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Using public opinion to serve journalistic narratives: Rethinking vox pops and live two-way reporting in five UK election campaigns (2009-2017)

Cushion, Stephen ORCID: 2018. Using public opinion to serve journalistic narratives: Rethinking vox pops and live two-way reporting in five UK election campaigns (2009-2017). European Journal of Communication 33 (6) , pp. 639-656. 10.1177/0267323118793779

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The news media are often accused of reporting politics in a too narrow and consensual way, excluding certain perspectives and issues that might better reflect the public’s agenda. This study lends weight to this argument by not only demonstrating the party political focus of UK election coverage but also in the misleading way public opinion was, at times, represented. Analysing 6647 items and/or stories in the largest ever content analysis study of 4613 sources across five first- and second-order election campaigns in the United Kingdom, it comprehensively tracks how citizens and journalists appear in television news, as well as developing a finely grained, qualitative assessment of how public opinion was represented during the 2017 election campaign. Overall, the study found that political parties received the most amount of airtime, but in some election campaigns members of the public appeared in coverage more often than politicians. However, they were mostly granted limited airtime to articulate their views in vox pops. During the 2017 election campaign, the study found the editorial construction of public opinion in vox pops and live journalistic two-ways was shaped by a relatively narrow set of assumptions made by political journalists about the public’s ideological views rather than consulting more objective measures of public opinion. So, for example, voters were portrayed as favouring more right- than left-wing policies despite evidence to the contrary. The use of citizens as sources is theorised as serving the pre-conceived narratives of journalists rather than reflecting a representative picture of public opinion. The study reinforces and advances academic debates about journalists and citizen-source interactions. More accurately engaging with people’s concerns, it is concluded, will help move broadcasters beyond the narrow set of assumptions that typically serve their narratives of political coverage.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Journalism, Media and Culture
Additional Information: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 License.
Publisher: SAGE Publications (UK and US)
ISSN: 0267-3231
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 11 June 2018
Date of Acceptance: 4 June 2018
Last Modified: 05 May 2023 13:36

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