Points of contact: a qualitative fieldwork study of relationships between journalists and Muslim sources in Glasgow
Munnik, Michael Brady
In this thesis, I explore relationships between journalists and Muslim sources in Glasgow, Scotland in a qualitative, ethnographically informed manner. My primary contribution in the research is to justify applying media production analysis to a field of research that has been dominated by content analysis. Since the popularisation of Islamophobia and especially the 9/11 attacks, journalists have taken a greater interest in Muslims in non-Muslim-majority contexts, such as Britain. Scholarship of this coverage has consistently concluded that journalists represent Muslims in a negative, essentialising manner. My research asks new questions of the topic, investigating the process of making news representations rather than the product. I identified the journalist-source relationship as the site to examine what informs news texts. I interviewed thirty participants and observed newsroom and community group environments, and I reflexively and transparently incorporated my prior experience as a journalist in Canada. Participants discussed their normative boundaries for accepting and using the label “Muslim” in news texts. “Relevance” was a common but vague response; my results show an emphasis on religious or subjective identification for journalists to use the term, whereas sources reported their belief that its usage was more indiscriminate, applied negatively and out of proportion to other groups. In terms of their conceptions of the “other,” journalists easily conflated ethnicity and race with religion for Muslims, and sources tended to describe anonymous “journalists” rather than specific individuals and their practices. I then analysed the points of contact through which these relationships were enacted, including press releases, direct contact, and social media. This analysis includes a case study of one Muslim group’s media relations, studying internal and external dynamics as its members positioned themselves in Glasgow’s news ecosystem. Participants described their uses of the other: as sources, for comment, clarification, and contacts; as journalists, for coverage and capital. Trust and reciprocity are features that participants identified as important for an effective relationship though often absent from their interactions. I show more reciprocally enacted relationships than content analysis reveals. Though these interactions are not always apparent in published texts, they nonetheless contribute to representations of Muslims more varied than the prevailing literature suggests. Glasgow emerges as a distinctive location in the context of Britain, deserving of further study. The mechanics of the journalist-source relationship can be used comparatively to assess whether, why, and how journalists report on particular groups.