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Journalism and Power

  • Module code: JO7003
  • Year: 2018/9
  • Level: 7
  • Credits: 30
  • Pre-requisites: None
  • Co-requisites: None

Summary

This module will explore the origins, purpose and present-day structure/composition of local and central government in Britain and its devolved nations – and the news media’s role as a ‘fourth estate’ with a public duty to hold the political establishment and its institutions/agencies to account and expose abuses of power and privilege.

At its core will be an examination of the UK’s constitutional framework; its global position in relation to pan-national organisations like the European Union, Nato, United Nations and G8/G20; and the shifting balance of power (and responsibility) between state and individual in Britain today. Key themes to be explored include the relationship between elected politicians, voters and sectional interest groups/lobbyists - and the tension between ‘big-state’ solutions to managing/delivering public services and the more ‘consumer-driven’ models favoured by advocates of privatisation, voluntarism, and ‘Big Society’ localism.

Underpinning the factual content will be a focus on relevant theoretical paradigms – including the principles of liberal pluralism and representative democracy; role and importance of journalists/journalism in civil society; and impact of recent trends in the public sphere on the evolving UK/global political economy. More practical aspects will explore how journalists can hold the system to account – e.g. by reporting on parliamentary debates, poring over council papers, circumventing spin, and lodging Freedom of Information Act requests. Workshops will equip students with the research and writing skills necessary to apply their background knowledge to producing publishable features.

The module encompasses the syllabus leading to the NCTJ’s Essential Public Affairs exam.

Aims

• To build on students' existing knowledge of the history, roles and structure of the different tiers of central, local and devolved government in the UK, and the main international institutions of which it is a member.
• To provide a concise overview of current issues in central, local and regional government, including debates about the electoral system and constitution; austerity and ‘fiscal consolidation’ versus public investment and ‘fiscal stimulus’; and the trend towards localism, independent management and outsourcing of key public services to the private and third/voluntary sectors
• To critically engage students with debates about the balance of power between central, local and devolved government and conceptual issues relating to Britain’s status as a plural liberal democracy
• To familiarise students with the legal, ethical and practical issues involved in investigating and reporting the workings of central, local and devolved governmental institutions and their agencies

Learning outcomes

• Display a knowledge of the background, present-day structure, function and balance of power between central, local, devolved and international governmental institutions and agencies

• Demonstrate a comprehensive knowledge of all aspects of public administration and the mechanisms of government in contemporary Britain

• Apply this academic knowledge in researching and writing articles as a journalism practitioner

• Engage critically with key debates about both the philosophical and conceptual underpinnings of the British constitution and contemporary trends in the exercise of political power in the UK

 

Curriculum content

• The origins, roles and structures of the British constitution, monarchy, Cabinet and Parliament, local authorities, devolved assemblies, government departments, Civil Service and other public agencies

• The financing and administration of central and local government 

• The trend towards localism, independence, outsourcing, public-private partnerships, social enterprises and ‘consumer-driven’ initiatives in public service management and delivery 

• The evolution of the taxation system at local and national levels

• Key issues and debates arising from contemporary public affairs, including those relating to ‘big state’ versus ‘Big Society’; Monetarism/neoliberalism versus Keynesianism/state intervention in economic policy; regulation versus deregulation in the business, financial and housing sectors; the first-past-the-post electoral system versus proportional representation; contributory versus non-contributory (needs-based) welfare benefits etc

• The philosophical and conceptual underpinnings of Britain’s unwritten constitution, brand of representative democracy and contemporary political economy 

• The role and importance of free, plural and independent news media as ‘fourth estate’

• Practical approaches to political and public affairs journalism – use of council agendas, Hansard, access to meetings and debates, public accounts, press officers, Freedom of Information Act requests etc

• Detecting spin and propaganda and how to get the best (and see through the worst) of media management

• How to research and write a public affairs/political news feature and/or backgrounder

Teaching and learning strategy

This module will be taught through a weekly two-hour lecture, followed by a one-hour seminar or workshop. Lectures will tend to incorporate a half-hour ‘break’ to watch Prime Minister’s Questions live from Westminster – as a means of ‘bringing to life’ key themes and issues introduced in the lectures in a more engaging and identifiable way. Seminars will be used to build on students’ understanding of and engagement with the factual and conceptual elements of the module – incorporating in-class debates, presentations, discussions, tests, and practice sessions involving sample exam questions drawn from NCTJ past papers. In workshops, which will generally alternate with seminars, students will have a chance to look through real-life materials relevant to the work of political/public affairs journalists, including council agendas and accounts and Hansard extracts; view and discuss samples of political features, interviews and news stories drawn from a variety of publications; and develop ideas for their own articles, in consultation with the tutor.

Breakdown of Teaching and Learning Hours

Definitive UNISTATS Category Indicative Description Hours
Scheduled learning and teaching Lecture (2hrs) and seminar/workshop (1hr) 60
Guided independent study 240
Total (number of credits x 10) 300

Assessment strategy

The assessment for this module is designed to test students’ in-depth knowledge and understanding of a key political issue or issues relevant to the Journalism and Power curriculum, as informed by the NCTJ’s Essential Public Affairs programme of study. The assessment also aims to test their ability to critically engage with key debates related to the curriculum, and to apply their factual knowledge practically by researching and writing a polished feature or equivalent piece of journalism using established conventions of journalistic style and structure and a mixture of credible primary sources (interviews, reports, statistics, experiential research etc):

• A 3,500-word essay focusing on a newsworthy political issue with an impact at local, national and/or international levels, based on a pitch delivered in a 10-minute class presentation - 70%

Note: the presentation is a gateway assessment which students must pass before writing their essay.

 • An 800 to 1,000-word feature article or equivalent piece of journalism (e.g. a webpage of a similar word count, an audio package of 90 seconds to 2 minutes, or a video package of 1-2½ minutes), focusing on a topical issue that is in the news at some point during the academic year – 30%

Mapping of Learning Outcomes to Assessment Strategy (Indicative)

Learning Outcome Assessment Strategy
1) Display a knowledge of the background, present-day structure, function and balance of power between central, local, devolved and international governmental institutions and agencies Summative assessment of final essay and news feature/piece of journalism and in-class presentation, and formative assessment of seminar contributions
2) Demonstrate a comprehensive knowledge of all aspects of public administration and the mechanisms of government in contemporary Britain Formative assessment of seminar contributions and in-class tests
3) Apply this academic knowledge in researching and writing articles as a journalism practitioner Summative assessment of completed news feature or equivalent piece of journalism and formative assessment of workshop contributions, practical work-in-progress and discussions with tutor
4) Engage critically with key debates about both the philosophical and conceptual underpinnings of the British constitution and contemporary trends in the exercise of political power in the UK Summative assessment of final essay and formative assessment of contributions to seminar debates and discussion
5) Critique the use of media management in the multi-channel, digital age and be able to discern between objective/factual announcements and politically motivated spin and propaganda Summative assessment of final essay and news feature/piece of journalism and formative assessment of contributions to seminar debate/discussion and workshops
6) Function as critical practitioners in journalism, employing key conceptual and theoretical ideas Summative assessment of final essay and news feature/piece of journalism and formative assessment of contributions to seminar debate/discussion and workshops

Elements of Assessment

Description of Assessment Definitive UNISTATS Categories Percentage
CWK Feature or equivalent 800-1000 words 30
CWK 3500 word essay 70
Total (to equal 100%) 100%

Achieving a pass

It IS NOT a requirement that any major assessment category is passed separately in order to achieve an overall pass for the module

Bibliography core texts

Jones, B. (2004) Politics Today: Dictionary of British Politics. Manchester: Manchester University Press

Morrison, J. (2013) Essential Public Affairs for Journalists, 3rd edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Wilson, David and Game, Chris, (2011) Local Government in the United Kingdom  (5th edition) London: Palgrave Macmillan

Bibliography recommended reading

Campbell, Alastair (2008), The Blair Years. London: Arrow

Curran, J. and Seaton, J. (2010) Power without Responsibility: Press, Broadcasting and the Internet in Britain, 7th edition. London: Routledge

Jones, Nick, 2002. The Control Freaks, London: Politicos

Knight, N. (2006) Governing Britain Since 1945. London: Politicos

Lloyd, J. (2004) What the Media are Doing to our Politics. London: Constable and Robinson

Lyon, A. (2003) Constitutional History of the United Kingdom. London: Routledge Cavendish

Peele, G. (2004) Governing the UK, London: Blackwell Publishing

Starkey, G. (2007) Balance and Bias in Journalism: Representation, Regulation and Democracy. London: Palgrave Macmillan

 

 

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