Criticising Journalism : Popular Media Criticism in the Digital Age

Abstract: Today, in a variety of digital spaces, many critics and criticisms of the media exist side by side with journalistic actors and content. This dissertation explores the complex relationships between criticisms and actors who define journalistic practice and accountability of the media. The main theoretical argument is that scholars thinking about the ways journalistic actors legitimise criticisms should consider the discursive positioning of the critic (motives and expectations), the evaluative issues (subjects of criticism), corrective (re)action (what journalists do after criticism) and finally, the digital resource (the input of digital technologies and their logics). To interrogate this theoretical proposition, the study employs qualitative interviews with 57 respondents—journalists, media accountability agents and critics—in Kenya and South Africa, and offers a comparison of the two contexts.The results show that for journalists to navigate critical discourses in a digital discursive ecology, they a.) identify the most prominent critics in digital spaces, who play an expository role – acting as interpreters to discourses and buffer against incivility, and b.) they mostly employ delegitimising activities that mark professional boundary work in digital spaces, for example, through blocking offensive criticisms and actors from their personal spaces. The digital discursive ecology in which these discourses exists present tensions to professionalism that challenge journalistic authority. Journalists are pushed to conform to the logics of digital spaces, and further social actors online impose their norms on journalistic discourse. In general, the findings show journalistic ambivalence towards digital media critics, as well as a measured engagement with criticisms considered legitimate. There is a nascent discursive struggle among journalists and critics in digital spaces, whose results are overt or subtle corrective (re)actions among journalists that suggest transformed practice. This research contributes to the field of journalism by providing nuance to configurations that exist between journalistic actors and digital media critics as a result of the constant production of metajournalistic discourse in digital spaces today.

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