Archive for September, 2007
I’ll be away in the States for the next few days, finding more out about citizen journalism…
I spent this afternoon in Oxford talking to BBC journalists, producers and editors about the threats to public interest journalism and the Fourth Estate (imagine how few news organisations would not only make time to talk about this, but where journalists would turn up and discuss it – good old BBC), and realised – after having left, that I’d forgotten to talk about the exciting bit. There’s so much to worry about in news it’s easy to forget that the revolution in media is as exciting as it is scary.
Central to this – and where the BBC plays a critical role – is the reconstitution of what’s traditionally been known as the ‘Fourth Estate’. What I mean by this is the massive explosion in the number of people doing what they consider journalism, but who don’t call themselves journalists. Maybe they take the occasional photo and send it to the BBC, or write a blog about an event they go to, or do some digging about some local scandal.
The exciting bit, and the bit I hope the BBC will play a big part in, is harnessing this amazing explosion by giving people the tools and advice to help them become informal constituents of this new Fourth Estate. This occurred to me when on the way back I was reading excerpts from Demos’ study about the ‘Pro-Am Revolution’:
“…in the last two decades” Demos writes, “a new breed of amateur has emerged: the Pro-Am, amateurs who work to professional standards. These are not the gentlemanly amateurs of old – George Orwell’s blimpocracy, the men in blazers who sustained amateur cricket and athletics clubs. The Pro-Ams are knowledgeable, educated, committed and networked by new technology. The twentieth century was shaped by large hierarchical organisations with professionals at the top. Pro-Ams are creating new, distributed organisational models that will be innovative, adaptive, and low cost”
Imagine if the BBC built the tools to enable these ‘Pro-Ams’ to do some of the jobs journalists would like to do but just don’t have time: to search through health statistics, to look at local councillors records, to look at public sector budgets. Many might use them just for their own benefit, but in doing so they could turn up things no single journalist would have time to look for. MySociety have built tools like this to enable people to scrutinize MPs (TheyWorkForYou), and more recently on to report local problems – FixMyStreet (broken drains, cracked pavements).
Isn’t this something the BBC could do too? And, if it did, wouldn’t it harness the power of an army of local and specialist journalists?
This evening’s POLIS event, ‘Can we still trust TV? TV on trial’, was as interesting for what wasn’t said as what was.
The witnesses – and the speakers were literally cast as witnesses and questioned by lawyer Mark Stephens of Finer Stephens Innocent – used various religious analogies to describe how, like any good Catholic, TV needed to confess its sins and seek redemption. Although, to continue the analogy, there was much head shaking about not donning too many hair shirts or doing too much penance.
The most interesting of the bunch (which included Laurie Flynn – ex-Carlton journalist, Roger Graef – writer and filmmaker, Phil Harding – former controller of editorial policy at the BBC, Stephen Whittle – chair of Broadcast Training and Skills Regulator, and Neil Midgley – Telegraph broadcast journalist) was David Elstein, arch nemesis of the BBC, who was the only one to make substantive structural criticisms of television.
Elstein said he believed the crises could be explained quite easily. They were indicative, he said, of the contempt with which broadcasters (and he emphasised the BBC here) viewed their audiences. “A culture of immunity and impunity” pervaded the Corporation, and in such a culture, “where the BBC doesn’t trust us, why should we trust it?” Elstein asked. “I would never would never let the BBC interview me on a ‘pre-record’” he said, because he could not trust them to edit it fairly. Paranoid perhaps, but not entirely irrational.
Yet even Elstein did not mention the elephant in the room. That these ongoing crises are symptoms of the huge changes happening in the media. Socks the cat, Imagining Yentob and Queengate are all just outward signs of the gradual breakdown of the barriers surrounding ‘old media’. As they break down, the important thing will not be how broadcasters react to individual incidents, but whether they can see how the landscape is shifting and evolve with it.
One of the joys of the internet is being able to see patterns that were previously difficult to spot. Such as patterns in a journalist’s output simply by glancing at an archive of his/her articles.
This is particularly true if a reporter’s articles appear to show a distinct singularity of viewpoint, such that one can’t help but wonder if that reporter’s own views might be slightly obscuring his/her balance…
This occurred to me when glancing at some of James Slack’s articles for the Daily Mail over the last couple of months:
Immigrants ‘must pay extra for health care and education’
Labour hands out work permits to 1m non-EU migrants
‘We’re struggling to cope with influx of migrants’ warns police chief
Romanians living in UK carry out 1,000 crimes in six months
EU chiefs want to let in an extra 20 million immigrants from Africa and Asia
Escalating cost of Eastern Europeans living off the state hits £125m
Immigrants have taken four in ten homes since 1997
Breakout of a thousand migrants with nothing to lose
Churchill called for quotas on influx of ‘coloured people’
And that’s just since the beginning of August. One can’t help but get the impression Slack is not entirely open-minded about the impact of immigration.