The New Directions in Media Research (NDiMR)’s Annual Postgraduate Conference, hosted on 13 June 2014 by the University of Leicester’s Department of Media and Communication, delivered some contemporary directions into social sciences research, uniting online and mainstream media researchers. The foci of the seven themes around which the conference papers revolve were: ‘(New) Media, Users and Interactions’, ‘(New) Media and Production’, ‘(New) Media, Identities and Representation’, ‘Media and Democracy’, ‘New Media and Development’, ‘(New) Media and Audience’ and ‘(New) Media and Politics’.
The (New) in parentheses delineates that the conference team only perceived what was new or online as a feature to be added to the media investigation, but media research is more encompassing than that. Directions in media research overlap even when new features emerge, such as through online media. The body of literature on media in general has always enriched the investigation of existing media enquires about content, production and reception, either offline or online. Yet, the new online-media features could entail new research considerations, as is always the case, since radio comes after print newspaper, or television comes after the respective mediation platforms.
Prof. Peter Lunt, Head of Media and Communication department, warmly welcomed the participants in his opening speech. Prof. Lunt has always supported the initiative of organizing this annual conference to allow a sphere for media research directions to develop. This feeds into the objective of providing an encouraging environment for research on a departmental and university level.
The conference started with an important call to investigate the relation between the media and the city following the expansion of both worlds’ population and media by Prof. Myrian Georgiou. Georgiou echoed the importance of investigating media in societies’ cities. A ‘(New) Media, Users and Interactions’ session followed that keynote speech. It focused on the audience’s engagement with media; an engagement which may result in victimization of users in online mass marketing fraud by a single click, as Claudette Hawkins’s expressed. Just as media use holds potential threats, it also holds possible opportunities for romance and courtship. Ayman Bajnaid navigated the rarely-investigated context of online courtship scripts, strategies and self-representations among Saudi expatriates to find out what they are looking for in their future spouses. Hannah Ditchfield questions whether interaction, via online spaces such as Facebook, which may bring such possible threats or opportunities, is weak or strong, by focusing on the discourse of some of the users. Nur Ishaq also explored the internal communication and engagement in organization change from employees’ perspectives, which focused not only on how communication affects us on a personal level but also on a professional level too. This paper attempts to bring new insights into the field of internal communication within higher education in Malaysia.
Panayiota Tsatsou gave an informative keynote speech on digital inclusion from a micro perspective, forging links between identity, literacy and inclusion. The ‘(New) Media and Production’ panel mainly focused on the media production level and how such micro and macro influences could inform news production inside the newsroom or through online practices. Rahma Al Foori contended that current research seems to subject in the study of the context of Omani newsrooms to normative theories without a consideration of the cultural specifics of the investigated media contexts. This paper also unveils what an active role news workers play in addressing social problems; aspects which have always been marginalized in Omani media research. Andreas Anastasiou argued that there is a need to re-evaluate the rigid use of news values by researchers in investigating journalistic input. Rethinking the treatment of such aspects is deemed significant for a better understanding of the professional status of journalists in practice, not just in theory. Tianbo XU explores the Chinese journalists’ changing perceptions and practice in the context of new media and he stated that there are “grey areas for online news media to conduct journalistic practice in different ways from mainstream media”.
Oluwafunmilayo Alakija discussed in the ‘(New) Media, Identities and Representations’ session, how first and second generation members of Nigerian Diaspora in Peckham distinctively differ in their perceptions of home, identity and media practices. From the representation of home and identity in relation to media practice, Xiaomin Hu navigated the representation of distant suffering to suggest a theoretical framework of cosmopolitanism, mediation and interpretation. Tianyang Zhou examined the interaction between cyberqueer techno-practice and finds that new media provides a platform for Chinese men to self-represent online and offline. Shuhan Chen’s paper, “Understanding of ‘Face’ Concept in Chinese Social Media through Online Self-representation” places emphasis on the influence of social media on the representation of “Face” in the Chinese context.
Media online or offline arenas provide spheres, theatres and scenes for both media producers or media recipients. Such platforms position contributions of contesting issues as produced by the media arena. The provision and accessibility of media platforms in themselves are considered contributions to cultivating the public audiences’ views, which helps build societies with more spaces for free expression and social change. Under the ‘Media and Democracy’ parallel session, Alejandra Castano opens the curtains to show “Behind Scenes of Colombian Public Service Television” through observing the media production practices. This paper aims to investigate the producers’ preconceived ideas of the audience’s needs. Peter Mhagama shows how radio listening clubs in Malawi is an alternative public sphere for “the promotion of participatory democracy at local level.”
More papers followed on the African media context and delineated how ‘(New) Media and Development’ are congruent. Mhagma showed how access to media in general is difficult in Malawi. It comes as no surprise that the technology of mobile phones in Nigeria or Kenya is like opening a window to the flow of information and thus development. Oghogho Uyi Osazee-Odia reiterates that his qualitative study of university students’ perceptions and usage behaviours of mobile phones in Nigeria reveal the extent to which they benefit from this technology. Faith Kibere offers an ethnographic study of the relationship between new media and the youth in Kibera in Kenya. She emphasized that the platform available through new media “promises empowerment”. Youth were a focus in Osazee-Odia and Kibere’s papers as well as in Saadia Ishtiaaq Nauman’s, who investigated youth and the convergent news media environment in Pakistan to unveil the usage pattern of these students in this environment. This paper also investigates the ways in which convergent media devices and platforms are used by Pakistani students.
The discussion of media in relation to the diversely-conceived ideals of democracy was followed by a ‘(New) Media and Politics’ session. Yupei Zhao examined the active role of cyber social network Chinese micro blogging Weibo, in contributing to the Chief Executive Election of Hong Kong in 2012. Zhao emphasized how users express their desire for freedom through Weibo in ways such as through challenging the government and manipulating issues of censorship on both personal and government levels. Just as this media could be used by citizens, it could also be used by politicians to gain consent from the citizens. Lawrencia Agyepong investigates celebrity political endorsement as a political marketing tool in the 2008 and 2012 electoral campaigns in Ghana. There is little attention paid to the use of endorsers in political arenas and this study contributes to shedding light into this under-researched area. Ken Wang called for the De-westernizing of media studies interpretations of Chinese creative industries policies. The focus is on the term “creative industry” which originated in capitalist UK yet was imported by a ‘socialist’ country like China, as it so positions itself. This paper of rethinking interpretations poses a general question which is already touched on in a majority of papers; should societies collapse into singularity, by endorsing Western definitions of self, identity, love, personal and professional interaction, social problems, journalistic values, home, suffering, democracy, development and politics, without giving a consideration to communities’ own preferences?
In the end of a very heavily-intellectual feast; which, by the way, had also a proper luncheon meal too; Prof. Mark Banks, Research Director at the Department of Media and Communication closed with a very inspiring speech thanking the organizers and participants for their contributions towards enriching this event. New Directions in media research papers pose questions which radiate in more directions in social sciences research that are never ending in dosing in the luminous accumulation of knowledge. Finally we announce that we will soon be calling for abstracts for the NDiMR event in the year to come: 2015.
To watch some videos of New Directions in Media Research Conference, please visit:
NDiMR 2014: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9kC9iLtqfiU
NDiMR 2013: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4el3Uw8Og9c