Get Inspired: Louis Theroux

With the fast-paced and rapidly evolving world of technology and breaking news via social media, it can be argued that journalism is a dying part of society. Contrary to this belief, journalism is flourishing within the media landscape where new opportunities with technology, ownership and audiences are evolving (Endres n.d, 3). Investigative Journalist, Louis Theroux, has effectively reinvented traditional news reporting by marrying technology, journalism and interviewing styles to create a new class of documentary that informs, immerses and inspires audiences through insight into different lifestyles and cultures. This essay will analyse Theroux’s success in using media convergence of film and broadcast journalism to distribute his work along with discussing his media partnerships which support globalisation and why this is important. The fourth estate and public sphere will be discussed in terms of his work as a journalist and his dedication to discovering unique cultures and supporting the understanding of global issues.

Louis Theroux is famous for his work as a television presenter for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) (Louis Theroux’s Biography n.d). Renowned for his controversial documentaries, he travels the world investigating elusive lifestyles, trends and beliefs (Louis Theroux’s Biography n.d). Born to Anne Castle (Usborne 2012) and novelist father, Paul Theroux (Independent 2001) on May 20, 1970 (Independent 2001), Theroux learned at a young age that journalism was the career for him (Townend 2009). After graduating with a history degree from Oxford in 1991, he began working for Metro Weekly (Louis Theroux’s Biography n.d). After leaving Metro Weekly, Theroux worked for a number of organisations including Spy Magazine, before being hired as a writer and correspondent for television show TV Nation (Louis Theroux’s Biography n.d). Theroux reported on the likes of the “Ku Klux Klan” and “Avon Ladies in the Amazon”. His series “Weird Weekends” began in 2005 where he set out to discover “the genuinely odd in the most ordinary settings” (Independent 2001). It’s here, where some of his most well known work took off which kick-started Theroux’s career as an investigative journalist.

Theroux has effectively used globalisation in his career to spread his work further and faster  in order to reach more viewers around the world. Globalisation is described by “the expanding scale, growth…and deepening impact of transcontinental flows and patterns of a social interaction” (Held et al. 1999). This refers to interrelating trends including international communications delivered via media technologies like satellite and internet (Flew 2007, 67). In Theroux’s context, globalisation allows for circulation of social and cultural education. Theroux’s employer, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) (Louis Theroux’s Biography n.d) maintains global partnerships with the likes of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) which are major broadcast sources for Australian audiences. This connection means faster distribution of Theroux’s work and in turn faster information and education to Australians about elusive cultures. This is an example only of Australia, the BBC maintain partnerships around the globe which makes them an incredibly important connection for Theroux. His work heavily demonstrates the expanding growth of social and cultural understanding which encourages unification and cohesion of beliefs and lifestyles. Without globalisation, Theroux’s work would not be distributed and therefore would undermine the very purpose of his work.

Media convergence has been used effectively in forming Theroux’s documentary work for both creation and distribution. The term, as outlined by Jenkins (2004, 35), represents a reconfiguration of media power and reshaping of media aesthetics across a wide range of platforms including (but not limited to) TV, internet and phone. Theroux uses broadcast to share his work on major platforms, however also uses social media such as Facebook and Youtube to increase his audience and awareness of his brand. Broadcast itself has been affected by media convergence in a world where consumers are able to watch programmes on their phone, tablet or laptop rather than waiting for a designated time slot on a particular channel on their television at home. This convergence has impacted Theroux by attracting a wider range of people, whose preferred method of watching content may be via device on the go. Theroux benefits from media convergence because his content is available to anyone in the world, no matter the difference in time or distance. Theroux has used media convergence to alter interviewing style through unifying traditional journalism and documentary style. Interviews are conducted by combining the objectivity and structure of a news report with the informative and entertaining style of a documentary, in turn shaping his interviews into a more human experience. Documentaries and journalism are founded in similar traditions, however, film emphasises narrative while traditional journalism does not (Andrew 2014). Journalists like Edward Murrow founded the idea of activist films, helping shape the concept of social issues being explored in documentaries (Andrew 2014). Following in his footsteps, Theroux’s distinctive technique with use of film requires viewers to actively participate rather than spectate. This is achieved through Transportation Theory, which is the theory that film’s immersive effect of audiences causes a unique temporary shift in one’s mind (Claris 2012).  By combining facts with storytelling, as Theroux does so well, empathy and action is encouraged (Claris 2012). His effective use of media and technology is demonstrative of how media convergence allows viewers to access his work anywhere, anytime, maximising his impact on viewers.

As a journalist, Louis Theroux is part of the fourth estate which gives him power to impact the public sphere. Thomas Carlyle (1840)  claimed the term ‘Fourth Estate’ was first applied by Edmund Burke during the 18th century as a contrast to the clergy, aristocracy and commoners; the three estates in France (Allen 2009, 3). In its essence, it’s the relationship between the press and their readers, signifying that despite the formal constitution, genuine political power resides with the role of the press (Allen 2009, 3). Although Theroux is part of the fourth estate, his work doesn’t follow the traditional guidelines of processing news in a way that exposes a scandal or a secret that affects the public (Ingram and Henshall 2008). Theroux’s role within the fourth estate is to address issues to break social and cultural boundaries, placing him predominately in the public sphere. Mckee (2005, 5) describes the public sphere as a space where people around the globe can exchange ideas, discuss issues and find out what’s happening around the world to discover what political and social issues the world is facing. Theroux’s documentary “The Most Hated Family in America” is an example of his work within the public sphere. Theroux spent a several weeks living amongst the Westboro Baptist Church, a religious organisation infamous for their offensive views and outspoken messages (SPLC n.d). Rather than a formal one-on-one interview with members, Theroux took his interviews into the house of the main family. He spoke to each member in an intimate environment where they were more comfortable to open up, revealing who they were as a person and their beliefs. A report from the Telegraph UK described Theroux as a journalist who “…seems to go in search of humanity where others might not look, and treads a challenging line between sympathy and horror.”(Stadlen 2014). This is a perfect representation of Theroux’s work in the public sphere where his documentaries spark discussion and inspire others to perhaps look at issues with a different perspective. His work describes society to itself in order to objectively inform while leaving room for viewers to make their own decisions on issues.

Louis Theroux’s unapologetic yet laid-back nature inspires me. His empathy combined with his hard-hitting interviewing style humanises controversial, stigmatised or poorly understood social issues (Miller 2014) which is what I strive for in my career as a journalist. He is often noticed for his “deliberate” (Townend 2009) naive interviewing style and persona on screen, however, it is evident his genuine interest lies in his subjects, not in acquiring a reputation as a serious documentary maker for its own sake (Usborne 2012). An element Theroux and I share is the appreciation of abnormality and humour. I would like to think that I share open-mindedness with him which allows for exploration of new experiences and insight into different cultures and lifestyles. Theroux and I both value fairness and equality. The way in which his documentaries promote the understanding of different lifestyles encourages social change in breaking down stigma and discrimination which results in reflecting on the fundamentals of human nature. My biggest goal as a journalist will be to treat my audience as a participant, not an observer. Theroux does this effectively in his documentaries that tell stories because humanising work has the potential to reach and impact further. Theroux’s devil’s advocate interviewing style, with an easy-going attitude, combined with his strong understanding of humanity and sense of ethics is exactly what I strive for in the future of my work.

It is evident that Theroux’s career has been acutely impacted by media convergence, and globalisation which has required some adaptation in his work as these factors progress. However, through analysis of his career, it has been demonstrated that these factors can be attributed to the success of his career within the fourth estate and has allowed widespread awareness and understanding,  collectively consolidating his role in the public sphere, and as an influential journalist of today.

 

Reference List

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Andrew, Liam. 2014. “controlled chaos: as journalism and documentary film converge in digital, what lessons can they share?”. Accessed March 14, 2016. http://www.niemanlab.org/2014/10/controlled-chaos-as-journalism-and-documentary-film-converge-in-digital-what-lessons-can-they-share/

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Claris. 2012. “Using Narrative to persuade and motivate”. Accessed March 28, 2016. http://harmony-institute.org/latest/author/claris/

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Flew, Terry. 2007. Understanding Global Media. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Held, David, Anthony Mcgrew, David Goldblatt, Jonathan Perraton. “What is globalisation?”. Accessed March 14, 2016. https://www.polity.co.uk/global/whatisglobalization.asp

Independent. 2001. “You ask the questions: Louis Theroux” Accessed March 9, 2016. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/you-ask-the-questions-louis-theroux-9218133.html

Ingram, David and Peter Henshall. 2008. “ch.38 Introduction to investigative reporting”. Accessed March 18, 2016. http://www.thenewsmanual.net/Manuals%20Volume%202/volume2_39.htm

Jenkins, Henry. 2004. “The cultural logic of media convergence” International Journal of Cultural Studies 7 (1) 34-43. Accessed March 14, 2016. DOI: 10.1177/1367877904040603

Louis Theroux’s Biography. n.d. “Louis Theroux’s Biography” Accessed March 13, 2016. http://louistheroux.com

McKee, Alan. 2005. The Public Sphere: An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Miller, Faye. 2014. “what Louis Theroux can teach us about social research”. Accessed Mark 15, 2016. http://theconversation.com/what-louis-theroux-can-teach-us-about-social-research-24324

Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC). n.d. “Westboro Baptist Church”. Accessed March 15, 2016. https://www.splcenter.org/privacy-policy-terms

Stadlen, Matthew. 2014. “Louis Theroux: ‘I really am a socially awkward nerd’”. Accesses March 13, 2016. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/10717437/Louis-Theroux-I-really-am-a-socially-awkward-nerd.html

Usborne, Simon. 2012. “Louis Theroux: ‘I’m not out to take advantage of anyone. I’m just being me’”. Accessed March 13, 2016. http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/features/louis-theroux-im-not-out-to-take-advantage-of-anyone-im-just-being-me-7668956.html

Townend, Judith. 2009. “ ‘I’ve always seen myself as a journalist’ – louis theroux on his style work and drive”. Accessed March 9, 2016. https://www.journalism.co.uk/news-features/-i-ve-always-seen-myself-as-a-journalist–louis-theroux-on-his-style-work-and-drive/s5/a533342/

 

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