My PhD – Hyperlocal’s place in the Public Sphere

Another excerpt from my PhD (previously…). I have to deliver 20k words to my supervisor by late September and I’m currently knee deep in the various positions taken on Habermas’s idea of the ‘Public Sphere’.

This is my way in to this section. I pick up on a recent piece by a NUJ rep (PDF) and then suggest that the ongoing discussion about hyperlocal publishing can be see as a negotiation about its position in the public sphere. Later, after this excerpt, I get all complicated and discuss alternative public spheres, plebeian public spheres, counterpublics, subalterns…. I could go on but anyway, here’s that intro.

Hyperlocal’s place in the Public Sphere
Chris Morley, a senior officer in the National Union of Journalists and a former local journalist, has argued (2013) that the ‘havoc’ wreaked by media owners wanting to extract as much economic value as possible from a declining local press means that the case should be made for local newspapers to be seen as community assets and therefore allow them to be ‘rescued’ by citizens under the 2011 Localism Act. Without a robust local press, who will do the job of: “holding the rich, powerful and those with vested interest to scrutiny and account in the public good, while standing up for those that do not have a voice” (Morley 2013)?

Morley is lamenting the “apparently remorseless advance of the market as the arbiter of the nature, the content, the form, the labour relations and mode of production and the ownership of the local press” (Franklin and Murphy 1998: 22) Morley’s non-market-led vision of local journalism’s future reveals, as much of the commentary around hyperlocal does, attitudes to the role of local news-making in the public sphere. There seems an assumption that an endeavour such as hyperlocal has a role in helping citizens form their views about democratic processes at local level and understand the political alternatives facing them.

James Curran notes the “divergence of approach between liberal and radical perspectives [on the public sphere] also give rise to different normative judgements about the practice of journalism” (Curran 1991: 32). Liberal judgements seem to infuse the current discussion on hyperlocal, essentially seeing it as playing a useful role in the democratic functioning of society. It “feeds the democratic imagination” as Luke Goode argues (2009: 1294). In the process it further supports a liberal ideal of ‘mending’ communities: “I do think the growing belief in hyperlocal media needs much more thought, especially in Britain. We have fractured communities here and there is an urgent need to find some glue” (Greenslade 2007). For Chen et al, hyperlocals “serve not only as a traditional information source but also as a forum for ongoing discussion of local affairs and a mechanism for building and strengthening relationships among local residents” (2012: 932).

Normative ideals about how citizens should be able to participate in decision-making in society are articulated in Jürgen Habermas’s work on the public sphere. In his key work The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (1989’ originally published in 1962 in German)

etc. etc. etc…..

Below is the bibliography as it is at the moment for the public sphere section (much more to come here, it’s very much a work in progress):
Atton, C. (2002) Alternative media. London: SAGE.
Chen, N.-T. N., Dong, F., Ball-Rokeach, S. J., Parks, M. & Huang, J. (2012) Building a new media platform for local storytelling and civic engagement in ethnically diverse neighborhoods. New Media & Society, Vol 14, No 6, pp. 931-950.
Comedia (1984) The alternative press: The development of underdevelopment: Comedia. Media, Culture & Society, Vol 6, No 2, pp. 95-102.
Curran, J. (1991) Rethinking the media as a public sphere. In: DAHLGREN, P. & SPARKS, C. (eds.) Communication and citizenship: Journalism and the public sphere in the new media age. Routledge. pp. 27-57.
Downey, J. & Fenton, N. (2003) New media, counter publicity and the public sphere. New Media & Society, Vol 5, No 2, pp. 185-202.
Downing, J. D. (1988) The alternative public realm: the organization of the 1980s anti-nuclear press in West Germany and Britain. Media, Culture & Society, Vol 10, No 2, pp. 163-181.
Franklin, B. & Murphy, D. (1998) Making the local news: local journalism in context. London: Routledge.
Fraser, N. (1990) Rethinking the public sphere: A contribution to the critique of actually existing democracy. Social text, No 25/26, pp. 56-80.
Fraser, N. (1995) Politics, culture, and the public sphere: toward a postmodern conception. In: NICHOLSON, L. & SEIDMAN, S. (eds.) Social postmodernism: Beyond identity politics. Cambridge Univ. Press. pp. 287-312.
Garnham, N. (1992) The Media and the Public Sphere. In: CALHOUN, C. J. (ed.) Habermas and the public sphere. MIT. pp. 359-376.
Goode, L. (2009) Social news, citizen journalism and democracy. New Media & Society, Vol 11, No 8, pp. 1287-1305.
Greenslade, R. (2007) The peoples’ papers? A new view of hyperlocal media [Online]. The Guardian. Available: [Accessed 26 March].
Habermas, J. (1992) Further reflections on the public sphere. In: CALHOUN, C. J. (ed.) Habermas and the public sphere. MIT. pp. 421-461.
Habermas, J. R. (1989) The structural transformation of the public sphere : an inquiry into a category of bourgeois society. [Cambridge]: Polity.
Harcup, T. (2003) `The Unspoken – Said’: The Journalism of Alternative Media. Journalism, Vol 4, No 3, pp. 356-376.
Harcup, T. (2005) ‘I’m Doing this to Change the World’, : journalism in alternative and mainstream media. Journalism Studies, Vol 6, No 3, pp. 361-374.
Harcup, T. (2011) Alternative journalism as active citizenship. Journalism, Vol 12, No 1, pp. 15-31.
Harcup, T. (2013) Alternative journalism, alternative voices. London ; New York, NY: Routledge.
Kaufer, D. & Al-Malki, A. M. (2009) The War on Terror through Arab-American Eyes: The Arab-American Press as a Rhetorical Counterpublic. Rhetoric Review, Vol 28, No 1, pp. 47-65.
Landry, C., Morley, D., Southwood, R. & Wright, P. (1985) What a way to run a railroad : an analysis of radical failure. London: Comedia.
Morley, C. (2013) How Regional Media Companies Brought Themselves Down. Available: [Accessed 21 August 2013].
Simone, M. (2006) CODEPINK alert: mediated citizenship in the public sphere. Social Semiotics, Vol 16, No 2, pp. 345-364.
Squires, C. R. (2002) Rethinking the black public sphere: An alternative vocabulary for multiple public spheres. Communication Theory, Vol 12, No 4, pp. 446-468.
Wahl-Jorgensen, K. (2007) Journalists and the public: newsroom culture, letters to the editor, and democracy. Cresskill, N.J: Hampton.