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The Future of Journalism in Advanced Democracies
August 17, 2007

Anyone who has edited a book will empathise with the repressed rage that underlies this bland statement: "We commissioned two people to provide this [chapter] for us but the pressure of their other commitments prevented either from delivering by the deadline." The preface continues with barely concealed frustration: "Second, we had hoped for more chapters from women contributors. Four women originally were involved with the project but pressure of work forced three to withdraw before the end."

Despite these setbacks, this textbook breaks new ground. A few years ago, a book of this type would have been exclusively about British journalism; its authors would all have been former journalists; and it would have made no mention of new media. Instead, this book adopts a comparative perspective, with useful chapters on journalism in six leading countries. It is written by a mixed team of former journalists and lifelong academics. And it engages - though rather inconclusively - with how the internet is changing the face of journalism.

The book also has a central thread that renders it coherent. It draws attention to the way in which intensified competition between multiplying news outlets is encouraging a shift from hard to soft news and considers whether this is in the best interests of democracy. Most of the British contributors are convinced that it is not, while many of the foreign writers are less perturbed. Indeed, the noted Italian academic Paolo Mancini argues that increasing commercialisation is helping to reconnect journalism to the public. These divergent answers add to the book's interest.

Like most edited books, it is uneven (with some of the best essays - five in all - written or co-written by Peter Anderson). Its account of journalism in different countries should have been more contextualised and given rise to a more interesting debate about the merits and demerits of different kinds of journalism. And the book ignores the "pragmatic" (Downsian) theory of democracy that is now being widely invoked in the US to justify the intensified commercialisation of its media.

This said, this textbook offers useful case studies of the UK media that highlight the impact of deregulation. It combines journalistic clarity with academic research, and it is refreshingly different in not being narrowly insular. It is organised around a central question - are changes in journalism serving democracy? - which gives the book a sharp edge.

It is a book that deserves to secure a firm niche as a widely used "theory" book for journalism practice courses, despite its utility cover seemingly designed for librarians in the age of rationed austerity.

James Curran is professor of communications at Goldsmiths, University of London. His latest book, co-authored with Ivor Gaber and Julian Petley, is Culture Wars , University of Edinburgh Press, 2005.

The Future of Journalism in Advanced Democracies

Editor - Peter J. Anderson and Geoff Ward
Publisher - Ashgate
Pages - 297
Price - £60.00 and £19.95
ISBN - 9870754644040 and 780754644057

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