One of the major revelations from media studies research came to me, long ago, via David Morley. It was taken from what I think was a German study and related to the use of media in everyday life.  It concerned a man who every morning was in the habit of reading his morning newspaper over breakfast. Such behaviour seemed to indicate that here was a good citizen who made sure that he was up to date with the world before he began his own day’s work. But more detailed research revealed that in fact the primary purpose of his reading was to use the physical properties of his broadsheet newspaper to block out the demands of his family over breakfast; he wanted to be left in peace and the newspaper provided a legitimate barrier. It was a graphic illustration of how media research could explore the private as well as the public purposes of media use.

It may have been the same research which revealed another example of logical but undervalued media behavior. This concerned a woman, perhaps the same one who was ignored at breakfast, who refused to watch the evening television news with her husband who made a point of viewing it every night before he went to bed. Again this seemed to present the man as the good citizen while the woman was not. But it was more complex than that for the wife was not indifferent to the importance of the news; she just couldn’t see the point of her watching it. There was nothing that she could do about all the unhappy events which the news reported and watching it just confirmed her sense of helplessness, a feeling that she certainly didn’t want to generate just before she went to bed. [1]

Although I’ve now had these two little stories in my mind for a very long time as a reminder of the importance of thinking laterally, it is hard to get rid of the notion that reading or watching the news is an important act of citizenship. I was aware that my own watching of the BBC news over the years was a ritual and I was aware too of its formulaic construction (as who could not be after Amando Iannuci’s The Day Today (1994) which we used for years in teaching to illustrate such conventions).  But much media research still focuses on the declining interest of young people in the news, on the lack of foreign stories, on television’s tendency to follow the tabloid agenda, on the over-emphasis on stories with spectacular pictures or the spice of celebrity. Such research continues to assume that rational, sensible and engaged citizens watch the news and I have supervised (very good) student work which made the same assumptions.

But now I have to say I have more or less given up the regular practice of ‘watching the news’. It’s partly that I don’t want to watch the endless repetition of spectacular images. I could just about watch the first pictures from the Boston marathon or those of the blood- soaked man in the Woolwich killing. But repeated, again and again, as the speculations about motive, ‘terrorism’ and personalities unfurl? And I am not interested anymore in the speculation that too often passes for news from BBC correspondents such as John Simpson or Nick Robertson. It may be that the time I spent in Scotland really brought home the obsessively incestuous and self-serving nature of the London-based news media. But it’s not just that. I don’t think I want a different kind of news – a news that is less dependent on ‘events’, which gives more informed and detailed reports on complex issues in the manner demanded by the Glasgow Media Group.

It is true that I still retain an interest in local news which for me is London. So now I am quite happy to turn the evening news on late, to miss the main items and catch up on the latest London news – the takeover of the London housing market by international ‘investors’ permitted by our wickedly careless government, the improving transport system but the threat of HS2, the arts and cultural activity, the transformation of the river. It would be easy to suggest then that I am interested in items that affect me most directly. But while it’s true that these items have an impact on me so do all those items of international and national news which I turn away from.

My antipathy seems to be something to do with viewing since I am still among the declining number willing to pay for as well as read a newspaper. Nor have I transferred my viewing to online sites elsewhere though I perhaps listen to the radio news a bit more. It may be that it is viewing, rather than reading or listening, which now generates in me that sense of helplessness experienced by the woman in my earlier example. For whatever reasons, the television news no longer offers me a way of ‘working through the emotions provoked by the process of witness’ (Ellis 2000: 178).


Christine Geraghty is an Honorary Professorial Fellow at the University of Glasgow and an Honorary Research Fellow at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her publications on television include a contribution to the 1981 BFI monograph on Coronation Street; Women and Soap Opera (Polity, 1991); and My Beautiful Laundrette (I B Taurus, 2004.  Her BFI TV Classic on Bleak House (2005) was published in October 2012. She is on the editorial board of the Journal of British Cinema and Television and sits on the advisory boards of a number of journals, including Screen.




[1] Apologies for a lack of referencing here. I think the first story at least may come from Hans Bausinger’s 1984 essay, ‘Media, Technology and Everyday Life’, Media, Culture and Society, 6, 4, 343-351. And David Morley’s Television, Audiences and Cultural Studies, London: Routledge remains an invaluable account of complex issues.