Tag Archives: Kevin Marsh

BBC Cojo: Andrew Marr is ‘spot on’

The BBC College of Journalism’s executive editor Kevin Marsh joins the quality of journalism debate this week following comments made by Andrew Marr about the blogosphere.

According to this Telegraph report Marr, speaking at Cheltenham Literature Festival, said that “citizen journalism strikes me as nothing to do with journalism at all”.

A lot of bloggers seem to be socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed, young men sitting in their mother’s basements and ranting. They are very angry people. OK – the country is full of very angry people. Many of us are angry people at times. Some of us are angry and drunk. But the so-called citizen journalism is the spewings and rantings of very drunk people late at night.

Responding to the outcry which followed Marr’s comments Marsh argues that the problem is that “he’s right”. But the issue is about the quality of the journalism, he added, not the platform used.

Spot on. About bloggers, cit journalists … and about journos. Take some the key phrases and substitute ‘the British press’ and there’s little many would quarrel with.  “(The British press is) inadequate” and “nothing to do with journalism at all.” True? Probably as true as it is of bloggers etc. “A lot of (the British press) seem to be socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed … and ranting. They are very angry people.” “Most of the (British press) is too angry and too abusive. Terrible things are said … things … they wouldn’t dream of saying in person.” True? As above.

All of what Andrew Marr says about blogging and bloggers etc is as true as it is – there are bloggers we all know who are as good as or better than anything you will see in more traditional paper or spectrum journalism. But there’s also the weird, paranoid, conspiratorial, self-affirming blogosphere that is all that Andrew Marr characterises and worse.

WikiLeaks: The media industry’s response

Whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks has been online and publishing leaked documents and data since July 2007. Prior to this week, I wouldn’t have hesitated in initially referring to it as “whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks” and getting in a definition of what the site does and how it works.

Writing this afternoon though, that bit of exposition feels a lot less necessary. Last Sunday’s coordinated publication of the Afghanistan war logs by WikiLeaks, the Guardian, the New York Times and Der Spiegel has catapulted the small, independent organisation – and it’s director Julian Assange – into an entirely new realm of public notoriety.

This post is a round-up of some of the media industry’s responses to the biggest leak in US military history.

On Monday the story took up the first 14 pages of the Guardian, 17 pages of Der Spiegel, and numerous lead stories in the New York Times.

Too much, too soon, writes Slate’s media commentator Jack Shafer.

By inundating readers with Assange’s trove, the three news organization broke one of the sacred rules of journalism: If you have a big story—especially one based on a leak like this one—drip, drip, drip it out to your audience rather than showering them with it. The reader can absorb drips better than torrents.

Ultimately, more time, and care, was needed, says Shafer: “There was too much material for the newspapers and magazines to swallow on such a short deadline.”

His assessment echoes that of BBC College of Journalism director Kevin Marsh, who reports on Assange’s press conference at the Frontline Club on Monday.

[W]hat was danced around (…) was how much the three news organisations were able to verify and test the documents – and, crucially, their exact provenance – to which WikiLeaks gave them access. In the way they would if they were dealing direct with their own assessable sources.

How much did they know about the source or sources of the document pile? His/her/their motivation? Track record? What was not there and why not? What was incomplete about what was there?

This matters. A lot. Especially if WikiLeaks is to become – or has already become – a kind of stateless brokerage for whistleblowing.

NYU’s Jay Rosen also picks up on the ‘no-fixed abode’ quality of WikiLeaks, calling it the “world’s first stateless news organisation”:

If you go to the WikiLeaks Twitter profile, next to “location” it says: Everywhere. Which is one of the most striking things about it: the world’s first stateless news organization. I can’t think of any prior examples of that (…) WikiLeaks is organized so that if the crackdown comes in one country, the servers can be switched on in another. This is meant to put it beyond the reach of any government or legal system.

According to Assange, WikiLeaks, which is sort-of based in Sweden due to the country’s extremely progressive freedom of information laws, does “not have national security concerns” and is “not a national organisation.” He frequently claims the site’s loyalty is to truth and transparency. Writing for the Telegraph, Will Heaven (whose piece may smack ever so slightly of sour grapes), questions the idea that the organisation has no political agenda.

WikiLeaks is a website with no political agenda, its founder Julian Assange would have you believe. So I’m puzzled by today’s “Afghanistan war log” story. It doesn’t strike me – or many of my colleagues – as politically neutral to feed such sensitive information to three Left-leaning newspapers: namely the Guardian, the New York Times, and Der Spiegel. Even more puzzling that WikiLeaks would choose, very deliberately, to contravene its own mission statement – that crowdsourcing and open data are paramount.

It was Nick Davies of the Guardian with whom the possibility of this kind of publication was first discussed by Assange. The Guardian team threw everything but the kitchen sink at their run on the material, with all the interactive and data know-how we have come to expect of them. Editorially, they focused on bringing to light the abhorrent disregard for the lives of civilians detailed in parts of the logs but largely covered up by the military.

The logs detail, in sometimes harrowing vignettes, the toll on civilians exacted by coalition forces: events termed “blue on white” in military jargon. The logs reveal 144 such incidents (…)

Accountability is not just something you do when you are caught. It should be part of the way the US and Nato do business in Afghanistan every time they kill or harm civilians. The reports, many of which the Guardian is publishing in full online, present an unvarnished and often compelling account of the reality of modern war.

Media commentator Jeff Jarvis asked Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger if he thought the newspaper should have started WikiLeaks itself, to which Rusbridger responded that he felt it worked better separately. Jarvis claims that the joint publication effort showed that the future of journalism lay in “adding value”:

If you don’t add value, then you’re not needed. And that’s not necessarily bad. When you don’t add value and someone else can perform the task as stenographer or leaker or reporter — and you can link to it — then that means you save resources and money. This means journalists need to look at where they add maximum value.

There were plenty of journalists in attendance when Assange appeared at the Frontline Club again on Tuesday night, this time for an extended discussion with both press and just the plain curious.

“We are not an organisation for protecting troops,” he told the audience. “We are an organisation for protecting human beings.”

To that end, WikiLeaks held back 15,000 of the 92,000 documents contained in the archive because, the organisation claimed, they had the potential to put the lives of civilians and military informers in Afghanistan at risk.

But on Wednesday morning the Times alleged that:

In just two hours of searching the WikiLeaks archive, the Times found the names of dozens of Afghans credited with providing detailed intelligence to US forces. Their villages are given for identification and also, in many cases, their fathers’ names. US officers recorded detailed logs of the information fed to them by named local informants, particularly tribal elders.

The backlash against WikiLeaks and its director gathered steam on Thursday when New York Times editor Bill Keller strongly criticised the organisation in an email to the Daily Beast for making so much of the material available without properly vetting it.

In our own publication, in print and on our website, we were careful to remove anything that could put lives at risk. We could not be sure that the trove posted on WikiLeaks, even with some 15,000 documents held back, would not endanger lives. And, in fact, as we will be reporting in tomorrow’s paper, our subsequent search of the material posted on WikiLeaks found many names of Afghan informants who could now be targets of reprisals by the insurgents (…)

Assange released the information to three mainstream news organizations because we had the wherewithal to mine the data for news and analysis, and because we have a large audience that would take this seriously. I think the public interest was served by that. His decision to release the data to everyone, however, had potential consequences that I think anyone, regardless of how he views the war, would find regrettable.

WikiLeaks has acted grossly irresponsibly in the eyes of some press organisations, but it has been lauded by others as a pioneer for both its commitment to increasing transparency – and in doing so encouraging reform – and for its approach to publicising the logs and trying to achieve the maximum amount of impact for material that people have risked a great deal to expose. From the Editorsweblog:

Getting media outlets involved early was a way to make sure that there was comprehensive coverage of the information. WikiLeaks is not trying to be a news outlet, it wants to get the information out there, but does not intend to provide the kind of analysis that a newspaper might. As Nick Davies told CJR, agreeing to release the information simultaneously let each of the three newspapers know that they had an almost exclusive story in which it was worth investing time and effort. And as Poynter noted, its exclusivity caused competitors to scramble and try to bring something new out of the story.

Whichever side of the fence you fall on, it is difficult to deny that the method of the leak marks a significant change in the organisation’s relationship with the news media and in the role the industry has to play in events of this kind.

Top 100 media list suggests print power is losing ground to digital

The MediaGuardian’s top 100 list illustrates the growth and influence of digital over traditional media, according to an analysis by the EditorsWeblog.

And if the list is anything to go by, digital appears to be winning in regards to influence hands-down.

Referring to panel comments in a Guardian blog, the report highlights how those who created the list felt newspapers’ influence was “continuing to wane”.

Far too much credence has been given to the influence of newspapers. The election was evidence that they are not the power we once thought.

Digital and social media pioneers claimed the majority of the top spots – prompting a number of questions for the future of traditional media.

Is the influence of newspapers actually waning? Can publishers still compete with Apple or Google for influence over the public? What can they do to work with such companies, and with social networking platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, to maintain newspapers’ relevance in an increasingly digital society?

In another post commenting on the top 100 list, Kevin Marsh from the BBC highlights what he perceives as a lack of interest in content over platforms.

For those of us who think news – in the traditional sense – still matters, the highest placed newspaper editor is Paul Dacre, at 13 … and there’s not another journalist ’til Helen Boaden (BBC), at 21, and Nick Robinson (BBC), at 26 – and there are only three other journalists in the top 50

[T]he power of platforms – whether physical, social media or multi-use – is now greater than that of the content they carry.

Read the EditorsWeblog post here…

‘The media shouldn’t be able to trash reputations in the heat of the moment’: BBC’s Kevin Marsh on libel reform

Kevin Marsh from the BBC College of Journalism has a thought-provoking blog post on Lord Lester’s libel bill, asking whether the public’s voice is loud enough to be heard in the debate.

Analysing the main changes in the private member’s bill, Marsh says it “tackles some of the current laws’ deficiencies head on” but “body swerves others”.

Biggest swerve is that this bill doesn’t do what many newspapers and freedom of information campaigners wanted – reverse the burden of proof (…) On the other hand, the bill proposes that, unless it’s decided otherwise, a libel action should be heard by a judge sitting without a jury.

But his biggest concern is that public views may not be as easily heard as the media’s.

Isn’t there the possibility, at the very least, that those who have no self-interest in all of this believe that that ‘chilling effect’ is no bad thing; that the media shouldn’t be able to trash reputations in the heat of the journalistic moment; and that the possibility/threat of legal sanction might, in the wider public interest, possibly do more good than harm?

Full post at this link…

#afghancov event – Afghanistan: are we embedding the truth?

Follow coverage of Coventry University’s event ‘Afghanistan – are we embedding the truth’ in the liveblog below from 1pm – 4pm or view the livestream:



The discussion will examine coverage of Afghanistan in the news and wider media with correspondents in Kabul. There’s more details at this link of the line-up, which includes Channel 4’s Alex Thomson and Kevin Marsh from the BBC College of Journalism.

#FollowJourn: @kjmarsh/BBC CoJo editor

Who? Editor of BBC College of Journalism; former Radio 4 Today programme editor.

What? Joined the BBC as a trainee in 1978; has edited PM, The World at One and BBC Radio 4 Today.

Where? Marsh blogs at Storycurve and the BBC College of Journalism.

Contact? Follow him on @kjmarsh.

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.

Is World Journalism in Crisis? Speaker update: Nick Davies confirmed

As previously reported on Journalism.co.uk, we are supporting an event at Coventry University on October 28 that will ask ‘Is World Journalism in Crisis?’ with participants contributing via video-link from around the globe.

It already had an exciting line-up: chaired by the BBC College of Journalism’s Kevin Marsh, speakers include Fackson Banda, SAB-UNESCO Chair of Media & Democracy at Rhodes University, South Africa; Jeff Jarvis, BuzzMachine blogger and journalism professor at City University New York (CUNY), and Professor Adrian Monck, World Economic Forum, former head of journalism at City University, London.

Now Nick Davies, author of Flat Earth News and special correspondent for the Guardian, is also confirmed – live from Brighton. And, we’re permitted to hint, it looks very likely that the BBC’s Jeremy Paxman will be joining the conversation from London.

‘Is World Journalism in Crisis?’ Wednesday October 28, 2-5 pm. Entry will be free. For further information please contact John Mair at Coventry University, johnmair100 at hotmail.com or Judith Townend: judith at journalism.co.uk.

NB: The event will follow the annual conference of the Institute of Communication Ethics, ‘I’m an ethicist… get me out of here: Communication, celebrity and conscience in a global media age,’ also in Coventry, from 10am to 12:30. For further details contact Katherine Hill: K.Hill [at] leedstrinity.ac.uk.

Journalism industry reaction to ‘churnalism’ claims

The publication of journalist Nick Davies’s book, Flat Earth News, in which he makes the accusation that a significant proportion of the news served by UK institutions is simply regurgitated PR or wire copy by time pressured hacks with too much work on their plates, has caused a wave of strong reaction through press watching circles.

Davies claims that journalists are failing at the essential job of telling the truth by ever greater commercial drives in the industry:

“Where once we were active gatherers of news, we have become passive processors of second-hand material generated by the booming PR industry and a handful of wire agencies, most of which flows into our stories without being properly checked. The relentless impact of commercialisation has seen our journalism reduced to mere churnalism,” he wrote in the Press Gazette.

Taking a donation from the Rowntree Foundation, Davies asked the journalism department at Cardiff University to research home news coverage (download report here: quality_independence_british_journalism.pdf ) in the UK’s leading national newspapers over a two week period, he claims that the research found that only 12 per cent of the stories were wholly composed of material researched by reporters. For eight per cent of the stories, researchers couldn’t be sure. Yet for the remaining 80 per cent they found were wholly, mainly or partially constructed from second-hand material, provided by news agencies and by the public relations industry.

Media commentator for The Independent, Stephen Glover, claimed the book presents ‘a damning picture of a dysfunctional national press which is spoon fed by government and PR agencies’. Glover added ‘Many journalists will recognise his portrait of editorial resources being stretched ever thinner’.

But he sees the more damning element of the book to be its attack on the relationship between the Observer newspaper and the Blair Government:

“It is amazing stuff. Mr Davies suggests the editor and the political editor of a great liberal newspaper were suborned by Number 10, and so manipulated that The Observer became a government mouthpiece. Not even The Times’s endorsement of Chamberlain’s appeasement policy in the 1930s involved the degree of editorial submission to governmental power that Mr Davies alleges in Flat Earth News.”

Although broadly in agreement with Davies, Peter Wilby wrote in the Guardian that his methodology and conclusions of increased workloads hadn’t quite made allowances for some of the positives changes in the newsroom:

“Davies overstates his case. For example, the internet, email and mobile phones have all made information and contacts more easily accessible. It isn’t, therefore, unreasonable to expect journalists to fill more space. Time spent “cultivating contacts” was, in any case, often time spent on overlong, overliquid lunches. But experience also tells me his argument is fundamentally sound”

There was a little more scepticism about the research from Adrian Monck, he wrote that study ‘links full-time employees to pagination’:

“But what about: freelance employees? Bought-in copy? The amount of agency material used? Changes in technology? The reduction in the number of editions?

“Could any of these things have a bearing on the analysis? And shouldn’t journalists be more productive? What about these innovations: Electronic databases, computers, mobile telephones, the Internet?”

He also takes issue with Davies line about PR being used to fill news pages, suggesting that it’s not a new argument.

Simon Bucks, Sky News associate editor, also draws out the point that new technology can negate some of the issues brought up.

“There’s a wider point in this debate. Web 2.0 allows the public to play a much bigger role in journalism. If we get a fact wrong or miss out something important, it won’t take long before someone lets us know. Big mistakes generate an avalanche of comment.

“So there’s no reason for any news organisation to keep reporting a flat earth story, if it isn’t accurate.”

More predictably, the editor of the Independent on Sunday, John Mullin, and the managing editor of the News of the World, Stuart Kuttner, argued the defence against Davies on Radio 4’s Today programme, choosing the more well-worn line of British journalism being the best in the world.

Roy Greenslade wrote that it was ‘heartening’ that Davies work was being taken seriously. Dismissing the Mullin/Kuttner rejection line as ‘not being good enough’, he added that the Davies work was ‘an indictment of journalistic practices that deserves wider debate’.

Kevin Marsh, editor of the BBC College of Journalism, sounds a warning on this last point:

“The trouble is, though, the British newspaper journalist has no history of taking criticism well… or working out what it is that needs to be done to turn a dysfunctional, distrusted press into something that performs a useful public purpose.”