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Press v politicians: can tabloids still take on the over-mighty?

January 4th, 2012 | No Comments | Posted by in Politics, Press freedom and ethics

Image by DanBrady on Flickr. Some rights reserved

Imagine a top tabloid newspaper supported a leading ‘non-Westminster’ politician through his difficult divorce. Instead of printing hard-hitting stories about the moral duplicity of this very Christian politician, it publishes soft-focus, upbeat articles about his lovely new wife and their joyous life together. The politician goes on to become a leading national figure, but then the tabloid discovers a story of his corruption when he was back in the regions. The politician rings up the tabloid editor to threaten ‘unpleasant and public consequences’ if they publish. What happens next?

The Leveson inquiry has not really got to grips with this aspect of media practice. Never mind the law or the codes, feel the power. In the past, commentators like John Lloyd felt the press had become too mighty and could make or break politicians and even determine elections. Then during the Blair/Campbell years it was felt the pendulum had swung the opposite way. Perhaps some people could imagine Peter Mandelson making a similar threat to a journalist at the height of his career?

In fact the scenario outlined above is playing out in the real world. In Germany, the President, Christian Wulff, was silly enough to try to intimidate his old chums on Bild. The tabloid ignored the threats and published the story of how Wulff had taken a very large secret loan from the wife of a local businessman. He then lied about it. The scandal now threatens to end the career of the man who is, in effect, Germany’s head of state. In the midst of the Eurozone crisis, this is not good news for Angela Merkel.

But the point is that – without subterfuge or phone-hacking – this German tabloid has turned on its former political ally. As the chief executive of Bild’s publisher, the Springer group, Mathias Döpfner said “whoever takes the elevator up with Bild will also take the elevator down with it”.

It is always difficult to make international comparisons. Is Axel Springer comparable to Rupert Murdoch? As I have written elsewhere, British tabloids are pretty unusual. But the question does spring to mind – could it, or perhaps rather, how would it happen here?

This is a cross-post from the Polis blog.

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#VOJ10: Local news at the grassroots

The final stream 2 session of the BBC CoJo / Polis Value of Journalism conference; Journalism.co.uk’s session on local media at the grassroots. We’ve got a rather fine panel, if we do say so ourselves: Will Perrin, founder of Talk About Local; David Higgerson, head of multimedia for Trinity Mirror Regionals; Mike Rawlins from Pits ‘n’ Pots; Martin Moore, director of the Media Standards Trust; and Robin Hamman, founder of the St Albans blog and digital director for Edelman.

Will Perrin kicks off, with a whizz through the best of local websites: VentnorBlog, the Sheffieldforum.co.uk, SE1 and SR2 blogs, Perrin’s own King Cross Envonrment and Harringay online. You can find links to these and others on Perrin’s blog roll at this link. Then a look at some new hyperlocal players on the scene, all of which I’ll be investigating later.

Now for a more in-depth look at one in particular; Mike Rawlins’ Pits’n’Pots site based in Stoke-on-Trent.

Why ‘pit’? Because your career was down one, or making ‘pots’… Thus, pits’n’pots was born – with a little red wine and time to help things get going.

In 2008 the founders started to tidy it up and moved platforms: by December 2009, it was up to 1,900 unique users a day. Now it’s getting 2,500 unique users a day.

Why do they do PnP? An interest in local politics; freedom of discussion; a desire to see the city improve; local media were/are not interested in local politics.

The parliamentary maiden speech by new MP Tristam Hunt got a few lines on the local news site, The Sentinel.  PnP meanwhile published it in full, with a link to Hansard.

Rawlins talks about a story they published: the BNP had been using images of a Polish spitfire on one of its anti-immigration posters. Shortly after it was picked up by the Mail and the Telegraph – but not attributed or linked to.

Robin Hamman keeps his introduction to his blog in St Albans pretty short. He does however show us how two hyperlocal blogs have bumped the local newspaper down the Google rankings and another rival off page one entirely. Take a look at what he does here: http://stalbansblog.co.uk.

Now the Media Standards Trust’s Martin Moore talks about two areas which need development. Research into local news and how its democratic role has changed over time. He talks about other developments – he is surprised by Jeremy Hunt’s call for local TV, for example.

Secondly, there’s a need for local open data platforms. He say it doesn’t matter who is doing journalism – blogger or mainstream – but they should have the same access to the public data, rather than spending time, money and effort coaxing money out of local authorities.

David Higgerson from Trinity Mirror is talking about how his titles could work more closely with hyperlocal sites. Journalists often see a hyperlocal site as competition, or as a devaluing of journalism – because it they are often run by volunteers. But, he says,the two sides can work together and get over the divide.

There are “some signs” of that working now, he adds. In the north-east there’s a hyperlocal platform with hundreds of bloggers contributing to it, for example. Higgerson outlines some of the opportunities he sees: a greater degree of collaboration: eg. through content swapping.

Local newspapers could give something back to bloggers, perhaps. Could ‘professional’ hyperlocals (e.g ones that are trying to run for profit) sell or syndicate copy to mainstream media? Support-in-kind is another area for development, he says. Can we as journalists offer help and support to bloggers?

But, he says, there’s a basic need for supporting each other: linking to each other. If material has come from a hyperlocal site, there’s no point in masking it as the newspaper’s own content, he adds.

Now onto questions. Will Perrin says media should engage better with local communities and he says the initiatives such as David Higgerson described are very welcomed.

So, are these hyperlocal bloggers journalists? Mike Rawlins and Will Perrin answer with a definite ‘no’. Perrin says journalists are often ranked as the least “trusted” profession, so why on earth would he classify himself as one…?

Higgerson says that journalists are now able to go more out on the patch, enabled by technology. There’s a lot more equipment to allow non-desk based work now.

We talk a bit about the nastier side of blogging, but the panel agrees the successful hyperlocal sites tend to have high standards, and good commenter accountability.

Perrin says Hackney Citizen is a great example of what you can do with print. Their distribution method was to take a pile of magazines to a coffee shop.  It’s now due to go monthly, from three monthly editions. “That’s grassroots, bottom-up,” says Perrin.

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#VOJ10: What is ‘networked’ journalism – and what’s its value?

I’m in session 2 of the second track of the BBC CoJo / POLIS Value of Journalism conference. This one is chaired by Charlie Beckett with his colleague Dr Damian Tambini, Times web development editor (business) Joanna Geary, and Mark Oliver of Oliver and Ohlbaum.

Oliver has done research into news consumption. Audience behaviour doesn’t necessarily reflect news silos of old, he says. For example, if they paid for all the sites they consume in one month, it would start adding up. On public value he says: if you don’t have professional intermediation of content it could undermine public value. He’s written a paper for Polis on public service broadcasting, but I can’t find it – I’ll link to it when I can.

Now Damian Tambini: there seems to be a crisis in good journalism. But, some – like Charlie Beckett – are saying it’s an opportunity for a golden age. So, there seems to a crisis but also an opportunity. Crucial to that, is understanding that journalism is not simply an individual activity or a commodity on the market. It’s also a set of institutions, rules and rights. The lobby system for example, has won a “privileged access” in society.

We see that journalism serves a social purpose. Journalism is not just a set of individual practices, Tambini says. It’s an “institutionalised profession”. “This idea of journalism as a profession recognised in law is familiar”. In part this debate is about how new forms of journalism can access funding and other privileges journalists have.

In regards to ‘saving journalism’ Tambini explores a few ideas – and whether/how ‘new media insurgents’ can access those privileges of old. “We need to think more innovatively about how to support [journalism],” he says. “We need to think about creating new kinds of privileges and support…” He refers to his paper with some suggestions for how to do this (again, I’ll try to update with a link when I find it).

Joanna Geary says she is a ‘networked journalist’. She asks: why is she trusted? And why does she trust sources of information? She has formed a relatively good idea of how to trust people, as a result of observation. She talks about why she started in journalism. She went into it because she wanted to be “useful”. She felt strange to give her opinion on something she didn’t feel that qualified to talk about. So blogging, where the answer is not definitive, suited her. But when she was wrong, her audience didn’t leave her. She realised that  that was how she would like to consume journalism herself. She thinks that by being at the Times, which is about to introduce a paywall around its content, she has the opportunity to create a “space” online where journalists can contribute as they haven’t before. Geary says it will create “a much closer relationship” between the Times and its readers.

Now we’re onto questions… some highlights…

Oliver talks about “self-correcting” and says he’s worried about viral marketing, in which people are under-estimating the way companies have worked out to use the web to sell products.

Will Perrin, in the audience, suggests Ben Goldacre as an example of ‘networked’ journalism and community. He says Goldacre has shown how you can use the web effectively to show up articles as “bunk”.

Kevin Anderson (who is a pioneer in social journalism) says that even for people have all the multimedia skills there aren’t enough jobs. Geary meanwhile says she’s seeing a skills gap between technology and journalism.

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#VOJ10: Polis director to publish report on value of ‘networked journalism’

June 8th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted by in Events

As part of Friday’s Value of Journalism conference to be held in London by the BBC College of Journalism and media thinktank Polis, former broadcast journalist and now Polis director Charlie Beckett will release a new report looking at ‘networked journalism’.

In the report Beckett describes ‘networked journalism’ as a “synthesis of traditional news journalism and the emerging forms of participatory media enabled by web 2.0 technologies such as mobile phones, email, websites, blogs, microblogging and social networks”. It looks at:

The current running order for the event is available at this link. Tickets can be reserved online for the conference, which will be held at the London School of Economics. Journalism.co.uk will be reporting on the day’s events – to follow on Twitter follow @journalism_live and the hashtag #VOJ10.

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#askthechancellors: How important was the digital audience in the UK Chancellor debate?

Last night I enjoyed lurking on the Twitter backchannel while watching Channel 4′s Ask the Chancellor debate – trivia mixed with observational insight.

I liked Evening Standard journalist Paul Waugh’s tweet about George Osborne’s ‘invisible pedal’ left-foot habit, as much as the economic 140-character analysis and Channel 4′s live poll via tweets, as the Chancellor hopefuls and incumbent fought it out (Vince Cable was the eventual winner, with 36 per cent; leaving Osborne and Darling with 32 per cent each).

Twitter also gave us an insight into the Channel 4/BBC political debate rivalry – spotted in tweets between Channel 4′s Faisal Islam and Radio 4′s Evan Davis. This, from Islam, for example:

amused by @r4today s licence-fee funded sniffiness about #askthechancellors Obviously nowt to do with this: http://bit.ly/aoc4MH

Probably worth noting this too, spotted via @the_mediablog:

RT @DominicFarrell: Those who will decide the #election were watching Coronation Street #askthechancellors

That was a sentiment supported by this morning’s TV stats: Brand Republic reports that Ask the Chancellors peaked at 2.1 million, while 9 million watched Eastenders.

So how important was this backchannel and the digital audience? That was the question Jim Naughtie posed to POLIS director Charlie Beckett on this morning’s BBC Radio 4 Today programme (audio at this link). Beckett said:

I think the real winner (…) despite some of the media cynicism, was in a sense ‘democracy’. I detected a lot of people who were quite pleased to hear a lengthy debate in detail, in public, by these people.

Beckett elaborates here, on his blog:

It all makes for much richer, multi-layered reportage. The TV debate alone would have been worth it. But the fact that tens of thousands of people were taking part reminds us that citizens do care about politics. And they want to be part of reporting the debate as it happens.

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Charlie Beckett: Do we have an information overload?

Charlie Beckett, director of think tank Polis, reports on last week’s Media CSR Forum and Polis event, In Media We Trust?

The debate questioned information overload, and how to manage media literacy – raising issues on which audience and panellists were divided. Beckett concludes:

[I] am more concerned about whether we have the curators to help shape these information flows and whether those people or organisations that do the filtering and connecting are informed by some kind of ethical value system. Data is not neutral. Information is beautiful but it is also political. Networks are powerful and so they also need to be transparent and acountable. Step forward the networked journalist, your digital public sphere needs you.

Full post at this link…

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#FollowJourn: Charlie Beckett/journalist and director

February 4th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted by in Recommended journalists

#FollowJourn: Charlie Beckett

Who? Journalist and director of Polis

What? An experienced broadcast journalist, Beckett has worked for LWT, BBC and ITN’s Channel 4 News. He is author of the book, Supermedia: Saving Journalism So It Can Save the World, and director of Polis, joint journalism initiative from LSE and the London College of Communication.

Where? Read his archive of articles at Polis here.

Contact? Follow @charliebeckett

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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Round-up: Media Futures conference 2009 – ‘Beyond Broadcast’

July 6th, 2009 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Events

“Gradually more power cuts – the future is more certain than you think (…) With 90 per cent certainty I can tell you that tomorrow will be Saturday.”
James Woudhuysen, professor of forecasting, De Montford University

“Content is not king, it’s about how people use it. SMS is one of the most expensive mediums but still massively popular.”
Matt Locke, commissioning editor, education new media, Channel 4

The above quotes were just a small sample of the varied and interesting points discussed at Media Futures 2009 in London last Friday.

The conference explored the future of the media as we move ‘beyond broadcast’.

Speakers and guests included the BBC’s Richard Sambrook, POLIS director Charlie Beckett and TechCrunch’s Mike Butcher.

Themes for discussion included desirable, feasible, challenging and viable futures for the industry.

Television
Video on Demand (VOD) was a popular topic, which divided opinions. Avner Ronen, founder of Boxee, a video service that connects your TV to online streaming media, argued that personal video recorders (PVR) were soon to be obsolete.

But as media analysts, including Toby Syfret from Enders, were quick to point out, TV still has a lot of life left in it. According to his analysis, despite the success of services such as the BBC iPlayer, watching streamed content remains a niche market with just 0.5 per cent of total viewing time being spent on computers.

Newspapers
Panellists were agreed on the future for local newspapers. Patrick Barwise, professor of management and marketing at London Business School said: “Local newspapers won’t come back, the classified advertising model that held them together has changed.”

After the conference I ran into Bill Thompson, the BBC’s technology columnist. Listen below to hear his views on the future for journalists:

Alex Wood is a multimedia journalist and social media consultant based in London. You can find him on twitter here.

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Charlie Beckett: Politics, PR and news media – all losing trust of the public

June 12th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Journalism

Charlie Beckett, POLIS director and author of SuperMedia, looks at the relationship between politics, PR and news media. They’ve got one thing in common he says. They’re all losing the trust of the public.

Some of his concluding thoughts:

“This does not mean that there is no difference between politicians, PR and journalism. I think that it is important to have some robust, critical scepticism between all three. But we all three inhabit a networked world.”

And:

“All organisations are becoming media organisations. In an Information Age the public expect us to be transparent and responsive. This is what we can do through new media technologies and practices. The public has shown immense enthusiasm for a networked world, it is about time the rest of us joined in.”

Full post at this link…

Charlie Beckett is part of the Journalism.co.uk ‘Best of the Blogs’ mix. Follow here, and email judith at journalism.co.uk with recommendations for inclusion.

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Going it alone: Al Jazeera’s Gaza correspondents live interview FRIDAY 2pm (GMT+1)

  • What happens when you find yourself as the only English-language television broadcaster at a breaking news scene?
  • What happens when that breaking news scene is a major war in the middle east?

That’s exactly what happened for Al Jazeera journalists Sherine Tadros and Ayman Mohyeldin earlier this year when Al Jazeera English found itself the only major English television broadcaster allowed inside Gaza.

A 12-day ban prevented other Western media networks entering the area – although the BBC used two producers already on the ground. Read this post by the POLIS researcher Nina Bigalke, on Charlie Beckett’s blog, for a fuller context. “If 12 hours are a very long time in the world of journalism, 12 days seem like an eternity,” Bigalke writes.

Journalism.co.uk first met Tadros and Mohyeldin, who reported from Gaza throughout the conflict, in February:

“To be the only English channel on the ground could be a ‘one-off experience’ during her career, [Tadros] said. While she thrived on being part of the only English-language media team on the ground – ‘everything we did was exclusive’ – Tadros was aware of the responsibility to cover as much as possible for an English speaking audience.”

Now it’s your chance to join in and put your questions to the pair. Visit this site at 2pm (GMT +1). Journalism.co.uk will be putting a series of questions, via CoverItLive, to Tadros and Mohyeldin about their experience. Was it liberating to find themselves without the BBC working alongside? Was it a daunting responsibility?

Leave your own questions in the comments below this post and they will be included in the interview. See you at 2pm (4pm Doha time). You can also submit questions to @journalism_live on Twitter.

UPDATE 15.00 BST: THIS EVENT HAS NOW FINISHED. Thank you for your questions and thoughts. Please leave additional comments on the subject of media coverage in Gaza below this post. If you participated and wish to comment on the use of CoverItLive in this format please send your feedback to judith at journalism.co.uk. Did it seem a good way to present an interview? Was the balance of questions between Journalism.co.uk and users about right? Many thanks in advance for your help.

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