Mike Vickers' Blog

April 22, 2011

Journalism in an Age of Disclosure

Filed under: Journalism — derryvickers @ 10:12 am

I attended the David Hume Lecture on Journalism in the Age of Disclosure: News, the Media and an Open Society on 20 April.  The main speaker was Blair Jenkins (currently advising the Carnegie Trust) with a supporting panel of Atholl Duncan (Head of News & Current Affairs BBC Scotland), Iain MacWhirter (Scottish Digital Networks) and Philip Schlesinger (Director of Cultural Policy Research, University of Glasgow) and Jeremy Peat (Director David Hume Institute) in the Chair.

During BJ’s introduction I wrote down a number of words: ethical, reliable, fair, trusted, mediated, transparent.

He illustrated recent failure in transparency and unreliability in Journalists to challenge the basis of the Iraq war and to look critically at the bullish state of the US economy prior to the Financial Crisis.  He felt that Journalists had been too ready to cosy up to politicians and big business

In contrast he felt that the Journalists on the Telegraph had been more responsible in ferreting out MPs expenses and had treated all parties equally.  He was less sure about the sting the Paper perpetrated on a LibDem MP surgery if only because they didn’t sting a Tory surgery. In the general discussion later, all (I think) supported the outing of Vince Cable’s criticism of New International in its attempt to take over B Sky B if only because Cable gave his view unprompted.

BJ recognised a continuing conflict between commercialism and ethics.  This is not helped by the worsening economic situation in the newspaper business with journalists under chronic overload doing more for less.  He wondered whether news  reporting should be funded by philanthropic / charitable organisations to ensure ‘un-bias’; this was challenged later by one panellist who reminded us that a number of news philanthropic sources in the US were funded by undeclared pressure groups.  BJ considered competition essential and welcomed the idea of a Scottish Independent Broadcaster.

In summary he reiterated the need for Journalists to be accountable, to disclose and ask the right questions; Journalists need to better connect to their consumers.

AD believed that accountability is essential.  He considered that the BBC was now doing better at Investigative Journalism.  He recognised that the news media now have to compete with Twitter and other Social Media.  He believes that the Licence fee and Not For Profit remain the key to good Journalism.

IMcW quoted HL Mencken’s ‘Dog and Lamppost where the politicians are the lampposts.  He too bemoaned the lack of a diverse Scottish Press.  He considered the Internet as ignored as a news source.  He welcomed the Australian Newspaper of the Air (I can’t find it on the web but did find The Australian which looks good but in the same way as The Guardian on-line is a potted version of The Guardian). He considered the US ahead of the pack through editorial leadership, recovering from a degraded media, with 10,000 journalists laid off

ProfPS also listed the qualities of a Good Journalist : virtuous, educated, freelance, ethical, providing good stories.  He considered Journalists had lost trust and this would not easily be repaired.  He too saw the need for Public Support thought a Licence fee.  Public money should be ‘creditable and credible’

From the floor Iain MacDonald considered that demand for Journalism is falling through disgust with business and the failure of politics.  Consumers were getting what they wanted free on-line.  There was praise for Reporting Scotland but no one could see real value in Local TV and at best this would be restricted to Glasgow, Edinburgh and perhaps Central Scotland.  ‘Citizen Journalists’ could have a role in reporting local events.  BJ in reply to a question felt that Journalism / the Media needs to become multilayered with consumers being able to ‘drill down’ to the underlying facts behind the story should they wish; the underlying facts being provided by professionals in the particular field.  A comment close to my heart was made by the German Consul General to Scotland who complained that when  BBC Journalists went to Germany to report on the elections they had to ask the candidates to speak English; AD had to agree but stressed that the BBC World Service was significantly better equipped in that it relies on local nationals for its material.

JP in summing up focused on Lack of Resources, warned against the joke of students undertaking ‘Media Studies’, bemoaned that Scotland has only two of the four national newspapers left, humility matters and there needs to be a revival in Public Interest.

For my part I felt there was too little on role of the Internet as a Media purveyor and what impact that will have on journalism.  For good or bad one only has to think of the role of social media in Egypt to see its power for ‘instant reporting’.  Also the Internet is ideal for providing the consumer with the ability to drill down as suggested by BJ – just look at Wikipedia to see the possibilities.  There was some discussion on ‘out sourcing’;  the Scotsman does a lot but again the Internet should be ideal for providing access to well written pieces.  What one wants is an overarching editorial framework and there should be no reason why the existing news media cannot take on this role.

Finally on a lighter note; in looking up quotes by HL Mencken I find

‘A newspaper is a device for making the ignorant more ignorant and the crazy crazier’.

I realise that my thgoughts are in conflict with a previous blog on the need to think before publishing but as always life is a balance!

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