From 'watchdog' to 'spin-doctor' : an examination of the transition from journalist to parliamentary media adviser and back again

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis examines the under-explored career transition between two roles at the centre of political communication – the journalist and the parliamentary media adviser. They are two roles commonly portrayed as antithetical to each other, locked in a power struggle over the control of information. This oppositional framing is most easily recognised in the ubiquitous binary stereotypes of the ‘watchdog’ journalist scrutinising government, seeking truth and informing in the public interest; and the manipulative ‘spin-doctor’ engaged in advocacy, persuasion, obfuscation and lying. Inspired by the researcher’s own experience, this inductive qualitative study draws on the traditions of phenomenology and symbolic interactionism to examine the individual journey of twenty-one journalists who sought to make the transition from journalism to parliamentary media advising and back again. Via the unique comparative insights of the interviewees, this doctoral study sheds light on key issues arising from the transition through these two pivotal roles. Firstly, this thesis reveals the inadequacy of the blunt, dualistic conceptions of the journalist and parliamentary media adviser in the literature and popular culture. Secondly, this thesis offers insights into the interaction between reporters and parliamentary media advisers and reveals how the actors’ perceptions of the others’ behaviour can influence trust and ultimately the free flow of information to the public via the media. Thirdly, this thesis draws attention to the complex issues of partisanship, conflict of interest and bias that a journalist can face if they seek to return to political reporting once they have been a parliamentary media adviser. Based on the expert perceptions of communications professionals who have worked in both roles, this thesis argues it is time to rethink the blunt, black and white ethical distinctions between the journalist and the parliamentary media adviser and adopt a more nuanced interpretation of these two key roles at the heart of political communication that better reflect the diversity of contextualised individual practitioner experience.
    Date of Award2014
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorAdam Dickerson (Supervisor) & Kerry Mccallum (Supervisor)

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