Tuesday, 17 April 2012


Blog 31

James Watson
Friends and contributors
A Writers’ Notebook

· Living Lexicon: Tale of a dictionary

· Poems of Place (8) Cutting Corners: Somerset Lines · Correspondence

of a dictionary

The 8th edition of The Dictionary of Media & Communication Studies has just been issued by Bloomsbury Academic. Co-author with Anne Hill, Jim Watson writes about a long but fascinating haul since 1984.

It was to turn out the first-ever dictionary covering the subject of communication. Anne Hill and I were in further education at the time, teaching A level Communication Studies. We came up with the idea for a simple, short lexicon of terms, sold it to Edward Arnold publishers and they responded by asking for more.

After the modest first edition of 184 pages (the 4th edition rose to 251, the 8th to 346) our editor suggested a page-multiplier: ‘Why not include media history?’ IPC (Interpersonal communication), NVC (Non-verbal communication), PSB (Public Service Broadcasting), agenda setting and news values were joined by short histories of broadcasting, cinema, photography and printing.

With two or three editions under our belt we both became involved in running a Media & Communication degree course in partnership with the University of Greenwich. Dictionary entries expanded, offering a more comprehensive cover of theory, media events, the law and media and communications technology.

The task of constructing the dictionary has required a creative as well as a research approach, for many apposite expressions arise from explanation, analysis and conjecture by commentators in the field. Once recognised as potential entry material, given definition, broadened out by example, they take on substance; sufficient weight and import to be classified as entries.

What surfaces in the text may in some cases be judged ‘the usual jargon’ of an academic subject struggling for recognition and status. A more positive way of looking at new terms is that they serve the process of understanding, a kind of ready shorthand for often complex meanings. In some cases they serve as analytical tools.

The entry Codes of narrative, for instance, summarises a mode of textual analysis proposed by Roland Barthes while Transaction analysis introduces the reader to a technique that aims to improve interpersonal communication and social skills.

Terms such as Agenda setting, Gatekeeping, News values have a long history because of their usefulness in probing and deconstructing the news; not the least, our analysis is aided by the interconnectedness of these terms. They are not fixed in meaning; indeed with the growth of Network society they have required considerable fine-tuning in order to maintain their relevance.

Revolving door: entries in, entries out
We view the dictionary as a living, dynamic entity because the field of communication is both vast and ever-changing. New entries come bustling in, forcing others that may be losing their relevance to make way.

It was not until the 8th edition, for example, that the dictionary contained entries for Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google or YouTube, these reflecting, as the back cover of the latest edition puts it ‘the profound shifts that have taken place in the world of communication in recent years’. The corporate landscape of media is now shaped by ‘new leviathans…measured against the traditional dominance, globally of the mass media’.

Early on, we knew that decisions had to be made to rein in areas that were well-served in other dictionaries. While we have retained certain vital terms relating to cinema, the film and theatre, we have limited them to basics – Animation; Cinematography, origins; Film Noir; Montage; Newsreel; Persistence of vision; Special effects; Three-dimensional (3D) and the Western (we’ve not had the heart to excise Kuleshov effect).

Pinteresque made way some time ago, as did Theatre of the absurd, Theatre of cruelty and Total theatre, but in has come Web or online drama. Also back in the changing room have been Blues; Hippies; Little Red Schoolbook; Neon realism; Op art; Teddy boys; Thalidomide case; Schüfftan process and ‘You’re never alone with a Strand’.

In have come (just to name N to V) News management in times of war; Online campaigning; Open source; Personal idiom; Podcasting; Scripts; Self-disclosure; Streaming; Twitter and Virtual reality.

Network society
Entries reflecting the sea-change that has come about in personal, group, organisational and global communication are classified under the topic heading of Network Society, and include Blogosphere; Convergence; Downloading; Journalism: citizen journalism; Mobilisation; Networking: social networking; Web-2 and WikiLeaks.

Throughout, our aim has been to support the study of communication, to aid research and keep abreast of a subject that did not exist before the 1950s. Even now, many libraries place communication and media under the generic topic of sociology, perhaps because the subject reaches across a host of other disciplines.

Regrettably, the study of interpersonal communication has lost ground in educational institutions to the more glamorous media studies. However, with the burgeoning growth of network communication it is probably due a renaissance.

Pioneers, practitioners, contexts
The Dictionary pays due respect to the scholars – commentators, analysts, writers – who have charted the map of study, defined it, developed it and furthered our understanding of areas of study vital to the understanding of how societies work. Indeed it’s our view that the study of communication should be central to any broad curriculum; a necessity and a citizen’s right.

Ironically that is a reason why the subject often gets a bad press: it asks too many questions about the way societies are run to be seen to be academically ‘safe’. In the entry Democracy and the media, and indeed in entries across the board, we have stressed the connection between media, democracy and the exercise of power.

We argue that ‘through argument and advocacy’ the media created the ground that made democracy possible. At their best, the media are the watchdogs which, through the exercise of vigilance, ‘nurture, protect and celebrate a range of features that keep democracy healthy’ – that, of course, in face of the media’s propensity for doing the opposite.

A key aim has been to put communication into historical, social, political and technological and contexts. We record the contribution of media pioneers who dared to challenge authority in fighting for free speech, free media and consequently democracy down the ages.

In addition to many entries on the history of communications we offer as an appendix a Chronicle of Media Events stretching from the production of paper from wood pulp by the Chinese in AD 105 to the News International phone-tapping scandal of 2011.

Coiners of terms
Just as the work of scholars expands our knowledge of the subject so their language provides a rich, often enlightening, source from which to draw dictionary material.

Norbert Weiner gave us the term Cybernetics; Charles Hackett, Deep structure; Graeme Turner, Demotic turn; Basil Bernstein Elaborated and restricted codes; Stanley Cohen, Folk devils; Marshall McLuhan, Global village; Louis Althusser, Idealogical state apparatus; Ervin Goffman, Impression management; Youichi Ito, Kuuki; Dale Spender, Male-as-norm; Umberto Eco, Open, closed texts; Michel Foucault, Panopticon gaze; Stuart Hall, Preferred reading and Deborah Tannen, Report-talk, rapport-talk, all vital aids to the understanding of the processes of communication.

Such terms have become part of the language of study, serving its development and the rigour of its application. Without explanation and illustration – in class, lecture theatre or publication – many of them might remain remote, and bewildering; in short the antithesis of good communication.

The Dictionary of Media & Communication Studies celebrates the value of terminology, but for its benefits to be enjoyed recognises that there must be clarity.

Saying it with lines, boxes and circles
Also well represented are the diagrammatic representations that have proved useful in the recognition of key elements and the way these interact. The subject lends itself to model-making. From George Gerbner’s model of communication (1956) which Denis McQuail described as ‘the most comprehensive attempt yet to specify all the component stages and activities of communication’, via Erik Eisenberg’s model on factors contributing to the shifting nature of identity (2001) to Ronald Yaros’ ‘PICK’ model for the analysis of multimedia news (2009), models have become classic formulations.

Sadly, the Dictionary does not feature all the models we would have liked to use, not because the models have lost their relevance but because some publishers, resistant to Open source and, in our view, to the detriment of their authors’ contributions to the study of communication, charge inordinate prices for reproduction. This short sightedness risks consigning good models to the academic dustbin.

Cross reference
Throughout the eight editions we have been aware of the need to build systems of cross reference. Student readers may be unfamiliar with terms, relying on serendipity rather than system, so connectedness has been our constant target, hence our list of Topic Headings to supplement the cross references within and at the end of entries.

Topic areas range from Audiences: consumption & reception of media through Gender matters, Interpersonal communication, Language/discourse/narrative, Media history, Media issues & debates to Research methods and Textual analysis.

The past is not jumble and we have retained as far as possible reference to events that have influenced their own time and the future. Here still are entries on the Frankfurt school of theorists, the Pilkington Committee Report on Broadcasting, Stamp duty, War of the worlds and the Zinoviev letter.

Indeed in a world of rapid change which the Dictionary is designed to reflect, some entries possess a rock-solid right of domicile: the 1st edition of our tome began with AA certificate, A certificate and ended with Zoopraxography; and so does the 8th.

Message from Bloomsbury Academic:
Please click here to read some taster chapters from Dictionary of Media and Communication Studies: http://tinyurl.com/7fjmbgg. If you'd like to buy the book, a 20% discount offer is available for all readers of this blog. Please contact ba.marketing@bloomsbury.com to place your order.


Poems of Place (8)


There is a poem here
On this Mendip hill
Above the plain of Avalon,
In the rook-broken silence;
But the daemon of the air
Withholds its lyric
From impatient strangers.

I shall record
The blossom of whitethorn,
The purple smudge of brambles
The green meander of hedges
That defy order and geometry;
Duly note the enigma
Of Glastonbury’s blue-steeped Tor.

Yet on an empty page, with idle hand
I am guilty of mere description;
An itemiser uneasy with the calm,
The existence without theme,
Beautify unauthorised, unaware of itself,
The shapes, the patterns, the shadows
Random and defiant.

Nature and time are one,
Partners in liberty and forgetfulness.
Memory and meaning never took root here;
Neither sense nor reason
Left footprints in the grass.
Subject only to darkness and sunrise,
Nature sings but it does not speak.

Ned Baslow’s LETTERS TO CELEBRITIES – Harold Godwinson, Homer, Giorgione and John Milton so far have prompted some lively responses from readers, though we are still waiting for replies from the celebrities themselves. We are holding over his latest, Letter to Inspector Morse, until the May issue.

As readers will recall, Harold’s had his work cut out getting from Stamford Bridge to Hastings to put pen to paper; there’s no evidence that Homer could read or write, Giorgione could well be a figment of Titian’s imagination and Milton in his role as official censor to Protector Cromwell is as likely to strike the blue pencil through his own work as anybody else’s.

Nevertheless, Ned is confident that replies will eventually materialise. Meanwhile, for Blog 31, we are giving two of Ned’s readers space to respond.

Rear-view mirror

Dennis Chambers writes:
Dear Ed,
Much as I agree that there’s a certain two-facedness about John Milton when he defends the written word while serving – and no doubt being paid for – as an official censor, I think Ned Baslow tends to fall into the all too familiar trap of anachronism, in short, judging the past by the light of the present; call it the rear-view mirror syndrome.

Milton was no friend of Catholics etc. knowing that Catholics in his shoes would be as intolerant of ‘free speech’ as his Masters were, given the chance to wield the blue pencil; or to be more to the point the gallows, axe or bonfire.

As for daring to question the clarity of Milton’s prose, Baslow risks stirring controversy. Admittedly, bearing in mind the clean classicism of contemporary texting, when economy of expression is at a premium, Milton’s somewhat convoluted style takes some deciphering. After all, he was not writing with the National Curriculum in mind or the precision required by twittering.

Milton was writing for the privileged few and certainly not competing for public attention with the likes of Wayne Rooney, Stephen Fry, Ed Miliband and a million other literary wannabees.

My own view on this matter is that Ned should continue with his questioning of the high and mighty, but also heed his wife Betty whose studies for the OU suggest a rather more balanced and informed judgment.

Still hope for Giorgione

Mrs. Helga Riley writes:

With reference to Ned Baslow’s comments on the impossibility of verifying the existence of the Venetian painter Giorgione, I confess a strong sympathy for his doubts, having been at the same Art Collection lecture at London’s National Gallery.

Like Mr. Baslow my husband and I had great admiration for the few acknowledged works by the artist. We were well aware that the authenticity of some of them had been questioned and we looked to the professor – whose name escapes me – for confirmation. We too, as the lecture progressed, sensed a chill as the professor cast doubts, one by one, on all the extant work by the Master.

As is the way with public lectures of this kind, come the hour, the speaker closes his or her notes, steps from the dais and vanishes before heartfelt questions might be asked. I rang the Gallery about this and was told the professor had a train to catch; well, so did my husband and I, having come from as far afield as Moreton-in-Marsh.

However, we have kept faith with Signor Giorgione as does E.H. Gombrich in his The Story of Art when he admits that ‘scarcely five paintings can be ascribed with absolute certainty to his hand’. Much as we admire Titian – well represented in the National Gallery – we’re convinced of the difference between the two artists. Giorgione is the artist of mystery, which may explain why he kept a low profile in his own time. It could well be that he was a man of modesty as well as mystery and looked with little favour on the self-publicising that made Titian such a success with kings and prelates.

We urge Mr. Baslow to take heart with regard to Signor Giorgione’s existence and ask himself whether it really matters who painted The Tempest if it is a glorious masterpiece (as well as covering the damp patch on Ned’s sitting room wall).

Where’s the politics?

R.K writes:
Dear Ed.,
I’ve been following the Watsonworksblog for some time and commend its variety. However, it worries me there’s so little on politics and the parlous condition of the UK at present. The NHS is being hacked to pieces prior to the best bits being sold off to the private sector. A million young people are on the dole, while those at universities will be in debt for the rest of their lives.

The schools inspectorate is charged with failing schools so that they can be turned into academies; the Russell group of universities is being charged with making A-levels a bar to all but the usual privileged classes.

The countryside is about to be converted to bricks and mortar, families are being driven on to the streets as a result of security cuts across the board, while the stinking rich pocket the reduction of the 50% tax and freely confess they’re already taxed less than their servants, nannies and gardeners.

Shops are being boarded up in town centres that are becoming drearier by the day with the dark shadow of closure hanging over libraries, youth clubs, community centres, theatres, sports facilities and public toilets, yet in contrast the trade in jewellery, cosmetics, handbags and four-wheel drives has never been healthier.

Perhaps as bad as anything, the UK is heading for North Korean status as far as civil liberties are concerned with Coalition plans to spy on every goddam email, skype, telephone conversation transmitted from John-O-Groats to Lands End. So much for Cameron’s rhetoric on freedom from state interference (prior to getting his bum into the seat of power, that is).

As for the world outside Little Britain, where’re comments on the horrifics in Syria, the pointless conflict in Afghanistan, the failure of Obama to persuade Americans that a national health service for all is not a Communist conspiracy?
A rather gaping space, I’m afraid.

Personally I think a little more contemporary relevance and a bit more outrage concerning what the Tory bastards and Lib-Dem jelly-livered traitors are doing to and have in store for, our country, would not come amiss in the columns of your blog.

Thanks, RK, we consider you’ve said it all. Ed.


Watsonworks now available on Amazon Kindle:
Talking in Whispers
The Freedom Tree £1.03
Fair Game: The Steps of Odessa £5.15
Ticket to Prague £1.63


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