Three-D Issue 19: New directions in media research

Dimitrinka Atanasova & Jennifer Cole
University of Leicester

On 13th June 2012 PhD students at the Department of Media and Communication, University of Leicester, hosted a one day conference event showcasing post-graduate research in the field of media and communication, titled ‘New Directions in Media Research’. This was the first event of this kind, organised and run by PhD students, at the department, funded by the Graduate Researcher Development Fund and the Department of Media and Communication, both at the University of Leicester.

This conference forms just part of PhD students’ efforts to create a vibrant and stimulating research community. This event is part of a package of initiatives that have emerged in this Department over the past year that are designed to improve the PhD experience and better integrate PhD researchers into the research culture at the Department. In short, this event was organised by PhD students for PhD students.

The event was structured around three thematic sessions, namely ‘Media and development’, ‘Media and politics’ and ‘Production, consumption and representation’. Twelve formal research papers were presented on the day with time for a critical discussion after each. There were also plenty of opportunities for networking and informal conversations about PhD life. Along with students from the University of Leicester, we were happy to welcome participants from the Universities of Birmingham, Central Lancashire, De Montfort, Loughborough, Nottingham, Sheffield and Westminster.

We were particularly pleased to have the day opened by our Head of Department Professor Barrie Gunter, whose welcome address set the tone for the day of celebrating student led events and introduced the diverse research interests of PhD students. Professor Gunter echoed our wish for a bigger role for PhD students within the research community by expressing his support for ‘PhD students themselves playing instrumental roles in instigating, shaping and driving forward initiatives designed to enhance the learning experience of our research students’. These moves by PhD students are accompanied by additional support from the Department including the introduction of a new seminar series designed for PhD students to update colleagues and members of research staff about their ongoing research.

Following the welcome address, the first session focused on the role of various media formats as development tools in a number of African countries. Faith Kibere spoke about the mobile phone as a capability and freedom enhancing technology in Kenya; Peter Mhagama from Malawi highlighted the potential for community radio to be a catalyst for development and social change; and this session ended with a talk from Amani Millanga evaluating the Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation’s programmes on poverty eradication.

The theme of ‘Production, consumption and representation’ attracted a lot of interest and was devoted two sessions on the day. The first of these sessions started with Naparat Prueksuralai presenting her findings on the use of blogs by journalists and audiences in Thailand. Dimitrinka Atanasova then spoke about representations of obesity in online news media from the UK and Germany. In case anyone had lost their appetite after this, as it was just before lunch, Jennifer Cole presented part of her research on food magazines, focusing on observations about food writers as cultural intermediaries and their role in the value formation of ‘thrift’. Everyone enjoyed a delicious lunch afterwards.

In the afternoon, the second session dedicated to the discussion of ‘Production, consumption and representation’ took place. Presenters gave an overview of some aspects of news and TV consumption in the Arab world. Mokhtar Elareshi presented his findings on patterns of news media consumption among young people in Libya; Khalid Al-Jaber’s timely research focused on audiences’ attitudes towards Arabic TV news stations’ coverage of the Arab Uprising; and Ibrahim Alzaiyd outlined his study which will investigate the effects of TV viewing on family cohesion in Saudi Arabia.

The session on ‘Media and Politics’ brought together an eclectic range of research from the area. Presentations included a discussion on news discourses of immigration during British general election campaigns between 1918 and 2010 by David Smith; Ebrahim Al-Shaikh Hasan then spoke about the influence of various forms of media on the political awareness and socialisation of secondary school students in the Kingdom of Bahrain; and finally, Maya Al Habsi’s research explored how the characteristics of the Al Jazeera news programme are shaped by journalists’ knowledge of ongoing politics and political pressure as well as their understanding of their audience.

Alongside organising this conference, we have been working with colleagues at the Department of Sociology to set up a Research Methods Discussion Group. At the conference, we took the opportunity to share this initiative with a wider audience and invite their feedback and participation. The idea is to bring together PhD students from across the Social Sciences and provide an opportunity to actively discuss research methodology. This idea generated e§nthusiasm and support and is something that we will be building on in the future.

The day ended with concluding remarks from the event organisers Dimitrinka Atanasova and Jennifer Cole, both PhD students and Graduate Research Assistants at the Department, thanking everyone who had contributed by presenting and attending the day for making this a successful and enjoyable experience. And special thanks to all the volunteers who helped with a variety of tasks to ensure the smooth running of the day. The feedback about the event from both speakers and delegates was very positive and we hope that more events like this one will be organised in the future both at our Department and elsewhere.

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