Journalism wins

with 2 comments

Though we don’t yet know the long term effects of the MPs expenses scandal we already know it has had a very positive impact on journalism. 

Despite the resignation of the Speaker, Michael Martin, the repercussions of this story will take a long time to play out for MPs and the political process. ‘Much much more needs to happen if MPs are to get out of the expenses morass’, Peter Riddell writes in The Times. And later in the same paper Daniel Finkelstein wonders if MPs have really yet understood what a profound impact the information revolution has had – and will have on politics.

But some of the beneficial repercussions on journalism are already apparent. For one thing it has reminded people – print journalists in particular – that not only are rumours of newspapers demise greatly exaggerated, but that they can genuinely hold politicians to account, and catalyse root and branch reform.

The expenses scandal has been a shot in the arm for public interest journalism. It has shown that political news can sell papers (the Telegraph has, according to Media Guardian, sold 600,000 more newspapers), that a newspaper (as opposed to a website or blog) can lead the news agenda for days – weeks – on end. And it has shown that the role of journalism as watchdog is alive and well.

This will not only put a spring in the step of political correspondents but make all journalists more conscious – and prouder – of their trade. It will help remind journalism students about why they’re going into a profession that has – in so many other respects – such an uncertain future.

All the better that the story has been owned – quite literally – by the conservative (Conservative?) bastion that is the Daily Telegraph. A paper that appeared to have lost its way politically and journalistically. The Telegraph has now found its voice – and found it in 130+ point type.

It is not yet clear whether this story represents a flare in the embers of newspapers that are already dying, or whether it represents a revival of the – often idealised – the Fourth Estate. Whichever it is, journalists should take a moment to reflect on a good time for public interest journalism.

Written by Martin Moore

May 20th, 2009 at 9:19 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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2 Responses to 'Journalism wins'

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  1. Martin – to be an utter pedant, I don’t think this speaks to the watchdog function of the press. That implies an active, vigilant media.What this shows is the value of a passive news media as a means of publicising certain categories of privately-held information. In other words it acts as a valve for certain kinds of non-public information: political; sporting; entertainment.We know, of course, that much privately-held information might not be worthy of publicity (despite having ‘public interest’).We know too that it’s cheaper to pay for documents like this, than to keep on the payroll even a couple half decent investigative journalists.We also know that in this case, other news outlets decided that there wasn’t much publicity value in the documents the Telegraph published.The media remains open to the disgruntled with something attractive to sell. That’s not a bad thing, but that’s as far as we can go…IMHO

    Adrian Monck

    23 May 09 at 2:50 pm

  2. Adrian – You know how sometimes you write something, and then a day or two afterwards you think of things that bother you about what you wrote? So with this blog. I do still think the whole affair indicates the power of journalism in the political process, and journalism will, I hope, benefit from the demonstration that Westminster stories sell, and perhaps the success of the Telegraph will convince other news organisations to invest more in the political investigations – we’ll see. But a number of things bother me about the coverage.I take your point, for one thing, that The Telegraph did not so much play the ‘watchdog’ as the megaphone (though people have recognised the importance of Heather Brooke in unearthing the expenses in the first place). I’m also bothered by the lack of contrariness in the coverage. Journalists are generally contrary – which is a good thing. But there has been very little of that in the last couple of weeks. Is The Telegraph right to present every MP as venal? Given it has all the cards in its hand, couldn’t it play a more powerful – and constructive – role if it made a point of singling out those who went against the system and did not take up their allowances? Equally, couldn’t it have spent more time trying to understand how politics got to this point (i.e. a little more history)?You’re right, this doesn’t suggest an active, vigilant media. But I still hope it reinvigorates the idea of public interest journalism.

    Martin Moore

    23 May 09 at 7:09 pm

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