More Media Work Reviews

End of the semester (hence the radio silence - I am finding time now and then to update my Twitter feed), and some more Media Work book reviews have come my way, such as at the "Reinventando los medios" blog (in Spanish), and the VideoonScreeN blog (in Portuguese). Earlier reviews are published and link through elsewhere on this blog.

Also, Polity Press now has the Digital Media and Society book series website up and running, which includes an Fall 2008 semester syllabus for a course on Media Organizations based on the book... it still needs work, though.

Below is the full text of the book review that was published in the excellent journal Ecquid Novi - African Journalism Studies by Myriam Redondo of the Universidad SEK-IE de Segovia, Spain.

Media Work
Mark Deuze
Cambridge: Polity Press. 2007. Pp. 278.
ISBN: 978–07456–3924–6 (hardback), 978–07456–3925–3 (paperback)

Flexibility, contingency, ongoing change, and endemic uncertainty. If you do not like these terms, stop reading. This is the review of a book that refers frequently to words of this type in order to describe how journalists will work in the near future.

Media Work is the story of a happy find. The one that occurred when its author, Mark Deuze, read Zygmunt Bauman’s proposal of “liquid life,” an accurate expression to describe the constant insecurities faced in contemporary society. According to Bauman, this is a world full of fast-moving events, trends, and needs, and thus full of worries about every new skill that should be learned to cope with such changes. In the hands of Deuze, “liquid” becomes also the perfect adjective to describe modern media, understood as institutions that reporters -and citizens- inhabit in a nonpermanent way, because everything is unstable in this twenty-first technological century.

How is it to work as a journalist nowadays? How will it be in the near future? Using Bauman’s contribution as both supportive theory and connecting thread, Deuze pinpoints the features characterizing the different types of media activity in present times. He refers to journalism in its widest possible sense, as a creative process that involves many actors. In order to write the book, interviews were conducted not only with print press workers, filmmakers, and television makers but also with public relations staff, marketing communicators, and computer game designers. The author talked to professionals in Finland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United States. Data are not broken down by country, mainly because, according to the author, there were more similarities than differences in each of the places selected.

What Deuze sees in each of these fields and countries are exhausting requirements, such as ongoing learning skills, compulsory social networking, and blurring of work and family time. There is also a challenging need for open attitudes (especially in favor of technological convergence and in favor of convergence between media producers and media consumers). The conclusion is clear: journalism, as we remember it, is coming to an end. But it is not necessarily a pessimistic affirmation.

Deuze prefers to attach to rationality and not drama when describing the situation. He reasons that the negative features mentioned above are paradoxically essential to achieve some very much appreciated goals of today, such as creativity, independence, and recognition/differentiation from the others. These aspirations are the positive aspects of the situation, the strong forces that justify and push liquidity forward. Precariousness, stress, and insecurity make the reverse of the coin. Some reader might miss a stronger opposition to these forecasts, a call to rebellion that is never present in the text. Deuze does not complain openly, although he does not hide either that endemic uncertainty, while highly beneficial for elite workers, might have disastrous consequences for some of the rest.

Either centrally or tangentially, Deuze updates theoretic journalism postulates related to news values and news judgment. He replaces classic expressions like "media routines" by others such as "occupational ideology," "culture of newswork," "media logic," and "operational closure" (the internalization of the way things work and change over time within a newsroom or at a particular outlet). According to the author, this terminology fits better the growing power of the individual and the declining role of institutional constraints in the daily operations of gatekeeping and news decision making. We operate in a network, but media work takes place on an intimate level, states Deuze. The proposal sounds appealing and suggests further approaches to patterns of digital practices in journalism.

The book is highly recommended for students of journalism, who can benefit from an early immersion in pros and cons of the profession: it avoids romanticism, it explains the plain truth. The text is both easy reading and deep, with good bibliographical choices, so educators will find it inspiring, too. Scholars coming from disciplines other than Communication may find some objection, as, in order to follow the main argument of the book, it will be necessary to accept an important starting point: we all work and live in the media, whether as journalists or not. Media are, according to Deuze, the key examples and drivers of economic and cultural shifts accompanying globalization. Media are modern life, liquid life itself. Our life is lived through, or rather in, the media: "I consider the management of creativity, the culturalization of work, and the processes of giving meaning to one's professional identity in the creative industries (of which media are part) crucial indicators for life as lived in contemporary liquid modernity” (p.X).

Actors of the creative process, journalism students, and citizens: liquid life (media life) is a precarious but thrilling life. And there is no way to escape it.

review by Myriam Redondo, Universidad SEK-IE de Segovia, Spain.