More than a niche interest

Dr Paddy Hoey

Why study Media? It’s a very interesting question, when it’s routinely dismissed as somehow less deserving of serious attention than, say, Science or Maths.

In the 1930s a bunch of German academics, The Frankfurt School, discussed the power and influence of the media in society. They concluded that it had a lot of both, and probably in a bad way. We all know the role mass communication and propaganda played in what happened next. Ok, it’s good not to get too melodramatic, but when we look at power structures around the world, media organisations remain front and centre. If you want to understand how the world works, the media is as good a place to start as any.

That’s certainly the view of Dr Paddy Hoey, Programme Leader for the BA (Hons) Media. A former regional newspaper journalist, columnist for The New European, and regular podcaster, Paddy has seen from the coalface how the influence of the media aligns with the pace and reach of technological change: what do they say? A lie is halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on.

The big questions, however, remain the same, says Paddy:

Headshot of Dr. Paddy Hoey

“The notion of ownership – who can own a media corporation? What is the level of regulation and legal control that a nation state can have over a tremendously powerful multinational company like, say, Facebook? Who is fit and proper to run these companies? What kind of content is acceptable? Media studies has been at the forefront of looking at the changes in the role that the media plays, and how it moulds our life.”

Dr Paddy Hoey, Programme Leader for BA (Hons) Media

The new Media degree at Edge Hill takes a critical look at all these issues.

But it’s also a very practical programme, giving you the skills and savvy to be able to harness the power of the media for yourself, whether that’s podcasting, vlogging, writing for digital and non-digital platforms, music video production, or grassroots activism.

Students using the mixing desk in the recording studio
Edge Hill studio

Paddy’s background in local journalism – his first reporting job was with the Crosby Herald and Bootle Times, before spending time with big regional beasts like the Liverpool Daily Post and the Liverpool Echo – gave him a front row seat as the internet “drove a coach and horses through the economic viability of local papers”, and handheld devices gave people access to whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted it. The internet has changed the media landscape forever.

Gone, it seemed, were the investigative journalists, the local papers produced by 200 people, the busy newsrooms – and their professional codes, practices and ethics: Paddy admits to learning the hard way, from experienced pros, how to conduct himself as a journalist. Tip: you don’t have to root through footballers’ bins for a story.

Students operate cameras in the TV studio in Creative Edge, filming presenters on a stage behind them.

But maybe not. The media and tech explosion has also brought opportunity, accessibility, and maybe democracy. People have discovered new spaces.

He cites his interest in grassroots activism, an exciting optional module of the new degree, as a prime example. He was initially drawn to pockets of fans he’d find online with similar interests: football, or indie music, or hip hop, maybe.

But it also led Paddy down digital roads less travelled, such as Irish Republicanism, which had previously struggled to reach its audience:

They could put out anything they wanted [online]…and no-one could stop them. And there was something genuinely liberating about that. I disagreed with 90% of the magazine’s politics, but this freedom to put stuff into the public space was fascinating because previously you needed a printing press or something like that. If they could do that, how could a community not use that same spirit to write about itself, to fill the vacuum created by the decline of local media?

Dr Paddy Hoey
Edge Hill studio
Edge Hill studio

And that brings Paddy to another positive brought about by the tech revolution: podcasting. He’s involved in his own productions, as well as an avid consumer, reflecting interests he once wrote about – music, sport, comedy, interviewing the likes of Joe Strummer, James Brown and John Bishop as he got under the cultural skin of his adopted city.

It’s an important element of the new course:

Two images of people recording in a studio

“People are starting to make a living from putting out this kind of media, not relying on the mainstream – really making the most from niches. Getting rid of gatekeepers has fundamentally changed what we do. If I’m a Liverpool fan and I’ve got four mates who have good patter and they’re interesting and funny, and I’ve got Audioboom or Audacity on my phone or laptop, I can stick something out, decent quality, when I want. What the net has done is smashed us into this mosaic of small overlapping circles of publics, with niche interests.

So if I open my smartphone now you’ll see my Celtic podcast, my comedy podcast, my academic podcast, my cycling podcast, my Irish politics podcast. It’s a really interesting moment in what broadcasting and citizen journalism or activist journalism or fandom can do.”

And if podcasting’s not your thing, you can try vlogging, or photography, or filmmaking.

The BA (Hons) Media is a course that provides the critical skills that lead to a profound understanding of how the world works; future-proofs your practical skills, helping you find your niche in the working world; and offers the potential to make a living just by following your obsessions, whether that’s Doctor Who, 1970s avant-jazz bands from Cleethorpes, or tracking down who really shot JFK.

So, why study Media? The question should really be: why wouldn’t you?

Listen to Paddy’s full interview: Episode 4: Journalist, Broadcaster & Expert in Media Activism, Paddy Hoey – Institute for Creative Enterprise (edgehill.ac.uk)

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