Archive for March, 2008

Has the Left stopped thinking?

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Since thumping the next election into the nether regions of 2010, Gordon Brown has yet to outline new New Labour’s big ‘vision’. Is it there struggling to get out, or has the well of new Left ideas dried up?

We’ve organised a debate, in association with Reuters, to find out.

“Has the Left stopped thinking” will be held at Reuters next Wednesday (26th) from 6/6.30-8pm (see www.theorwellprize.co.uk).

Denis MacShane MP, Will Hutton (Work Foundation, The Observer), Matthew Parris (The Times), Peter Hitchens (The Mail on Sunday) and Jean Seaton (Westminster University) will argue it out, chaired by Sean Maguire (Editor, Political & General News, Reuters).

Following the debate Jean Seaton, the chair of the Orwell Prize, will announce this year’s shortlists – for the author and for the journalist who have most successfully achieved Orwell’s aim of making political writing into an art.

There is limited seating but if you’d like to come you’re welcome to email me at martin.moore@mediastandardstrust.org and, if there are any places left, I’ll put your name down.

Written by Martin Moore

March 20th, 2008 at 3:15 pm

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Express journalists writing on 'Madeleine'

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BTW, the Express may have removed all Madeleine McCann articles from its website but, thanks to www.journalisted.com we still know that each of these Express journalists has written more about ‘Madeleine’ than anything else in the last 6 months (based on more than 50 articles published by each journalist on express.co.uk):

Martin Evans
David Pilditch
Padraic Flanagan
Nick Fagge
Martin Stote
Matt Drake

Written by Martin Moore

March 19th, 2008 at 11:51 am

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Stop buying the Express

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“I fail to see”, comments Kieran216 below Roy Greenslade’s excellent McCann/Express blog, “how anyone of sane mind could have such complete lack of dignity to actually perform the act of walking up to a shop counter and paying money for the Express or the Star”.

S/he has a point. Here are papers that have knowingly printed stories they know to be false and that they know will be highly damaging to the McCann family. And they have done so with a grotesque cynicism and lack of respect not just for the McCanns but for their own readers. Just to take one instance from last October: on Monday 8th the paper splashed with ‘Madeleine parents in the clear: new shock on DNA evidence’. Then followed this on the 9th with ‘DNA puts parents in the frame’ (hat tip Observer).

And it doesn’t stop with the McCann’s. As toxtethogrady comments on the same Greenslade blog: “Can we have front page apologies for the hundreds of made up Diana and weather stories now as well?”. You could extend toxtethogrady’s list to include stories about the family of Shannon Matthews, stories about climate change and, of course, stories about immigrants and immigration.

At the same time the papers’ owner, Richard Desmond, continues to make phenomenal personal profits from his newspapers while cutting the number of staff. Last year, according to The Scotsman, he paid himself £40.7m, a good portion of which came from profits made by the Express and Star titles. Yet at the end of 2006 he cut 60 jobs from these titles and outsourced the whole business section of the Express to the Press Association – to save costs.

Desmond appears to be happy to print anything, true or false, to sell enough papers to make a profit. The more his papers’ circulations decline the more costs he’ll presumably cut until, at some stage in the next decade or so, they eventually become unprofitable to print.

Our only hope is that the people who keep putting their hand in their pocket to buy any of his papers, stop.

Written by Martin Moore

March 19th, 2008 at 9:39 am

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A plea for more government data online

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What do these three things have in common?

- The Power of Information by Tom Steinberg and Ed Mayo
- Report No.40 of the Statistics Commission
- Andrew Gilligan’s shortlisting for ‘Reporter of the Year’ by the British Press Awards

All three argue that releasing public information in a regular, consistent, independent way – preferably via the web – would be a very good thing for democracy.

They’re right. It’s just that many within government, and the majority of journalists, don’t seem convinced of it yet.

‘The Power of Information’, published last summer and last week endorsed by Minister Tom Watson, advised the government to supply “innovators that are re-using government-held information with the information they need, when they need it, in a way that maximises the long-term benefits for all citizens”. i.e. like MySociety already does with www.theyworkforyou.com and www.fixmystreet.com.

Report No.40 by the Statistics Commission describes, in surprisingly elegant prose, why it is closing its doors at the end of this month having spent the last 8 years trying to work out how to increase public trust in government statistics by monitoring and regulating their release. The report notes a number of major successes, not least the 2007 Statistics and Registration Service Act, and ends on an optimistic note.

And Andrew Gilligan, having been shortlisted for his reports into Ken Livingstone’s spending as Mayor of London, has been at pains to stress the importance of publicly available information on the web to his investigation. “One of the striking things about this story”, he told Ian Burrell of the Independent, “was that it actually was in relatively plain view. The payments to these companies are a matter of public record, if you know where to look and you want to sit there with your calculator and add it all up.”

Yet, as Gilligan notes, “It’s one of the great indictments of journalism that so few people…” do the necessary legwork. Despite it being, in Gilligan’s words “not that hard”. “Quite a lot of stories don’t come from brown envelopes and people in car parks, they come from quite boring places that are available for anyone to see if they wanted to”.

Neither do government ministers escape criticism. The Statistics Commission cannot shut up shop without a “parting shot over political misuse of data” (as reported in today’s FT). The Commission, in the FT’s words “savages the Department for Children, Schools and Families for its practice of failing to provide ‘clear and separate publication’ of statistics before issuing Ministerial statements of them”. It also lays into the Department for Work and Pensions and the Home Office.

So we appear to be moving in the right direction, only with glacial slowness. As much as we need bodies like the new UK Statistics Authority we also need a major cultural change – amongst both politicians and the media.

Perhaps, if Tom Watson proves particularly persuasive, and a growing number of journalists win prizes for investigations based on evidence gathered online, then the quantity and quality of publicly available data will start to grow. And, as a consequence, so will investigations of public bodies by journalists and citizen journalists.

Perhaps. But don’t hold your breath.

Written by Martin Moore

March 18th, 2008 at 1:18 pm