Journalism as Civic Empowerment - Professor John Steel inaugural lecture video transcript and audio description

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The three peaks of the University of Derby logo shows in white on a dark blue background. Beneath it are the words: "Inaugural Lecture Series" also in white. The title of this lecture is: "Journalism as Civic Empowerment: The virtues of theory and practice in journalism studies research" by Professor John Steel, College of Arts, Humanities and Education.

Professor John Steel is a man with glasses, a suit and tie, white hair and beard and he is giving this lecture from his webcam at home at night.

Thank you everybody for being with me tonight and helping me celebrate this tonight, for logging on and letting me into your homes and workspaces - I really appreciate it.

Thank you for those words of introduction as well Keith and Paul. Before I begin the lecture I want to start by saying just how grateful I am to my partner Debbie. She's been a constant in my life since before I embarked on my academic career and actually, she gave me the confidence to give it a go, many, many years ago now. She's been a never-ending source of encouragement, of support and she's exhibited unbelievable levels of patience over the years. We met, incidentally, 32 years ago today at the Lead Mill in Sheffield - so another reason for us to celebrate tonight.

I'd also like to briefly mention my daughters Jasmine and Caitlyn who, along with Debbie are a constant source of inspiration for me, so thank you to them for being there.

A white slide arrives showing the title of the lecture again: "Journalism as Civic Empowerment: The virtues of theory and practice in journalism studies research".

Very briefly also I'd like to say thank you to my new colleagues at Derby, and since my arrival back in September everybody I've met - albeit virtually - has been incredibly supportive. Particularly Alistair Hodge, the Head of School, Paul, Elliott, Tom, Cath, Matt, Joe, Sarah, lots of people, too many to thank, but everybody's been incredibly welcoming so thank you very much for making me feel so welcome. There are lots of other people I'd like to thank over the course of the lecture, and I'll do that, and I need to make a start. So, can we have the next slide, please? Thank you.

Another white slide takes up most of the screen and shows the covers of two books. One is called "Democracy Under Attack" by Malcolm Dean and has a picture of a bomb on the front cover. The other book is called "What the Media are Doing to Our Politics" by John Lloyd and shows a cartoon of a huge frog with a microphone towering over the Houses of Parliament on the cover. There are also two photographs displayed, one of a man with dark hair and one of a woman with silver-grey hair. To the right of the slide is the inset video of Professor John Steel on his webcam giving the lecture.

Okay, so it's not really a new or a novel claim to make that journalism in this country would serve us better if it were more accountable, more representative, and had a greater diversity of voices and perspectives. As Malcolm Dean has pointed out in his book, 'Democracy Under Attack', from the much-quoted Wreath lecture given by Owen O'Neill in 2002 to John Lloyd's, 'What the Media Are Doing to Our Politics', there's a deep concern, even from within journalism itself, about its ability to hold one of its core roles, to perform one of its core roles, which is effectively to hold power to account. As Peter Osborne suggested in a particularly scathing article on client journalism in Britain; he says that "The papers and media organizations yearn for privileged access and favourable treatment, and they're prepared to pay a price to get it."

This price involves becoming a subsidiary part of the government machine. It means turning their readers into viewers and viewers into dupes. So, client journalism therefore not only undermines the important critical role that journalism should play in holding power to account on our behalf, it also pollutes the information ecology and provides fertile ground for manipulation and disinformation.

So-called 'Fake News' therefore is not only the preserve of conspiracy theorists and malign puppet masters on the internet, according to Osborne and others, it's also part of the mainstream media ecology. As most journalism historians will tell you, it was ever thus. Misinformation, distraction, spin and outright propaganda, though they've always been around, they've always been part of that media ecosphere. Now of course they have great attraction and penetration because of the affordances of digital media, which have essentially muddied the already clouded public discursive space.

Likewise, the post-truth era which we live in today also seems to have added to this malaise. The fact that it seems impossible now to effectively hold some politicians to account, seems to have also undermined journalism's ability to fulfil one of its core democratic obligations.

These two things, I think, are very much linked to the decline of trust in institutions like journalism, and may signal why it's been under seemingly sustained attack from all sides in recent years. I think this is quite depressing and I'm sure you'll agree it doesn't bode well for democracy. However, I think though it's easy to be cynical about politics and how journalism has sometimes failed in its democratic obligations. I think rather than retreating into the abyss of cynicism and despondency and basically giving up, I think we as academics have a responsibility to look, to think and look at creative ways out of these sorts of problems, and out of these predicaments. So, what I want to do today is consider possible avenues of hope, and to look at how we might repair some of the damage that's been done, not only to journalism but also to the wider democratic culture.

In making this argument I'm also going to provide a potted history of my academic career, which has been touched on already by Keith, but it's the development of my academic career and the twists and turns that I've taken that obviously shaped my work to this point, so I hope you'll indulge some of the personal biography which is interwoven with my argument. Now, the next slide, please.

The slide changes to show the covers of three more books: "The History of Political Thought" by R N Berki, "On Critical Pedagogy" by Henry A Giroux and "Journalism Studies" published by Routledge.

So, in developing the argument, I'd like to draw on three broad areas that have shaped my work and approach to academic study and teaching. These areas are broadly political theory, particularly the history of political thought, the sociology of education, where I've taken inspiration from critical pedagogy in particular, and of course finally, journalism studies which is the area that I'm working in today, of course. Next slide please, thank you.

A new slide shows two more book covers: "Democracy, Third Edition" by Anthony Arblaster and "Political theory in Retrospect" by Geraint Williams.

So, let's go back to the beginning, which for me, like many in my position was my PhD. I'd always been really interested in political philosophy and those classic yet often thorny debates concerning the meaning of justice, the virtues of democracy, and different types of democracy, how to balance equality with freedom, and so on. I was originally keen on focusing on the works of Plato and Aristotle and exploring how their arguments influenced a number of nineteenth-century political thinkers. I really enjoyed reading about the Greeks in my undergraduate degree so I wanted to continue that line of inquiry.

I was also really interested in freedom of speech, as a concept, I wanted to explore its relationship to notions of equality, freedom and democracy, but I also wanted to explore how it related to real-world political struggles and conflicts, how it worked out in practice, so to speak. Unfortunately, as is often the case in research, some ideas just don't work out, and I didn't really make that much progress on the Greek angle. However, to use contemporary parlance, I was 'triggered' by the debates and arguments concerning free speech, and particularly the complex intellectual heritage that weaves into our modern-day conceptions of the principle and its inherent problems and tensions.

Fortunately, I had a great supervisory team who played a big role in helping me shape my research into something that was feasible but also reflected by interest. The two books on the slide are argued with the two most well-known books of my supervisors, Grant Williams and Anthony Arblaster, both of whom had been at Sheffield University for many years and were inspirational lecturers and mentors.

Both books, in different ways, are concerned with how key political ideas permeate political action. In other words, they explore the relationship that political ideas have to political and social change in different contexts, and this is something that stuck with me ever since, and something that I've tried to incorporate into my work to various degrees throughout my career, and next slide, please.

Several eighteenth- and nineteenth-century newspaper cuttings are displayed. One is headed: "The Poor Man's Guardian - a weekly paper for the people", another reads: "The Black Dwarf", another is from "Cobbett's Weekly Political Register" and the last is from "The Republican".

So, after numerous supervision sessions, in the pub with my supervisors, generally in the pub, the thesis started to take shape as a study of how different political ideologies and perspectives grappled with and articulated the principle of free speech, which in the 19th century was most notably manifest in the principle of freedom of the press. During the early nineteenth century, the press was heavily controlled, and the Six Acts of 1819 bolstered the laws relating to the offences of seditious and blasphemous libels. These laws were intended, of course, to limit the spread of dangerous ideas and radical viewpoints, and meant that anyone who published such material was liable to prosecution.

Offenders could be imprisoned, deported, and even executed for publishing material that threatened the status quo. In addition to these 'Gagging Acts' as they were known, the other major tool for suppressing radical ideas was the Stamp Tax. This was a tax on newspapers and pamphlets which effectively raised the price of publications and put them beyond the reach of the working poor.

The slide closes and Professor John Steel’s video fills the screen.

So, the Stamp Tax was not only a cynical attempt to raise funds for the exchequer, it was also intended to keep the working classes in their place and deny them access to information and knowledge that might improve their lot, hence their name, as taxes on knowledge.

As Patricia Hollis and James Curran have separately noted, the Stamp Tax was an instrument of class domination, a mechanism to deprive the working classes of the means by which they asserted their interests and undermined efforts to become a significant political force. Despite these controls, there were numerous publications that published without the Stamp and were often prosecuted, and their proprietors thrown into jail. But actually, it was these publications from a wide variety of political perspectives that were at the forefront of attempts to challenge the restricted press laws and advocate for change, for greater press freedom and for greater levels of representation among society.

So, the battle for freedom of the press went hand in hand with the fight for greater democratic representation at this time, and arguments for freedom of press were about enlightenment and power, and it's within these publications that we find ideas turning into practice. Next slide, please.

A slide shows the cover and frontispiece of a book entitled "Pamphlets for the People" by John Arthur Roebuck. Next to these is a sober oil painting of Roebuck himself wearing a black jacket, high stock-collar and curled side-whiskers popular among men in the mid-1800's.

So, one example that I focused on in my thesis was a series of pamphlets by a man called John Arthur Roebuck. Roebuck was an MP and a public figure who, with his friend Francis Place, published the 'Pamphlets for the People', during the 1830s. These pamphlets were geared towards the working classes and intended to broaden their horizons and increase their knowledge of the world. Roebuck, like many others in his day, remained firmly rooted to the idea that the working classes of England could prise themselves out of their poverty and destitution through access to useful knowledge and information.

What better way to spread knowledge than of course through the printed word? Of course, though literacy levels were low during the early 19th century, working people would gather in taverns, meeting houses and other public spaces and sit and listen to the newspapers and pamphlets being read out. These would also be spaces of debate and argument, where free speech was brought to life, and it was this freedom of speech that the establishment feared, as it meant its power could be challenged en masse. Next slide, please.

A slide shows the cover of a book titled "Media History" with citation information for an article by John Steel that appeared in it, titled: "The 'Radical' Narrative, Political Thought and Praxis".

However, as I charted in my thesis, and argued much later in a paper in media history, the problem with Roebuck's arguments for freedom of the press, like many of those other radicals from that particular political bent, is that they were tied also to the prevailing political economy. Roebuck's arguments for press freedom, which were couched in terms of being beneficial to the working poor, were in fact geared towards encouraging the working classes to acquiesce to the new political economy of the day. A set of political ideas and economic conditions that actually encourage their passivity and acceptance of the new status quo, to exchange one version of servitude for another.

So, the idea and practice of press freedom is used effectively to silence the masses, the working classes, to encourage them to embrace wage labour and the conditions of the emerging industrial society. Here then we have a particular view of education for the masses that was very much tied to a particular set of relationships between worker and factory owner.

Professor John Steel’s webcam stream fills the screen.

Of course, such arguments gathered pace over the course of the century and contributed to the mass industrialization of the press. Though the taxes on knowledge were long gone, eventually abolished in the 1850s, the industrialization of the press helped to establish its commercial imperative, and I would argue that this was to the detriment of the democratic imperative.

It's important to point out though, that not all of the radical press had such motives. There were many examples within the prevailing print culture that sought to engage with working people and the poor and advocate on their behalf, that sort of 'give a voice', if you like, to the poor and oppressed of the country. Often these publications came from the communities themselves and were a genuine reflection of these constituencies' interests and voices. In other words, they sought to empower these communities and provide them with a means through which they could articulate their interests as a class, albeit through print. And I'll return to these notions a little bit later in the lecture.

So, while completing my PhD and spending lots of time in the pub with my supervisors, I was helped enormously, as Keith mentioned, with a fee waiver and a bursary from the politics department at Sheffield. I was also given some financial support by a Sheffield charity which sought to provide a little bit of financial help to local people who are looking to progress in education, so I'm really grateful to them both for helping me further my education in this way. But I did need to get a job, I did need to earn some money. And as you know, as luck would have it, a job came up as a research assistant at Sheffield Hallam University, working with Alison Hudson at the Learning and Teaching Institute there.

Gladly I got the job and this really opened up a whole new field of inquiry to me which also shaped my approach to research. Alison was a leading exponent of digital learning and helped pioneer the use and evaluation of online digital learning at Hallam around about the mid-'90s, mid to late 1990s. The job involved evaluating technologies in various teaching programs and on various modules, and I got to work with academics and students, to explore really how they engage with these technologies and looked at ways to improve their learning experience through these technologies.

Whilst at the LTI, Sue Clegg joined the department, and Sue is a sociologist and her work essentially draws on critical realism and feminist theory and applies these perspectives to real-world learning and teaching. She was particularly interested in educational policy, and policy in particular that focused on the implementation of learning technologies. She was keen to work with practitioners and students to understand how these initiatives to improve teaching actually play out in practice.

And it was Sue that introduced me to the sociology of education and that literature, and the ideas of critical pedagogy. For critical pedagogy, education is the site, is a key site, in the maintenance of unequal power relations in society, and therefore a really important place where these things should be challenged and unpicked. Fundamentally, critical pedagogy is about empowerment, as teachers and lecturers relinquish power and create spaces that are geared towards recognizing power more broadly in society and challenging its unequal basis. Critical pedagogy is therefore very much focused on social justice and enhancing democracy.

What was really liberating about the role at the LTI, and signalled again really how lucky I've been, was that Alison was also really generous and gave me scope to develop my own interests and my own research, and given my interest in politics and political thought, it really made sense to see where these two areas - education and political theory - collided, so I set about doing just that. Could I have the next slide, please?

The slide shows a book cover with the title "Issues in Web-based Pedagogy - a critical primer" edited by Robert A Cole. Around it are arranged the titles of journals such as "BJET" and articles John Steel and others have contributed to such as "Educational Technology in Learning and Teaching: The Perceptions and Experiences of Teaching Staff", "The Emperor's New Clothes: Globalisation and E-learning in Higher Education" and "Orchestrating Interdependence in an International Online Learning Community".

Thank you. So, whilst at Hallam, I managed to publish my first single-author publication, which was a book chapter in a volume on web-based pedagogy. This chapter also drew on some of the work I've done for my PhD which, incidentally, I was still working on while I was working at the LTI.

I was also able to publish work with Alison and her husband, Brian, and of course, Sue, and we managed to get out some really interesting if I say it myself, some really interesting and stimulating work. 'The Emperor's New Clothes' article is a good example of this work, and it's thankfully still cited today and it touches on the creep of the neo-liberal University agenda and the sort of "managerialist" approaches to policy that were becoming a feature of HEI's in the 1990's and early 2000's. Our argument was that though many learning initiatives were framed and badged as 'student-focused' and 'empowering' to students, the policies underpinning these initiatives were often geared towards market rationalization.

In other words, they were seen as the means through which the Universities could cut costs and effectively lower educational standards. We showed how the neo-liberal orthodoxy with its tailored individualistic and mechanistic approach to learning, has been reflected in some of the policy underpinning many of these initiatives.

It struck me that not unlike the contributions of J A Roebuck, the view of education being articulated at times was quite narrow and geared towards the prevailing political economy. Like some of those nineteenth-century radicals and their instrumentalist orthodoxy, the priorities were economic and not emancipatory. Profit was prioritized over educational and social wellbeing.

Instead of the ideas of classic liberal political economy that's present in Roebuck's pamphlets, the learning technologies were often being co-opted towards a particular late-20th century neo-liberal paradigm. I worked at the LTI for around four years and I really liked the work and the people that I was working with there, however, I really did want to develop my academic career and wanted to teach. I wanted to be a proper lecturer, so to speak, and work with students in class. I'd done some part-time teaching during my PhD so I wanted to try and enhance my CV further and increase my chances of getting a permanent job. So, the next few years were spent doing lots and lots of associate lecturing both at Sheffield and Hallam Universities. I'm really grateful to Mike Kenny for giving me the opportunity to do my first lecture. It was a lecture on environmental policy and environmental political theory.

Professor John Steel’s webcam stream fills the screen.

That was a terrifying experience. Andrew Gamble, Pat Side and Alex Wadden also allowed me to teach on their modules and on their courses, and I'm grateful to them. While I'm talking about politics, I'd also like to mention Steve Ludlum who was a great inspiration to me and incredibly supportive during my early post-PhD years when I was fretting about never getting a job or a full-time job in academia. It was Steve who helped me believe in myself and always with a smile and always with encouragement. Alas, Steve is no longer with us, but he continues to be an inspiration to me and to many, I'm sure, and I think about him often.

In addition to teaching politics at Sheffield, I was also teaching classes at Hallam but this was very different, there was a much wider cohort of students on many different courses from health and social care, economics, psychology, business studies, nursing, occupational therapy, lots and lots of different courses, lots of different types of students. This was obviously outside my field and obviously outside my comfort zone and was a bit of a challenge, but it also enabled me to learn more about different subjects and disciplines of course, and I was drawn to different ideas within some of these disciplinary areas.

And it was around 2004 that I got a call from a contact back at Sheffield University who asked if I would be interested in doing some seminar teaching for a module on political communication in the Journalism department there. As I was a politics person and my PhD dealt with journalism - albeit in the 19th century - I was well up for this. I remember the journalism department being established, I think, back in the mid 90's when I was working on my PhD, and Grant Williams my supervisor's also done some guest lectures there, but I didn't know much more about the department other than that. Next slide, please.

A new slide shows a Twitter profile for Professor Bob Franklin. There is a circular picture of his face in black and white and another larger colour photo shows him in a library, reading. He has a white beard and glasses. Beneath this is a short description: "Academic and author. Founding editor: Journalism Studies, Journalism Practice and Digital Journalism. Editor, Disruptions: Studies in Digital Journalism". He has 1,983 followers.

So, this is when I met this chap, Bob Franklin, who was the module leader at the time, and Bob and I got on, and Bob must have thought I'd do a decent job for him because he offered me the opportunity to work with him on the module. I think he saw that I had a bit of potential and seemed impressed with my publication profile that was developing a little at that time.

Little did I know then, of course, that meeting Bob would change my life forever and set me on a course that ultimately led me to being here today. Those of you from outside our field may not know about the name Bob Franklin, but within it, Bob is an absolute legend.

He's not only responsible for helping define and shape the discipline of journalism studies, he also has incredible energy and enthusiasm and has generously supported many a young academic - and also those who are not so young - in the development of their careers. I was no exception and Bob has been a constantly supportive and encouraging friend over the years, and I thank him. Bob also did me a massive personal favour by deciding to leave Sheffield not long after I began working with him, thankfully it was nothing to do with me, but rather the offer of a new position at Cardiff.

His leaving Sheffield, of course, meant that there was now an opening for a permanent job as a lecturer in the journalism department, and I applied and I was lucky enough to be appointed. At last, after many, many job applications up and down the country, and after many hours spent teaching classes as an associate lecturer, I finally managed to land a full-time academic job right at my doorstep, at the institution where I did my degree and PhD. Suffice it to say, my introduction to the department of journalism studies was interesting and eye-opening, to say the least, and I learned a lot about academic life in those early years.

I was also beginning to learn a lot about journalism, a lot more about journalism both in terms of the wealth of research that has been conducted in the field, but also about its history, its cultures and the discourses that shape how journalists perceive their role, and how important education is to the development of journalists' identity. Working with Bob also introduced me to political communication and the study of how politics is mediated more generally. Next slide, please.

The abstract appears for a piece entitled "Experiential Learning and Journalism Education: lessons learned in the practice of teaching journalism" by John Steel, Bill Carmichael, David Holmes, Marie Kinse and Karen Sanders. 

This led me to my first proper research projects and publication in journalism studies, in the field which drew extensively on my experience of working at Hallam and the LTI. The paper looked at how replicating the newsroom environment in an educational setting impacted on the learning experiences of students. This involved evaluating practical news days for groups of MA Journalism and MA Political Communication students during the general election of 2005. such an approach is now standard practice, and there were many other institutions adopting a similar approach at that time. However, there was not that much research in journalism - journalism education, that is - published. So, this was a really good opportunity to talk about what we did and actually try and make a mark. It would also enable me to work with my practitioner colleagues and help some of them get their very first academic publications in journals as well. Next slide, please.

 A book cover featuring letters in many colours and typefaces reads: "Journalism Studies - the basics" by Martin Conboy.

Thank you. As I say, I was very fortunate to land the job at Sheffield and very fortunate also to be surrounded by some really inspirational, generous and good-humoured colleagues.

People like Herman Wasserman, Jairo Lugo Ocando, Karen Sanders, Mark Hanna, but also colleagues who worked and supported, worked with me and supported me from the wider institution: Adrian Bingham, Mary Vincent and, more recently, Helen Kennedy. However, there was one person who, the author of this book, did a lot to support me and encouraged me along the way, and that person is Martin Conboy. Like Bob, Martin is a world-renowned scholar of journalism studies and journalism history, and a leading figure in the field.

And he and I began working at Sheffield around the same time, so we quickly got to know each other and discovered many shared interests, from football to cinema, the odd pints along the way, and eventually live cricket, which Martin introduced me to for the first time at Trent Bridge. Can I have the next slide, please?

A book cover is displayed entitled "The Routledge Companion to British Media History". Next to this are the titles of several pieces authored by John Steel and Martin Conboy together. Their titles are: "The Future of Newspapers - Historical perspectives" and "From 'We' to 'Me': the changing construction of popular tabloid journalism".

 As well as being a generally good bloke, as I say, Martin was and is a world-renowned academic and has published many books and many journal articles. Like Bob, he's collaborated very widely and it wasn't long before we set about working together on different projects. Some of these ended up as conferences, conference presentations, some as publications, and some as research funding bids. But we'd suffered rejection in previous efforts to get external money for research projects, we were persistent, and that's an approach I would encourage everybody to adopt who finds themselves applying for funds. But eventually, this persistence paid off as Martin was rewarded with a successful AHRC Network grant, and later a collaborative award with the AHRC and the Dutch NWO with Marcel Broersma at Groningen and myself as CO-I at Sheffield, and another CO-I, Chris Peters who was also based at Groningen. Next slide please.

A book is shown, entitled: "Redefining Journalism in the Era of The Mass Press, 1880-1920" edited by John Steel and Marcel Broersma.

This project looked at change and disruption in journalism, particularly during periods of great transition and crisis. There were a number of outputs and publications to come out of the project, including this one which Marcel and I co-edited. The book examines the periods between 1880 and 1920 and contains some excellent work from our contributors. One of the key areas of this work was the focus on journalism and its self-identity, and particularly the disrupting role that technology has in relation to some of these norms.

What is journalism for? What do journalists think about what they do? How do journalists make the decisions they do? And why? All these questions seem to be a challenge, at least a challenge in the sense that they have been disrupted by technologies. However it's of course the social and political shifts in society that make a real difference, and the answers to these questions depend on the social context under investigation. These questions are also interesting because often their answers relate to ideas about how society is benefited by what journalists do, particularly in the realm of politics.

This classical notion that journalism's role is to hold power to account is incredibly resilient and something that is taught in journalism schools and departments around the world. The principle is also a key element of the debate about press freedom, its scope and its limits, and as someone who's long been interested in these debates, I was keen to unpack this topic even more and explore arguments relating to free speech and freedom of the press, more fundamentally. Can I have the next slide, please?

A book cover is shown. Its title reads: "Journalism & Free Speech" by John Steel, published by Routledge. The cover shows abstract horizontal red and white streaks across a blue background.

This led me to publish this book, 'Journalism & Free Speech'. It's really an attempt to unravel the relationship between the principles of free speech and freedom of the press, and how these work out in practice. The idea for the book came as a result of the seemingly never-ending debate about the scope of press freedom and the suggestion that actually tampering with freedom of the press was very dangerous for freedom of speech more widely. Furthermore, if you were attacking the press or attacking the freedom of the press, then not only were you attacking freedom of expression more broadly, but also undermining one of the cornerstones of a democratic society. So, 'Journalism & Free Speech' was an attempt really to unpick this relationship, both in terms of the ideas behind the principles, but as I say, also how these ideas developed in practice.

As Judith Lichtenberg, John Keane and Julian Petley have noted, all separately, and as I set out to explore more thoroughly in the book, the press are of course a set of organisations within an industry and as such should not be conceived of as individuals with individual rights of expression or indivisible rights of expression should I say. Their commercial rights should be framed very differently to an individual's rights of freedom of speech. Unfortunately, they aren't sometimes, and this is where some of the problems start to arise.

Professor John Steel’s webcam stream fills the screen.

Rupert Murdoch or the Berkeley Brothers rights to freedom of expression may be nominally equivalent to mine and yours at an individual level, but of course, their vast wealth and ownership of significant publishing and media outlets not only amplifies their worldview but also has the capacity - and frequently does - drown out alternative and critical dissenting voices.

So, their property rights dressed as freedom of expression also play a significant role in shaping the nature of contemporary political and cultural debate here in the UK, and a good example of this is the confected row over free speech that seems so prominent today. What we see here is that it's more often those with significant access to the public sphere that are the most vocal about their rights to freedom of speech being eroded. Yet Ronan Burtenshaw in 'Double Down News' has recently noted, such cries of censorship are extremely selective and geared ostensibly towards the interests of the powerful and elite members of society.

Those who shout loudest about political correctness and so-called "cancel culture" and its threat to freedom of speech are themselves seemingly engaged in a process of silencing, so their advocacy of free speech the appropriation of victimhood by those who are themselves extremely privileged and have a major platform itself becomes a mechanism of silencing and censorship. Something that we've seen in recent debates concerning the so-called "woke culture" and the Black Lives Matter protests.

This tension in the free speech debate that freedom of speech can be used to silence is, of course, further complicated when it gets conflated with freedom of the press, as it so often does, and this is ultimately what led me to my current project which is incidentally entitled 'Defining Freedom of the Press', and I'll come on to talk about that shortly. But before I do that, I just wanted to talk very briefly about another project that's helped shape my thinking and hopefully supports my argument here tonight. Can I have the next slide, please?

The slide displays the covers of several issues of "Edge" magazine along with a photograph of Scott Eldridge, a man with glasses and a small beard, smiling.

So, this is a project that looks at some of those questions I mentioned earlier about journalism and its purported role in society, the so-called 'normative claims and expectations' that are so resilient and powerful. The face on the slide that you see there is one of my friends and collaborators, Scott Eldridge, who's now based at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.

Scott's work is concerned with journalistic identity and particularly what's termed 'Boundary Work' where authentic accounts of journalism and those who do it are validated through journalistic discourse or meta-discourse, effectively how journalists talk about what they do. A big part of this are the norms about journalism, again these questions; what is it for? why does it work? and how does it work the way that it does? Those questions and ideas that I'm really interested in. I'd written in a book earlier about the relative lack of imagination when it comes to journalism's normative role and how relatively little it had changed over the years, it's a really resilient ideal as I've said, but we wanted to explore how we might develop this and try and form an alternative basis for trying to reinvigorate some of these normative elements and claims.

So, Scott and I got some money, a small amount of money, and decided to run a project that would look to unpack some of these issues. Luckily, Scott had some involvement with a local community group called the 'Nether Edge Neighbourhood Group' which is a lively and diverse suburb in Sheffield. The group also published something called the 'Edge' magazine, which was a publication really that sought to connect people who lived in Nether Edge and also reflect their interests and their concerns, to speak to them but also to speak for them, and it was ostensibly produced by them in the community as well.

One of the things that we were interested in was to assess how these traditional normative ideas actually impacted on those who consumed mainstream news. We also wanted to understand how it impacted on those who helped to contribute to local news through the 'Edge'.

What are the actual uses of journalism? And are these in any way related to these idealized uses, these normative values? as I say. In developing this project, key for us was this idea of relinquishing power in relation to the research process and actually to try and develop some communities of practice and a co-production approach to the research process. In this sense we were drawing on approaches that were situated within the literature on communities of practice that are focused on communities that were affected by and had an interest in these matters.

Again aspects of this work was partly shaped by some of the work that I've done at Sheffield Hallam. We showed that the idealized versions of what journalism is for and the reality amongst its uses was very different, in other words, some of the grand claims that journalism makes about its role, was not something that was reflected in those who consume the news. Importantly, at a local level, journalism was more about community and reflecting the interests and perspectives of a particular local constituency, and not some grand idea or scheme to hold power to account.

It's this approach, let's say, the 'ground-up' approach that also forms a big part of my current research project in press ethics. It also of course emphasizes the vital importance of local journalism. Can I can have the next slide, please?

This slide is headed "Defining Freedom of the Press: A cross-national examination of press ethics and regulation" shows a map of Western Europe in grey on the right, some countries are shaded in purple including the UK, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Slovakia and France. Next to this is a list of names of contributing academics: Martin Conboy – University of Sheffield, Charlotte Elliott-Harvey - University of Sheffield, Carl Fox – University of Leeds, Julie Firmstone  - University of Leeds, Jane Mulderrig - University of Sheffield, Joe Saunders - University of Durham, Paul Wragg - University of Leeds.

Thank you. So, I don't have too much time to go into detail about my current project as it's still ongoing, it's still underway, but I did want to say that a big part of its intention is to look to reinvigorate the debate about the scope of press freedom and its limits, by trying to incorporate the voices of those that have often been neglected and left out. So, the project not only interrogates what journalists and regulators think but also has an eye on audiences as well. And particularly audiences who might have felt marginalized and subject to some of the harshest excesses of the mainstream press.

What we've tried to do with the project is to look at how journalism ethics not only shapes how journalists perceive their role, whether by the institutions of the press regulators, the ombudsmen or the organizations that they work for, but also we wanted to provide opportunities for those who are outside of the institutions of journalism, and we wanted them to play a role in shaping, or trying to shape or contribute to journalism's normative parameters - the sort of questions around, what is it for? what should it do? how should it do it? and so on.

So, we wanted to give others an opportunity to have a say in these sorts of questions, so for us defining freedom of the press should not be the preserve of those who have the power to frame it as essentially an extension of economic freedom, as I mentioned before, rather what we're concerned about is trying to secure opportunities for those constituencies and groups that have been marginalized and tended to have the least power in relation to such discussions. To formulate a notion of press freedom that emerges from these constituencies rather than from the elite constituency.

Ultimately the project looks to reinvigorate journalism, particularly in relation to its civic role, and provide opportunities to broaden out journalism's ethical dimensions and make it more inclusive and more representative of the constituencies it serves.

Professor John Steel’s webcam stream fills the screen.

One of the key outputs for the project is the development of a Mass Open Online Course or MOOC, which we hope will look to bring some of these debates and issues to a much wider audience and to try and demystify journalism more generally, and make it more accessible to a wider group of people. The Covid pandemic, and actually my move to Derby has put a slight halt on the project, but our next stage is to involve these stakeholder groups and give them an opportunity, like Scott and I did with the 'Edge' Project, to have their voices heard.

A special thanks should go to my colleagues, colleagues and co-investigators on the project whose names are on the overhead: Julie, Carl, Joe, Paul, Charlotte, Jane and of course Martin, thank you to you for making this such an exciting and enjoyable project to work on. Can I have the next slide please?

A slide entitled "A slight digression...." gives a list of names, dates and publications of the PhD students Professor John Steel has supervised:

I realise that time is against me but before I go on to make my concluding remarks I'd just like to take this opportunity to say that there's a lot in the presentation that I've left out, unfortunately, not least the students that I've taught over the years and the PhD students that I've had the pleasure of supervising to completion. I wanted to say publicly, it's been a real pleasure and I'm hoping that long may this continue, and I'll hopefully have the privilege of supervising PhD students here at Derby. So, thank you to all those students that - some of them are out there watching - I appreciate it. I've learned a lot from you and so, yeah, thank you very much for that. Okay, last slide I think, please.

A slide shows the covers of numerous books, journals and articles that Professor John Steel has written, edited and contributed to, during his career so far. They include:

So, I've not had time to mention all of the projects that I've been involved in, but some of these can be found in the books and the journal articles on this slide. The 'Advocacy Journalism' paper I wrote and the 'Letters to the Editor' book that I did with Allison Cavanaugh also relate very much to my argument here, but unfortunately, I don't have time to elaborate, I'm afraid. So, I'd like to conclude the lecture by emphasizing what I tried to show tonight is not only my personal academic journey but also how some of the areas that I've worked on have shaped my thinking on the challenges that we have as a society going forward.

Professor John Steel’s webcam stream fills the screen.

As I said in my introduction, I think it's too easy to be pessimistic, what I think we need to do is to try and repair some of the damage that has been done and reclaim some of those early ideas about empowerment, community and representation that are effectively side-lined and have been side-lined by that sort of commercial imperative that I mentioned earlier. Journalism has an incredibly important role in this regard, and I think there are real opportunities to build trust, cooperation and greater levels of community engagement through academic research, and through teaching in journalism.

Researching journalism, for me, is therefore about what we do to help journalism be more representative and also more transparent and accountable; after all, these are the core ideals that exist within journalism itself, at least in theory, to enhance journalism's potential and to recapture its representative and civic dimension once more. I think cultivating a greater diversity of voices can really help reshape what journalism can do, and enhance and repair the role that it can play in society. And I hope that I've managed to show you how I've tried, in a very small way, to make some contribution to this agenda, and I look forward to continuing this work here at Derby.

Thank you for listening.

The screen fades to dark blue with the University of Derby logo of three peaks displayed in white upon it. Underneath the logo is the text, ‘find out more about research at Derby.'

Audio described version of Journalism as Civic Empowerment - Professor John Steel inaugural lecture video

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