When Big Media Aren’t the Biggest

Following completion of my honours year in 2012, I applied for and received admission to a PhD program at the University of Wollongong, and an Australian Postgraduate Award.

I’m looking forward to beginning work on the project, but at this stage it is still in the very early developmental phase so I’m finding it hard to get genuinely excited about the work. Nonetheless, I think I’ve developed an interesting, challenging and valuable research proposal. Partly in a bid to launch myself into this project, this post outlines my research project – largely without the academic language that the actual proposal is littered with – and the key topics in my project. Then, whenever someone asks me what I’m studying, I’m handing them a URL!

The topic makes good use of my experience and studies in communications and media, and also builds on my interests in politics.

Title 

I set out to keep the title of my thesis simple, but my supervisor suggested it needed to include more detail. So, while I liked simply “Hyperlocal eGovernment”, it now is appendaged with: “participatory media practices by local government authorities in NSW”. Posed as a question, it would basically be ‘How do NSW Councils use participatory media?’ Ah, but what is participatory media? And what the hell is ‘hyperlocal?’ Read on!

Key Topics

  • Hyperlocal: this term has largely come from a new media form of journalism that focuses on neighbourhood news. ‘Hyperlocal’ news is specific to distinct small communities. It is a somewhat fluid term, but denotes geographic areas much smaller than Australian (and American) states, and also smaller than regions such as “the Illawarra“. For my purposes, I am finding the boundaries of ‘hyperlocal’ at the edges of local government/council areas.
  • eGovernment: short for ‘electronic government’, this term largely relies on communicative technologies and strategies. Governments of all sorts are beseeched to communicate more and better with employees, citizens, visitors, businesses and others. The term also refers to delivering government services and processes via electronic resources. I’m interested in how well this term applies to what local governments do with electronic tools, including the internet. Does the term apply to how they do business? If not, why not? Perhaps there is need of a new term, or perhaps the term needs to be redefined to encompass the practices of local governments.
  • Participatory media: participatory media in this context refers to the tools and processes by which the citizen communicates with and accesses the eGovernment referred to above. This relies on participatory culture, which links strongly to to participatory journalism (and hyperlocal journalism).

Key theorists

  • Jay Rosen, who theorises the “people formerly known as the audience” in a media context. These phrase could be rewritten as the “people formerly known as the citizen” in that the idea of a citizen as someone who votes once every few years is uprooted by opportunities to continually participate in government processes.
  • Henry Jenkins and Howard Rheingold have both both written extensively on participatory culture.

Methods

This project will involve development of a framework to collect and analyse data from Councils including published documents and plans that are both broad and related specifically to eGovernance. In addition to analysis of these documents, I anticipate that there will be surveys and focus group research with Councillors and Council-staff. The existing literature on e-Gov, and other research on local governments, will also be useful.

Significance

This study is intended to have a definite impact on the participatory media practices of local government authorities, both in New South Wales and elsewhere. It will develop a framework for effective use of participatory media which is intended to guide local governments in their thinking about e-governance and participatory media. Further, the challenge to the efficacy of the term ‘e-governance’ could have wide ramifications in communications, media and political academic circles.