Ms Felicity Biggins

Ms Felicity Biggins

Lecturer - Communication

School of Creative Industries

Reading between the lines

In an age where fake news and misinformation are rife, Felicity Biggins is researching how readers navigate the blurred boundaries of creative non-fiction.

Felicity Biggins sitting on couch holding book, in front of brick wall, next to shelf of DVDs

How do readers of non-fiction work out what is fact and what information has been coated with an author’s spin or prejudice? This is one of the questions that Felicity Biggins is unpacking through her research into literary journalism.

Felicity worked as a journalist for many years, first completing her cadetship at the Newcastle Herald, then ABC Radio Sydney and Newcastle’s 2NURFM. It was at her book club one night, when the group talked for several solid hours about author Helen Garner’s non-fiction book Joe Cinque’s Consolation, that the idea for her PhD thesis sparked.

“Normally we talk about the book for 10 minutes then chat about other topics but Garner’s literary journalistic work really engaged us and had us talking for three hours,” Felicity said.

“Garner is a very opinionated writer which is what makes the book so compelling, but what fascinated me was that as readers we were trying to understand which parts of the book where influenced by Garner’s own thoughts and which parts were fact.”

For her thesis Felicity has taken four works of Australian literary journalism and asked four different book clubs to read one of each. For her data collection she has recorded the groups’ discussions of the books and conducted semi-structured interviews with readers, focused on teasing out the way that readers work out what’s “true” in books about true stories that are written as novels.

“I’m discovering that engaged readers are very shrewd and canny and can work out the differences between an author’s voice and fact,” Felicity said.

“Engaged readers can navigate the blurred boundaries between fiction and non-fiction very skillfully and can see what writers are doing when they put their own thoughts or unconscious biases into the non-fiction work.”

She says that the discoveries she is making through her work are highly relevant in today’s world where we are bombarded with information.

“A lot of what we are seeing in the media, reading on blogs and social media is from questionable sources. We are living in an age of manufactured news, where politicians have no qualms about lying and who also dismiss journalism as fake news when it suits them. It’s very relevant to be researching how readers receive and understand information.”

The changing face of journalism

Felicity moved from the newsroom into academia right when journalism was facing a major technological disruption and many journalists were losing their jobs. One of her first tasks as an academic was to work with her colleagues to redesign the journalism major to reflect the changes that were happening in the industry.

“Not only are journalists being made redundant, but they are having to change their practices constantly,” she said.

“When I did my cadetship at the newspaper basically all I had to be able to do was interview people and write well. Now a journalist has to be very adaptable and highly skilled in a variety of digital technologies. They are expected to have the skills to be able to shoot and edit video, take and edit photos and record and edit audio, plus have web and social media skills.

“Similarly, the way we teach journalism has changed – we refresh our material every year because change is happening all the time.”

Felicity grieves the loss of so many journalists over digital disruption, saying we need journalists more than ever.

“Journalists are very stretched at the moment and I feel there aren’t enough to keep governments accountable. What is exciting though is to see that developments like the creation of the School of Creative Industries at the University of Newcastle are offering more ways for researchers to work together to find creative solutions to the problems facing us, such as the future of work and climate change.”

Felicity’s main goal is to ensure what she teaches her journalism students is relevant and will help them secure a job.

“The fundamentals of journalism haven’t changed – accuracy, transparency, research and good writing are all still very important.

“I really enjoy teaching because radio and journalism are subjects that open a student up to you as a person – you can’t make radio without getting to know someone and we have a lot of fun while learning. I’m passionate about sharing my enthusiasm for journalism and it’s a thrill to work with young people and see the light come on in their eyes when they produce something they are really proud of.”

Reading between the lines

In an age where fake news and misinformation are rife, Felicity Biggins is researching how readers navigate the blurred boundaries of creative non-fiction.How do readers of non-fiction work out what is fact and what information has been coated with an…

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Career Summary

Biography

Felicity Biggins is a Lecturer in Communication in the School of Creative Industries, teaching Journalism and Radio in the News and Digital Media and Media Production majors in the Bachelor of Communication. She is nearing the end of a PhD at the University of Deakin, where she is researching how readers respond to works of literary journalism.

She began her career as a Journalist at the Newcastle Morning Herald in the late 1970s. After completing her cadetship and graduating with Honours in Drama in a BA at the University of Newcastle, she moved to the UK, gaining an MA in Theatre Studies from the University of Leeds. Returning to Australia in 1986 she secured a position at ABC Radio, working first in the national news room before transferring to Current Affairs Radio, reporting for such programs as AM, PM and The World Today. In 1992 she and her young family moved back to Newcastle, where she worked as a producer at 1233 before gaining a permanent position at 2NURFM as a producer and announcer. For seven years she presented the Morning Program at the station before resigning to take up a full-time position as a Lecturer in Communication at the University of Newcastle. With her husband, playwright Carl Caulfield, she runs the  Stray Dogs Theatre Company.

Research Expertise
My area of research interest is Literary Journalism, which is a form of journalism that  uses the techniques of literary writing to tell a factual story. I am enrolled in a PhD at Deakin University under the supervision of Professor Matthew Ricketson and Dr Jen Martin. My other main area of research interest is the impact of technological change on pedagogy in Journalism and Media Production, especially relating to Radio Studies.

Teaching Expertise
I teach into the News and Digital Media major and the Media Production major in the Communication program. The courses I co-ordinate and teach into include Media Storytelling, News Media, Feature Writing, Radio, Audio Journalism, Podcasting and Industry Portfolio (Journalism).

Collaborations
My colleagues Dr Christina Koutsoukos, Dr Janet Fulton and Paul Scott and I have worked together for many years on the need for Journalism education to keep pace with the rapid change affecting the media industry in Australia, in particular its impact on the high-level technological skills reporters will need to have to survive. We are looking into how students cope with the technological demands of cross-media reporting while they are also being asked to acquire all the traditional skills of the journalist in a 13-week course. In 2019 we received a tEN grant to research how students view authentic assessments and WIL in the Creative Industries. I am a member of the Program Management Group for the Communication discipline which has overseen the redesign of the Curriculum, which is being rolled out in 2020.

Conference Presentations (refereed abstracts)

Biggins, F. (2014). Journalist or novelist – how do readers receive works of literary journalism and what impact does that have on the genre’s claims to truth telling and inclusion in the genre of nonfiction? Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia Conference (refereed abstract). University of Technology, Sydney, Australia.

Biggins, F. (2015). The responsibilities of scriptwriters when writing fiction about real people – House of Hancock, a case study. Paper presented at the Australian and New Zealand Communication Association Conference 2014, University of Canterbury, Queenstown, New Zealand, July 8-10, 2015.

Biggins, F. (2016). Readers respond to The Tall Man – is Chloe Hooper’s celebrated work of literary journalism a victim of the discourse of fatalism or a successful subversion of it? Paper presented at the Australian and New Zealand Communication Association Conference 2014, University of Newcastle, Newcastle, Australia, July 6-8, 2016.


Qualifications

  • Master of Arts (Drama and Theatre), University of Leeds - UK
  • Bachelor of Arts (Honours), University of Newcastle
  • Certificate IV in Workplace Assessment & Training, TAFE (NSW)
  • Graduate Certificate Practice of Tertiary Teaching, University of Newcastle

Keywords

  • Journalism
  • Narrative journalism
  • Radio
  • creative non-fiction
  • feature writing
  • journalism
  • media production

Fields of Research

Code Description Percentage
190301 Journalism Studies 50
130201 Creative Arts, Media and Communication Curriculum and Pedagogy 50

Professional Experience

UON Appointment

Title Organisation / Department
Lecturer - Communication University of Newcastle
School of Creative Industries
Australia
Lecturer - Communication University of Newcastle
School of Design Communication and IT
Australia

Membership

Dates Title Organisation / Department
28/1/2012 -  ANZCA - Australia and New Zealand Communication Association Australia New Zealand Communication Association (ANZCA)
Australia
1/1/2012 -  Membership - Journalism Education Association of Australia Journalism Education Association of Australia
Australia New Zealand Communication Association
Australia

Professional appointment

Dates Title Organisation / Department
10/6/1996 - 25/7/2008 Broadcaster

Presenter and producer of programs, including documentaries, radio plays and features. Presented The Morning Show for seven years.

2NURFM
Australia
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Publications

For publications that are currently unpublished or in-press, details are shown in italics.


Journal article (1 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2019 Fulton J, Scott P, Biggins F, Koutsoukos C, 'A three-way intersection to The Junction: publishing opportunity, aspiration and reticence of journalism students at an Australian regional university', The Journal of the Association for Journalism Education, 8 17-26 (2019) [C1]
Co-authors Janet Fulton, Christina Koutsoukos, Paul Scott

Conference (10 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2019 Fulton J, Scott P, Koutsoukos C, Biggins F, 'Not just for the marker: students experience of authentic assessments', Sydney, NSW (2019)
Co-authors Paul Scott, Christina Koutsoukos, Janet Fulton
2018 Fulton J, Scott P, Biggins F, 'Not just for the marker: a platform for developing confidence and resilience in regional Australian journalism students', Hobart, Tasmania (2018)
Co-authors Janet Fulton, Paul Scott
2017 Fulton JM, Biggins FM, Scott P, Koutsoukos C, 'JERAA 2017 Conference Proceedings: The Second Coming of Journalism? Rebirth, resurrection, renewal, resistance, resurgence (Editors)', JERAA2017: The Second Coming of Journalism? Rebirth, resurrection, renewal, resistance, resurgence, Newcastle NSW (2017)
Co-authors Janet Fulton, Christina Koutsoukos, Paul Scott
2017 Crosby R, Meany MM, 'Comedy Techniques in Social Commentary', Comedy Techniques in Social Commentary, Newcastle (2017)
Co-authors Michael Meany
2017 Webb S, Fulton JM, ' I want to read it in my hands : A Uses and Gratifications study into the aesthetic attraction between young adult female readers and independent women s magazines in Australia.', Newcastle, NSW (2017)
Co-authors Janet Fulton
2015 Biggins FKM, 'The responsibilities of scriptwriters when writing fiction about real people House of Hancock, a case study', University of Canterbury, Queenstown (2015)
2014 Biggins FKM, 'Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia', University of Technology Sydney (2014)
2012 Biggins FKM, 'nonfictionnow', RMIT Melbourne (2012)
2011 Biggins FK, Koutsoukos C, 'A bridge too far? The pedagogical challenges of up-to-the-minute industry practice', ANZCA 2011. Communication on the Edge: Shifting Boundaries & Identities, Hamilton, NZ (2011) [E3]
Co-authors Christina Koutsoukos
2010 Koutsoukos C, Biggins FK, 'Putting the 'i' into journalism education: The why and the how of the re-working of the journalism curriculum at the University of Newcastle', Media Democracy and Change: Refereed Proceedings of the Australian and New Zelaand Communication Association Conference 2010, Canberra, ACT (2010) [E1]
Co-authors Christina Koutsoukos
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Research Projects

Where Late the Songbird 2015


The Anatomy of Buzz 2014 - 2015

The Anatomy of Buzz by Carl Caulfield was produced by Stray Dogs Theatre Company at the Playhouse in Newcastle. I was producer, director, stage manager and sound engineer.


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Ms Felicity Biggins

Position

Lecturer - Communication
School of Creative Industries
Faculty of Education and Arts

Contact Details

Email felicity.biggins@newcastle.edu.au
Phone (02) 4921 6781
Fax (02) 4921 7158

Office

Room SR286
Location Callaghan
University Drive
Callaghan, NSW 2308
Australia
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