Key Research Interests and Expertise

Humanitarian news: Content and Production (2015-2019)

I am currently engaged in an AHRC-funded research project investigating the production and content of humanitarian news, with Kate Wright and Mel Bunce. The humanitarian journalism project is seeking to better understand how the news media report on humanitarian crises and what shapes their coverage.   


Representations of Africa (2008 and 2014-2015)

I have, on two separate occasions, conducted research into media representations of Africa that has challenged conventional thinking on this subject. Most recently, I conducted a comprehensive scoping review of all empirical research into US and UK media representations of Africa published between 1990 and 2014. The results showed that existing research has a remarkably narrow focus on a specific number of countries, events, media and texts. Research into representations of North Africa, Francophone Africa, non-news genres, non-elite media and radio content, is particularly scarce. This, I contend, provides an insufficient basis for reaching any firm, generalizable conclusions about the nature of media coverage of Africa. The widespread belief that representations of Africa are characterised by Afro-pessimism, for example, is not substantiated. In addition, my first peer-reviewed journal article, in 2008, discussed the results of a content analysis of UK press coverage of Africa which showed that coverage of Africa was, ‘not as marginalised, negative or trivial as is often assumed’. I am also currently acting as a mentor for Dr Mel Bunce (City University) on a British Council funded project entitled - Using content analysis to explore the changing international news coverage of Africa.


Communication about Media and Development (2013-2014)

I have recently published a book, based largely on my teaching, entitled Media and Development (2014 Zed Books). The aim of the book is to help the reader acquire an informed and critical understanding of the multiple roles that the media can have in development. It provides concise and original introductions to the study and practice of communication for development (C4D), media development and media representations of development. In doing so it highlights the increasing importance of the media, whilst at the same time emphasising the varieties, complexities and contingencies of its role in social change. This book has been positively reviewed, with Lilie Chouliaraki describing it as ‘insightful and eloquent’ and The Guardian including it in their 2014 list of 10 recommended books for students on international development. 


The Mediation of Distant Suffering – Online and via Celebrities (2012-2014)

After completing my PhD I wrote two further articles focussed on how audiences respond to the mediation of distant suffering. The first article discussed the results of a two month study of UK internet users’ online behaviour. The results revealed, not just a general resistance to using the internet to develop a cosmopolitan consciousness, but also the dominant modes of avoidance research participants used to justify their inactivity. I conclude that the potential for digital cosmopolitanism appears to be primarily governed, not by the peculiarities of individual texts or even the properties of the technology, but by the nature and acceptability of pre-existing discursive resources and how they are deployed by users. In the second article, I discussed data which indicated that while celebrities certainly help to shape our mediated experiences of distant suffering, they are generally ineffective in cultivating a cosmopolitan engagement in such circumstances.


The Mediation of Distant Others (2008-2012)

My PhD was concerned with how UK television regulates spectators’ mediated experiences of Others from foreign countries. My research involved a number of content analyses, a large scale audience study involving two phases of focus groups separated by a two-month diary study, as well as discourse analysis involving an adapted version of Lilie Chouliaraki’s analytics of mediation. The results showed that research participants’ mediated experiences of distant suffering were generally characterised by indifference and solitary enjoyment, with respect to distant and dehumanised distant others. However, the results also signalled that, in various ways, non-news factual television programming offers spectators a more proximate, active and complex mediated experience of distant suffering than television news. Alongside my PhD I wrote a number of publications, on the same subject, for the Department for International Development (DFID), the International Broadcasting Trust (IBT) and the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association (CBA).


From Entertainment to Citizenship (2009-2011)

I worked as the research associate for the ESRC funded project - From entertainment to citizenship? A comparative study of the political uses of popular culture by first-time voters. The principal investigators were Prof. John Street and Dr. Sanna Inthorn.The aim of this project was to investigate how young people connect the pleasures of popular culture to the world at large. For them, popular culture is not simply a matter of escapism and entertainment, but of engagement too. Our research revealed how the young use shows like X-factor to comment on how power ought to be used, and how they respond to those pop stars - like Bono and Bob Geldof - who claim to represent them. The primary outputs of this research were a book - From Entertainment to Citizenship (Manchester University Press, 2013) and a number of co-authored, peer-reviewed journal articles.


Public Service Broadcasters, Media Literacy and User-Generated Content (2008-2009)

In 2008 and 2009 I produced a report and a set of guidelines for UNESCO and the Public Media Alliance concerning the role of public service broadcasters in promoting media literacy and user generated content. The guidelines have been used in projects by broadcasters in Latin America and Southern Africa and have been translated into Spanish, French and Arabic and converted into an e-book.

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