A Critic on McNair's Work; The Sociology of Journalism

Brian McNair, who got his PhD. in Sociology from University of Glasgow and now is working for QUT in Austria, specializes in school of media and sociology of journalism. His book, The Sociology of Journalism which had been published in 1998 is kind of a conceptual book that focuses on merely on the elements of journalistic outputs and examines them by two different approaches as liberal pluralist and marxist materialist. These two dimensions at the core of the discuss of the book are subsequently defined and detailed by the author as an aim to understand how the journalistic media works in liberal democrasies such as U.S.A. and UK, what media’s role in the central and East European emerging democrasies and how media conducts its own role in the oppressive regimes and on the other dimension, it works for enlighting what is the social components of the media on social indicators in the context of the form and contex. It refers to the social theory which shapes the last century’s discussions around the media studies.

First of all, author of the book makes a definition what the journalism is and then arrays the main principles of journalism which consist of four tittles: truth, newness, authored and actuality. Aftermath of it, author puts three facts of what media influenced by and what it is:

1) Professional ethics,

2)Influenced by Politicians

3) Influence of ownership.

Secondly, author tries to alight the two paradigms; the competitive paradigm is what plural democrasies has as traces in the contex of Jurgen Habermas “Public Spheres” and the dominance one which is mainly arguing by Gramsci’s “Hegemonic Class Rule”, Althusser’s “Ideological Interpellation” and Marx-Engel’s German Ideology – Critical Sociology. It also researched by Chomsky and Ed Herman’s model of Propaganda.

Chapters goes by, author looks forward how media effets on individuals by sending and receiving codes each other. As the Sinn Fein’s case shows clearly, media’s role is so crucial when the matters so tough for both public and officers when it comes to the etnic, religious, class and sexual etc. differences. All journalistic output has some interpretations itself and it is what the journalistic production is. But, accourding to the author, the news producer cannot predict in advance how the massage will be interpreted and the sociologist cannot predict what its effetcs will be. Thus, it has different results at the end.

As conclusion of the first part of the book, author recounts ideological effects, public agenda setting theory of Mccombs and Shaw, Moral Panic as a concept into the social theory by Stan Cohen that they are all exerting as part of the effects of the contemporary journalism.

As mentioned in the previous part of the book, factors involved in the production of journalistic texts based on the premise that a product of the Professional ethics, routine practices and bureaucratic organisation of journalists. 

First of all, working enviroment  of newsroom is the starting point and it draws the lines that journalist cannot be avoided. As an employee, a journalist is only an another brick in the wall and a sociologist has to be knew it first. Second, how changes in the bureaucratic organisation of the newsroom affects content as some topics are rised at the bottom of the agenda. Environmentalism and organized labour agendas are very fine examples in this regard.

The third point is the journalistic form. Journalist has some boundaries in the name of the formal disciplines and constraints which has to be known very well by oneself. Additionally, journalism is also a profession. It called “authorised truthteller” and its duty is to delivered facts to their audiences. Hence, journalistic ethics emerge from this point and facilitate the social construction of legitimacy.

Contrary to its first appearence in Europe and North America, journalistic ethics involve objectivity as a core value in its profession form. It can be seen in capitalist society product of  three differents trends; Philosophical, Technological and Economic. The philosophy of the objectivity derives from positivistic manner and impart to the journalism in the late 19.th century. Journalists wanted to believe that they could stand apart from the real world just like the other natural science professionals what did in their manner and observe the world dispassionately and report back.

Technology is also a very good thing to reflect what the real world is by the hand of the journalist. Such as photography is simplifying this reflection and make audiences more well informed just showing what is really happening in the actual world. Economics is also an indicator for an independence from politicians and put media on the ground of market and its rules. This can be pave the way of losing affiliations any other parties and provide freedom for journalist as a “truthteller”. But author’s point of view can be easily challenging by anyone by saying that the ownership in the media also affects badly journalist in behalf of the owner’s intent.
The rules of the objectivity consist of three characteristics: seperation of fact from opion, balance of interpretation and validation of facts. Not only this trivet is kind of basic motto for journalist, but also impartiality is vital for who works in media. This is what also contains the critics of objectivity, one has to be understood it if in ties with ethics of the journalism, freedom from any ideological bias is the essential.

As a post-war trend in Western philosophy, cultural relativism and new journalism are respectly new and complicated works in the field of ethics. Their ideas about ethics are shaped by the counter- culture views whether they are marxist or not, they think themselves as the warriors moving towards  the limits of journalism. 


A journalist survives at the very political plaque and breathes every moment political air which has affluents on himself. Even in liberal pluralist democrasies as the author said, there is always a political pressure which can be very powerful especially when the external or internal crises such as world wars, financial crises, natural disasters etc. Occur. This perception clearly shows tough political environment of media production.

According to Brian McNair, when a researcher look at the history of Soviet praxis, he / she definitely see kind of oppressions implemented on journalists by the regime powers. This idea is initially arguing by an ascription from Lenin as “Words were more dangerous than bombs and bullets”. The experience of controlled media in Russia created a political culture which still has some influences on journalists in relation to auto – censority.

One of the other factors of media production is the economic environment which is discussing in the book in depth. The author of the book separates that factor into two dimensions: First, he sees the production process as an industrial formation which mainly owned and controlled by conglomerates. Second, it is also a commodity as well as industrial thing, offered to the marketplace for who want to get information from it. So it has some contradictions which emerge from the natural environment of competitive marketplace and ideal journalism seems to be sacrified for the greater good of commercial aims.    

Author disscusses the fact that a giant proprietor of a media can easily manipulate his / her media tools to gain interest from political world. For example, R. Murdoch plainly supports the right –wing politicians in general but it once changed to opposed way when he shrewdly had seen the victory of labour’s Tony Blair. This also can be seen on the ground of political sphere of Turkey. Some media giants like Doğan Company, Demirören etc. Use their media firms behalf of some politicians in order to get them succeed and thus get their profits higher aftermath of political victories. In Turkey, media companies are probable the best way to make politicians propaganda and hereby get big tenders from government to those who also have big construction companies.

The last factor of the media production is the technological environment. This factor has improved the technical infrastructure of media companies and devices of journalists but on the other hand, it urges journalists to making their outputs more akin to the what “infotainment” stylistic way wants and this eventually comes with a lack of seriousness as fulfilling the duty of public disclosure by journalist. Another effect of technological improvement is political. The immediacy and liveness of contemporary journalism has altered the nature of the relationship between political power and the people. Just like the role of Twitter when Gezi Park upheavals occur the immediate spread of news urge states to be more democratic against oppenent citizens. This can be understood as huge benefit of technological improvement. The internet, according to the author, has great potential to democratise media, restore the public space by restoring control over the means of communication.


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