Radio Journalism

September 17, 2009

Authors: Guy Starkey and Andrew Crisell

Edition: First

Publisher: SAGE Publications

Pages: 184

Price: £60.00 and £19.99

ISBN: 9781412930147 and 0154

The title gives away little about what is within Starkey and Crisell's Radio Journalism, and the jacket design gives it the look of a 1970s punk-rock fanzine. But one should not judge a book by its cover, even when it is beige, and certainly not in this case.

Contrary to appearance, this is not another turgid guide to digital editing, writing for radio and the structure of a newsroom team. It is an ambitious and accessible study that combines a succinct narrative history of radio journalism with an analysis of its power in the public sphere. It describes the development of British audio broadcasting before locating it in an international context and contemplating the contours of the convergent future. Such ambition is often the prelude to failure. Instead, Starkey and Crisell have written a precious introduction to the theory, practice and purposes of radio journalism that will be very useful to serious students of the subject.

It is an introduction. There is too little space here for a detailed assessment of John Reith's career, and the authors' account of the part BBC radio journalism played in the General Strike is abbreviated to the brink of irrelevance. No matter. Others have explored the history of the BBC. Starkey and Crisell's achievement is to set it in an illuminating context.

Their account is split according to the division between commercial radio and the BBC. The arrangement allows them to sustain throughout their amalgam of narrative and theory without becoming muddled. Their juxtaposition of the commercial sector's obligation to make profits against the BBC's need to appease government lacks subtlety. But it facilitates a lucid exposition of the legislative and institutional contexts in which British radio has grown and it builds a foundation for debate.

The authors portray radio's potency as an agenda setter. They make appropriate links between this power and the role of regulation in protecting representative democracy while injecting elements of political interference. This aspect of journalism education is too often overlooked, but students need to understand it and Starkey and Crisell are right to give it a place in their narrative.

Equally useful is their consideration of the challenges and opportunities imposed by convergence. Radio journalism has adapted to survive first analogue and then digital television. Can it outlive Twitter? The authors theorise that radio's unique dexterity with ideas and abstractions may continue to reinforce its social value as a medium for the transmission of news and current affairs.

Journalism educators produce too few texts that pair clear and authoritative understanding of professional practice with coherent theoretical analysis. Starkey and Crisell offer both, and evince respect for journalism as a profession too. This is a very good book.

Who is it for? Students desiring a thorough introduction to the practice, theory and value of radio journalism.

Presentation: Eight chapters set out in welcoming, bite-sized chunks, followed by a critical bibliography.

Would you recommend it? Very highly.

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