11

The emerging chaos of global
news culture
Brian McNair
What has been the impact of new information and communication technologies on global news culture?
Do the assumptions of materialist sociology hold true in the new conditions of the twenty-first century?
Are the contemporary news media to be viewed as agents of elite control, or of a growing cultural chaos?
In the era of the war on terror, can theories and concepts developed for the Cold War retain their validity for journalism studies?

We inhabitants of the twenty-first century live in an environment of communicative turbulence – a cultural chaos1 brought into being by the proliferation of media channels and the volume of information of all kinds, which flows up, down and through them. Exponential growth in the quantity of information in circulation, alongside other trends (see below) leading to change in the way we relate, as individuals and societies to that information, suggest the need for what I have previously characterized as a 'new' sociology of journalism (McNair 1998, 2003), equipped to make sense of a very different set of conditions from those in which the British media studies tradition – and journalism studies in particular – was formed. By 'new' in this context I do not mean to imply wholesale rejection of the old, so much as a perspectival re-orientation away from the long-standing focus of materialist scholars on media as instruments of control concentrated in the hands of dominant elites, towards a view of them as autonomous and increasingly unruly agencies driven by economic, technological, political, ideological and cultural forces over which those elites, including even the proprietors of big media capital, have relatively little control.

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