The Routledge Companion to News and Journalism. Stuart Allan (ed.) (2009). Abingdon, England: Routledge. pp. 704.
Stuart Allan’s weighty book is 56 chapters over 704 pages, and this bulk is a mixed blessing. The book includes numerous authors of prominence, but it also relies too much upon the reputation of its contributors. The back cover of the book states it is for “scholars and students,” but scholars are likely to find the chapters conservative and too familiar. The benefit of this book is precisely with that student audience, who will find many accessible insights into contemporary issues and can rely on the topic diversity as a resource for learning more about journalism.
There are seven parts that compose The Routledge Companion: The Evolving Ideals of Journalism; News and Social Agendas; Newsmaking: Rules, Routines and Rituals; Truth, Facts and Values; Making Sense of the News; Crisis, Conflict and Controversy; and Journalism’s Futures. The aim of these chapters, as a collective book, is to make “the case for the value of a critical, historically informed perspective in order to deepen and enrich ongoing dialogue and debate amongst all participants interested in testing familiar assumptions…” (p. xxxiv). The stated geographic scope of the discussions is limited to the United Kingdom and the United States, except for occasional diversions to other locations. For a book that best serves students, it is a little surprising that such a narrow view is provided to students who are typically in need of a more global perspective.
Allan, as editor, sets the tone for the book with his chapter on the Walter Lippmann/John Dewey debate. Scholars have analyzed the works of Lippmann and Dewey on many occasions, but Allan’s review serves to remind readers of the importance of considering the relationship of the press and public.
The staging of debates and discussions sometimes results in the sense that authors have been handcuffed, however. Bonnie Brennen, one of journalism’s best cultural historians, has a chapter, “Photojournalism: Historical Dimensions to Contemporary De-bates.” While Brennen fulfills the mission set forth by the title, the chapter frequently reads like a literature review. A similar problem exists in Barbie Zelizer’s piece. There is no questioning Zelizer’s ability, but her chapter borrows from a journal article and also from her forthcoming book. So for a list price of $205 and at the risk of sounding like a video game title, I want to see authors like Brennen and Zelizer unleashed in this collection.
The chapters by active professionals frequently stand out for their ability to explain contemporary issues in journalism. While the chapters closest to research frequently fall into the literature review trap, the chapters by active professionals keep readers abreast of issues of importance to undergraduate students and professionals seeking master’s degrees. I frequently felt there was an inverse relationship between a chapter’s originality and interest and that of the bibliography’s length: the greater the reading experience, the shorter the bibliography.
One of my favorite chapters is Joseph Harker’s “Race and Diversity in the News.” Harker, an editor and columnist for the Guardian, a London newspaper, offers readers an insider’s look at minority employment and readership. A number of the other chapters cite articles by journalists that make me want to read the original sources more than the chapters. While Harker’s chapter also suffers from being borrowed from another publication, in this case the British Journalism Review, at least most American readers will find this interesting piece a fresh read.
Similarly, freelance journalist and PBS executive editor Mark Glaser offers a tour through an aspect of journalism in “Citizen Journalism: Widening World Views, Extending Democracy.” Glaser provides a brief history of citizen journalism, alternative terms for this evolving practice, different examples, and the strengths and weaknesses of different methods for collecting news.
An example of a chapter that successfully finds the balance between research and professionalism is Anabela Carvalho’s “Reporting the Climate Change Crisis.” Carvalho cites research to explain how the press has reported climate change debates, but the chapter does not get bogged down in trying to report every study ever conducted. Carvalho explains how the press in different countries has handled climate change debate, and how politicians replaced scientists as the social actors in relevant news stories as far back as the mid-1980s. Climate change is arguably one of the most important issues debated nowadays and a problem that will impact future generations. Carvalho directs the reader to consider the alternative media and the way people make meaning from new forms of communication.
Professional practice and the search for balance is also found in Julian Petley’s “Impartiality in Television News: Profitability Versus Public Service.” Petley, of the University of London, explains the politics of impartiality in British television journalism. Petley adds that there have been calls for repeal of regulation for impartiality because there are significantly more channels than in Britain’s past, viewership by the more disenfranchised groups is low, and contemporary global politics cannot be adequately communicated in a system designed to assure balanced coverage of Britain’s political parties. Petley balances the recognition that Britain is changing, yet impartiality is an important part of news.
Faculty members will find this book useful because there are many possible assignments that can be connected to the 56 chapters. Scholars are unlikely to find the genesis of future research from chapters within their specialties. However, they may have their curiosities ignited enough by subjects unfamiliar to them and pursue new avenues. These curious readers should be encouraged to seek the original works of contributors such as Brennen and Zelizer because they will be amply rewarded for their literary detour.
Criticisms aside, The Routledge Companion is a worthy addition to a library’s collection. It is far too expensive for a student to purchase, but it is an expansive resource for students. Libraries should not be scared off by the price because its breadth makes it a good investment.
TIMOTHY R. GLEASON
University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh