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Framing the Future: Propositional Journalism and the Construction of Leadership in ‘New Tasmania’

posted on 2023-05-26, 15:06 authored by William Dodd

The future is a world that communication constructs in the present; a world populated by leaders and propositions that, before materialising, are often mediated by journalists’ everyday decisions concerning newsworthiness, source selection and framing. This category of reporting, that I term ‘propositional journalism’, is thought to represent a more constructive and engaging role for journalism in public life (Beers, 2006; Bornstein, 2007; Nielson, 2015) and has been given a variety of titles in recent years such as ‘future-focused journalism’ (Beers, 2006, p. 121), ‘development journalism’ (Bowd, 2003; Xiaoge, 2009) and ‘solutions journalism’ (Bansal and Martin, 2015; Benesch, 1998; Huffington, 2015). However, propositional journalism has also been subjected to criticism. According to David Beers (2006, p. 121) the propositions which become news tend to reflect the interests, visions and opinions of an exclusive class of corporate-aligned sources. This research examines these dichotomous aspects of propositional journalism to extend academic understanding of the mediation of the future and works towards a more nuanced appreciation for the utility and liability of propositionality in the construction of news texts.

Tasmania, Australia’s southernmost island province, presents an interesting case study because its political discourse has tended to fixate on controversial propositions for development. Conservationists have fiercely and often successfully opposed a range of development propositions in Tasmania, often voicing their dissent through local news platforms (Lester, 2007). For critics such as Jonathan West (2013, p. 55) these anti-development movements are an obstacle preventing Tasmania from addressing poor economic and employment outcomes. However, examining whose propositions are featured in reporting may reveal, contrary to West’s criticisms, that ‘anti- development’ sources are denied a more constructive role in Tasmanian debates beyond mere opposition.

A central concept in this analysis is, therefore, leadership and the explicit and implicit evaluation of leadership legitimacy in news texts. Following Pierre Bourdieu’s sociolinguistics (1999; 1991a; 1998) and more recent applications of his approach by Ghassan Hage (2012; 1996), this research considers leadership as comprised of markers of distinction and symbolic capital within ‘the governmental field’ (Hage, 1996, p. 468-469) that legitimise the propositions of a limited range of news sources. This research adopts an integrated field and frame analysis and, in particular, identifies metaphorical language as key framing devices which structure the evaluation of leadership and naturalise prevailing patterns of news access (Lakoff, 1996; Lakoff and Johnson, 1999; Lakoff and Johnson, 2008). Over a six month sample in 2014 comprising 1,172 proposition-centred articles from the three major, local news outlets - The Mercury (Hobart), The Examiner (Launceston) and ABC Tas (state- wide) - the research found that politician and business sources together represented 71% of all sources. The research found that patterns of news access corresponded with five common metaphorical frames of leadership evaluation: Navigational leadership, construction leadership, nurturing leadership, gambling leadership and showcasing leadership. It is argued that these served to valorise dominant entrepreneurial and political leadership styles and delegitimise alternative sources. Ultimately, the research recommends that journalists have a role in formulating new schemas of leadership evaluation and criticism to reflect changed economic and social contexts in a ‘New Tasmania’ characterised by democratisation, social inclusion and diversification of economic development (Baird, 2006; Stratford, 2006).





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