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Alternative Britain

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Money, (Co)Production and Power

Hardy, Jonathan (2016) Money, (Co)Production and Power. Digital Journalism, Vol 5, No 1, pp. 1-25.

Hardy’s article examines positions within political economy via an analysis of scholarship on digital journalism. First looks at ‘celebrant claims’ in accounts of the emergence of digital journalism. Such claims might be pro- or anti-capitalist but centre around increased access to information, lower costs, participatory potential. Draws on underlying assumptions that internet breaks old market monopolies. Benkler, Leadbeater cited as ‘celebrants’ who might well share marxist perspective of critical political economists but see internet as a force to “prevail against corporate strategies and capitalist logics” (Hardy 2016: 3). Emphasis on creative potential of internet. These celebrant claims have been widely critiqued in relation to journalism.

Hardy argues that what he calls ‘culturalist media studies’ literature tends towards celebratory accounts which examine convergence, creative industries, cultural workers. Hardy looks at early claims that “that the internet would break the control and dominance of media conglomerates”, thus reinvigorating the public sphere (2016: 4). Capitalism is seen as an enabling as well as a constraining force for scholars such as Jenkins, Deuze etc. Cultural production is seen as more participatory and bottom-up (Hartley has written a lot about this). Shift from solid to “liquid modernity” (Bauman 2000) – blurring of lines between audience and producer, amateur and professional. The optimistic positions based on this shift are twofold. Firstly, the potential for marginalised voices to use the internet to be heard. Secondly, the entrepreneurial potential of those working away from the “operationally-closed” nature of mainstream ‘old’ media organisations. Hardy’s key point is that there’s little in this writing that acknowledges the power differential between owners, workers, audiences. Hardy summarises the first part of his paper as an account of: “celebrant discourses that include techno-optimism (and technological determinism), modernisation narratives, and an affirmative aligning of capitalism with individual and collective empowerment” (2016: 7)

The position of critical political economy (CPE) could be summed up as: endorsing the vision of a better, fairer world outlined by celebrants, but recognising that the limits of capitalism mean it won’t happen. Hardy claims CPE is not as reductive as its critics make out. He calls for a “political economic analysis of influence of capitalism on communication arrangements” (2016: 7). Hardy’s CPE analysis of the ways in which the internet has not resulted in the decline of old media argues that the deep pockets of those organisations allow them to deal with wrong turns and allow them to adapt business models. However, there is disruption as markets and tastes change (he cites shifts in news consumption as evidence of this).

Hardy offers an extended analysis of the news sector in order to make the point that it is a CPE perspective that offers genuine insight into issues of ownership, economics, labour, and regulation. On the latter aspect he reinforces his critique of the celebrant discourse in scholarly work: “Affirmative discourses on digital convergence were intellectual justification for waves of deregulation in media markets” (2016: 17).

Hardy identifies that CPE has paid little attention to alternative media, identifying that CPE tends to emphasise the differences in organisational set-up between mainstream and alternative production

Historically, the CPE tradition has been erratic in its engagement with alternative or radical media, sometimes dismissing them as marginal to the task of democratising ‘mass’ public media but aligned in values and purposes with the expansion of radical and ‘critical’ media (Hardy 2016: 17).

A CPE perspective is hesitant to celebrate media at the margins when it feels its role is to critique, and attempt to restructure, the mainstream. Alt media remain at the margins of CPE’s scholarly gaze. Celebrant positions may well overstate the internet’s ability to level the playing field but the “CPE response privileges a variant of professional-era institutional arrangements” (2016: 19). However, there is a way out of this. Cultural studies perspective does allow for a focus on reconfiguring practices: “there is scope to combine insights of critical culturalist and CPE scholarship in addressing both the diversity of journalistic production and greater reflexivity towards the concepts, and norms, deployed” (2016: 20)

 

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