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Jon Bernstein: Sorry Guido, the BBC did for Duncan

Three high-profile political figures mired in controversy, two thrown out of their jobs, one suffering a humiliating demotion – all thanks to internet activists of differing political hues from green to darkest blue.

Hang your heads in shame video-sting victim Alan Duncan, and Smeargate’s Derek Draper and Damian McBride. Take a bow Tim Montgomerie, Guido Fawkes, and Heydon Prowse.

But was it really the web wot done it? I’m not so sure.

Or at least I don’t think the web could have done it without the traditional media, television news and newspapers in particular.

Clearly this is at odds with Guido’s reading of the situation.

Writing on his blog this morning yesterday Paul Staines (for it is he) asks who forced Alan Duncan from his role as shadow leader of the House of Commons.

Not Tory leader David Cameron, that’s for sure. Rather it was the unlikely pairing of Tim Montgomerie and Heydon Prowse, ‘the blogosphere’s shepherd of the Tory grassroots and the angry young man with a video-cam’.

Of Prowse, who filmed Duncan on the terrace talking of ‘rations’ in the wake of the MPs’ expenses scandal, Guido notes:

“Heydon Prowse, who is he? He just destroyed the career of a greasy pole climbing Westminster slitherer. No house-trained political nous, no insight, in fact a little naive. He still did it.”

And Guido is in no doubt what this means in the wider context:

“The news is now disintermediated.”

The same applies, apparently, to the sacking of Damian McBride and Derek Draper, both prime ministerial advisors in their time. McBride and Draper were outed for their parts in a plot to use a pseudo-activist blog to spread rumours about various high-profile Tories.

The emails incriminating the two men found their way to Guido/Staines, and were in turn picked up by the media.

(Ironically, the site was meant to be the left’s answer to right-wing blogosphere attack-dogs, Guido among them.)

This week saw the story take another twist. Would-be smear victim Nadine Dorries MP carried out a threat to sue Draper and McBride and enlisted the help of Guido and fellow blogger Tory Bear to be servers of writs.

No one is doubting the origin of both stories, nor the journalistic craft in exposing the men at the heart of them. But it took the mainstream media to push these events into the public consciousness, into the mainstream.

And it took the attentions of the mainstream media to effect the sackings and demotion.

On the day it broke, the Duncan story led the BBC 10 o’clock News and featured prominently on other channels. In the ensuing 48 hours it spawned dozens of national press stories – the Daily Star went for ‘Dumb and Duncan’, The Mirror for ‘Duncan Donut’, others were more po-faced – as well as leader comments, opinion pieces and letters.

The coverage continued into the weekend and despite Duncan’s very swift apology and Cameron’s initial willingness to draw a line under events (“Alan made a bad mistake. He has acknowledged that, he has apologised and withdrawn the remarks.”) the drip, drip of media focus eventually forced the Tory leader to act.

It was a similar pattern with Smeargate.

Would PM Gordon Brown and Cameron have acted if these had remained just web stories? Not in 2009.

Is the news disintermediated? Not yet. Instead we have a symbiotic – if dysfunctional – relationship between the blogosphere and the traditional media.

The latter fears and dismisses the former in equal measure, but increasingly relies on it to take the temperature of various constituent parts of society and, yes, to source stories. Guido is such a good conduit through which to leak precisely because the media reads him.

The former, meanwhile, is disparaging about the latter (sometimes for good reason) but nonetheless needs it to vindicate its journalistic endeavours.

A final twist to the Alan Duncan story. Heydon Prowse offered Guido first refusal on his secret video recording back in June. Guido turned it down. “D’oh!” he later wrote in a confessional blog post.

Guido always has the good grace to admit when he’s goofed, as he did earlier this year over James Purnell’s fictitious leadership bid.

Will he accept with equally good grace that the mainstream media were a vital ingredient in the sackings and demotion of McBride, Draper and Duncan?

Jon Bernstein is former multimedia editor of Channel 4 News. This is part of a series of regular columns for Journalism.co.uk. You can read his personal blog at jonbernstein.wordpress.com.

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Trinidad’s tabloids scream loudly, but Barbados’ press could do with some balls

July 24th, 2009 | 2 Comments | Posted by in Journalism, Newspapers

John Mair is a senior lecturer in broadcasting at Coventry University. He was born in Guyana and regularly returns there to help build local media, print and TV. Previous posts looked at the Caricom Summit held July 2-5 in Georgetown. Trinidad and Barbados were the final stops.

After experiencing Guyanese ‘journalism’ during the Caricom summit, any order is better. In Trinidad, there is much economic prosperity due to oil and natural gas: ‘What recession?’ they ask here. The economy is healthy but the society has some of the fissures of Guyana.

Trinidad politics
Indians were brought here in thousands as indentured labourers to replace the freed black slaves one hundred and seventy years ago. They live in the south of the island, the African Trinidadians in the North. They have much of the wealth, the prime minister and his ruling PNM party are black and have the political power.

There is much violent crime – especially kidnappings and murders – and that is the staple fare of the super tabloids who make up the Trinidad & Tobago newspaper market. The Guardian, the Express and Newsday are much the same. Screaming headlines on the cover but much content inside. They are big in pagination and include lots of classified ads.

Politics gets a big shout and through that the racial dimension. The leader of the opposition (at the moment) Basdeo Panday is Indo-Trinidadian. He was prime minister until 2001 but was driven from office for alleged corruption. Today his UNC is breaking into bits.

His former attorney general Ramesh Marhaj is leading a ginger group/internal opposition within the party together with another MP – Jack Warner, who runs football in this part of the world, is vice-chair of FIFA and has been the subject of critical investigations on British TV about his dodgy behaviour in that job.

Warner’s son sold the travel packages and tickets for Trinidadians to the to the 2006 World Cup. Panday wants Warner to account for $30m (T&T) of election expenses. Warner says it was money he gave the party so no need to account. This makes the British MPs look tame.

Columnists abound on the pages of the T&T press. Different races. All have views. Many far too prolix for the page. Sub-editing is not a craft that seems to have been found in the Southern Caribbean. But the three dailies and the local TV news programmes – sadly also divided on racial lines – make for lively reading and listening. Crime sells. They certainly put the fear of God into the bank manager cousin with whom I was staying.

Keeping awake in Barbados
Not so Barbados. The problem here for a journalist is keeping awake. The best description for the Barbados Nation and Advocate? Stodgy, boring, dull. They make the Bedworth Advertiser look interesting. Boring headlines and even duller stories. It is like reading a parish newsletter for a nation.

The ‘news’ is based on government news conferences and other press conferences by NGOs and the like. On such sexy subjects like polyclinics, insurance and diabetes. Again, writing is prolix and not of great quality.

Barbados is a very polite and ordered society (the murder rate is a fraction of Trinidad’s) and that shows in its press. The hacks need to get themselves some more balls. The TV news is not much better.

There we have it. Prosperity, tabloid culture, Little England and the news values of British suburbia. Funny how they all travel. But Blighty calls.

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#FollowJourn: @jowadsworth/web editor

July 15th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Recommended journalists

#FollowJourn: Jo Wadsworth

Who? Web editor of The Argus.

What? Leader in editing the Argus website, develops daily news service, and builds communities.

Where? @jowadsworth

Contact? jo.wadsworth@theargus.co.uk

Just as we like to supply you with fresh and innovative tips every day, we’re recommending journalists to follow online too. They might be from any sector of the industry: please send suggestions (you can nominate yourself) to judith or laura at journalism.co.uk; or to @journalismnews.

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Reuters Great Debate: Lib Dem’s Nick Clegg – a social media interview

July 13th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Events, Social media and blogging

Journalism.co.uk is taking part in a Reuters event today – an interview with Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, where all questions put to the MP have been solicited through and posted to social media sites.

Video questions for the leader have been left on 12seconds, while tweets tagged #askclegg are also being picked up. A new system for monitoring Twitter conversations, Newsdeck, is also being trialled – which we’ll be reporting back on.

The interview should kick off from 1pm (BST) – with a livestream below:

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Event: Reuters hosts social media Q&A with Lib Dem’s Nick Clegg – take part!

On Monday (July 13) Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg will take part in a public question and answer session with a difference.

Clegg will respond to questions solicited via a range of social media sites in a livestreamed event – something that the politician himself has described as changing ‘the way we do politics’.

The event is the latest in a series of sessions subjecting high-profile figures in the world of politics and business to social media scrutiny – but previous participants, including Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Bob Zoellick, used the q&a session as a follow-up to a speech. Clegg will just be responding to questions from the public and online audience.

Journalism.co.uk is going to co-host part of the proceedings – it’s a great opportunity for us to see how Reuters runs these events and why and how they are opening it up/distributing it in this way.

How to get involved:
According to Reuters, nothing is off limits. If you want to put a question to Clegg before or during the event, you can:

Clegg has posed some questions of his own on 12 Seconds; or perhaps you’d like to challenge his statements on the war in Afghanistan?

How to follow the event:
There will be a live video stream of the event on the Journalism.co.uk Editors’ blog and on the Reuter’s hosting page. You can also follow some of the event on the Reuters New Editors Twitter channel.

Journalism.co.uk will attempt to aggregate some of the tweets around the event as well as featuring coverage on @journalism_live.

Any other suggestions of how you’d like us to cover it – please chip in.

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Timely apology for Guardian as Zuma casts his vote

April 22nd, 2009 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Press freedom and ethics

Brought to Journalism.co.uk’s attention by Brand Republicthis apology in the Guardian to South African presidential candidate Jacob Zuma.

The paper apologised to the ANC party leader for a piece published on March 6, which suggested he was guilty of rape. The correction was run yesterday – a day before polling opened in South Africa.

Following its original publication Zuma demanded an apology and damages from the paper.

The reference was the result of an editing error, the paper maintains – Zuma was acquitted of rape charges in 2006, it said in its apology.

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Sea change: did online campaign group force political transparency?

January 21st, 2009 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Citizen journalism, Online Journalism

It’s an interesting landmark: a quickly put-together online campaign in the UK may have influenced a political reversal. Gordon Brown has cancelled proposals for MPs to protect the details of their expenses.

The House of Commons leader, Harriet Harman, cited lack of cross-party support as the reason behind the change, according to the BBC report.

Meanwhile, the Guardian reported:

“The decision is a major victory for freedom of information campaigners and follows growing opposition led by the Liberal Democrats to the proposal, and website campaigns urging the public to email their MP objecting to the move.”

Does this show something of a sea change in political influence? Note that the campaigners directly mobilised their supporters, without reliance on mainstream media.

Tom Steinberg, founder of My Society, the organisation behind the campaign, thinks traditional media manipulation tools had little effect.

He comments on the MySociety blog:

“This is a huge victory not just for transparency, it’s a bellweather for a change in the way politics works. There’s no such thing as a good day to bury bad news any more, the internet has seen to that.”

Matthew Cain, over on his BacAtU blog, gives five reasons why he believes the campaign had clout, and points out that Stephen Fry helped the cause too… with a humble re-tweet on Twitter:

But, also today, a reminder of the way media connections have traditionally worked, with the appointment of a new head of political lobby, the Financial Times’ Jean Eaglesham. But how much influence and inside knowledge does the lobby have anymore?

Press Gazette reported:

“Eaglesham dismissed any suggestion that the need for constant ‘rolling’ news has diminished the quality of parliamentary reporting.

“She said: ‘Clearly it’s a risk we’re all aware of, however, now we also have the added value of more analysis and breaking news through blogging and other online content. Things change so fast now, it’s fascinating.'”

The role of the lobby was discussed at the end of last year in the House of Lords. Hazel Blears talked about the influence of the political bloggers in November, in an address to the Hansard Society.

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Reuters.co.uk: Put your questions to David Cameron via Twitter now

Reuters is hosting an interview with David Cameron via Twitter. This morning (Monday), from 10am, the Conservative party leader David Cameron is talking about the economy and the credit crunch at Thomson Reuters’ Canary Wharf office and his speech will be followed by a question and answer session. Users of Twitter can use the tag #askDC to put questions to Cameron, and Reuters will monitor all the responses. The questions are already coming in. The Reuters Newsmaker can be used to track all proceedings.

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Cameron calls for restraints on BBC’s commercial operations, supports local media

At the Annual Newspaper Conference Lunch on Tuesday David Cameron, leader of the Conservative party was quick to criticise the ‘crushing’ power of the BBC.

The comments were made at the annual Newspaper Conference lunch, reported on the Newspaper Society’s website.

Addressing members of the Newspaper Conference, a body administrated by the Newspaper Society, made up of 20 regional press journalists and based in Westminster, Cameron insisted further restraints should be put on the BBC’s commercial operations.

“They [the BBC] have got to bear in mind that when they enter new markets, they are often in danger of crushing with the great big foot of the BBC enterprise, entrepreneurship and risk and capital that other organisations have put into those areas,” he said.

“Things like what they have been doing in education, some of the things they’ve been doing [sic] online, their plans for video on demand, and some of what they’ve been doing in competition with local newspapers, those are the things where they should be restrained,” said the Conservative leader

The BBC’s regulatory body, the BBC Trust also came under fire:

“I’d also like to see them [the BBC] regulated more in the way of other commercial television companies. I know the BBC Trust is an improvement on the old form of government but to me independent regulation has got to be independent.

“I still don’t really understand how you can partly be regulated by the BBC Trust, which is you, and partly by Ofcom. It doesn’t make sense.”

Speaking to the Newspaper Conference members, Cameron praised regional newspapers referring to them as being ‘valuable in terms of the health of a combative democracy’.

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BNP members list leak gathers pace online – to link or not to link?

Removing the original online posting of the leaked list of members of the British National Party (BNP) has failed to contain the spread of the information online.

The list and reactions to it are being avidly Twittered, as a search for BNP on Twitter search engine Summize shows, while the document has made its way onto Wikileaks.

According to the party’s website, the blog that posted the ‘outdated’ list was removed from Blogger ‘after urgent legal action was instituted by the BNP leadership’.

In a Guardian.co.uk article, BNP leader Nick Griffin has admitted that the party is relying on the Human Rights Act, which it opposes, to help protect its members’ privacy.

Meanwhile reporting on the incident has raised questions of linking, as this blog post from TimesOnline suggests:

“The Times decided not to link to the list, even though we often do link to material without taking that as some kind of endorsement.

“There were various reasons for the decision, most of them expressed in other comments on our various online reports. Firstly, BNP members have as much right to privacy as anyone else. Secondly, last time we checked it was still a free country: there is no law against membership of the BNP.

“The list is out there now, even if a Google search no longer throws it up. The anti-fascist campaigners and phone-prankers are having a field day. We don’t need to help them.”

Blogger Craig McGill adds the following observation on the list’s travels online:

“I see the list has appeared on file sharing outlets? Will social crusaders claim this is a good use for P2P which is normally associated with piracy?”

Similarly a Google Maps mashup has also been created, though, as TechCrunchUK warns, it’s dangerously inaccurate and has the potential to aid vigilantes – while I write the map was taken down because of inaccuracies.

McGill also suggests that this story was broken first by mainstream media, despite being an online story – is this the case? If so, for an online leak, this could be a good sign of ‘traditional’ outlets upping their game when it comes to online news tracking.

Blogger Matt Waldman suggests the story of the leaked list was broken by the Lancaster Unity blog, while TheRegister.co.uk posted a report on the leak at 2:31pm (GMT) on Tuesday – also citing the Lancaster Unity post. MSM not quite first past the post then.

Waldman goes on to discuss the potential legal implications of linking to it:

“Links to material that is alleged to be defamatory (e.g. reports about Nadhmi Auchi preserved on Wikileaks) is part of the basis for the objections that the law firm Carter-Ruck have put to the New Statesman that have caused them to take down articles about Nadhmi Auchi by Martin Bright. No determination has yet been made whether that will stick under English Libel Law, but if the New Statesman and their legal advisers are taking it seriously I wouldn’t go the other way at this point. You will be relying on not being sued, which is your call.”

I haven’t linked to it in this post (though it’s easy enough to find with or without the directions given) for the reasons cited by both Wardman and the Times’ blog post.

The UK’s national newspaper websites aren’t linking either, though Mail Online posts both a screengrab of the list and pictures of alleged members and individual articles are being posted about ‘members’, their identies and any action taken by employers.

Debate on the blogs also focuses on how the list can be used – both journalistically and otherwise. The list was posted despite an injunction granted by the High Court in earlier this year banning its publication, so how will journalists (and the police and employers) act on it when it has been obtained in this way?

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