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Journey to the centre of a news black hole: examining the democratic deficit in a town with no newspaper

Howells, Rachel 2015. Journey to the centre of a news black hole: examining the democratic deficit in a town with no newspaper. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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Circulation and revenue declines affecting the newspaper industry are causing changes in the way local newspapers are run. Journalism has been withdrawing from communities and some local newspapers have closed. The resulting gap in local news and information has been called a news black hole. This research takes one such news black hole – Port Talbot – and examines it longitudinally from the point of view of: 1) the quantity and quality of news in the 39 years before and the four years after the 2009 newspaper closure; 2) changes in newsgathering and journalism practices; 3) the community’s ability to access the information, representation and scrutiny normally associated with fourth estate journalism; and 4) the community’s civic and democratic behaviour before and after the closure. It builds on Habermas’s theory of the public sphere, theorising the existence of local public geo-spheres, and that damage to these at the local level may entail damage to the whole public sphere. This multi-method study finds that the quantity of local news halved after the closure of the newspaper, and that its quality declined from the 1990s onwards. Although the loss of the newspaper was important, so was the gradual withdrawal of journalism from the town, marked by steep declines in journalist numbers and the closure of district newspaper offices. It also finds newsgathering has become more distant from communities and is more likely to use press releases and high status or official sources, and less local and less likely to be witnessed by a journalist. It finds the community under-informed, under-represented, and unable to access timely local information or gain adequate access to scrutiny. The democratic measure of election turnout in particular declined from around the time the district offices closed. Together, these findings suggest damage to the local public sphere in the town.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Journalism, Media and Culture
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
J Political Science > JN Political institutions (Europe) > JN101 Great Britain
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1990 Broadcasting
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 30 March 2016
Last Modified: 16 Dec 2022 16:32

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