Researcher in Focus: Dr Vera Slavtcheva-Petkova

Posted on: 30 October 2023 by Dr Vera Slavtcheva-Petkova in 2023 Posts

Dr Vera Slavtcheva-Petkova

In this Researcher in Focus blog, we are pleased to feature Dr Vera Slavtcheva-Petkova, a Reader in Global Journalism and Media in the Department of Communication and Media. Vera's work focusses on global journalism, its current state worldwide, and the safety of journalists around the world.

Listen to Vera talk about her work in more detail in our 'Researcher in Focus' podcast here:

Prior to joining Liverpool in 2017, Dr Slavtcheva-Petkova worked at the Oxford Internet Institute and the University of Chester.

Vera writes:

I have devoted my academic career to de-westernizing journalism studies both in my teaching and my research and to giving voice to underrepresented and understudied groups such as independent media critical of Putin and the Kremlin in Russia, online commenters in understudied contexts and children and young people as active citizens and media users.

Only 13% of people around the world live in countries with freedom of expression so it is important when theorising and teaching journalism to be mindful of the different contexts journalists operate in and the various challenges they face. Similarly, when considering the current state and future of society, politics and the media, we need to adopt methodologies that genuinely allow us to actively involve young people, including children, in our studies and our strategies. There are three main strands of my research.

Global journalism and safety of journalists

As the author of a textbook on global journalism and an Executive Committee member of the Worlds of Journalism Study – a collaborative network of more than 300 researchers from 120 countries, I study the state of journalism worldwide with a focus on Central and Eastern Europe.

I conduct representative surveys with journalists in Ukraine and Bulgaria. I previously also completed the first ever ethnographic study with independent journalists in Russia, including at the deadliest newspaper in the country – Novaya Gazeta, whose editor won the Nobel Peace Prize. The results were presented in my book Russia’s Liberal Media: Handcuffed but Free (Routledge, 2018).

Another key strand of my research is the safety of journalists – a topic of increasing importance with journalists facing a wider range of threats than ever before not just to their physical safety in some countries but also to their psychological, digital and legal safety worldwide.

As part of the Worlds of Journalism Study, I lead a group of researchers who developed a new conceptualisation of journalists’ safety, which will be used as the basis of a global index on journalists’ safety to be launched in 2024. We worked with UNESCO to design questions on safety as part of our representative surveys with journalists in 120 countries.

In October 2023, we also launched a new one-stop platform on journalists’ safety - The platform is a joint initiative between the University of Liverpool and the Worlds of Journalism Study in co-operation with UNESCO. It aims to improve journalists’ safety by bridging the gap between the key stakeholders in the process and by collating key resources – studies, toolkits, databases - in one place. More than 100 academics and a dozen NGOs joined the platform and deposited over 200 useful resources. I am also the Central and Eastern Europe Co-Lead in the Journalism Safety Research Network.

Young people, politics and the media

My forthcoming monograph Young People, Media and Politics in the Digital Age (Routledge) presents the results of a 13-year long longitudinal study with young people aged 9-23 years old. Put simply, I am interested in how young people grow as citizens, what role the media play in the process of political socialisation and what drives their interest (or lack of it) in politics.

I show that the relationship among young people, media and politics can only be properly understood if studied from a multidimensional perspective, which puts young people at the centre.

Similarly, any strategies for making news and politics more relevant and interesting for them can only be successful if co-created by children and young people.

Post-deliberative public spheres online

Another key strand in my research is online political talk with a focus on online comments. My recent book Discussing Trump’s America Online: Digital Commenting in China, Mexico and Russia (Palgrave, 2023) uses a grounded-theory approach to study online comments about Donald Trump and the USA in countries with a turbulent relation with America.

It advocates for a departure from Jürgen Habermas’s public sphere and democratic deliberative framework, introducing instead the concept of post-deliberative public spheres. Again, the main premise is that if we simply try to impose “Western-born” frameworks and approaches on fascinating non-Western contexts, we will reach rather predictable findings.

Only bottom-up inclusive approaches allow us to explain the processes we observe in these contexts, including in the online realm. My book shows that those post-deliberative public spheres are valuable spaces for political talk despite the challenges faced.

Find out more about Dr Slavtcheva-Petkova on her staff page.

Keywords: Researcher in Focus.