Why focus on media representation in social welfare?

There is a need to focus on media representation in any discipline, especially in a helping discipline such as social work and social policy.

Social work focuses on finding the right support to people experiencing significant difficulties, be it physically, mentally, or socially, who may live in poverty, often unable to work at least temporarily, who may have migrated due to political and/or economic reasons, traumatised and isolated.

We work on difficulty family relations, attempting to safeguard children and adults, working with the impact of family crisis, against the odds that we do not control. We work also with people who have committed criminal offenses, or misused substances.

The range is very wide, and the challenge is considerable, because only rarely there are simple solutions to these issues.

Social  work acts always within a given social structure and society, following policy decisions we did not have necessarily a significant input into. The media is part of this context, with an increased prominence and impact on public opinion.

Social work and social policy depend on public opinion which plays an important part in forming the political and ideological decisions on the direction of social policy.

We are currently facing the erosion of the social mandate for the welfare state which existed since the 2nd World War, and a return to Victorian views of people who use social work services.

This is clearly related to the ascent of neoliberalism, and the focus on economic success as the criterion for judging the personal and social worth of individuals.

We need to not only understand the role of the media and how it works in this context, but also to improve the way social work and social policy interact with the media. The tendency among social workers to just blame the media for instigating moral panic and for not understanding the way social work operates, the constraints and challenges it faces, is almost as simplistic as that of some mass media.

The ascent of social media and the use of the internet presents a new challenge, as people come to rely on information received via social media as well as to express their views on it.

The impact of different modes of media – newspapers, television, radio, films, blogs – needs also to be better understood and researched in order to have a more in-depth perspective of the overall impact of the media and of suitable modes of response to its messages.

This website will collate relevant, and wide ranging information about the media representation of social work, the issues journalists aim to respond and to shape and the complexity of these issues. It will also provide information about the impact of the media coverage of social work and social policy has in different countries.

We hope the readers of the website will also become contributors to it.

Do we teach students of social work and practitioners to take account of the media, to have the knowledge to do so in an informed way, and to apply their learning to their practice? With some exceptions, this is not the case. On the whole we just ignore the existence of the media in training for social work qualification and at the  post qualifying level. Most of the researchers in this field are also not trained to recognise, understand, and research media representation of our field.

Key texts

  • Aldridge, M. (1990) Social Work and the News Media: A Hopeless Case? British Journal of Social work, 20, 6, 611-625.
  • Butler, I., & Drakeford, M. (2008). Booing or cheering? Ambiguity in the construction of victimhood in the case of Maria Colwell. Crime, Media, Culture, 4(3), 367-385. doi:10.1177/1741659008096372
  • Clapton, G. Cree, V., Smith, M. (ed) (2015) Revisiting Moral Panics: Moral panics theory and practice. Bristol: Policy Press
  • Curran, J. (ed) (2010) Media and Society. London: Bloomsbury
  • Editorial: Maria Colwell and after. (1974). BMJ, 1(5903), 300-300. doi:10.1136/bmj.1.5903.300
  • Franklin, b., Parton,. N. (1991) Social Work, the Media and Public Relations. London: Rutledge.
  • Hartley, J. (1992) Tele-ology: Studies in Television. London: Rutledge.
  • Henderson, L. Franklin, B. (2007) Sad not Bad: Images of Social care Professionals in Popular UK Television Drama. Journal of Social Work, 7, 133-153.
  • Jones, R. (2012). Child protection, social work and the media: doing as well as being done to. Research, Policy And Planning, 29(2), 83-94.
  • Kitzenger, J. (2000) Media Templates: Patterns of association and the (re)construction of meaning overtime. Media Culture and Society, 22, 61-84.
  • Lloyd, M. , Ramon, S. (2015) Smoke and Mirrors. Violence Against Women, forthcoming.
  • Naqvi, S. (2015) A profession criminally offended. Professional Social Work, April, 14-15.
  • Parton, N. (2004). From Maria Colwell to Victoria Climbie:: Reflections on public inquiries into child abuse a generation apart. Child Abuse Rev., 13(2), 80-94. doi:10.1002/car.838
  • Peelo, M. (2006). Framing homicide narratives in newspapers: Mediated witness and the construction of virtual victimhood. Crime, Media, Culture, 2(2), 159-175. doi:10.1177/1741659006065404
  • Powell, F. Scanlon, M. (2015) Dark Secrets of childhood
  • Westwood, J. (2015). Media and Social Work. Retrieved 5 April 2015, from http://dspace.s

News stories

The two items from September and October 2017 illustrate the ease with which a new way of media representation – via social media sites – has become a source of hate communication, endangering free speech and putting at risk the lives of those who highlight problem areas in the way our society is developing.