Controlling, influencing and subverting the media’s portrayal of Croydon

By - Wednesday 19th August, 2015

Jonny Rose exhorts Croydon citizens to change the narrative in the national media

A positive BBC London feature on Croydon Tech City.
Photo by JustCronx, used with permission.

It has often been said that Croydon has an ‘image problem’.

For decades, the borough has been maligned for its unflattering hairstyles and lumpen residents. David Bowie described it as “so f**king boring”. Carnival organiser and UKIP canon-fodder Winston McKenzie described it as a “dump”. Then there were, of course, the 2011 riots.

Who’s to blame? Well, obviously the people whose behaviour encourages these views. But beyond that, media plays a huge part in disseminating and perpetuating negative views of Croydon. If Croydonians are serious about the changing Croydon’s fortunes, they have to get even more serious about changing the media.

The importance of media to perceptions of Croydon

Media representations play a crucial role in the public’s perception of an area. Perceptions of places, including countries or tourist destinations, are all influenced by the ways in which they are represented by the media.

While images are constructed and communicated through multiple channels, including direct experience and word-of-mouth, the mass media are one of the main means by which information is disseminated.

Mass media portrayal of Croydon is deeply impactful on the borough’s progress

The media function as a primary source for stereotypes and images associated with places. Furthermore, the media’s portrayal of distant places is mostly accepted as their “true” nature by those not living there. Think about it: how many of you who work outside of Croydon are met with disbelief and ridicule when explaining to colleagues all of the amazing things that are happening here?

Changing the media’s portrayal of Croydon

In 2003, Craig Carroll and Maxwell McCombs wrote a paper on “Corporate Agenda-Setting” that offered some guiding principles to understanding the influence of news coverage on (corporate) reputation. In short, they surmised:

  1. The greater the amount of coverage, the greater public awareness,

  2. attributes emphasized in media coverage become attributes the public uses to define a firm; and

  3. the valence of news coverage, positive or negative, is reflected in corresponding public perceptions about those attributes.

It’s not rocket science. It’s not even GCSE Science. Basically, more positive news generated more frequently, begets a more positive reputation from the public. Naturally, this thesis about business relations to media extends to places, too.

So, what can be done to change the media’s portrayal of Croydon?

  • Become the media

Once upon a time, ‘media’ referred to a small group of major broadcasters and publications that controlled all distribution channels for news and information. But to quote the ever-sage Slim Charles, the thing about the old days is that “they the old days”.

Now, the advent of ‘new media’ means we that can all become media. No longer are audience eyeballs and distribution channels owned and controlled by a select few. We can all use social media and variety of platforms to build our own audiences. So, if you want to change the way people perceive Croydon, start your own blog, podcast or citizen-powered magazine.

  • Infiltrate the media

For some it won’t be practical to start up an entire newspaper. However, some will be able to actually get into media and use these established platforms to actively and intentionally champion and promote Croydon in a positive light.

I’ve been fortunate enough to write about Croydon – and, in particular, it’s growing reputation as a tech city – in a variety of publications (City A.M., the Guardian, etc) that have otherwise either ignored or maligned the borough. Peter Watts’ superb piece in the Guardian is another example of ‘infiltrating’ a major publication to change the national conversation about Croydon.

  • Challenge the media

The media are people, too. And in the social media age they are more accessible than ever to be challenged, evangelised and converted about Croydon.

A recent example of this was Thornton Heath resident Bieneosa Ebite taking issue with a description of the area being described as “crime-ridden” in the Epsom Guardian. The result: the journalist capitulated and the offending phrase was removed. ‘Right to reply’ is a powerful tool – use it.

Changing the tide of Croydon coverage

Controlling media-constructed reputation of a place is difficult, if not impossible. The reputation an organisation or place enjoys in the media develops over time through a complex social process; it is constantly challenged and evolving.

However, take heart: fantastically newsworthy stuff is happening in Croydon every day. By constantly becoming, infiltrating and challenging the media to make sure it’s covered, we can expect to see more excellent depictions of Croydon in the media like this:

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose is a committed Christian who has lived in the Croydon area for nearly twenty years. He is an active participant in his local community, serving at Grace Vineyard Church and organising Purley Breakfast Club, and was ranked "Croydon's 37th most powerful person" by the Croydon Advertiser (much to his amusement). He is the Head of Content at marketing technology company Idio, the founder of the Croydon Tech City movement, a LinkedIn coach, and creator of Croydon's first fashion label, Croydon Vs The World. Working on Instagram training. Views are his own, but it would be best for all concerned if you shared them. Please send your fanmail to: jonnyrose1 (at) gmail (dot) com

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  • Constance Blackwell

    The fact is that the croydon area is one of the last to be affordable – i have noticed however the realestate firms do not advertise Croydon on the Friday Evening Standard adds – real estate firms could to a great deal to help –
    however to my way of thinking what also is missing is coverage of the smaller towns around croydon – here in Addiscomb there is a wonderful butcher and green grocer -and fishmonger services hard to find in Chelsea or Islington – i think you should emphaiss the craftsmen there are many in the area – perhaps a couple of people could volunteer to
    build up a narrative of the Croydon area as one of the few places where independent shops still flourish -

  • Anne Giles

    Selsdon is wonderful, of course. Lots of nice cafes, a pub, shops, green open spaces.

  • Constance Blackwell

    there should be more information like that -