Hearing with light, seeing with sound : aesthetic journalism as a place for depth and difficulty in a media life

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A colleague tells me that journalism is still about good writing, and she’s right. At the centre of good writing is narrative, the dance between complexity and simplicity, nuance and rhythm. Good journalism engages us with each other and with the world beyond our daily geographical borders; it holds power to account and provides an imperfect agora for public debate; and more often than not its form is digital: text, image and sound stitched together in binary code. This thesis is about the challenge and importance of digital narrative, and the role that photography can play in engaging a digitally connected public with journalism that is not exhausted by a single reading, that employs our imagination and our empathy to delve beneath surface facts, subverting the digital logic of efficiency to sit somewhere between impenetrable overloads and binary simplifications. The possibility and moral importance of this journalism, new in form but old in substance, is the starting point for this thesis as well as its through-line, the point from which the parallel narratives and ideas herein will resonate. Fundamentally, this is a thesis about how we understand each other in media, and how creative approaches to digital journalism can make communication productively difficult, deepening our understanding of one another and the world we share. Media ecology and creative practice are combined to explore the metaphorical 'logics' of digital communication – the Internet’s how, why, what, where and when – and discourses from the disciplines of media morality, journalism studies, sociology and art converge to delineate journalism’s place within the blurred spaces of our material-digital, public-private media life. The thesis argues that our capacity to witness in media, our ability and inclination to approach each other with hospitality and proper distance, requires that we continue to properly see and hear each other across the hybrid spaces of digital and smelly media, and that we think critically about the nature of media and our life within it.
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