Theorizing journalistic practice during a law and order election

Dr Jarrett Blaustein, Greg Koumouris

 

Thirty-two months of sustained media coverage that centred on the ‘problem’ of ‘African gangs’  preceded the 2018 Victorian State Elections in Australia. This paper uses Bourdieusian theory to consider how the dynamics of a changing print media sector contributed to this media cycle by influencing the habitus of journalists reporting on this issue. Empirical insight is supplied via semi-structured interviews with journalists who were active in the field at this time. Their professional reflections suggest that the ‘African gangs’ narrative appealed to journalists and editors at newspapers across the political spectrum as low hanging fruit amidst declining readership numbers and financial insecurities. Journalists also recounted the ease with which they were able to report on such incidents thanks to the ubiquity of social media and the accessibility of smart-phone and CCTV footage which bolstered visibility and reach of such stories. Although participants maintained that individual incidents associated with the news cycle were newsworthy, they nonetheless expressed frustration at the heavily racialised framing of the ‘problem’ and the difficulties they encountered in attempting to resist or abstain from what they recognised to be ethically questionable journalistic practices. Reflecting on this analysis, the article concludes that structural forces associated with heightened pressures to commodify media content using digital platforms may limit the capacity of journalists to exercise agency and professional autonomy by challenging harmful and inaccurate representations of complex social issues relating to race and crime.


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