The semi-professional journalist: An investigation into the practice and experiences of independent local news journalists.

Hawkes, Ross (2024) The semi-professional journalist: An investigation into the practice and experiences of independent local news journalists. Doctoral thesis, Birmingham City University.

Ross Hawkes PhD Thesis published_Final version_Submitted Dec 2023_Final Award Aug 2024.pdf - Accepted Version

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This study examines how local journalists can be identified as semi-professionals in the independent, hyperlocal UK news sector by identifying and framing their labour against a backdrop of change within the professional local newspaper publishing industry. It addresses wider debates around the ways in which participants enter and exist in the liminal space between amateur and professionalism, and considers how their prior experience and knowledge shapes the way the semi-professional can be defined.

Academics have sought to chart the hyperlocal news sector and understand the relationship it has with the wider local news environment at a time when professional publishers have faced disruption due to the changing nature of audiences, long-established business models and the emergence of digital tools. Scholars have highlighted the financial uncertainty faced by independent publishers and the precarious nature of production and business models and practices used to deliver original content to local audiences. The hyperlocal sector has been associated as a potential route between amateur and professional journalism as part of efforts to address the potential loss of local news provision in communities, but I seek to explore whether an alternative semi-professional position allows former professional journalists to occupy the space in a different way.

This study explores both how independent publishers impact the local news landscape and also how the very same landscape impacts them as individuals. It does this by examining how semi-professional journalists identify their own personal lives, career ambitions and understanding of their labour in the wider context of local news discourse. The work draws on a range of methods including an autoethnographic account on my own position as a hyperlocal journalism practitioner; an analysis of a reflective diary charting a unique 12 month period as a semi-professional reporter during an accelerated period of change during the COVID-19 pandemic; and semi-structured interviews with others who are operating in the space between the professional and amateur.

I argue that the emergence of the semi-professional journalist can be framed through understanding of factors such as prior knowledge and experience in the field, while also recognising the need to consider more broadly the nuances within the increasingly liminal space of local news journalism in the independent sector. While regularly framed as hyperlocal, this position has emerged to create a sector of local reporting which is far more complex than a singular, catch-all terminology. I also suggest that the labour utilised to produce and sustain independent journalism in the hyperlocal sector by such individuals is not wholly motivated by the prospect of financial gain or progression into the professional sector, nor is it aligned initially to any sense of civic or community duty. Instead, I suggest that while such factors may be by-products and that the desire to recreate the experiences of their past, either as a participant in the production of or as a consumer of local news, is the central basis of the framework to define the semi-professional journalist. Because of this, more consideration needs to be given to the significance of the semi-professional hyperlocal journalist in sustaining the longer term provision of local news.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
5 December 2023Submitted
23 April 2024Accepted
Uncontrolled Keywords: Journalism, semi-professional, local journalism, hyperlocal, amateur, professional
Subjects: CAH24 - media, journalism and communications > CAH24-01 - media, journalism and communications > CAH24-01-04 - journalism
Divisions: Doctoral Research College > Doctoral Theses Collection
Depositing User: Jaycie Carter
Date Deposited: 08 May 2024 09:46
Last Modified: 08 May 2024 09:46

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