10
McJournalism

The local press and the McDonaldization thesis
Bob Franklin
Is McJournalism producing dumbed-down local newspapers?
Is efficiency compatible with quality journalism?
Has high quality local journalism been replaced by what Andrew Marr describes as 'bite sized McNugget journalism'?
Why are local newspapers flourishing at a time when the numbers of journalists and readers are in decline?

British local newspapers experienced seismic and rapid change in 1995 when the greater part of the local press shifted to tabloid formats. By 1997, only 10 of the 72 local evening papers published in broadsheet (Griffith 1997: 12): 2 years later, the Yorkshire Evening Post was among the last converts (Reeves 1999: 18). The move to tabloid generated changes in editorial content as well as page layout and size. A greater editorial emphasis on entertainment, consumer items and reports that refracted news stories through the prism of human interest was evident in a higher story count and shorter, 'frothier' stories, which used bigger headlines, more pictures and a greater use of colour (Franklin 1997: 113). Driven by the increasing competitiveness and corporatization of media markets, these restyled local newspapers emerged bearing all the hallmarks of tabloid journalism. By this process, the local press has become a focus for what has been described as the 'dumbing down debate', which engages both those who 'lament' the decline in traditional journalism and those enthusiasts who wish to celebrate the emergence of more popular cultural forms (Langer 1998).

In this chapter I offer some preliminary theorizing of a different explanation for this evident shift in news reporting. This trend, I suggest, might usefully be understood as part of the wider socio-historical processes of rationalization and bureaucratization first identified by Max Weber (1974). More recently, George Ritzer (1993, 1998, 2002) has adopted the metaphor of a fast food restaurant based on the principles of efficiency, calculability,

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