Working Soft

Besides the non-paid work of writing, I have four jobs this semester. I have my Gleebooks job working events. This is on-going and I am reluctant to give this up because all the teaching work is sessional and there is no guarantee of work next semester. Teaching-wise I have tutoring gigs at two universities and a sessional lecturing position at a third. I am assuming all start this week. Well, they do start this week, but I haven’t actually signed any contracts yet. Hopefully, the two units I shall be tutoring in are first-year ‘popular culture’ units and I’ll be running a first-year journalism unit.

Even though I have a relatively large amount of experience dealing with the media either as a writer or as a source (related to my research), I have not worked as a ‘journalist’ in the way ‘journalism’ is taught at universities. There is an unwritten (but oft-spoken!) prestige associated with working in ‘hard news’ media, and the character of journalism taught in universities, from my experience, is largely congruent with producing ‘journalists’ who can produce ‘hard news’. A focus on ‘hard news’ throws up a whole bunch of problems for academics or journalists who teach with the practical process of becoming and existing as part of the ‘journalist’ machine. One of the biggest problems involves the question of what ‘news’ is and how it can be defined.

In part, there is the complex issue of ‘hard news’ always refracting hegemonic processes of reproducing power relations through the very nature of its ‘newsworthiness’. ‘News’ is an event within which the interest of the audience, the commercial expectations of the media apparatus, and the challenge of institutionalised power all intersect. Grossberg’s work on mattering maps is useful to think this through. For example, so-called counter hegemonic discourses still often operate according to the hegemonic terrain of the dominant mattering map. To be truly resistant means producing singular perspectives on any given situation, one which cannot be appropriated or commodified back into the hegemonic terrain of the dominant mattering maps.

In most textbooks ‘news’ is eventually associated with readerly ‘interest’. In part, this is a biopolitical question of collectively individuating audiences. Media sources are used to navigate everyday life. The affective dimension of all ‘hard news’ therefore means that ‘hard news’ is always ‘soft news’ as well. One part of the character of the dominant mattering maps is to expel this ‘soft’ or ‘affective’ dimension not matter how shrill the moral outrage or shocking the scandalous expose.

Enthusiast magazines all operate primarily on this affective level of discourse, to capture enthusiasm, and the collectively individuate an audience. One of the questions that the challenge of the enthusiast media poses to the rest of the media industry can therefore be posed this way: What distuingishes ‘special interest’ from ‘general interest’? Is it merely a biopolitical or demographic question of the composition of the readership?

So due to this quite large work load this semester I’ll probably be writing up various bits and pieces from each of the respective courses up here on my blog.