Archive for the ‘debate’ tag

Journalism 0-1 PR

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The journalists lost. At the end of last night’s sparky and spikey Media Standards Trust / Westminster University debate, 59 people voted for the motion “The growth of PR is threatening the integrity of the Press” vs. 164 against (with about 80 plus abstentions). Ouch.

How did it happen? Before the event the journalists looked like they would walk it. Nick Davies cited copious examples from his book, Flat Earth News, of wiley PR people manipulating the media in favour of their clients. And Roy Greenslade made a strong case for the serious and growing imbalance between the ‘seekers of truth and gatekeepers to truth’.

At the same time Lord (Tim) Bell was unable to explain why concealing the truth about BAE, Saudi Arabia, Boris Berezovsky and the president of Belarus (all of whom his company, Chime Communications, represents) was not against the public interest. And nor did Phil Hall (head of Phil Hall associates) respond to Greenslade’s challenge that PRs were blocking journalists’ access to information.

But there were, I think, four reasons why the journalists lost. Two just and two unjust.

First the just reasons:

Bell and Hall made robust defences of PR. If you’re going to blame anyone for journalism’s lack of integrity, both argued, you have to start with the news organisations themselves. If proprietors, or ‘the prawn sandwich brigade’ as Hall called them, weren’t so obsessed with their shareholders then maybe they’d put more money and effort into raising their standards of journalism.

Davies conceded that journalists were as much to blame. “Our trade is broken” Davies said, as a consequence of market and competitive forces. And as a result, journalists leave themselves open to PR advances.

And the unjust?

The audience was biased. There was definitely a majority of PR students and practitioners in the auditorium who, one felt, had pretty much made up their minds before they came in.

But, more substantively, I’d argue that the extent of the imbalance between PR and journalism is not yet widely enough known. Nick Davies’ book has some great examples of the wheezes of PR companies, and some fascinating analysis of the quantity of PR material in the newspapers, but we need more, much more. We need analyses of PR material from across all media. We need evidence of the number and type of approaches made by PR to journalism. And, most of all, we need investigations that demonstrate how much public interest material is concealed or buried by PR.

If we’re going to make the relationship between journalism and PR more transparent; if we’re going to prevent a build-up of ignorance and animosity between the two (and enhance the integrity of both), then we need to be more informed. We need to do more legwork.

Written by Martin Moore

April 10th, 2008 at 3:14 pm

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

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 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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And the media's upside-down pyramid finally topples over

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How remarkably refreshing. A news debate stopped because listeners were tired of unfounded speculation and the call for snap judgments.

Victoria Derbyshire was forced to abandon her Radio 5 Live phone-in this morning (Subject: ‘Do you still have sympathy for the McCanns?’) because people said they’d had enough. They’d had enough of news programmes endlessly rehashing the same set of issues without any new information. Enough of debates trying to split people into the ‘We should support them and be sympathetic’ camp vs. the ‘sad though it is, it was their own fault and we should ignore them’ camp. And enough of “bad taste journalism” in the words of one caller (see Leigh Holmwood, Media Guardian)

Asked whether 5 Live should stop the phone-in or continue, 68% said stop.

We could easily read too much into this of course. The McCann story has been astonishing for the hours of broadcasting and acres of newsprint it has generated, particularly given the paucity of actual, hard news. And listeners to 5 Live have already had to endure many McCann phone-ins.

But it also suggests that the news media’s ‘inverse pyramiding’ – i.e. building enormous amounts of news and comment up from one tiny point – may be reaching its apotheosis.

Human drama, however tragic, cannot bear the strain of so much re-telling. Neither indeed can the participants, who in this case have – to date – effectively gained nothing from the massive media coverage. But have lost; their anonymity, their privacy, and their ability to lead a ‘normal’ life – as well as the harmful impact on their health, their work, their relationships with family and friends.

The hope that, with the help of the media, millions of extra eyes might help them find their daughter, has faded. Now we’re left with the scarred and damaged aftermath, and possibly something darker still.

But despite the bloody nose from Five Live listeners, the chances that media speculation will now dwindle are, I suspect, slim.

Written by Martin Moore

September 10th, 2007 at 4:46 pm

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YouTube debates – where questions matter more than answers

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What should we take from the YouTube / CNN presidential debate?

Rather than accepting the over-hyped rhetoric of the debate’s organisers (‘revolutionary’ etc.) or listening to the dismissals by new media gurus (e.g. Jeff Jarvis) it’s worth considering what we can learn about new methods of political engagement from the ‘people’s presidential debate’ hosted on Monday evening.

Its format was similar to the BBC’s Question Time, except that rather than questions being posed by a studio audience they were asked by people who’d uploaded video questions to YouTube. CNN & YouTube picked 39 questions from almost 3,000. These were supposed to represent a diverse spread of political concerns, personal issues, and the distinctly bizarre (e.g. Jered Thompson on gun control).

But focusing purely on the subject matter or the way the questions were phrased slightly misses the point. The key difference was the context. Being able to see people – up close and personal – gave the questions an authenticity and an immediacy you don’t get from normal debates.

Three people (aid workers?) stood behind Sudanese children asking what the candidates intended to do about Darfur refugees. Asked in a studio the question would have seemed worthy, distant, even cliched. On screen on the ground it felt genuine and pressing. Or Kim, 36 years old, who pulled off her wig and explained how she hopes ‘to be a future breast cancer survivor’ but reckons her chances are pretty slim since she has no health insurance.

As Alessandra Stanley wrote in the New York Times, ‘It was not the phrasing of the questions that made a difference, it was the visual impact of the people asking them’.

And though this visual impact did not particularly affect the politicians’ answers – much of them standard pre-rehearsed statements – it almost certainly did, I’d argue, influence the reaction of the audience.

There were alot of shortcomings to this debate – some of which are described by Kevin Marsh on the BBC Editors’ Blog and others by Jeff Jarvis (to be published in Monday’s Guardian) – but if we accept that we’re still just beginners when it comes to working out how new media fuses with old, then there’s alot we could learn from experiments like this.

Written by Martin Moore

July 25th, 2007 at 4:34 pm

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