’s a real advantage to getting a print product and having something you can hold and that of course is portable and has a luxurious feeling and is comfortable and immersive (Ives 2011).

Indeed readers relate to print as “physical and aesthetic objects” offering a different experience and meaning (Ytre-Arne 2011). As Jane Reed, former editor of Woman magazine, noted: “A magazine is like a club. Its first function is to provide readers with a comfortable sense of community and pride in their identity” (Winship 1987:7). The idea of the club has been developed by Davidson et al (2007), who demonstrate that the similar marketing concept of the brand community fits magazines neatly. Their interviews and focus groups found that five factors strong brand image, hedonistic associations, established history, ability to be consumed in public and a competitive market – created groups of loyal readers among whom “the concept of imagined community is played out within the context of magazine consumption” (Davidson et al 2007, p219).

Abrahamson believes that magazines are a highly distinctive form of media, that what is unique to magazines is they:

not only reflect or are a product of the social reality of the times, but they also serve a larger and more pro-active function – that they can also be a catalyst, shaping the very social reality of their sociocultural moment (Abrahamson, 2007, 667).

It can also be argued that magazines do this in ways that other forms of media do not because magazines enjoy a unique closeness with their audience, their fellow members of the brand community.

It is this engagement which sustains the attraction of magazines for advertisers.

The magazine environment delivers a reader in the right frame of mind to be receptive to the advertising. In the sympathetic context of the right magazine, the strong positive brand values of the magazine can transfer onto the advertisements (Consterdine 2005, 6).

This is compounded by their tactility.

The design and feel of glossies connote luxury and pleasure, despite the fact that their sale price is relatively low. They have high production values – the heavy glossy paper from which they derive their industry-moniker enables the reproduction of sumptuous photography and graphics, providing the reader with a sensuous experience. The physical feel of these magazines and their visual layout offer pleasures over and above their use value in terms of informational content (Dyson 2007: 637).

However publishers are increasingly exposed and sensitive to wider changes in consumption options open to readers in the advent of online publishing, mobile and tablet. Taking all the above into account, this research assumes that the path travelled by online magazine journalism, although relatively short in time, has been intense in experiments with new genres and platform. This is further sensitized by a generally gloomy prognosis for the future of the print format evidenced by plunging national newspaper readerships (Press Gazette 2011a). The National Readership Survey to March 2011, for example, showed circulation falling by 12% for the Independent and the Financial Times and 15% for the Times.

Primarily, there has been a fundamental shift in publishers’ perceptions. As Dennis CEO James Tye said at the Publishing Expo in March 2011 (Cloake 2011): “We are not on the verge of change, we are ten years in. We don’t talk about print or digital any more – we’ve moved to a brand model. We think about total revenue and total profit from the brand.” Building on the database of end-users was identified by publishers as the most important digital activity, to increase revenues from digital ad sales, sponsorship and e-commerce. Brand extensions such as live events, data and reader services the province of county magazines are also expected to grow. Total UK online advertising spending surpassed £4billion for the first time in 2010, driven by social media, mobile and video ( Since 2008, digital revenue for Archant, Britain’s largest county magazine publisher, has grown despite the recession, and is expected to continue. The company’s magazine division, which owns Lancashire Life and other county titles, recorded a 3% increase in revenue to £44.9m in 2010, assisted by progress in subscription copy sales, up 9.9% in the year (Press Gazette 2011b).

This is in contrast to the revenues of county magazines’ print neighbours, local and regional newspapers. For the counties covered by this study, ABCs for 2010 show across- the-board falls: for Cumbria’s News and Star circulation was down 6.6% (to 10,849) and 6.2% (4,235) in the east and west of the region respectively in the six months to December 2012. The daily circulation of the Lancashire Evening Post fell by 15.3% (to 18,705) and the Lancashire Telegraph declined by 9.5% (to 20,076). Publishers have moved to close and merge regional offices, while some analysts predicted that half of all regional titles would close by 2013 because revenues would collapse by 52% (Guardian 2009). In 2011 Guardian Local announced its withdrawal from the local newspaper patch, after a two-year digital presence in Leeds, Cardiff and Edinburgh citing that the project was “unsustainable in its present form” (Pickard 2011). The crisis in regional news is blamed on the recession, a rise in online search advertising and loss of classified revenues, several structural factors including the take-up of broadband, local governments deciding in 2004 to cut recruitment advertising from local and regional papers and the Royal Mail ending the delivery of local papers. The sector has also been put under increased pressure from new start-ups and a growing trend towards hyperlocal journalism online, such as Ohsowe and Mytown, where user-generated content is mobilised around cheap digital publishing platforms.


Based on the context described above, this article focuses on the experiences of county magazine titles in the two counties of Lancashire and Cumbria in managing printed products and the potential for digital expansion. It does so by adopting a qualitative case study approach because of its value for obtaining a range of insights into how and why (Wimmer and Dominick, 2006; Yin, 2003). The titles in these two counties offer a sufficient range of competitors and new launches to provide a rich and engaging study both historically, between free and paid-for titles, and comparing county titles of different reach. The more industrial county of Lancashire has a population of 3.4million (ceremonial county, Office for National Statistics 2012). The predominantly rural county of Cumbria lies to the North and, with a population of half a million, is one of the most sparsely populated counties in the UK (Young and Sly 2010). The diversity of the sample was felt to enhance rather than hinder the overall outcome of the study as a direct comparison between titles was not sought. An appendix, detailing the print and digital activity, assesses the range and scope of content. This acts as a snapshot of trends in digital activity by county magazine titles.

By way of interviews with editors and managing directors, the study gauges elements common to many similar production methods and magazines. The semi-structured interview was designed with open questions in two halves (questions on the print product and digital extension), lasting around an hour and a half. Interviews were allowed to progress freely in order to explore a range of issues and stimulus to strategy, issues and activity. Notes were taken and responses written up. A quantitative assessment was also discussed with the interviewee to snapshot the activities being taken online. These were checked and explored online and collated into a spreadsheet in a way to complement the interview responses. Digital activity was categorized in four main ways: content on the website (blogs, photo galleries, video, what’s on, contact details and articles); activity on social platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, a newsletter, subscription available from the website); interaction (reader photos, reader posts, reader blogs, a digital edition); and advertising (display and classified). This acts as a snapshot of the digital activity by county magazine titles at the time of the interviews in 2011. The titles detailed in the paper are set out in the appendix.

A formula to capture the essence of county living

The Lancashire and Cumbria county magazine sector is currently experiencing mixed fortunes in print. Editors base this view on the profitability of the printed county magazine business model, but report that competition for advertising remains fierce while aggressive subscription offers compete for reader loyalty.

The representation of county life in a printed product works on creating a pertinence between aspirational content, readership and distribution models. The 150th edition of Cumbria Life, with its golden yellow daffodils and close-up image of an innocent spring lamb, encapsulates the heart of county magazines and their attempt to relate to readers: this is county life at its best. The iconic glossy cover photography in Lancashire Life of a dreamy rose-clad white-stone cottage baking in crystal blue skies is sensual and appealing. The cultural significance of mirror-glassed lakes or elegant churches appeal to the heart and soul, pulling on the tension of reality. County life here is versatile and resilient, warming and welcoming.

County magazines abound with feel-good images and stories; the content is conservative with a small c, and comfy. Much of the hard news world with its uncomfortable realities is excluded. “We are selling a dream. There are no homeless and there’s no AIDS,” said Anthony Skinner, editor of Lancashire Magazine. He added: “People want to be in a bubble. There is a large body of people who don’t want to read anything horrible. If we criticized people’s area they would be up in arms.” Content is carefully constructed around tightly edited flatplans to ensure the area in which people live is enhanced to be seen in a utopian light. The fine tuning through editorial processes and selection make for a leisure mannered read that is a marketing slogan for the county. Editors cite the need to create a brand that champions an area, creating a sense of belonging.

This is the world of ambassadors, charities and local heroes. From style, fashion, gardens and homes, cooking and history, the content of county magazines is brimming with the good life. Here the pages are filled with weddings, stories of local “do-gooders”, what’s on and events where readers can look for help in formulating their leisure time. Lancashire Life’s media pack extols the virtues of being “the authoritative voice of its people and an outstanding guide to its places. At its heart is history and heritage, reflected in beautifully crafted pages charting all the positive things happening in our towns and countryside.” Northern Life is “an ideal opportunity for readers to celebrate their northern heritage past and present”. Live Ribble Valley is “Lancashire’s premier guide to luxury living” while Carlisle Living has “style in the city, pride in the city”.

Like most consumer magazines, neither the free nor paid-for county titles make any serious attempt to tackle the hard news agenda of social or political issues, in contrast to local and regional newspapers. Content is designed to make areas look good and the people in it look good. The format is about flattery to the cities and towns. The content is centrally aimed at being engaging to local people and removing any national irrelevance, described by Consterdine as making “living where one does more significant and dignified” (Con sterdine 2002: 21). Editors repeatedly cited their primary role as creating a buzz or a vibe around the area, championing the glamour, the good and the gracious. In older parlance this is snobbery, but it is accepted more commonly now as aspirational content. County magazines’ brand community fulfills a different role from their newspaper competitors.

The editor of Carlisle Living, Richard Eccles, saw the positive filtering of content as a way of leading the area towards a brighter future:

You read Tatler society pages and it matches what we do. We have created a club that you want to be part of. There is still the kudos and stayability of being in the magazine in a way that having the picture in the newspaper used to be kept and treasured. This creates a sense of ‘missing out’ if people do not have a copy of the magazine. People love this in a way they haven’t felt about newspapers in a long time.

The construct here is not about falsifying editorial for fantasy but rather promoting areas for the greater good of the community and local business. Unlike online overload, content has been highly edited and selected. In addition to their traditional role as recorders of county life, its events and heritage, the county magazine is currently enjoying something of a revival as the content is steered towards people and people’s news. Editors cite the role as being more about “networks” and a who’s who, taking on the human interest stories in an empathic way.

Readers are often aware that a powerful filter of life in the area has been engineered. But the reader has a vested interest in the community, either through property ownership, children or grandchildren at school, or familial heritage ties. It is a world the reader wants to be part of and to believe exists. The readership of county magazines are almost exclusively ABC1 households, predominantly AB, often with a stake in the community be that from pride or practicality, with a broad age range from 25 to over 40: this is the world of village worthies.

Social photography is a significant means of fusing content and readership. This perspective gives an insight into how readers find themselves drawn into this world of aspiration: not only do they want to buy the print product to see their image but they want to be seen in a luxury product for all the prestige it can bestow. Professionally taken photographs of evening dinners, balls, races and proms perpetuate the virtuous cycle: the county magazine becomes the enhancer taking time and effort to get it right. Staff support brand extensions events which involve them in the community. In turn, the who’s who network is perennially strengthened when those who are featured are mums, daughters, grand-daughters, friends, colleagues, aunties.

The relationship between the reader and content is complex. Interaction with the print product is particularly evident in photographic contributions, with many hundreds of readers sending in pictures for reproduction in the printed magazine. However Lancashire Magazine editor Anthony Skinner noted:

It’s a bogus idea that there is interaction with the readers. They don’t want it. They want to interact with coming to events, wine, food, privilege cards – real life things not just ‘telling us what you think’ – they are not into that. They are an intelligent, engaged bunch but they are older and middle class people who just want to receive and luxuriate in it.

As well as reporting on society events, the county title is increasingly seeing itself as host. Staging Come Dine With Me events and networking dinners are further evidence of the county magazine’s buoyancy as community lead.

Letters to the Editor has long been a touch point between audience and print products but this content has been omitted in Lancashire Magazine and the Live series. Where it does remain, an engagement level of four or five letters a month (for a circulation of 25,000) is expected. The fact that letters to the editor are of little editorial value, often reminiscences of times gone by or an appeal for publicity of events, adds to Skinner’s argument that interaction is preferred when it concerns real life and people. Readers are relatively engaged with competitions and a county title with a 20,000 circulation would expect 400 entries to win tickets to flower shows or the theatre. They also want to send in photographs for the kudos of being published. However readers are less likely to respond if a reader offer is for a beauty treatment or holiday as they doubt the offer’s authenticity and suspect they will be sold out. According to Roger Borrell, editor of Lancashire Life, the reader wants to preserve anonymity in the first instance and will only reveal something of themselves if it complements the brand image.

The success of the county magazine is often attributed to its tactility and shelf life; the ability to return to the product. It has to feel good, be available to read with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine “in your armchair” and embody all that is luxury about its content. The print format is also noted as appropriate for older audiences who do not use online instinctively. While Lancashire’s county magazines have decreased the paper quality of their print runs several times over the decades (Skinner, Borrell 2011), editors still extol the virtue of a glossy, sensual experience. As such, photography and imagery feature heavily. Free county magazines such as the Live series are dodging the recycling bin because of the quality of the printed product. As Borrell noted: “I don’t think people in their fifties are going to be converted in a hurry and we have confidence in our product to weather out the changes.”

County titles capable of filling the local newspaper gap

In as much as county magazines work on connecting with people, there is evidence to suggest county titles are increasingly acting on turf previously owned by local newspapers. In terms of content, picture-led people stories, now the staple of county titles, were always the mainstay of a newspaper’s page three or page five. There is evidence of shared territory in what’s on pages, with different titles building guides into the unique selling point where appropriate (Northern Life claims to have the “north’s biggest what’s on guide” while Lancashire Magazine includes just two pages). The county magazine is also distinguishable by its picture quality and attention to detail. Editors argued that newspapers, no matter how hard they try with redesigns, colour and pull-outs, are a slowly dying format which fails to create a buzz. The longevity of the printed magazine and the social power of publicly reading it create an accountability that drives standards and quality up.

The amount of news content found in county titles depends on editorial decision-making and community need. Both the editors of free and paid-for titles expressed an interest in including news stories as representative of serving the community. RW Media’s Live Preston, for example, covers education and some news, “which is exactly what the newspapers used to do”, said editor Peter Holland. He added: “We are becoming more and more engaged with news because it needs to happen – no one else is doing it. There is a need, the goal posts have moved. We never set out to be so involved in the community but this role is coming to us as the newspapers aren’t doing it.” Lancashire Life has run successful campaigns (for example against pylons across an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) and covers public meetings “when local newspapers haven’t wanted to know” said its editor Roger Borrell. The title was also exploring the possibility of including hyperlocal content in print and online for affluent parishes and villages currently neglected in coverage by local newspapers.

However the agenda setting in county titles, as already stated, is a far cry from a news agenda followed by most town or regional news titles, where immediacy counts. While court, breaking news and town hall matters make newspaper pages, they are largely left out of the county title. Richard Eccles, editor of Cumbria Life, noted: “County mags are not all good news theory. It is not so much why there is so much bad news in newspapers as why there is so much boring news in newspapers.” In the case of paid-for titles, editors emphasise investment in journalistic quality as a mainstay for product value while free title editors focus on the balance between advertising and editorial.

Monetizing the printed format

The careful construct of positive content that heralds all that is great about county life not only appeals to readers – but ultimately to advertisers. Local companies, businesses and professionals want to be in the brand community. They want their businesses to be seen alongside positive feel-good content and in a product with longevity. Whether from the content, visibility in the community or distribution model, these titles are increasingly creating a community mentality: readers and advertisers want to be in the magazine and want to receive it. AB households are hard to get at but the county magazine offers the highest penetration (Walmsley 2011).

Unlike newspapers, county magazines do not claim to operate a Chinese Wall between editorial and advertising. They have become more aggressive in their commercial activities over the past decades, according to editors. This may be another example of how this print genre is more closely in tune with what readers actually think and feel. “If it’s about the local market, that ad becomes content to you,” said Matt Fanelli, executive director of digital media at Time Inc’s Media Networks Inc (emedia vitals 2011). The power of magazines’ seduction and engagement has long been demonstrated by advertorial, where the magazine journalist writes a promotional piece for a brand under a strapline clarifying this distinction for the reader. The print format allows for a blurring of boundaries between editorial and advertising as these features become increasingly sophisticated.

In the Live series, the traditional county-wide distribution has been broken down into quadrants in order to create closer links between advertisers and readers. In this new hypercounty model, advertisers are only included in the magazine if they live within a 30-minute drive of a reader. Equally, the free magazines are distributed in a demographic model deliberately to exclude CDE households and target AB readers. The strategy in print operates a similar business model to daily deal sites which offer time and place sensitive deals. The accountability is achieved by the real leads generated: “the measurability of impact in the magazine is that a restaurant is full”, said Live managing director Tedd Walmsley, who asserted:

We are transparent that this is advertising. We are not cheating anyone. We are out- punching our weight because we are connecting a hyperlocal product of advertisers and readers. This is distribution at the heart of the business model which just does not translate online, the finest tuning of demographic married to advertisers. We have volunteers delivering it, marching the streets identifying where it needs to be placed. We know from looking through letter-boxes if they have the best quality carpets or the noise of the mag slapping a marble floor. We don’t want them in the wrong houses or to have any lying around, it devalues the brand.

Using digital opportunities to promote the magazine brand is proving important when distribution models in print are becoming more aggressive. Supermarkets and other outlets are increasingly seeking revenue by striking exclusivity deals with county publishers. Lancashire Life paid a premium for exclusive distribution in the upmarket North West supermarket chain Booths.

County magazines: digital findings

This article has so far evidenced the qualitative responses from editors in how they construct reader loyalty around carefully selected content and deliberate distribution strategies. These strategies support a business model that aligns with aspirational advertising. While there are different modalities to creating a brand community, the county magazine connects audiences with their locality in a highly filtered and nuanced manner. It is a formula which has sustained county titles for decades and is also now providing start-up opportunities and the demand for placements and student employment.

Despite a growing trend for magazine companies to experiment with digital extensions, however, county titles have been largely slow to move online, seeing digital extensions as a bolt-on or byproduct. Resistance to publishing content online is born from a fear of cannibalizing the print product and its business model. Time and again, editors put priority on the tactility of the print product as a strong selling point of the county title. The physicality of a glossy, good-looking magazine is seen to go hand in hand with the user experience (see also Ytre-Arne 2011). The county magazine doesn’t translate online because it is the look and feel that count; it is holding it in your hand and seeing it on the coffee table, according to editors.

The quantitative assessment showed that of the magazines studied, all had a website. All the paid print titles offered some editorial content online, the standard being to link the reader back to print editions either for more content or to “continue reading”. Content featured in the print product had been consistently held back by a print-first strategy. There was limited evidence of exclusive online content but where this existed it took the form of behind-the-scenes features, social event photography and blogging platforms as interpublication updates. All the paid print titles offered a limited what’s on selection online. User interaction was evident in submissions for readers’ short stories, photographs and competition entries. There was little or no evidence of reader interaction via comments on content.

Where content was published online, county titles prioritised the availability of photographic hosting on their own site, although none appeared to use photo-sharing sites such as Flickr. Lancashire Life uses its home website as a platform for users to submit entries for photographic competitions, and for consideration in the print product, complemented with an interactive geotagged graphic to view photographs. The Lancashire Magazine is moving to exploit the unlimited space of online by hosting social photographs for which there is not enough room in the print product. Matt Lee, digital director at The Lancashire Magazine, wanted the website to be user friendly. “If the website is welcoming and friendly it means more people are likely to buy the magazine. It needs to add value to the print – whatever that is.” Richard Eccles stated the need to “dip our toes in social media” to amplify the vibe and use social media to promote the brand extensions, events and clubs, archive and pictures. The Live series would – if money was no object – be interested in drilling down into hyper-targeted content areas to offer different experiences to different groups of readers in tandem with advertisers.

Lancashire Life had by far the richest digital offering with a range of archived editorials, photographic features, blogs from members of the community and guest authors. Web-only content is on offer in the form of blogs and reader promotions. Seasonal publications are offered to subscribers as a digi-zine and sent out via email. However digital versions of archived editions were not supported on tablets in 2011. Digital extras are promoted in the print product: Twitter is mentioned each month, blogs every few months and web exclusive offers are promoted in print. The varied digital touch points set out above exist so as not to deny people a platform as the publisher also looked into the potential for an app as a way of reaching younger audiences. The capacity of reader take-up of these digital offerings, by way of numbers of entries or comments, was also cited as a sound way of gauging reader feedback.

Online activity, however, was focused on websites acting as shop windows to the print product. The URLs adopt all or part of the county magazine title with several being hosted on parent company content management systems, such as Great British Life or CN Group. Being associated with a larger organization presents operational problems as content has to be shoe-horned into a pre-ordained template which has often been constructed with newspapers in mind.

For most of the county titles, the website is primarily aimed at getting a name in cyber-space. This is proving increasingly important for referrals and a way for readers to find contact phone numbers. All the sites featured staff details and Contact Us headings in a prominent position with editors accepting there was “some value” in being easily found on search engines. Data capture was used by Lancashire Life and the Live series by way of asking readers to subscribe or register to the site or specific competitions. In the case of Live Magazines, the website has been deliberately stripped to little more than a Meet the Team page. All the paid titles offered online payment facilities for subscriptions except The Lancashire Magazine. The biggest challenge for Lancashire Life was the difficulty in keeping the site refreshed. Ventures into digital extensions were also acknowledged to be costly, without the confidence that the market exists.

There was a general feeling among editors of fear of losing readers to the web if all the content is available for free. In both paid-for and free county models, there is evidence of content being actively restricted to protect the print business model. In terms of brand-building on social networking sites, all had Facebook groups except the CN Group publications, with activity representing one per cent of total print circulation (Lancashire Life had the largest group with 550 friends while the Live series had the smallest at 45). On social networking site Twitter, Lancashire Life and Carlisle Living both use hashtags and conversation with readers including retweets, shout outs and direct messaging. However Live magazines and Lancashire magazine had broken or sporadic automated feeds, while Northern Life and Cumbria Life had no Twitter account. Where content is already available from social events on networking sites, this is seen as a threat. Richard Eccles asserted:

We need to protect the content. Facebook and the like have the immediacy and transience of the evening papers. That is exactly what we are trying to avoid, so being on those platforms is not necessarily a good thing. Unless you can preserve the quality online it is better off not being there.

The resistance to online innovation is also founded in a desire to protect the carefully edited and constructed balance that the print product can deliver. The construct of the brand community, as discussed earlier, is difficult to emulate online where no one person controls the medium. Where editorial filters can function in a mutually advantageous way in print, that complements both the hero ‘reader’ and the hero ‘area’, releasing content onto a platform driven by the mass is currently proving to be a turn off. Editor Richard Eccles stated:

There is a nervousness internally of putting ourselves out there to be commented on and discussed in terms of adverse comments. We cannot afford to have people who are in the magazine being criticized. We would have no control over the network and we don’t want to give the vocal minority a platform. Our brand is built on traditional editorial integrity so it worries me to build that forum. Even if we make it too easy for people to invite us to attend events we would often be sadly saying no to them because the event might not fit the brand and that would be even more damaging.

While editors cited resourcing as a barrier to developing digital offerings, all acknowledged the potential for using analytics and databases more fully for digital marketing tools and as a way of developing local discount vouchers to further mutually advantage advertisers and readers. Although, as an additional barrier, editors believed that asking for personal data in the county magazine sector would be greeted with scepticism by their readers, who are typically older and more ill at ease on digital platforms and wary of providing personal information.

There is a general resistance to digital extensions of county titles among editors and directors ranging from hostility to trepidation. Editors talk of a “suspicion” and “nervousness”. Anthony Skinner, editor of The Lancashire Magazine, asserted: “I am trying to ignore it. If people go on it, they are probably there by mistake. It is a bolt-on. I know bugger-all about digital offshoots. I have never been a gardener.”

Lancashire Life editor Roger Borrell believed that the rush from print to online is driven by a herd mentality: “‘Most publishers do these things because they feel they have to and are not quite sure why.” Of the management teams interviewed, all felt they did not understand why they were “doing digital” and any involvement with the online site was done wearily as an add-on, once other duties – perceived to be more pressing and of more value in terms of generating sales or advertising – were done.

This reluctance comes from commercial uncertainty. For advertisers, being in the magazine in its printed form is central to their objective of being associated with a glossy, luxurious product which is geographically targeted and filtered. This was further evidenced by experiments with video advertising packages at Lancashire Magazine which proved futile with advertisers. As Richard Eccles said:

It is print pounds and online pennies. There is no way you can get half a million pounds from digital entities. Someone from newspapers can’t understand why we don’t want this stuff. It’s that we don’t want to and we don’t need to – it is not what we are about, and they think we’re mad.

Tedd Walmsley added:

We have created a ‘you have to be in it’ mentality for advertisers, the club is so desirable that it leaves advertisers feeling ‘what does it say about me if I am not in it?’ No, you can’t replicate print online and we don’t want to, you can’t monetize it.


The purpose of this article has been to show how county magazines are bucking the trend of online brand extensions by actively prioritising print products over digital initiatives. It spotlights the unique selling point of printed county magazines as luxury, desirable items which are supported by a dual product business model. Editorial and advertising are being increasingly knitted together as part of a brand community, championing all that is great about a local area: commerce, heritage, activities and, most importantly, real people. It is worth noting that the production of these magazines and the willingness of the readers to buy into an idealized version of a popular county is a mutual partnership that has allowed older titles to survive for decades and new titles to be launched and survive. Editorial content is carefully chosen and crafted with high-quality photography, and this sits seamlessly alongside advertising. It is a successful, profitable marriage. These brand communities are formed through quality content capable of championing people and face-to-face networks.

Online innovation is limited because publishers and editors can see little financial benefit. Many of the personnel have worked in newspapers where they have seen huge resources devoted to online publishing with little financial return and the risk of cannibalising print readership. Where content is digitised, its main purpose is as a shop window or driver back to the print product, promoting either editorial content or simply listing the team producing the magazine. This offers an important case study for students into the business of media. Interaction is limited and in some cases actively avoided which acts as a subtle differential for students in their understanding of the complexities of online publishing. Where developments are proposed, these are to focus on data capture, using online as a way of extending brand interaction or offering business innovation. Future study of the county magazine sector longitudinally is recommended particularly in relation to evidencing sustainable innovation. The unique selling point of the county magazine –with its long history and aspirational content – for both readers and advertisers remains rooted in a desire to be in a brand community that luxuriates in the tactility of a prestigious glossy product.

Our thanks are due to Dr Andrew Hobbs, research associate at the School of Journalism and Digital Communication, University of Central Lancashire, and to the guest editors who gave up their time to be interviewed for this article:

Banks, Lee Loop Publishing at Northern Life Interview July 2011
Borrell, Roger Editor Lancashire Life Interview May 2011
Eccles, Richard Editor Cumbria Life and Carlisle Living Interview April 2011 Lee, Matt Digital Director Lancashire Magazine Interview April 2011 Skinner, Anthony Editor Lancashire Magazine Interview April 2011 Walmsley, Tedd Managing Director RW Media Interview May 2011
Holland, Peter Editor Live Preston Interview Clare Cook April 2011 

Games and feints as pedagogy: Using game theory and reverse logic to teach conflict reporting

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Complete footnotes, tables and bibliographies are published in the journal.

by Savyasaachi Jain, University of Westminster


This article presents a successful experiment in the use of two innovative pedagogic methods – game theory and ‘reverse logic’ – to overcome problems in the sustained adoption of good practices in reporting conflict during a workshop for broadcast journalists in Nepal organised by UNESCO and the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU). The article outlines how the strategy for using game the- ory and reverse logic was designed and implemented to allow discovery of principles and to promote longer term ownership of the journalistic values that are consistent with conflict resolution and peace-building. It goes on to describe workshop activities and relates them to issues in transformative learning and value education. It evalu- ates student reactions and engagement and the extent to which the use of game theory and reverse logic led to the adoption of desired values.


Inducing ‘deep learning’ of the values of good journalism to effectively bridge the gap between acknowledgement of their relevance and their sustained adoption in practice is often a difficult task. Among the many reasons for this is the manner in which these values are usually transmit- ted. To students in the classroom, guidelines and standards for good jour- nalism are often presented in a prescriptive manner, arguably leading to a ‘surface’ adoption that often falters in the face of professional cultures, practices and constraints subsequently encountered in newsrooms. Sim- ilarly, those who train professional journalists can meet with resistance when encouraging the adoption of codes of practice: prescribed stand- ards meet with active opposition both because they represent a criticism of existing journalistic practices and are seen to be externally imposed.

This article presents the results of an experiment with pedagogic approaches aimed at improving the coverage of conflict and post-conflict situations by Nepalese broadcast journalists. It centres on the use of game theory and ‘reverse logic’ to emphasise and in- culcate the values that underlie ‘good’ journalistic coverage of conflict and post-conflict situations.

The approach described in this article was adopted before and during an intensive work- shop conducted by the author in Kathmandu, the capital of the Himalayan country, Ne- pal, in November 2011. The workshop, titled ‘In-Country Workshop on Peace Building, Conflict Prevention and Conflict Resolution’, was organised by UNESCO and the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU). It was a five-day full-time workshop, with workshop activities extending to approximately 35 contact hours. The workshop was attended by 24 participants. Most of them were journalists, but the group included two camerapeople and two video editors. Three participants came from two privately owned organisations, ABC Television and Sagarmath TV; the rest were from Nepal’s two state broadcasters, Nepal Television and Radio Nepal. The participants ranged in profile from young reporters with a couple of years of experience to senior journalists, such as news editors with more than two decades of experience. The author was the sole trainer for the workshop. The work- shop was conducted on the premises of Nepal Television and its management took a keen interest in the proceedings; the chair of Nepal Television at that time, Balaram Timalsina, a former Maoist guerrilla commander, attended several of the sessions and also provided inputs.

The theme of the workshop – the role of the media during conflict and in post-conflict situations – was especially significant because of the long period of political and armed conflict witnessed by Nepal since the movement for democratic reforms led by main- stream political parties gathered pace in the early 1990s. From 1996 to 2006, the country was wracked by an armed Maoist insurgency that grew into a civil war. Even after the war ended in 2006, political conflicts continued to rage, resulting in the unseating of the king and the abolition of monarchy. As a result, what was the world’s only Hindu kingdom became a democratic republic in 2008. More than three years later, in 2011, several social and political conflicts were still being played out, manifest in the inability of any political party to form a stable government, the repeated failure of the constituent assembly to meet deadlines for framing a new constitution, disputes over the resettlement of Maoist guer- rillas, and developmental and social conflicts. Even though the civil war was over, Nepal continued to be in a state of political and social turmoil.

Almost all the participants had covered social, political and armed conflict in some form and were thus practitioners experienced in reporting conflict. Some of the participants had also attended earlier workshops conducted by international trainers as part of various media development initiatives, including workshops on reporting conflict. The challenge, therefore, was to deliver a workshop that built upon the participants’ experience, but did not disregard their social and political environment.

The workshop covered a variety of topics and themes over five days, including frame- works of understanding conflict; the role of conflict in society and individual lives; con- cepts of conflict resolution and peace-building; and the safety of journalists. A number of sessions were also devoted to discussing journalistic issues and practices, planning future coverage, reinforcing values, and developing conceptual and practical skills. This article, however, restricts itself to discussing game theory and reverse logic because they are examples of innovative pedagogical methods developed to encourage the adoption of specific journalistic values and approaches without being prescriptive. They were arrived as a result of a reflective process.

Reflecting on pedagogical challenges

The objectives and outcomes of the workshop were indicated in its ‘Terms of Reference’, a document agreed between the funding agency, UNESCO, and the implementing agency, ABU. The specified objectives included increasing ‘understanding of approaches the me- dia can take in peace building’ and ‘practicing these approaches’. The desired outcomes were that the journalists would ‘begin to construct their own approaches’ and ‘internalise the principles of playing a constructive role in a post-conflict situation’. This, it was ex- pected, would contribute to ‘increased quality of coverage’ (ABU, 2011).

In the light of these objectives and desired outcomes, both content and methodology presented pedagogical challenges; the former in the selection of journalistic approaches that exemplified best practice but were relevant to Nepalese broadcast journalists, and the latter by the search for an approach that would maximise and sustain adoption. Both these challenges were considered simultaneously.

The workshop’s title and terms of reference indicated that it would be appropriate to discuss the framework of peace journalism. Passionately advocated by Jake Lynch and Annabel McGoldrick (Lynch and McGoldrick, 2005; Lynch, 2008), it is based on the Transcend approach of Norwegian scholar Johan Galtung (Galtung, 2004; Galtung and Jacobsen, 2000) and is posited as an alternative approach to overcome perceived short- comings arising from the notions of objectivity enshrined in the norms of traditional journalism. Galtung, Lynch and McGoldrick characterise traditional journalism as ‘war journalism,’ that is, oriented towards war/violence, the elites, propaganda and us-them/ win-lose scenarios. Peace journalism, by contrast, is defined as ‘conflict/peace-oriented, people-oriented, truth-oriented’ and ‘solution-oriented’.

Peace journalism is often criticised for being more akin to advocacy rather than report- ing. Loyn (2007), for instance, considers some of its prescriptions ‘dangerous’ and strenu- ously opposes the idea that journalists should be ‘players’ rather than observers. Tumber (2009) describes it as being ‘a manifesto rather than a theory’ (2009: 395). On the other hand, Hanitzsch (2007) criticises it for being ‘old wine in news bottles’ and Kempf (2007) says it is no more than a ‘prerequisite of good journalism’.

This divergence of views about whether peace journalism embodies the values that un- derlie excellence in journalism or is antithetical to them captures the content-related chal- lenge posed by the workshop. It was clearly appropriate to promote some of the elements of peace journalism, including the ‘desirable values’ of emphasising fairness and accura- cy; focusing on peace processes, peace-building and structural underpinnings of conflicts; giving voice to the voiceless and ordinary people; and avoiding demonising language. On the other hand, it was imperative to avoid the traps of activism, interventionism, and the abandonment of the established traditional journalistic norms of objectivity and neutrality. This dilemma of deciding on a set of desirable values and other pedagogical challenges were resolved through reflective practice – the act of conscious reflection in a structured manner.

Many theorists have examined the processes of reflective learning, among them Kolb (1984), Boud, Keogh and Walker (1985), Boud and Walker (1998), Hatton and Smith (1995), Cowan (2006) and Brockbank and McGill (2007). Despite important differences in their approaches, they agree that the central concept is that of revisiting and analysing one’s own experiences, ideas and concerns in a structured manner. The explicit aim is to recognise patterns, organise ideas, seek meaning and find solutions that will lay the foundation for improved practice.

Moon’s (2006: 37) description of reflection as a ‘form of mental processing’ applied to ‘relatively complicated, ill-structured ideas for which there is not an obvious solution and is largely based on the further processing of knowledge and understanding that we already possess’ is, in hindsight, an accurate description of the process that led to the development of a pedagogical plan for the workshop.

Donald Schön (1991) structured the activities of ‘the reflective practitioner’ into ‘reflec- tion-in-action’ and ‘reflection-on-action’ (learning from the analysis of experiences and events while they are taking place and after they have occurred, respectively). A third category, ‘reflection for action’, is variously credited to Eraut (1995, quoted in Husu et al., 2008: 39) and Cowan (2006: 51–52). The preparatory process for the Nepal work- shop entailed reflecting on the experience of international journalism training workshops conducted in the past.1 These workshops included several on reporting conflict.2 Others focused on reporting HIV and AIDS,3 a theme which also encompasses strong elements of conflict manifest as discrimination and hostility.

Reflecting on past workshops also yielded methodological solutions. It led to the realisa- tion that it was important to avoid disregarding the structural constraints of participating journalists or disparaging their existing practices. The participants, especially the more senior among them, would likely react adversely to being told – in effect – that they were not doing a good enough job. It was easy to predict their reaction – self-justification and defensiveness would form a barrier to learning. The optimal way forward was to treat the participants as competent professionals doing a difficult job in under-resourced organisa- tions and demanding environments.

Previous encounters with journalists also indicated that prescriptive approaches would not be successful. Journalists are quick to question dogmatism if it is not backed up with convincing reason and prescriptive pedagogical methods could easily be construed as condescension and arrogance on the part of a foreign trainer. This would be a particular problem with peace journalism because of its doctrinarian dos and don’ts as well as their seeming conflict with established journalistic norms (see, for instance, Loyn, 2007). This perception also stemmed from the author’s experience of attending a workshop on peace journalism a decade ago.4 The author, though swayed by the approach, vocally challenged several aspects of the normative tenets set down by the activist trainers, Jake Lynch and Annabelle McGoldrick, in order to help spark further discussion and debate.

This was the basis for a conviction that the workshop demanded an approach that not only avoided being prescriptive but also precluded any opportunity for it to be considered so. The ideal solution would be to find a method that would enable participants to discover

1 The author has conducted about four dozen journalism training workshops in 15 African and Asian countries, including Nepal, over the past decade.

2 A series of four two-week workshops was conducted for ‘The EU-India Documentary Initiative on Diversity and Conflict Trans- formation’ a large cross-cultural documentary project implemented in 2004–05 by The Thomson Foundation. Thirty-two radio and tel- evision journalists from 12 countries produced 24 documentaries comparing the dynamics of social, political, religious, environmental and economic conflicts in Europe and India.

3 HIV and AIDS workshops for journalists were conducted in Bangladesh, 2006 and 2009; China, 2010; India, 2005–2006 and 2011; Indonesia, 2011; Macau SAR, 2009; Malaysia, 2011; Mexico, 2008; Nepal, 2008; Sri Lanka, 2007 and 2009; and Vietnam, 2009. 4 The workshop, ‘Reporting the World: The Role of Media Organizations and Journalists in Reporting on War, Conflict and Peace’, was organised in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, from 4–6 December 2003, by Reporting the World, TRANSCEND, and the Peace Action, Training and Research Institute of Romania (PATRIR). for themselves the values and approaches appropriate to their professional practice and environment. The trainer’s role would be to subtly facilitate the discovery of values that combined the best of peace journalism with traditional norms of objectivity/neutrality and emotional distance.

The adoption and internalisation of discovered values was another challenge. In terms of the notion of ‘deep learning’ developed by Marton and Säljö (1976a), this translated to fostering deeper understanding, more meaningful engagement and the development of critical faculties (as opposed to the ‘surface learning’ represented by a mere familiarisa- tion with best practices and frameworks of reporting conflict). Biggs and Tang’s distinc- tion between ‘declarative knowledge’ and ‘functioning knowledge’ was also useful:

Declarative knowledge is knowledge about things, expressed in verbal or other sym- bolic form; functioning knowledge is knowledge that informs action by the learner. […] When students ‘really’ understand a concept – as opposed to giving verbal defini- tions and paraphrases of it, important as these are in their place – they behave differ- ently, being able to carry out ‘performances of understanding’.

Biggs and Tang, 2011: 83

The workshop’s objectives would be met only if it was able to go beyond imparting de- clarative knowledge and was successful in fostering functioning knowledge of discovered values.

There are several debates around the teaching of values, going all the way back to Plato’s Dialogues, but contemporary discourse tends to be located within the disciplines of law, medicine and education. There are differences of opinion on whether values can be taught, whether teachers are competent to teach values and how values can be transmitted via a ‘hidden curriculum’ that is implicit but often not acknowledged (see, for instance, Har- land and Pickering, 2011; Lovat and Toomey, 2009; Halstead and Taylor, 1996; Garners, Cairns and Lawton, 2000; Bartlett, 1987; and Veugelers, 2000). Of particular relevance to the roadmap that emerged from the reflective process were the findings of Veugelers, who showed that students are averse to teachers who explicitly emphasise the values they find important; they prefer teachers who indicate the differences in various sets of values and indicate their preference for the values they find important in a more subtle manner (2000: 43–44).

Harland and Pickering (2011) describe values variously as the ‘underlying rationale’ and the ‘overarching concepts related to all our ideas’ (2011: 10, 51) (as an aside, though these two phrases refer to different directions – under and over – the idea is clear; they point to the surrounding conceptual framework and environment that guide the broad parameters of our thinking). Halstead (1996: 4) uses the term values to refer to ‘principles, fundamen- tal convictions, ideals, standards or life stances which act as general guides to behaviour or as points of reference in decision-making’.

In one sense, values represent a ‘threshold concept’ and ‘troublesome knowledge’. Mey- er and Land (2003: 412) describe a threshold concept as ‘akin to a portal, opening up a new and previously inaccessible way of thinking about something. It represents a trans- formed way of understanding, or interpreting, or viewing something’. Comprehending a threshold concept can lead to a transformation in how people think, and how they view a subject matter or the world, they say. A similar concept is that of transformative learning, whose primary spokesperson, Jack Mezirow, defines it as ‘the process of effecting change in a frame of reference’ (Mezirow, 1997: 6). The trick, then, lay in the method by which participants in the workshop could be helped to cross the threshold. Eventually, the option chosen was to minimise the use of the word ‘values’, but to concentrate on facilitating the participants in seeing new options, approaches and rationale and helping them make their own decisions.

In sum, the major pedagogical challenges were the need to: a) facilitate the participants’ discovery of a set of desirable values that were also appropriate to the Nepalese environ- ment; b) achieve deep learning that would be transformative and exhibit the use of ‘func- tioning knowledge’ of these values – that is, lead to their adoption, internalisation and use.

The pedagogical tools that were eventually employed – game theory and reverse logic – were a direct outcome of the reflective process. Game theory was chosen as the appropri- ate tool to facilitate the discovery of values, and both game theory and reverse logic were used to promote the adoption and use of appropriate values in a manner that would reflect in newsroom output.

Of the two, game theory presented greater possibilities of impacting the outcome of the workshop. It could be central, even a showcase tool that would help to define the nature and feel of the workshop. The choice of game theory was partly influenced by the fact that it is often used in peace and conflict studies to analyse options and strategic possibilities. Journalists, however, are seldom familiar with it. Many have not heard of it at all and there are few, if any, who use it as an analytical tool. Of course, it must be said that there is no real need for them to do so.

The use of game theory was planned in a manner that the participants in the work- shop would not be expected to fully understand its logical and mathematical intricacies; it would be used as a tool merely to establish the contours of conflict situations in broad conceptual strokes. It would be ideal for several reasons. It would have a novelty factor that would spur interest and capture the attention of participants, the first step to achieving deep learning. It would serve as a base for workshop activity, for presenting problems and puzzles that would help reap the benefits of a problem-based learning approach, lead to active involvement, and thus stimulate participants’ memory. It would lead to a basic – if distant – familiarity with some of the factors and conceptual tools used by experts who analyse conflict and its resolution; the feeling of growth represented by acquisition of this knowledge could potentially be motivational. Most importantly, game theory could be utilised to exemplify the importance of the role that media can play in a conflict.

Using game theory

Game theory came into prominence with John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern’s The Theory of Games and Economic Behaviour, first published in 1944. They described a game as any interaction between parties where the possible ‘moves’ for each participant can be identified and a set of ‘outcomes’ can be defined for each possible combination of moves. Game theory is used extensively in economics, political science, psychology, mathematics, logic and many other areas (including conflict studies, war and security, and even biology) to model scenarios and evaluate the relative advantages and disadvantages of different combinations of moves and countermoves.

Game theory can also be defined as the study of strategic decision making. It is predicat- ed on the ‘players’ being rational, being aware of the moves they can make, being aware of each other’s actions, and taking others’ actions into account when deciding strategy or making a move. Game theory is an involved logical – and often mathematical – exercise. Books on game theory can be full of abstruse diagrams and mathematical formulae. In- depth exploration of the subject was neither possible nor appropriate for the workshop in Nepal. The appropriate approach was to introduce the concept of game theory at a very basic level and use one or two games to further the agenda of the workshop, that is, to use game theory at a conceptual and logical level rather than at a mathematical level.

None of the workshop participants had heard of game theory. Thus, the first step was a short introduction of game theory (more or less along the lines of what has been encapsu- lated in the two paragraphs above). By the time the basic rules of game theory had been explained, bafflement was already visible on the faces of the participants and some of them were beginning to tune out, as had been anticipated. This was the right opportunity to segue into what is called an ice-breaker in workshop parlance. The planned activity was the game of Rock-Paper-Scissors.

Most of the group had not heard of the game, so it was necessary to explain that it is a two-person game where, on the count of three, each player brings forward a hand formed into one of three shapes, representing either a rock, paper or scissors. A clenched fist rep- resents a rock; an open hand with fingers held straight out but touching each other repre- sents paper; and a hand with two fingers outstretched and apart like a V-for-victory sign represents scissors. Scissors cuts paper, so a gesture of scissors wins against paper. Paper wraps rock and defeats rock. Rock, in turn, blunts and thus defeats scissors. The objective of the game is for each player to proffer a gesture and try to best their opponent. If both players make the same gesture, the game is a draw and the players ‘throw’ again. After a brief demonstration of the game, the participants in the workshop room were divided into pairs and asked to turn towards their designated opponent and play a few rounds of Rock-Paper-Scissors.

In a short while, the participants began to get the knack of the game, and soon the room was buzzing with activity and a sense of competitive excitement. This, of course, was a central objective of the exercise – to wake them up and spark interest.

After several rounds of the game, the participants were asked to reflect on the process they had used to decide their next ‘move’, that is, the process by which they arrived at a strategy while playing against their opponent. They were interested to know that national and international Rock-Paper-Scissors championships are held in several countries. The idea that someone might consistently score well in a seemingly random game to emerge as a champion was an intriguing one. The point that emerged, with a bit of prodding and facilitation, was that human players are seldom truly random in choosing a move, and that an integral part of trying to defeat an opponent in Rock-Paper-Scissors is to anticipate the opponent’s moves by trying to recognise patterns they were using. This exercise perked up the participants, got them involved, introduced them to the first level of game theory, and prepared them for the more challenging bits yet to come.

Further explanation about game theory in general terms followed, including how it could be made applicable to almost any human and social interaction where the outcome is a result of the combination of one’s own actions and those of others. These broad principles can be applied to situations and questions as divergent as crossing a road, the misuse or theft of public or common property, business competition, whether to join in group activ- ity, or whether to disarm unilaterally or not. The potential scope of game theory and its applicability as an analytical tool for a wide variety of situations came as an eye-opener to the participants.

The next step was to introduce Prisoner’s Dilemma, one of the classical games in game theory, which Hargreaves Heap and Varoufakis (1995: 35) say ‘appears to capture some of the elemental features of all social interactions’. In its two-player version, this game encapsulates a situation where both parties might win if they take a decision to cooperate with each other, but at the same time it explains why they might not cooperate even when it appears to be in their best interest to do so. A description of the game is:

Two members of a criminal gang are arrested and imprisoned. Each prisoner is in solitary confinement with no means of speaking to or exchanging messages with the other. The police admit they don’t have enough evidence to convict the pair on the principal charge. They plan to sentence both to a year in prison on a lesser charge. Si- multaneously, the police offer each prisoner a Faustian bargain. If he testifies against his partner, he will go free while the partner will get three years in prison on the main charge. Oh, yes, there is a catch … if both prisoners testify against each other, both will be sentenced to two years in jail.

(Poundstone, 1993: 118)

The outcomes are depicted in Figure 1. The first number in each box of the matrix shows the jail term for A and the second number shows the jail term for B.


 While formulating a strategy in response to the choices available to Prisoner B, Pris- oner A realises that the best option is to turn state’s evidence. If B were to refuse the deal (column 1 of the matrix above), A would spend one year in jail by refusing the deal but get away with no jail time by turning state’s evidence. Similarly, if B were to turn state’s evidence (column 2 in the matrix), A would again save a year of jail time by turning state’s evidence. Thus, the rational choice for A, whatever the choice made by B, is to turn state’s evidence. This is represented by the shaded row in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Preferred rational options for Prisoner A

figure2B refuses deal B turns state’s evidence


Similarly, the rational choice for B is to turn state’s evidence, represented by the right- hand column of the matrix – this shaves one year off B’s sentence, whatever the choice made by A. Thus, the rational ‘solution’ for the game is the intersection of the bottom row (A’s preference) and the right-hand column (B’s preference), that is the bottom right corner of the matrix, where both A and B turn state’s evidence. This is shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Rational outcome for Prisoner’s Dilemma


The point of this game was that a better solution was available, represented by the top left corner of the matrix, where A and B, both having refused the deal, would have received only one year each in jail (instead of the two years each dictated by the ‘solution’ in Figure 3). However, this mutually beneficial solution could not have been reached while Prison- ers A and B each separately rationalised their response to the other’s anticipated move. This, understandably, took the workshop participants some time to understand and absorb.

However, things became clearer when we moved on to a variation of Prisoner’s Dilem- ma, a strategy game modelled on the Cold War. It depicts two nations – or two parties in a conflict – which can choose either to acquire new weaponry or spend their money more productively.

Figure 4: Matrix of outcomes for ‘Cold War’

Figure 4


If both parties buy arms, they reach a military standoff, represented by the ‘0, 0’ outcome in the bottom right corner of Figure 4. If A buys arms, and B does not, A has a military advantage over B (represented in the bottom left corner by a 0 for A and a –1 for B). The top right corner represents the reverse of this situation. However, if both do not buy arms, they both have financial resources available to spend on other activities such as welfare or development, and both parties benefit. This is represented in the top left corner, with each party getting +1. This is the best possible outcome but, analogous to Prisoner’s Dilemma, it is ‘logical’ for each party to arm itself. This matrix was much easier for the workshop participants to grasp.

The participants were asked what they thought was lacking in each situation – what was it in each case that prevented movement from the mutually disadvantageous bottom right corner to the mutually beneficial top left corner? In other words, what could be added to the mix in each situation to reach a better solution? With a bit of prodding, the answers emerged, and it was gratifying not to have to supply them. The answers were: communi- cation and trust. If the two prisoners could communicate, they would have been able to ensure a better, mutually beneficial, deal for both of them. Similarly, if the two parties to the conflict could trust each other not to acquire weaponry and stick to a deal to this effect, they could both benefit from the resulting win-win situation.


From here, the next step was to ask the participants to think about whether they, the me- dia, had a role to play in providing channels of communication and building trust between different parties and, after a bit of deliberation, the answer was a resounding yes. This was a critical moment in the workshop, the moment that all the previous exertions were lead- ing up to. The participants began to think of how they could play a role in various social and political contexts, and what they would have to do differently. These elements were tackled in various other sessions, but it was obvious that a threshold had been crossed and we were at a transformative ‘Aha!’ moment.

This exploration of game theory was a gamble that paid off, which was fortunate because it was risky to have taken this somewhat abstruse approach in a room full of journalists. However, once the participants understood the basics, there were many aspects to discuss, ranging from the film A Beautiful Mind, which depicted the life of the game theorist and Nobel laureate John Nash, to using game theory to analyse the behaviour of drivers on Kathmandu roads. There was a sense of involvement and excitement, and the participants felt they had achieved something. Perhaps it was a sense of intellectual growth, perhaps it was a sense of inspiration, but whatever it was, it rendered the mood of the workshop decidedly positive.

Using reverse logic

The other innovative pedagogical approach used during this workshop is the one referred to in the title of this article as ‘reverse logic’. The term is used here to refer to the para- doxical approach of encouraging the adoption of best practices through the method of ask- ing participants to showcase bad practices. The credit for suggesting this approach goes to Will Whitlock,5 who conjured it up during a discussion while the author was preparing for the workshop.

The idiosyncratic thought of reverse logic struck a chord because past experience had shown that declarative knowledge of good practices does not easily translate to ‘function- ing knowledge’. It is suggested that one element responsible for this may be the fact that learning by example can be patchy. In an earlier series of workshops, the author real- ised that appreciation and analysis of good documentaries did not translate into improved documentary making skills. In that instance,6 radio documentary makers analysed the best of international documentaries during a workshop, but their own skills failed to show the expected improvement. This was an important lesson about the gulf between learning by example and learning by doing, or declarative and functioning knowledge, and it led to a change in teaching methods used in subsequent workshops of that series. However, in making radio documentaries, the question was one of imparting practical skills, which could be developed by closely supervising the performance of discrete production tasks. In the case of the Nepal workshop, the need was to foster the adoption of values rather than skills. It was possible to supervise the production of stories, but it was unlikely that it would be possible to cover the full range of relevant values whose internalisation was sought.

Social and cultural differences – including professional culture – were another reason for using reverse logic. Conflict has strong social and cultural roots and best practices in reporting conflict from an alien culture would likely fall on fallow ground, much as exter- nally imposed dos and don’ts would.

Asking participants to write reports that embodied the very worst practices they could think of was a successful experiment. It allowed a detailed critical examination of a larger range of issues and values than would have been possible with examples of good prac- tices. It also remained locally grounded.

In one of the sessions using reverse logic, a role-playing exercise was created around the deaths of four people in a hypothetical clash between Maoist guerrillas and the Nepa- lese Army in a remote village. Participants volunteered to play different roles – a local police official, an Army spokesperson, a shopkeeper who witnessed the clash, the family member of a villager who died, and a villager who was an active sympathiser of the Mao- ist guerrillas. Each ‘witness’ and ‘spokesperson’ was briefed privately about the kind of partisan, self-serving and obfuscatory statements they were expected to make, and asked to cast their minds back to situations they had witnessed as reporters to reproduce charged emotions and realistic touches.

The ‘witnesses’ and ‘spokespersons’ participated in a series of mock press conferences and interviews, with other participants playing the role of journalists. Those playing the roles of witnesses and spokespersons entered into the spirit of the exercise, making ar- dent pleas, outrageous statements and presenting biased and incomplete information. The ‘interviewers’ also played their role well, attempting to dig deeper and reconcile different accounts through pointed and aggressive questioning.

The instructions to the journalists were to write reports exemplifying as many bad prac- tices in reporting conflict as they could imagine. When they read out their reports, it was clear that they had managed to do a good job. Their reports included examples of misre- porting of facts, sensationalism, bias, incendiary language, inappropriate adjectives, cal- lousness and lack of sensitivity, highly opinionated writing, emotional appeals on behalf of one party or the other, and jumping to conclusions – in short, an eye-popping catalogue of how not to report an incident.

Although there was a lot of hilarity in the room when the participants read out their re- ports, the point was well made. It was interesting that there was no need to point out what was ‘good’ journalistic practice and what was ‘bad’; the nuances of this distinction were exercised by the participants with scarcely any prompting or guidance. When the session finished, many of the journalists looked sober and contemplative. It was apparent that this experiment provided a lot of deep learning that is likely to stay with the journalists.

Results and discussion

The two innovative elements used in the workshop – game theory and reverse logic – were central to the pedagogical decision to adopt a non-prescriptive approach, but they represented less than one-fifth of the workshop. They were supported by a host of activities in other sessions aimed at further developing the creative and critical thinking skills stimulated by the use of game theory and reverse logic. The participants were encouraged to analyse various journalistic approaches and paths of action that were available to them, evaluate their relative merits and demerits, make choices and justify them.

One activity analysed journalistic output by breaking it down into its elements. Each element was evaluated in terms of the conflict-sensitive (or -insensitive) values it exem- plified, a choice was made whether to keep, discard or modify the element, and then a revised report was presented to the group. Boden (1996: 6) defines creativity as the map- ping, exploration and transformation of ‘structured conceptual spaces’ (i.e., a discipline). As the conceptual space was mapped and explored in this manner, it also began to be transformed.

The critical and creative choices made by the participants were actively interrogated. Creativity has received far less academic attention than it deserves (Sternberg and Lubart, 1998); in the absence of structured approaches on teaching journalistic creativity, the workshop took the approach of examining the elements (and the sum of the elements) of the participants’ creative output. If creativity is conceptualised as a combination of nov- elty and quality (Sternberg and Kaufman, 2010: 467), the workshop concentrated on the quality element, while creating the potential for novelty.

Elsewhere in the workshop, care was taken to present a choice of frameworks and per- spectives, and the participants were encouraged to discuss their relative merits. In this manner, various international examples and debates were considered, including the em- bedding of war correspondents, news management by governments, the effect of media attention on a conflict, televised wars and revolutions, the ‘oxygen of publicity’ argument, ‘national interest’, and Martin Bell’s (1998) notion of a ‘journalism of attachment’. Lo- cal parallels and counter-examples were frequently sought and discussed to encourage engagement and to conceive of various creative and value-based choices that participants could make in practice.

Overall, the participants found these elements both interesting and relevant. This was apparent from their evaluation of the workshop. Of the 24 participants, 20 completed and returned the feedback form that was distributed at the end of the workshop. Some of them did so anonymously, while others had no hesitation in giving their names.

The questions on the feedback form required respondents to grade elements of the work- shop on a scale from 0 to 5. A score of 0 represented a negative outcome (no), and 5 repre- sented positive feedback (strong yes). The questions and the mean scores awarded by the participants are given in Table 1.

In addition to the questions that required a numerical score, there were some that allowed the participants to write short remarks. Some extracts from the responses to the question: ‘What was the most useful part of the training?’ are given below. It must be mentioned that most of the participating journalists do not work in English; their journalistic output is also in their first language, Nepali. However, their responses are presented largely un- edited because they adequately convey their meaning.

Some responses to the question: ‘What was the most useful part of the training?’

Camerapersons’s role for peacebuilding. Cleared the image about conflict in society and its management.

Analysing approach of conflict.
Art of finding common ground and analysing opponent’s mind.

Practical assignments were most useful. Trainer selection is right because he knows us and our culture problems, etc., very well.

We can change our perception and concepts. Way of positive thinking, how can we change concepts. It is always helps us in our professional life and our private life also. (Workshop participants)

Another question asked: ‘Will your approach change as a result of the training? If so, how will it change?’ All 20 participants answered this question in the affirmative. While some answered with a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘Yes, I will try’, many others, including senior journalists, were much more emphatic, using words such as ‘absolutely’ and ‘definitely’. Given below are some of the responses to this question, edited minimally:

Some responses to the question: ‘Will your approach change as a result of the training? If so, how will it change?’

Yes, it will change through confidence and communication. By applying knowledge of training in our daily reporting life.

Absolutely. I will not use sensational words in my news. My news from today leads to resolve the conflict, etc.

Generally we used to seek bad aspects of the story to create sensationalism. But this training taught me a lesson that even journalists are the part of society.

Ideas came in integrated manner. And they are systematised and I came to know what I’m doing and what I should do.

Sure change, because I working very carefully in future programme makings.

People in general are the most so let us consider them while reporting/ build up pres- sure to cover a balance reporting (in the newsroom).Yes, now I understand about a conflict. I can give resolution a conflict. It helps me not only in my profession but at society and home, etc. (Workshop participants)

Others clearly indicated that the ideas they were taking away from the workshop would be applicable beyond their professional activities. One respondent wrote: ‘Training is very useful for my life.’Another remarked: ‘It helps me to judge about the issue and solve them practically and easily. So it develops confidence of our inner power as well.’Another comment read: ‘We want additional training which can change our professional life and social life, too.’


The participants’ feedback established that the innovative pedagogical approach taken during the workshop had been successful in promoting deep learning, which was also transformative in many respects. The feedback underscored the conceptual growth the participants had experienced as they discovered a set of appropriate and desirable values through the use of game theory, and later adopted them in practice through activities such as those employing reverse logic.

The clarification of value structures or the identification and fostering of appropriate values is not an easy task, nor one to be undertaken lightly. Neither is this task free from the hazards of misdirection and even hubris on the part of the teacher or trainer. However, because so much of journalism is predicated on underlying values, it is a task that must be attempted, especially where journalism cultures and values are under social, political, organisational or market pressures. The pedagogical experiment discussed here shows that journalistic values need not be imposed externally as a rigid prescription. With ap- propriate facilitation, a viable set of values that is indistinguishable in most respects from the ideal can emerge locally. Local ownership implies both relevance and acceptance, and these are critical steps towards their sustained adoption.

This article presents the results of a process, but not a formula. There is no guarantee that a similar workshop undertaken by the same trainer with the same intent and approach will be equally successful. In a week-long full-time workshop, a lot depends on the inter- personal dynamics that develop in the workshop room. These dynamics affect not only the relationship between the trainer and the participants, but also the receptivity of the participants to the core messages and learning sought to be fostered.

The sustained and consistent application of the values discovered and adopted by the workshop participants has not been evaluated. At the end of the workshop, the author extracted a ‘promise of performance’ from the participants as a way of ensuring that the learning was put into practice. Some participants also maintained contact with the author on professional issues after the end of the workshop. The levels of motivation and owner- ship displayed during and after the workshop indicate that at least some of the values will persevere, but further research will be needed to identify which ones and to what extent.

However, it can be said that game theory and reverse logic present not only a potentially inspirational pedagogical approaches but also a viable preparatory tools. Even on relatively difficult terrain such as the inculcation of values and fostering of creativity, the elements of reflecting, evaluating alternatives, anticipating responses and strategizing an approach can result in an uplifting learning and teaching experience, of which numerous elements can reasonably be expected to endure.

The politics of Leveson – where are we now?

What a script! Political in-fighting, revolts within parties, criminal behaviour, late night deals over pepperoni pizza and Haribo, washed down with political threats and a final dash of sexual intrigue. You could make it up, but you don’t need to; once again the great British press has kept you shocked, scandalised and entertained all at once but this time about its own inside dealings.

Leveson 2: The Empire Strikes Back is now in full swing. The initial and swift rejection of Ofcom as a recognition panel led to weeks of relative silence as the publishers and their editors tried to swing deals behind the scenes that would launch a regulator partway between the present PCC and the Leveson recommendations and probably (judging on past performance) picking up the worst of both.

With proposals for statutory underpinning finding little favour with the Conservative part of the coalition government and Labour and Lib-Dems unwilling to risk the press wrath by going it alone, a Royal Charter has become regulatory weapon of choice. This is surprising bearing in mind that Charters are controlled by the Privy Council (essentially the Government as the Queen is advised by her ministers) rather than an elected parliament but then these are strange times. Initially the Tory element of the government wanted a Royal Charter that was not really worth the upset it was bound to cause. It would not have satisfied those who want strong regulation, for the very good reason that it would not have offered any, and would not have satisfied those who didn’t want regulation for fear it might, not that this has prevented its supporters, some of the key national publishers from springing it as a last minute counter-attack against parliament’s all-party version.

It’s worth remembering there are three main groups in this debate. There are those (ac- tually a very small number and not really organised) who don’t believe in any form of regulation preferring instead a rumbumptious and irreverent press determined to prick the pomposities of politicians. That’s fine in its way, and several magazines and websites do it well but it is not the style of mainstream of news-led journalism that concerns most people as Leveson identified when he argued that internet bloggers and websites should be allowed a free hand:

The internet does not claim to operate by any particular ethical standards, still less high ones. Some have called it a ‘wild west’ but I would prefer to use the term ‘ethical vacuum’. This is not to say for one moment that everything on the internet is therefore unethical. That would be a gross mischaracterisation of the work of very many bloggers and websites which should rightly and fairly be characterised as valuable and professional. The point I am making is a more modest one, namely that the internet does not claim to operate by express ethical standards, so that bloggers and others may, if they choose, act with impunity. The press, on the other hand, does claim to operate by and adhere to an ethical code of conduct.” (Leveson 2012: 737-8).

This leads us to the second group, which tends to include all the publishers. These believe there should be some form of regulation but get very nervous when the system suggested is not completely or largely under their control – hence their last minute charter snub to democratic government.

Then there is the third group who believe there should be regulation, that it should be as light touch as possible whilst still having sufficient teeth to curb the worst excesses of the industry.

It is this third group that is by far the largest and is certainly the most numerous in parliament. For this reason we saw the fascinating developments in the final days before the Easter recess with the Lords amending any Bill they could in the run up to the end of the parliament to include reference to a regulator. This put the Government on the spot, un-willing to present Bills now amended in a way they couldn’t support for the entirely justified fear they would be passed. In the end the Government in a literal 11th hour meeting with the opposition to draw up a Royal Charter that no-one really welcomed but all could finally agree to, taking them into parliament united against a press, which, despite pressurising Letwin and Cameron to opt for a Charter, was furiously outraged that parliament had agreed to one of their own. Not to be outdone, the Press then also produced a charter and so, like buses, you wait months for a one to arrive and then two come along at once.

So what do we get from a Charter? There has been minimal coverage about parliament’s charter in much of the press with some being downright duplicitous about it. A Royal Charter is a way of making group of people a legal entity. The other way of incorporating groups is by statute. Companies are incorporated under the appropriate Act of Parliament, for instance, while most Universities are covered by a Royal Charter.

This Charter (which has a safety clause preventing government from changing its terms without a two-thirds majority in parliament) sets up a recognition panel whose job it is to approve any regulator seeking to protect press freedom and to uphold press standards whilst allowing its members to benefit from protection against the costs and exemplary damages outlined in section 29 of the Crime and Courts Bill now just waiting a date for royal Assent.

The Recognition Panel, which the Charter says must be independent of the press and politicians, can offer recognition to any regulator that:

  • Has an independent board with no serving editors or MPs and a majority independent of the press but including sufficient with experience (former editors or journalism academics)
  • Offers advice to the public;
  • Provides guidance on the public interest;
  • Establishes a whistleblowing hotline for journalists;
  • Power to hear complaints about breaches of the standards code free of charge from those directly affected or from third party complainants concerning accuracy or where there is a public interest in the board considering a complaint from a representative group;
  • Power to direct nature, extent and placement of corrections;
  • Power to investigate;
  • Power to impose sanctions including fines of up to 1% of turnover of max £1m and power to instruct correction or apology. No power to award compensation;
  • Provide inexpensive arbitral process for civil legal claims that is free for complainants to use. Each party should bear its own costs.Its members should have appropriate internal governance process including adequate and speedy complaints handling, and membership open to all publishers with the possibility of membership on different terms for different types of publisher.The regulator (nor the Recognition Panel) would NOT have the power to prevent publication at any time.
  • Any recognised regulator should have a standards code that must take into account:
  • Freedom of speech;
  • Interests of the public;
  • confidential sources of information and rights of individuals;
  • Conduct, especially of other people in process of obtaining material;
  • Respect for privacy unless public interest defence;
  • Accuracy and need to avoid misrepresentation.The Recognition panel will be bound to report regularly to Parliament and should particularly report if the regulator does not cover a significant section of the press. The clear implication being that if a regulator lost one of the nationals as a member, parliament might act.The key differences in the Publishers’ Charter is the level of control the publishers keep to veto members of the panel, making the arbitration system optional (although the Crime and Courts Bill requires one), the exclusion of journalists from the Code Committee and the exclusion of a whistleblowing hotline for journalists forced to behave unethically.

    So what would happen if there was no regulator? The Crime and Courts Bill, is presently going through parliament and has been finally agreed, and is waiting only for a date for royal assent. This will introduce a scheme of exemplary damages for “relevant publishers” who are not members of a recognised self-regulatory body.

    If the defendant was not a member of an approved regulator at the time when the claim was commenced the court must also award costs against the defendant unless the issues raised by the claim could not have been resolved by using the arbitration scheme of the approved regulator.

    There is much concern amongst bloggers and others about their risk of costs and exemplary damages under the Crime and Courts Bill. The Crime and Courts Bill does allow for costs and exemplary damages but it is important to get these in perspective as exemplary damages could only be applied if the defendant:

  • showed ‘a deliberate or reckless disregard of an outrageous nature for the claimant’s rights’;
  • the newspaper deserved to be punished;
  • and other remedies would not be adequate.This is a pretty high threshold. However, it is the costs aspect that most concerns small publishers. Bloggers and small scale websites may well be able to claim it would unreasonable to expect them to join a regulator, which gives some protection in the Bill and

they could quote Leveson in their defence:

In contrast, the internet does not function on this basis at all. People will not assume that what they read on the internet is trustworthy or that it carries any particular assurance or accuracy; it need be no more than one person’s view. There is none of the notional imprimatur or kitemark which comes from being the publisher of a respected broadsheet or, in its different style, an equally respected mass circulation tabloid. (Ibid. 736-737)

Costs can only be awarded under the Crime and Courts Bill if the defendant is a ‘relevant publisher’ and was not at the time a member of an approved regulator.

Groups exempt from being a relevant publisher include:

  • The BBC;
  • Sianel Pedwar Cymru;
  • Licensed broadcasters publishing news-related material; special interest titles such as those relating to a particular pastime, hobby, trade, business, industry or profession, that only contains news-related material on an incidental basis that is relevant to the main content of the title;
  • Scientific or academic journals;
  • Public bodies and charities;
  • Company news publications and book publishers.We are all poised now with bated breath to see what comes next. Which Charter will be signed off by the Queen; parliament’s representing the will of the electorate or the publishers’, representing the will of, well, the publishers? Will the publishers set up a regulator and apply for recognised status, and if so, under which Charter or will they drop any attempt at regulation and take their chances with the Crime and Courts Bill? Will the regional press or magazines split off and form their own regulator leaving the nationals to deal with their own demons? Since the Bill without a regulator risks the costs being levied against a publisher for any civil action my guess is that Lord Hunt will soon have a short but unenthusiastic queue outside the PCC HQ seeking to join a new regulator and we will eventually have a code and body to explain to our students.