Friday, October 19, 2018

The Contrasting Fortunes of Print and Online Media

The latest UK newspaper circulation figures (September 2018) highlight the continued decline of print media. The ten year figures from the UK Audit Bureau of Circulations are shown below.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Diary of a Mature MSc Student - Week 3 (Reflections on Moving from Entrepreneur to Student)

As an entrepreneur who founded and ran tech startup companies for the last 18 years, I anticipated my return to full-time education as an MSc student would be a culture shock. To my surprise while there are obviously differences, the cultural differences are not so great. Here are my initial reflections.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Networked Technologies and Political Turbulence

This week we have been studying Jodi Dean's theories of Communicative Capitalism. In essence Dean argues social media is depoliticizing and that notions of political activity online are effectively fantasies that do not change anything fundamental. It is a pessimistic view of the affordances of social media to social and political movements. Tonight I attended a lecture my Helen Margetts of the Oxford Internet Institute who had an alternative view.



What's In A Name? The People's Vote Campaign

Last night at LSE Tom Baldwin made an impassioned plea for remaining in the European Union, he made a positive case saying Europe is 'bloody brilliant'. Tom is the Director of Communications for the People's Vote campaign. In his book on 'how politics and the media crashed democracy' he laments the populist cynicism, lies and half-truths undermining the trust in our democracy. I therefore had a question.

Why have they called the campaign to remain in the European Union, via a second referendum, a 'people's vote'? Is this not an example of the cynical populism he criticises in his book?



Sunday, October 07, 2018

Diary of a Mature MSc Student - Week 2

If you are familiar with the sound of cicadas on a summer evening you will know how it feels to be sat in a lecture room with a hundred students around you tapping into their laptops. The background noise rises and falls as the lecturer pauses, makes key points then moves on to the next slide. Lecture rooms were a lot quieter back when I was studying in the early 1980s.

My biggest discovery this week is the sheer wealth of free events and talks that take place in London. Last week I attended talks by Alan Rusbridger, former editor of The Guardian; Amy Goldstein, the author of Janesville and Amy Mitchell , director of journalism research at Pew Research Center.



Friday, October 05, 2018

A Hybrid Media Strategy Is Key To Modern Political Campaigns: Trump Case Study

A common misconception about the Trump campaign is that he used social media to bypass the mainstream media. In fact, the very opposite is true. Trump developed a hybrid media campaign to drive and frame mainstream media coverage using social media. This strategy relied on the interdependence between new and old media logics which Andrew Chadwick sets out in the revised edition of his book 'The Hybrid Media System'.

In his book Chadwick argues that previous notions of new and old media, and of fragmentation and diversification, fail to pay attention to the importance of the interdependence between media. Heroic ideas of how political movements may bypass mainstream media gatekeepers miss the real opportunity, namely influencing, shaping and integrating mainstream media into the core of your campaign.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Emotions of Political Protest

Commentators reflecting on why people voted for Brexit or Trump often say that emotion got the better of reasoned decision making. Former Prime Minister John Major talked of emotion trumping reality in the Brexit debate.

I have always felt that trying to separate the emotional from the rational in this way is a false dichotomy. So my interest was piqued when I listened to James Jasper talking about 'thinking feeling.' He argues that trying to separate thinking and feeling is unhelpful and says the cognitive development of ideas and decisions is the result of hundreds of processes of thinking feeling. In essence emotion is part of the decision making process.

James Jasper has spent over twenty years researching the emotions of protest and has just published a new book 'The Emotions of Protests'.  I haven't read the book yet but this is what I took away from his recent interview with New Books in Psychology.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Diary of a Mature MSc Student - Week 1

London was bathed in warm autumn sunshine this week, it was just glorious. I defy anyone not to love London when the leaves start to turn. It is a city of constant renewal. People often think of it as a historic city but it is always changing and adapting. Cranes are busy like worker ants and the skyline constantly evolves, with new buildings emerging almost weekly. This process of renewal struck me this week as I walked to LSE to start again as a full-time student.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Lies, Damn Lies and Political Statistics

Ok, this post is a bit of rant. I understand politicians of all parties want to spin stories so they appear favourable to them. However, the continual abuse of statistics is something that really frustrates me.

Today's example is the Conservative government trying to defend the large cuts they have made in education spending. The Conservatives have reversed the additional educational investment made under the Blair and Brown governments. However, rather than acknowledge the deep cuts in real terms spending per pupil that started under the Conservative/Liberal coalition, they have the nerve to try to pretend they are increasing spending.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Young People With Large Social Networks Are More Politically Engaged

A recent research article The Political Significance of Social Media Activity and Social Networks (Political Communication Journal, Feb 2018) by Joseph Kahne and Benjamin Bowyer, reports that young people's online activity increases their engagement with politics. One of the more interesting findings from the research was that those with larger social networks tend to engage in significantly higher levels of political activity.


Sunday, September 23, 2018

Labour: The Party of Middle Class Hampstead Not Working Class Hull?

"Strongly working-class parliamentary seats are no longer the Labour party’s heartlands" according to the Fabian Society as reported yesterday by the Guardian.

It has often been said that Labour is a broad church with strong support in both middle class Hampstead and working class Hull. However, there have been increasing tensions between Labour's middle class, southern, younger, educated voters and Labour's working class, less educated, older voters in the north and the midlands.

This cleavage was reflected in the Brexit vote. In Hull 66% voted for Leave. By contrast in Hampstead, north London, 75% voted for Remain


Friday, September 21, 2018

Diary of a Mature MSc Student - Week 0

I finished my undergraduate course and left full-time education in 1983. This was the year seat belts were made mandatory for car drivers, Margaret Thatcher won her second term of office, and Spandau Ballet's 'True' was played constantly on the radio. Today, some thirty five years later, I returned to full-time education at the London School of Economics. This is the first entry in my MSc diary.

Tusk Mocks May on Instagram. Is this the New Normal On Social Media and What are the Consequences?

Yesterday evening Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, posted a picture on Instagram mocking Theresa May, the UK Prime Minister. We are used to Donald Trump using Twitter to mock his opponents, such as his 'rocket man' tweets referring to North Korean president Kim Jong Un. Unfortunately it now appears to be increasingly common for politicians to use social media to mock the opposition and make personal attacks on opponents. What are the consequences of this behaviour for politics?

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Review: Uncivil Agreement: Understanding Political Polarisation


Politics is increasingly characterised as "us" versus "them". In her book Uncivil Agreement, Lilliana Mason uses social identity theory to analyse and understand the growing political polarisation in America. She argues changing social identities are changing the nature of politics and political discourse.


Monday, September 17, 2018

Does Democracy Only Work When It Gives Educated People The Results They Want?

"The reason I am beginning to question democracy is that it is producing results I profoundly dislike." Matthew Parris, Spectator, 12 November 2016

John Stuart Mill back in the 1800s argued the educated should have more power in political decision making as they had more knowledge, or at least what he considered the right form of knowledge. He was opposed to equal voting rights for fear the uneducated would outvote the educated. This debate continues today but takes the form that we may have too much democracy. That we need to find better ways to mediate and limit the impact of the uneducated on decision making.

Friday, September 14, 2018

The Diversity of News Sources Shared on Twitter: Immigration Case Study

In January 2018 Pew Research published the results of a study reviewing the sources shared and linked to by 11.5m tweets on the topic of immigration. The study highlights the dominant role of news organisations as news sources, 75% of the tweets linked to content from these organisations.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Role of Search Engines in Politics

In his book Off The Network, Ulises Ali Mejias, argues that search engine results present an incomplete picture of the world. They select what to index and what to return in your search results. How does this selectivity shape political opinion, if at all? Research set out in a 2017 working paper by the Quello Center found "search does indeed play a major role in shaping opinion – but it is not deterministic."

The working paper argues that while search engines are important, as they are one of the first places people go for trusted information, they are just one part of a diverse range of media sources people consult. The paper concludes that fears about filter bubbles, echo chambers, and fake news do not appear to be supported by the empirical evidence in this study of Internet users.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

10 Podcasts for Political Scientists

"What politics podcasts would you recommend?" This was one of the questions asked in my MSc Facebook Messenger group this week. As I scrolled through my podcast library I realised I now have over 20 political and media podcasts that I listen to regularly. I do love the podcast format, as I can listen while walking, driving or working out in the gym. Many also have an intimacy that make you feel part of the conversation.

Here are ten political podcasts that I can recommend based on many hundreds of hours of personal listening.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Social Media: The Ideal Platform for Populist Campaigns? Trump Case Study

A new research paper 'The Technological Performance of Populism' by Jessica Baldwin-Philippi explores how digital tools provide new ways to signal populism. The paper specifically examines how the Trump campaign leveraged this ability.

Friday, September 07, 2018

Review: Communication Power

"Power is primarily exercised by the construction of meaning in the human mind through processes of communication enacted in global/local multimedia networks of mass communication." Manuel Castells, Communication Power, 2011.

In the introduction to this book Castells outlines his attempts as a young student to engage citizens in Barcelona by leaving poorly printed leaflets in cinemas. I can emphasise with this, as a radical young student, I used a Gestetner duplicating machine to produce inky leaflets that I would distribute eagerly. Like Castells I knew communication was important and his personal introduction inspired me to dive deeper and understand more.


Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Polarisation May Be Caused By Opposing Views Rather Than 'Echo Chambers'

Polarisation has been an issue attracting much attention recently. The RSA has devoted a whole podcast series to the topic. One of the potential explanations put forward for increasing polarisation is the presence of 'echo chambers' on social media. It was therefore interesting to read recent research which found the reverse to be the case, namely that exposure to opposing views on social media can increase political polarisation.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Facebook Political Advertising in the 2017 UK Election: New Research

I was one of the people that took part in a research project Who Targets Me in 2017. I voluntarily installed a browser plug-in that allowed the project to track all adverts, including political adverts, that appeared in my Facebook feed. I was therefore very interested to read a first draft of the research findings from an LSE team led by Nick Anstead. The data set has limitations but the research provides some insights into UK political advertising on Facebook including:
  • the topics and messages of the adverts
  • the degree of focus on the leaders of the parties
  • the level of negativity in the adverts
  • the targeting of specific constituencies
  • how they used Facebook adverts to mobilise supporters

Monday, September 03, 2018

Review: The Internet and Democratic Citizenship

In their book 'The Internet and Democratic Citizenship' (2009) Stephen Coleman and Jay G. Blumler argue that for democratic participation to be meaningful and shape political outcomes, there needs to be "a new space for consequential interaction between citizens and their elected representatives". They propose establishing a new civic commons on the internet that will encourage deliberation among citizens, as well as between citizens and governmental decision makers. 


The book has three main arguments, namely: 

  1. The relations between members of the public and holders of political authority are in a period of transformative flux and there is a crisis of disengagement. 
  2. There is a relentless deterioration of mainstream political communication taking place and a deficit in political deliberation.  
  3. The internet has what the authors describe as 'the vulnerable potential' to improve public communications and enrich democracy


25 Political Scientists to Follow on Twitter

I admit it, I am a curmudgeon when it comes to Twitter. I like my feed to be informative, something that keeps me updated and informed, that provokes new ideas and makes me reflect. Holiday pictures? Put them on Instagram. Entertaining videos? Share them on Facebook. For me Twitter is a learning tool. So I wanted a Twitter list of political scientists who primarily share interesting content and not pictures of the view from their hotel room.

Friday, August 31, 2018

The News Media Transformation Has Only Just Started


"We are at the beginning of this transition, for all that we have seen, we are at the beginning."

This is the view of Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, Director of Research at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

Rasmus argues, correctly in my view, that as news consumers we have never had access to better journalism from a wide range of sources. We have never had the opportunity to be better informed. The key question though is who is going to pay for this journalism?