Affective journalism – uncovering the affective dimension of practice in the coverage of traumatic news

Jukes, Stephen. 2017. Affective journalism – uncovering the affective dimension of practice in the coverage of traumatic news. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis is an exploration of the affective processes, behaviours and practices that lie at the heart of journalists’ work when covering traumatic news stories such as conflict, acts of terror and natural disasters.

The starting point is one of the central tensions of Anglo-American journalism. On the one hand, the normative values of objectivity have become deeply ingrained as a mark of professional standing. On the other hand, the practice of journalism relies on emotion to engage the public.

The apparent contradiction has often been the focus of academic analysis, sometimes from the perspective of audience reception and sometimes from that of professional and political economic tensions facing the industry. This thesis unpicks and examines in detail the component parts of the ‘objectivity paradigm’ and breaks new ground by uncovering the affective dimension of practice when covering traumatic news. Its analysis draws principally on affect theorists who have been influenced by a psychosocial tradition.

Empirical research is based on interviews with 25 journalists who have covered traumatic news stories where the objectivity norm has been challenged or disrupted. These include the shooting of primary school children in Dunblane, Scotland, in 1996, in the pre-Internet era, and several contemporary stories dominated by social media ranging from the Syrian conflict to terror attacks in London and Paris.

What emerges is a complex picture of journalists grappling with competing tensions – on the one hand a virtually hard-wired notion of what it is to be a professional journalist and, on the other hand, a visceral, empathic often instinctive affective dimension of practice. The research identifies two main affective behaviours of journalists covering difficult stories, that of ‘cool-detached’ and ‘autopilot.’ It also investigates the affective dimension of social media images, including potential mental health risks of working with user-generated content and the ‘herd instinct’ of journalists covering major breaking news.

The research highlights the moral obligation on news organisations to maintain the mental well-being of their journalists whether on assignment in the field or in the newsroom handling graphic user-generated content. It also explores the tensions between the commercial attractions of such content as a means to reengage disaffected audiences and its impact in creating a more emotionally driven news file.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


Journalism, emotion, affect, trauma, conflict, objectivity, detachment, social media, user-generated content

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies


30 June 2017

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

05 Jul 2017 15:52

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 11:50


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