Funded PhD opportunities

To what extent – and how - can independent, hyperlocal news address the global ‘crisis’ facing mainstream journalism?

  • Application end date: 11 February 2018
  • Funding Availability: Funded PhD project (EU/UK students only)
  • Department: School of Media and Performing Arts
  • PhD Supervisor: Dr Esther Sonnet, Dr Sophia Wood, Tom Sykes

Project code: FMPA4380218

Project description

The ‘crisis in mainstream media’ has become the subject of wide debate and discussion in recent years. The outcome of the Brexit referendum in the UK and the election of Donald Trump in the US led many journalists to confess their own ‘failure’ to predict the results of either vote; while the campaigns underpinning both have led to what William Davies described as ‘an age of post-trust politics.’ [1] In particular, both Brexit and the US election revealed ‘a systemic failure to expose the gap between what politicians say and what is actually happening’ (Happer, 2017)[2]. Corporate ownership of the mainstream media in the neoliberal era has led many to question the ability of the media to hold powerful interests to account. Politicians such as Donald Trump in the US and both sides of the Brexit campaign in the UK exploit this growing public distrust , often harnessing the immediacy and rage of social media to create ‘fake news’ while claiming to condemn and expose it. This would be viewed in the context of a longer historical erosion of the cultural esteem of journalism’s dominant code of reporting ethics, in part attributable to the global rise of ubiquitous digital communications.

The crisis in the national mainstream media is echoed on a local level, with increased concern over the last 10 years about the decline in the number of local print newspapers in the UK, and the significant loss of editorial staff in those that remain (Ramsay and Moore, 2016)[3]. This decline has led to increasing discussion of a ‘democratic deficit’ in local news, where ‘the amount of local public interest and investigative journalism is reduced as editorial staffs are cut and the pressures on fewer journalists to produce more stories increases. It can also lower the number of editorial voices to, effectively, one – with serious implications for the plurality of views on which the foundation of healthy democracy rests’ (Ramsay and Moore, 2016). In response, the National Union of Journalists have called for ‘a short, sharp national inquiry into the state of local news’ (NUJ, 2015)[4].

A wide range of online ‘hyperlocal’ news websites have been created in response to this crisis in local news: from those that focus on providing basic community information, to those aiming to contest, disrupt and offer an alternative to the dominant local media industry, ‘fake news’ and to more effectively hold power to account on behalf of, or local communities and marginalised groups. Into this latter category falls the website Star & Crescent – written ‘for and by the people of Portsmouth’[5] – which was created in February 2015 and provides an applied case study to inform the proposed research (

This project aims to assess by case study an analysis of the extent to which hyperlocal, independent media addresses the ‘crisis’ in mainstream news. Specifically, it will examine:

  • tensions between the epistemological methods employed by ‘conventional’ journalists and hyperlocal reporters (representing vs reporting on the community)
  • how an independent hyperlocal media model builds and maintains community trust in relation to journalist ethics
  • models for sustainable funding
  • delivery of community impact vs campaigning 

It will contribute to a growing body of research work supporting the hyperlocal news sector, nationally and internationally, by developing a body of evidence and by building appropriate national networks to support the creation of a Centre for Community Journalism in Portsmouth. This will build capacity for community journalism in the south of England as the only existing centre is based at the University of Cardiff. It is intended, therefore, that the project will furnish policy evidence for a ‘national inquiry into the state of local news’ as called for by the NUJ.

Supervisor profiles

Dr Esther Sonnet

Dr Sophia Wood

Tom Sykes

Admissions criteria

You’ll need a good first degree from an internationally recognised university (depending upon chosen course, minimum second class or equivalent) or a Master’s degree in an appropriate subject. Exceptionally, equivalent professional experience and/or qualifications will be considered. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.  


Informal enquiries are encouraged and can be made to Dr. Esther Sonnet at (02392 845741) or Dr. Sophia Wood at (02392 845040).

For administrative and admissions enquiries please contact

How to Apply

You can apply online at You are required to create an account which gives you the flexibility to save the form, log out and return to it at any time convenient to you.

A link to the online application form and comprehensive guidance notes can be found at 

When applying, please quote project code: FMPA4380218

Interview date: TBC.

Start date: October 2018

Funding notes

UK/EU students -  The fully-funded, full-time three-year studentship provides a stipend that is in line with that offered by Research Councils UK of £14,553 per annum.

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