Brief thoughts on cultural studies and journalism

My first post for rather a long time, but I’m starting 2014 as I mean to continue… just don’t call it a resolution!

As usual I put the radio on before bed last night, and chanced upon the end of a programme on Radio 4 called Bingo, Barbie and Barthes, the second in a two part series celebrating 50 years of cultural studies. My attention was caught immediately by the voice of Laurie Taylor, one of my favourite broadcasters whose Thinking Allowed on Radio 4 is a weekly fixture in my listening schedule. Having presented a social sciences programme for well over a decade, it’s appropriate that he should host a show about cultural studies and its mid-1960s’ foundation at the pioneering Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at the University of Birmingham.

Ever since my brief undergraduate introduction to some of the luminaries and work of the CCCS I’ve been interested in much of the associated theory, though I don’t claim to be an expert. Nonetheless, having heard what the great Stuart Hall – among many others – had to say about the cultural studies ‘project’ led me to reflect on some of my own interests as regards journalism and the media.

If cultural studies has given us one thing above any other, it’s probably the opportunity to see value in (and rigorously analyse) culture of all kinds, not just the high culture of the middle and upper classes. One of the participants in Bingo, Barbie and Barthes made the point that a great deal of the average weekend newspaper supplement is given over to food, fashion, pop music and films, and just a few pages deal with classical music and the theatre – a direct result of the Birmingham school’s interest in multiple forms of cultural expression and ability to find value and meaning outside of traditional high culture. I’m sure partly in response, journalists across the spectrum now do something similar, bringing to the fore stories of everyday lives and experiences. In my preferred narrow band of speech radio the obvious examples would be You and YoursSaturday Live and of course John Peel’s much-loved Home Truths in its day. In the USA Ira Glass does something a bit like this in the extremely popular This American Life. You might argue that some breakfast television shows do a similar job.

On my broadcast journalism course we’ve been implored by our brilliant teachers and visiting experts alike to make sure we capture the voices of the people directly affected by our stories – to see the value of the way that newsworthy issues play out in everyday life, and not just get caught up in the high drama of Westminster politics, the UN and the latest mission to space. I’ll be pleased if in some small way I’m able to actively participate in this project that saw the democratisation of culture – culture as a whole way of life, as Raymond Williams would have it.

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