Why Journalism Matters – introduction

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Last night the Media Standards Trust invited Lionel Barber, editor of the Financial Times, to open its series of talks on the theme ‘Why Journalism Matters’.

We’ll be publishing an edited version of his talk, along with others in the series. You can also read the text in full here.
Why have we organised a series on Why Journalism Matters?
  • Because we believe that it does. Amidst all the talk about technology and business models, we don’t want the critical values of journalism to be lost almost by default
  • Because we believe that the real values of journalism are not universally understood or acknowledged.
  • And because we think that, as journalism goes through a massive period of transition it is not enough to rely on important concepts that – to borrow from George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language – have become stale from over-use, and whose lack of precision has reduced their power to convince. Phrases like: The Fourth Estate, the democratic deficit, the public interest, and the people’s watchdog.
If you care about journalism, and genuinely believe it has a critical role to play in our democracy and society – as we do – then you cannot use such phrases as a crutch without interrogating them, challenging them, and trying to work out what they actually mean.
Over the next year a number of decisions will be taken – or not taken – that will have a significant and material effect on journalism. Rules surrounding ownership of news outlets may be relaxed. The government will consider if – and how – to intervene in local and regional news. It will consult on whether to top slice the BBC License Fee.
During the same period more newspapers will fold.
And you can be sure that, between now and next summer, no-one will suddenly work out how to fix news’ broken business model.
We have a choice. We can wait and watch change happen around us. Hope that it is creative destruction and that in the end things will sort themselves out for the best.
Or we can try to do something about it, and make sure that, while navigating the rapids of media change, we do not lose things that are difficult or impossible to rebuild.
But it’s no good doing anything without first having thought carefully about the purpose and value of journalism.
Which is why we have started this series – that Lionel Barber began at the British Academy last night. Barber has been at the FT for over 20 years – in which time he has been the paper’s Washington correspondent, news editor, Brussels bureau chief and editor of its continental edition. Before that he was a reporter at the Sunday Times and at the Scotsman.
‘In the new world of citizen journalism,’ Barber wrote last October, ‘the role of the trained journalist as trusted intermediary no longer holds…. Perhaps there is no such thing as a neutral filter or objective truth, and (print) journalists were imposters to suggest as much.’

Written by Martin Moore

July 16th, 2009 at 2:46 pm

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