Archive for the ‘Media’ tag

The media and power

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The British news media has a terribly ambivalent view of its own power. When it runs a campaign and believes the campaign has been a success, it trumpets its power to influence change (see everything from the infamous ‘It’s the Sun wot won it‘ through to the Mirror’s Stop Knives Save Lives campaign and the Daily Mail on plastic bags).


But when anyone talks about calling its power to account, there is a loud chorus from the news media of ‘Not me guv, we didn’t have anything to do with it, we were just reflecting the public mood’. Suddenly our brazen press becomes bashful and demur.

Which makes 3 representations of media power from the last few weeks all the more interesting. Namely: the role of the media on government policy towards drugs; the resignation of the England cricket captain Kevin Pietersen; and the role of Robert Peston in the financial crisis (as told by Panorama).

Earlier this week Sir Simon Jenkins wrote that government drug policy is being determined not by scientific or professional policy advice but by fear of tabloid newspaper reaction. ‘Blair’s (and now Brown’s) press operation lives in holy terror of the tabloids’ Jenkins wrote (in ‘Who will cure Ministers of illiberal headline addiction‘). Gordon Brown, ‘eager for plaudits from the tabloid press’ has pledged to upgrade cannabis from a Class C to a Class B drug, Jenkins says. Similarly, he suggests, Jacqui Smith will reject the recommendation that ecstasy be downgraded – for the same reason.

For his four mentions of the role the media played in his resignation, Kevin Pietersen’s statement is worth quoting at length (my italics):

Contrary to media speculation today, I wish to make it very clear that I did not resign as captain of the England cricket team this morning. However, in light of recent communications with the ECB, and the unfortunate media stories and speculation that have subsequently appeared, I now consider that it would be extremely difficult for me to continue in my current position with the England cricket team… At no time, contrary to press speculation, have I released any unauthorised information to the media regarding my relationships with the players, coaches and the ECB itself.”

And finally, the Panorama on Robert Peston and the financial crisis, which I missed over Christmas but caught up with via BBC iplayer. Anyone watching the programme could be forgiven for thinking Robert Peston was the only person reporting on the crisis. Not only that, but that Peston himself was the cause of the run on Northern Rock and might well have influenced the speed and direction of government intervention in the autumn of 2008 (Peston himself played down his role, unlike the programme).

In each of these cases you could take issue with the importance of the media. However, the fact that many people – including the participants – believe the media plays an important role is itself very telling (perception as truth and all that). The more you believe the media is powerful, the more that power becomes actual.

Yet, for those in these citadels of power? I’m sure most would say their power is vastly over rated…

Written by Martin Moore

January 13th, 2009 at 2:30 pm

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Does lack of reflection prevent news thinking about its future?

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This week the Independent dropped its media supplement. The paper still prints 7 pages on media, but now it’s within the body of the main paper. Though it may continue to do this, past history suggests this is a prelude to gradually integrating media coverage to the other sections (and almost certainly reducing media coverage as a consequence).

The FT did something similar in 2005. Having experimented with a media supplement on a Tuesday – ‘Creative Business’ – it then ditched this in favour of integrating the content to Tuesday’s paper. After which its media news steadily dwindled.
And only last month Press Gazette moved from a weekly to a monthly – hardly a great format for timely media news. And though supplemented by its website it is difficult to see how, with an audience of 100,000 unique users per month, this will be self-funding, or how it will maintain the depth of its print edition. More likely it will rely increasingly for revenue on spin-offs, and on the annual Press Awards.
So in terms of news about news where does this leave us? Only the Guardian prints a separate weekly media supplement – and has successfully translated the print model online at guardian.co.uk/media. Other papers rely on individual media correspondents (like Dan Sabbagh).
Outside the Guardian the space is partly filled with new news sources online. There are a bunch of good media blogs out there (including Roy Greenslade, Adrian Monck, Martin Belam, Martin Stabe, Charlie Beckett), plus journalism.co.uk and paidcontent.org. And some specialized blogs are doing a better job at scrutinizing media institutions than the press used to (like OfcomWatch).
But without more structured and edited media news and analysis, what are we missing?
- Campaigns? Not sure who will fight the Freedom of Information cause without a weekly Press Gazette
- Space for debate? The Media Guardian’s BBC special this week illustrated the value of gathering different people together on an issue – particularly those who don’t agree with one another
- Identification of media trends? i.e. stuff a little more nuanced than, say, ‘circulation is going down’
- Opportunity to distill and reflect? Making sense of the vast outpouring of material from OFCOM would be a good start
- Hold some of the media to account? Private Eye can only go so far
Perhaps most of all we’re missing the type of reflection that might help the news media work out what it is and where it’s going. The type of reflection, in other words, that might help it define its sustainable future.

Written by Martin Moore

October 7th, 2008 at 12:44 pm

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Top 10 media lessons from Labour conference

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1. Avoid loose talk…
… in the lift. A lesson David Miliband will certainly remember next year after he – allegedly – remarked to a colleague after his speech that he wanted to avoid a ‘Heseltine moment’. Unbeknownst to Miliband an (unnamed) BBC journalist was also in the lift

2. Learn from the US – use your family
Gordon Brown wouldn’t go as far as Sarah Palin (or David Cameron) – he wouldn’t use his children as ‘props’ at the conference, but by letting his wife introduce him he seems to have convinced much of the media that he is, indeed, human (‘Gordon’s Wife-Line’)

3. Avoid loose talk…
… in the bar. Or you might let slip, as one junior No.10 official apparently did (from The Guardian), that a Cabinet minister is resigning – distracting from coverage of your leaders’ pivotal conference speech

4. Give press conferences in the bar at 3.15am
As Damien McBride and Julie Crowley did on Tuesday night – to confirm reports that Ruth Kelly was indeed going to resign. As opposed to making announcements in the official press briefing area which was, according to the FT, ‘deserted’

5. Avoid loose talk
… in the corridor. After Cherie Blair’s alleged ‘Well, that’s a lie’ comment at the 2006 conference. She was reported to have made the comment after hearing Gordon Brown claim in his speech that it had been a privilege to work with Tony Blair. It subsequently became the defining media moment of the Labour conference

6. Don’t manhandle your supporters from the conference hall
This is another lesson Labour learnt back in 2006 but watching the coverage again on YouTube (BBC clip here) reminded me how astonishing it was. But rather than releasing control there are reports that the Party instead used less overt methods of suppressing dissent (see lesson number 7)

7. Avoid loose talk…
… in unofficial Labour-supporting media. LabourHome made the mistake of releasing the findings of a ‘grassroots survey’ on the eve of the conference. The findings were not particularly shocking, but were presented as such by The Independent (see previous blog). LabourHome’s editor reportedly attracted the wrath of other party supporters. Wrath that may then have been extended to other Labour supporters (see Harry’s Place report on Martin Bright)

8. Walk more
A lesson Cameron learnt from The West Wing, Clegg adopted in Bournemouth, but Brown ignored. Walking gives the impression of dynamism, that you can’t just hang around making a speech, you have to get things done (though one must be careful not to walk too fast)

9. Say the same thing
And it might, eventually, get through. Matthew Engel picked up on this one in the FT. “So it’s official” Engel wrote, “it doesn’t matter what subject it is, you just say the same things. The template is: “In the past 11 years, conference, your Labour government has abolished ——-, put £xxxm into ———- for the ——- and provided free —— for the over-60s/over-80s/under-fives. The Tories opposed all these changes and have said they will revert to ——-. We want to make ——- stronger. That’s why we need unity and a fourth term for Labour.”

10. Avoid loose talk…
… in your hotel bedroom? One must assume, after the lead story this year (and in 2006) came from an overheard remark, that journalists will go to ever greater lengths to catch an unguarded, off-the-cuff comment. Politicians beware.

Written by Martin Moore

September 25th, 2008 at 9:56 am

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Why don’t we have more analysis of media coverage of politics?

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Whatever you saw, read, or heard about Barack Obama’s speech to the Democratic convention you can be sure of one thing. The coverage will be covered.

Media Matters for America, the Project for Excellence in Journalism, Factcheck.org, the Pew Centre for People & Press, Columbia Journalism Review, TechPresident, lots of university media media centres, and many many blogs will all, in different ways, analyse the media coverage.

Some of these organisations are politically partisan. Media Matters is overtly pro-Democrat and searches for any signs of media bias: ‘ABC reports that Republicans are mocking Democrats’ columned stage, not that 2004 GOP convention stage also had columns’ was one of Thursday’s headlines.

Others are explicitly non-partisan, such as The Pew Centre for Press and People that conducts opinion polls and, with the PEJ, measures media coverage (e.g see ‘Obama rumours get more press‘).

And some focus on new media. Tech President, for example, looks at who is blogging about the campaign, who is watching Obama or McCain on YouTube or supporting the candidate on Facebook, as well as discussion and comment.

This doesn’t include, of course, the analyses by mainstream media. Howard Kurtz on media for the Washington Post. Fox News telling its viewers that the liberal media slavishly compare Obama’s rhetoric with Kennedy’s. Or Jon Stewart ribbing Fox News on the Daily Show.

So what does the UK have by comparison?

Well… Channel 4 makes a valiant effort to run FactCheck UK. There are some good bloggers discussing media, like Adrian Monck and Roy Greenslade (though certainly not restricted to politics). But not much more.

Why isn’t there more analysis of media coverage of politics in the UK? Given how important the media has become to politicians – “a vast aspect of our jobs today…” Tony Blair said last year “is coping with the media, its sheer scale, weight and constant hyperactivity” – you would have thought someone, somewhere, would be keeping a closer record.

Of course there are significant differences in the political process. We know when American elections are going to happen and the build up starts over a year before election day. This means US organisations have both time to prepare and plenty to analyse. In the UK the Prime Minister only has to give the electorate six weeks notice. So though most of us figure the next election will be in 2010, it’s difficult to justify starting election analysis now.

There’s also a lot more riding on the US election. Much as the UK might continue to swing its weight about in the world (hat tip to Mr David Miliband), the US remains the leading global power.

But these differences should only account for a difference in scale and approach. They don’t explain the vacuum of analysis here.

It’s time we had a centre for political media analysis. It’s time for a UK Pew / Project for Excellence in Journalism / TechPresident. Any volunteers?

Written by Martin Moore

August 29th, 2008 at 5:48 am

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