Review: Get Me A Murder A Day! A History of Media and Communication in Britain, by Kevin Williams

A classic from the Journalism bookshelf review by Tor Clark, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK

I have not selected this book as this edition’s classic text, my students have.

Get Me A Murder A Day is not the most in-depth, analytical or opinionated history of journalism available, indeed it’s not even a specific history of journalism, embracing as it does media and communication, including non-news broadcasting and cinema.

But year after year students find it and stick with it because they find it to be easily the most accessible and useful history of their subject.

And this is important because though lecturers see the value of studying the history of journalism as part of their degree, most students, if given a truth pill, would tell you this isn’t what they signed up for, it was the sexy stuff – writing stories, presenting shows and the buzz of bringing in the story – they wanted from their degree.

Author Kevin Williams seems to have written his now classic text with this in mind and I’ve lost count of the students who have told me how much they had enjoyed this book, often reading on way beyond what they needed for a specific essay or presentation. This book inspires students to get interested in journalism history, and in so doing allows them to appreciate the full context of journalism. That interest will develop through their degree, often concluding with a satisfying dissertation on a weighty historical topic.

Williams is an arch advocate of the importance of media history and has done much to raise its profile and inspire others. His later volume, Read All About It!, is an accomplished narrower history of newspapers, which is equally interesting. But it is as a first year-orientated introductory text that GMAMAD must be celebrated, with its logically divided chapters which must have helped form the parameters of dozens of Media/Journalism context modules in universities up and down the UK.

Williams’ style is to present key information in easily digestible chunks, typically around an hour’s worth of reading, arousing the reader’s interest with description and specifics of note, before offering useful and succinct analysis. He brings alive the importance, excitement and big personalities of journalism.

He is not as opinionated as other texts, which is useful for students trying to simply understand the landscape for the first time, rather than finding a detailed critique. We are fortunate to have Curran and Seaton’s Power Without Responsibility to perform that function and indeed a recommendation of GMAMAD, followed by PWR often forms the bedrock reading for a decent first university essay.

Williams updated GMAMAD in 2010, to take a much-needed look at standards and the digital landscape, but the original 1998 edition, which lines so many university library shelves, is still just as useful on historical content and so, happily, is not a first edition made obsolete by its successor.

The obvious drawbacks for journalism lecturers and students are the regular excursions into the history of cinema and other entertainment media, which disrupt the flow of the journalism narrative. But even that can be useful for students in setting some of the wider context of mass communications in the UK, and as this book is intended for this wider audience, it can’t be a legitimate criticism.

So here we don’t have the most critical or insightful journalism text ever written, but we do have the book which in its interesting style and accessible format provides the most popular available entry to the context of our subject and as the book that lets our students delve deeper into their new subject and inspire further inquiry, does both them and us a great service.

Get Me A Murder A Day! A history of media and communication in Britain, by Kevin Williams, 2nd ed published by Bloomsbury Academic, 2010. 336 pages. ISBN 978-0- 3409-8325-6; RRP: £21.99. 

Review: Magazine Editing in Print and Online, third edition, by John Morrish and Paul Bradshaw

by Jenny McKay, University of Sunderland

The range of books available to journalism lecturers to offer to students as reading has grown from zero in the 40 years since journalism was introduced into universities in the UK. Now there are scores of texts on news, broadcast and online journalism.

Most of these either guide the beginner in the ways of the craft or inform a reflective approach to the activities of journalists. Some of them even mention ethics – an idea that would have been laughed at in the past.
This is all to the good but the assumption still seems to prevail that news and news outlets are all that really matters when journalism is under scrutiny: few books, even today, are concerned with magazines.

This is as surprising as it is unfair given the significance of the UK’s magazine industry, or industries as Morrish and Bradshaw suggest is the accurate term. Publishing may have suffered because of the financial crisis and the rise of the digital universe but no one could argue convincingly the outlook for magazines is as bad as it is for newspapers. As the authors note: ‘In the decade since the invention of the World Wide Web, consumer spending on magazines actually increased by 48 per cent,’ and the UK’s publishing market is ‘one of the hungriest . . . in the world’.

Whatever the reasons for this unjustifiable neglect, the consequence is a dearth of books that focus on magazines whether covering journalism, design, careers, history or the perspectives of cultural theorists.
One of the few texts available (since 1996), is John Morrish’s informative Magazine Editing. For this welcome, fully revised edition Morrish has teamed with Paul Bradshaw to ensure there is comprehensive coverage of all things online to sit alongside other aspects of magazines such as writing, production, marketing and finance.

The book’s title implies it is aimed not at students or academics or even journalists in general but at the small band of those who edit their own publication or ‘content proposition’ as publishers now label what we used to think of as magazines.
It may be hard for devoted subscribers to think of curling up on the sofa with a ‘content proposition’ instead of their favourite title, yet those who work in magazines, teach about or study them, must keep up with the latest jargon and the thinking it exemplifies. This book will help them do that without overwhelming them with management gobbledegook.
So whatever its title suggests, Magazine Editing has a potentially wide and growing audience. It is, and was in its earlier incarnations, a valuable and thorough guide to all the aspects of publishing editors and their staff should know about.

When magazine journalism training was first formalised publishers said it was important for their editorial teams to have a sound understanding of the business aspects of publishing. That remains the case and is now reflected in the inclusion of ‘Business of Magazines’ as a topic in many university degrees.

For students on those courses this book offers a readable introduction to the industry so it should definitely be stocked by every library where magazine journalism and publishing is taught.
If I have a quibble it’s over the limited extent to which references are given. There are some sources listed at the end of chapters but probably not enough to satisfy the demands of a student essay writer. Editors though, the main target readers, should know where to check.

Magazine Editing in Print and Online, third edition, by John Morrish and Paul Bradshaw, published by Routledge, 2012. ISBN 978-0-415-60834-3 (hardback) ISBN 978-0-415-60835-0 (paperback) ISBN 978-0-203-80464-3 (e-book) 

Review: What Do We Mean By Local? Grass-Roots Journalism – Its Death and Rebirth, edited by John Mair, Neil Fowler and Ian Reeves

by Julie Freer, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, UK

Much has been written by media commentators about the economic and technological squeeze that broke the business model of the UK regional Book Reviews press.

Loved by the Stock Exchange in late 90s and the early years of the new century when acquisitions were aplenty, margins were high and money was to be made, quick profits masked declining circulations. Attention was fixed to the share price rather than meeting the challenges and grasping the opportunities of the digital age.

By the time the recession hit post 2008, the availability of content away from the mainstream gave readers fewer reasons to be loyal to their local titles. Advertising drifted away to the emerging online sites and the regional press was in trouble.

What Do We Mean By Local? Grass-roots Journalism – its Death and Rebirth, edited by John Mair, Neil Fowler and Ian Reeves draws together 33 chapters which chronicle why the regional newspaper industry and local radio fell into decline. The book also looks at how local media is trying to re-invent itself through hyperlocal sites, local TV and various other digital distribution tools. In conclusion, it examines the bigger picture and the impact of the decline on local democracy.

It is described as a ‘hackademic’ volume in that is a collection that ranges from the fully referenced academic paper to media commentary and personal anecdote.

While it may not be one for the academic purist, the more personal chapters offer some of the more interesting and salient points.

Chris Oakley in his chapter ‘The men who killed the regional newspaper industry’ concludes: “In a couple of decades, managements who overpaid for acquisitions, over promised to City investors and failed to recognise the threat and opportunity of the internet, have come close to destroying an industry.”

He tells the story of his own role in management buyouts, subsequent flotation on the Stock Exchange and sale of titles, and asks the reader to judge his team’s culpability in creating the financial climate that brought this about.

He also makes the crucial point that if the industry had supported the Fish4 digital advertising site, regional newspapers would have sewn up the property, cars and jobs market and sites such as Rightmove would not have been the success they are.

While the future may be hyperlocal, Richard Jones in his chapter on his Saddleworth News hyperlocal website points out that while there is job satisfaction to be had, the responsibilities of a mortgage and a child meant it wasn’t sustainable in the longer term.

The site is now being operated by students at the Oldham campus of Huddersfield University. Indeed, he believes there is untapped potential in university journalism department in terms of underused equipment and talented students.

In a later chapter, David Hayward asks whether universities can save local journalism. Drawing on the US model, he cites examples where teaching has been combined with real quality practical journalism and where partnerships are being created between news organisations and the universities.

More radically, he points out universities could launch their own news start-ups. With universities’ own business models being challenged and pressure on staff to create new income streams, it is a model that could work for mutual benefit. While universities are not in a position to give away their facilities nor should they should they be seen as a source of cheap labour, a report by the New America Foundation quoted in this chapter points out the industry could do more to financially support innovative thinking, research and curriculum development and in turn, universities should increase coverage of communities.

What Do We Mean By Local? Grass-Roots Journalism – Its Death and Rebirth, edited by John Mair, Neil Fowler and Ian Reeves, published by Abramis, 2012. 268 pages. ISBN 978-1-84549-540-4; RRP: £17.95. 

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

by Tor Clark, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Alternative Journalism, Alternative Voices by Tony Harcup

Review by Granville Williams, National Council, Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, and UK Co-ordinator, European Initiative for Media Pluralism

The metamorphosis of the hand-to-mouth production of alternative magazines and newspapers like Rochdale Alternative Press (RAP), the Tuebrook Bugle (Liverpool), Leeds Other Paper and Grass Eye (Manchester) into the objects of academic study must come as a big surprise to the survivors who worked on them back in the 1970s and 80s.

In the nineteenth century the ‘unstamped’ or pauper press – The Republican, The Black Dwarf, The Poor Man’s Guardian, and so on gave a voice to the dispossessed, the powerless and the marginalised, but I wonder whether the editors, writers and sellers of those publications ever conceived they one day would provide the material to engage academics across a range of disciplines in studying their efforts and analysing their significance.

These thoughts are prompted by reading this collection of Tony Harcup’s work. Indeed there are direct connections between the issues covered in his book, which mainly focuses on alternative media and community publishing, and that previous era. He points out Leeds was the birthplace of one of the most widely read oppositional papers of the 1830s and 1840s, and it was also the birthplace in January 1974 of Leeds Other Paper (LOP), renamed later as Northern Star.

His lively wide-ranging introduction leaps from the Sheffield Register published during the French Revolution to Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring, and points out ‘times of flux tend to lead to bursts of new alternative media and more widespread questioning of old certainties…’.

Harcup spent ten years working on LOP, and much of the material in this book is shaped by that experience. Reading it reminded me of how I first met him. Back in 1991, after Bob Franklin and David Murphy published What News? The Market, Politics and the Local Press, I approached them and said the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom (CPBF) would like to do a couple of public meetings around the book’s themes. Tony Harcup turned up for the one in Bradford, at which the then Northern Organiser for the National Union of Journalists, Colin Bourne, was speaking, along with Franklin and a local newspaper editor.

The CPBF from its inception in 1979 has been interested in supporting alternatives to mainstream media and so there was a clear connection which meant later the CPBF published both Harcup’s pamphlet on the history of Leeds Other Paper and his chapter on the alternative press during the 1984-85 miners’ strike in the book Shafted, which I edited. These are included in this latest collection in parts II and III, which provide material focused on drawing insights from his, and others, work on LOP to clarify ‘alternative media’ and ‘alternative journalism’ and to analyse the practice of alternative journalism and how it differs from mainstream media.

Part IV of the book takes a broader but very interesting perspective, based on his research into journalists who started out on alternative or oppositional publications, before moving into mainstream journalism. He devotes two chapters to analysing the responses he received to a survey he conducted.

There is another piece of history in this book which connects me with the author and another person. I met Chris Searle in 1969 when we were at Exeter University. He went to teach in Stepney where he did something the school governors considered sackable – he published the children’s poetry in Stepney Words. Harcup writes vividly about this experience and his involvement in the subsequent strike in support of Searle. It was clearly a formative experience and Harcup dedicates the book to him. Later Searle approached the CPBF with the manuscript of a book on racism and The Sun. We were proud to publish Your Daily Dose in 1989.

Inevitably there is mixture of the personal and political, the subjective and objective in this review, but in a sense that is what much of the best writing in the alternative press was about, and this book is a valuable contribution to the exploration of its place in the history of journalism.

Alternative Journalism, Alternative Voices by Tony Harcup, published by Routledge, 2012, ISBN 978-0-415-52189-5. RRP: £24.99 

Reviews welcome

by reviews editor Tor Clark, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK

Welcome to the reviews section of this the third edition of the most interesting and useful new journalism journal on the block. This time we are continuing to focus very clearly on books which we hope will be immediately useful for lecturers and students – particularly Journalism degree students.

What Do we Mean by Local? was the latest of John Mair and his collaborators’ ‘hackademic’ series when it appeared a year ago and is a welcome addition to the thin ranks of useful texts on the regional and local press in the UK. Its vast array of contributors and topics should make it indispensible for researchers and students studying this area.

Specialist roles in journalism have grown incredibly over the last 20 years, so Barry Turner and Richard Orange’s edited collection on that theme will again be useful to students exploring these areas.

Stalwart AJE member and prolific author Tony Harcup has encapsulated his long-standing interest in alternative journalism in a new text and in today’s environment of diverse platforms, there can’t be a better time for students to get to grips with this topic.

And despite all the doom and gloom in newspapers, the magazine sector remains vibrant. So who better than Jenny McKay, co-editor of this journal and author of the acclaimed Magazines Handbook, to offer a verdict on the latest work in this field?

The history of journalism doesn’t miss out in this section either, with Kevin Williams’ invaluable history of our whole sector joining the ranks of the classics from the journalism bookshelf.

The editors and I are very grateful to all our reviewers for their contributions this time and in the previous editions, but we are all very conscious of how busy everyone is these days and we have called in many of the favours we have accrued over the years to fill the first three reviews sections with interesting and relevant titles from authoritative reviewers. So we would repeat our appeal for colleagues to volunteer to review books or vol- unteer books for review and suggest classics from the journalism bookshelf for the next edition, compilation of which has already begun.

Anyone with an interest in reviewing for this section will be warmly welcomed. Please contact any of the editors or Tor Clark if you would like to get involved.