Time to get serious? Process news and British Politics

This source preferred by Dan Jackson

Authors: Jackson, D.

Start date: November 2007

Scholars on both sides of the Atlantic have argued that changes in the culture and practices of political journalists (due to factors such as increased competition and the reaction to developments in political PR) have led them to increasingly focus their coverage on the process of political affairs rather than the substance. Process news includes discussion of campaigning strategies, opinion polls/ horse race, political tensions and infighting within parties, party spin/ PR/ news management, and other themes (Deacon et al., 2005). Opinion is divided on the democratic credentials of this type of reporting, with some praising it for its ability to uncover and scrutinise processes of media management (McNair, 2006) and others decrying its contribution towards political cynicism amongst the electorate (Lloyd, 2004; Patterson, 1993).

Despite the controversies surrounding process journalism, there is a relative paucity of empirical evidence which has measured its presence in UK political news coverage. This paper aims to redress this balance, and so provide some much-needed evidence to help inform this debate. Firstly, I conducted a meta-analysis of all the UK general election content analyses carried out by other scholars. This meta-analysis clearly shows the rise in process news since the 1970s, to its present day proportion of over 50% of all general election news items. Secondly, given the bias towards elections in much of this literature, I conducted a television and newspaper content analysis of a non-election policy debate: the ‘euro debate’ of May-June 2003. Findings showed that process journalism was prominent during this period, with the news agenda often driven by intra-party conflicts. However, there was some serious engagement with the issues at stake around the announcement of the Chancellor’s ‘five tests’ on 9th June amongst the broadsheets. Thoughts will be offered on where these findings leave the debate on the utility of process coverage, as well as wider debates about the nature of contemporary political journalism.

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