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Dissertation Abstracts

Kyle Rooks

MA International Public Relations, 2005-2006

An Epidemic of Epidemics: A Case for Public Relations Role in Mitigating Health Scares

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Health scares are rife in today’s society, ironically persisting during a time of unparalleled health. Capturing the headlines and the public’s imagination, these scares have a detrimental impact on public health as the ensuing panic invokes stress – which does a number of harmful things to our health – and influences public health policy through the misappropriation of government resources.

The ongoing panic in the UK surrounding the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, one of the safest and most effective preventative health measures, highlights both the importance of being able to effectively frame and communicate risk and the glaring inability of health authorities to maintain trust in the vaccine.

With the media and pressure groups perpetuating health scares to satisfy their agendas, and the scientific community poorly positioned from a traditional standpoint to rebut scaremongering tactics, this study endeavours to determine how a public relations (PR) strategy can cut through misperceptions in order to foster a reasoned dialogue and appropriate public action to health risks.

After reviewing relevant theories, secondary research, established best PR practices, and the dynamics governing (and interactions between) parties involved in all aspects of health scares, and analysing both qualitative (interviews with stakeholders throughout the process of communicating science-based risk) and quantitative (content analysis of seven UK daily newspaper coverage of the MMR vaccine), the author concludes that by leveraging trusted sources, a proactive, co-operative, creative and multi-channelled PR strategy can successfully mitigate the detrimental effects of health scares for the betterment of our health.

Sarah Baker

MA Journalism Studies, 2005-2006

Celebrity Gossip Magazines and Feminist and Post-feminist Theory: The Impacts on Female Formation of Body Image Created by Celebrity Weight Depictions in Heat and Closer.

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When Heat magazine was re-formatted in 2000 it heralded the arrival and dominance of a new female interest format in the UK: the celebrity gossip magazine. Since its inception Heat has been replicated by other publications, most notably Closer, with great success. Whilst feminist and post-feminist theory have debated the impacts of the more commonplace female interest magazines such as Cosmopolitan, there has been little research into the what this new development has done to the genre overall.

This dissertation investigates the hypothesis that these celebrity gossip magazines have a negative impact upon women’s formation of self-constructed body image with a focus on weight issues. Based upon feminist theory, with post-feminist theory used as a counterpoint, the study argues that when those deemed ‘perfect’ by society, such as celebrities, are ridiculed for being flawed, it sends a message to the reader that even if they achieve ‘perfection’ it will not be good enough.

This hypothesis is researched and proved using content analysis to document the level of coverage given to the depiction of celebrities with focus on weight related articles, and focus groups to examine how these depictions are interpreted by the audience and how they believe it impacts upon them.

The study concludes that despite post-feminist theorists suggesting the positive potentials of such publications, celebrity gossip magazines are not subverting the negative aspects of female interest magazines by criticising celebrities. Heat and Closer are strengthening and reinforcing these negative aspects, through the use of society’s voyeuristic obsession with the culture of celebrity. The criticism of modern icons for beauty creates even more unrealistic and unattainable standards for women to achieve if they wish to be accepted.

Nynke Douma

MA International Journalism, 2004-2005

White Noise: The issues surrounding the coverage of African conflicts on Dutch television.

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Few people know that since 1996, conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo has claimed almost four million lives. Due to lack of coverage by western media and its superficial treatment of the conflict’s backgrounds, even fewer know that the exploitation of natural resources is one of the main factors causing and prolonging Congo’s conflict. Common explanations for such ‘media deficiencies’ range from a lack of public interest to the fact that Africa is too expensive to cover.

The latter in particular holds true for the Netherlands, where recent media reforms, notably those affecting public service television, have further squeezed budgets for foreign reportages. Dutch public service television, therefore, increasingly needs external funding, in particular for African news coverage.

From this angle, in particular Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) seem a logical contributor as the developing world is their ‘natural’ field of interest. Besides, NGOs increasingly need media attention to publicise their cause and to raise funds.

This dissertation looks at the implications of NGO-funded television on journalistic independence, NGO integrity and the quality and quantity of African conflict coverage. Based on first hand experience in filming an NGO-funded documentary in DR Congo and interviews held with Dutch journalists and NGO press officers, it also addresses the practical and ethical dilemmas and conflicts of interest that arise from cooperative reporting on conflict. As they are largely related to the inherently different objectives, work styles and expectations of the two parties, this dissertation also explores how the cooperation between NGOs and journalists can be improved.

It concludes by making the case that the cooperation between NGOs and journalists is an alternative model to conventional public service broadcasting. But given the ethical and practical dilemmas involved, it remains doubtful if it will be to the benefit of African conflict coverage.

Mireya Márquez Ramírez

MA International Journalism, 2004-2005

The Radio Journalist in Mexico: Notions and Attitudes to Professionalism.

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This study examines the notion of journalistic professionalism and its impact upon the journalistic culture of the contemporary Mexican radio newsroom. It discovered the existence of several factors, namely personal attitudes, organisational structures, routines and the wider political and cultural environment, that interlock to create a unique, domestic, complex setting. These factors nourish the journalistic culture and engender particular notions of professionalism which are more engaged with the complexity of the setting itself than with the rigid categories of the occupational ethos.

The Mexican setting shows that journalists’ notions of professionalism are largely related to the extent that they conform to their organisation’s requirements and demands. Journalistic professionalism is utilised by Mexican journalists as a discursive strategy to show their attachment or detachment, engagement with or criticism to the journalistic culture, and to respond, adhere and contribute to the news organisation’s goals. Diverse professional attitudes were couched by journalists in regard to editorial policy and in relation to external factors such as the government.

The study insists on the necessity of understanding professionalism as something relevant to individual, collective, organisational and extra-organisational entities. Journalism should no longer be conceived in terms of what an individual does, but as the product of institutionalised practices. Literature usually presents professionalism in terms of individual journalists, but is rarely conceived on in terms of collective media organisations. Individual journalists are vulnerable links amid powerful organisational machinery that is little known by the public.

Grete Krohn

MA International Public Relations, 2003-2004

Re-focusing A Volunteer Organization’s Brand Through Public Relations: A Case For Rotary International In Great Britain And Ireland.

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Trends in social habits show that the appeal toward formalized volunteering is declining worldwide. Academic and societal studies about the voluntary sector and volunteer groups in the United Kingdom reveal that volunteering suffers from outdated images, some of which are especially unappealing to younger people. Furthermore, lifestyle choices surrounding working, commuting and parenting are severely limiting potential volunteers’ spare time. In Great Britain and Ireland, Rotary is among the list of charitable organizations having issues with recruiting and retaining volunteers.

This dissertation studied Rotary’s brand within Great Britain and Ireland, by specifically examining how the organization presents itself to internal audiences and looking at how external stakeholders perceive Rotary. The results of a member survey, analysis of one of the organization’s communication tools, and interviews with key Rotarians and volunteer experts identified an internal and external branding problem. Rotary projects the image of an “old men’s lunch club.” This has severely repressed its ability to interest working women and young adults in membership.

Branding-inspired public relations recommendations were developed to help Rotary re-focus how it communicates its brand image without compromising its founding ideals and high ethical standards. Strategies were suggested to educate current members about how image affects advances in membership, inspire members to recruit and retain a more diverse membership, and showcase these changes in Rotary to the outside world to help broaden Rotary’s image.

Oliver Hawkins

MA Political Communications, 2005-2006

Squaring the Circle: Framing the European Public Sphere.

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This study is an enquiry into the condition of the European public sphere. It argues that attempts to empirically investigate the strength of the European public sphere have so far proved inconclusive because their methodology is predicated upon a theoretical misunderstanding of the concept of a public sphere.

Based upon a reconsideration of the normative ideal of a public sphere within a supranational political context, a new system of measurement is proposed for the European public sphere and an example implementation is provided in a study of European news in British newspapers. The evidence from this study indicates that European news is more nationalised than Europeanised and that levels of nationalisation are constant across newspapers within the same sectors, irrespective of their orientation towards the EU.

On the basis of this evidence, it is argued that the weakness of the European public sphere is the result of structural rather than cultural factors, proceeding from the way that sovereign power is organised and exercised through European institutions. If meaningful transnational deliberation is to emerge in the absence of pan-European media, institutional reform is needed that would allow for public deliberation to exercise greater influence on the European policy process.

Estelle Thoreau

MA Journalism Studies, 2003-2004

Ouch!: An examination of the self representation of disabled people on a BBC website.

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The study of the representation of disabled people in mainstream media is of interest to academics in the field of disability studies. This is because the way in which disabled people are represented can both reflect and influence attitudes towards them. However, most of the research in this field focuses on critiquing the mainstream media, thus neglecting how disabled people choose to represent themselves within the media. This dissertation attempts to redress the situation. It analyses the representation of disability by disabled people on Ouch, a BBC web magazine produced largely by disabled people.

Through a mixture of content and critical discourse analysis, the dissertation analyses how disabled people are represented within the articles on the website, how ideology and power is expressed through the discourse on Ouch, and how the medium of the internet has influenced the content of the website. The findings reveal that Ouch offers a significantly different type of representation than that offered by the mainstream media. Within the sample, disabled people are described using informal terms, humour and often irony. Disabled people are represented as active, vocal people with diverse interests and opinions. While disabled people are not represented as ‘official’ through the use of job titles, they are instead positioned as experts through their experience of disability.

The ownership and staffing of the website is found to have made a direct impact on the style and content of Ouch articles. This occurs through its positive representation of disability and its promotion of entertainment-based articles. The medium of the internet is also found to have influenced the style and content of Ouch. It has resulted in an increased sense of community towards its audience, and a prevalence of personal narrative and orality within its articles.