Narrative, conflict and change : journalism in the new South Africa

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Narrative, Conflict and Change: Journalism in the New South Africa investigates the idea that narrative and reality do not have a mimetic relationship but that news texts take their shape and structure from prior cultural forms. Developing this point, the study argues that news gathering practices are embedded in a common sense of the moment that is radically shaped by prevailing currents of power. Opening with the observation that current disputes about the media and democracy in South Africa have been constrained by a narrow economism, the work sets out to broaden the scope of the debate by identifying news texts as more than informational artefacts but as narratives that reproduce and generate processes of making meaning and claiming identity in society. The study holds that polemic about the media's objectivity (or lack of it) and intentionality (to support white capital or black development) have taken on an exaggerated importance. News texts, it is argued, are cultural products that are formed in established practices and take their significance from meta-narratives that have a long prior history; moreover, subjects of news stories easily communicate this dominant discursive consciousness to journalists. Narrative is not, however, of necessity the province of dominant consciousness; indeed, the need to make sense of the contradictions between practical consciousness and dominant narratives constitutes a major source of creativity and agency for journalists and news audiences alike. The work comprises six theme-driven studies that develop an understanding of the relationship between narrative products and established journalistic practices. Throughout, attention is paid to journalistic agency, in the belief that news media are not homogeneous. Innovative practices highlight areas in which media is beginning to transform, and the pitfalls that attend such efforts. Grounded in ethnographic research and textual analysis, the chapters incorporate ethnographic material from a four-month period of research at the Natal Witness, in the city of Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, as well as material from other newspapers in South Africa and material provided by the writer's experience as a freelance journalist.

Includes bibliographic references.