I went to a very interesting event today, and as there was quite a bit of tweeting going in, I had a go at Storifying it. I can’t publish the story here directly, but do follow the link, if you’re interested. It was my first go, so don’t be too harsh on me, constructive criticism welcome.
Category Archives: Media
Nominations are open for the UACES – Thomson Reuters Reporting Europe Prize 2012. There have been some interesting winners in the few years I’ve been going along. It’s very far from a hagiographic prize, as a brief glimpse at some of the former winners will show. I’m very honoured to have been invited to sit on the jury this year, so I won’t be doing any nominating this time. But in a year when we’ve seen European Union issues covered to an unprecedented extent, I’m sure there will be lots for the jury to get their teeth into.
I went to a really interesting conference on Friday, organised by the POLIS research centre at the London School of Economics and entitled “The POLIS Journalism Conference 2011: Media and Power “.
It started with a keynote by Helen Boaden, head of news at the BBC, in which she talked a lot about impartiality, and the BBC complaints procedure. I then followed a fascinating session on “Political journalism – is it working?” with Carolyn Quinn of the BBC PM programme and those involved in the Number 10 media set-up in the past, Lance Price and Simon Lewis. I then attended the least impressive session of the day on “An Informed Society?”, finishing with “Has the press lost its power?” which got us right back on track.
I’m not going to report on all the sessions – if you want to see what I thought at the time, I was tweeting a lot, and there are many other interesting tweets to be found on the #polis11 hashtag. But I thought it might be helpful to set out the main insights I got from the conference.
Lance Price, former Director of Communications for the Labour Party, was very frank about the relationship between political editors at major British papers and the Labour Party communication machine – to the extent that Alastair Campbell “wrote” headlines and opening paragraphs. Price spoke of the “complicity” between the spokespeople and the journalists. Simon Lewis, former Director of Communications at Number 10, under Gordon Brown, spoke very forcefully in favour of opening up the parliamentary press lobby system, perhaps through televising the briefings. The experience related by both men contrasts so sharply with my experience working for the Commission, in the two different milieux: Brussels and London. Even in Brussels there is never that level of intertwining. Working out why that is could be my master’s thesis, I reckon, but one possible explanation that could be worth digging into is that power is so much more diffuse through the EU machinery. Talking to the Commission gives just one aspect – there’s also MEPs and Member States to consider, whereas in the UK, with a whipped House of Commons, the Government of the day has much more control over the agenda and much more individual power.
The other very enjoyable and thought-provoking session was on “Has the press lost its power?”. Well chaired by Paul Waugh of politicshome, it started out with the provocative assertion that the appointment of Craig Oliver – ex-BBC – to the Director of Communications job for Cameron showed that the newspapers had lost their grip. I think maybe what the debate lacked was clarity about whoever this power was being wielded over. In simple terms, I think the dailies are less influential on the general public than they were even a generation ago, but they still hold sway over what you could call the Westminster Village, the City and the Brussels Bubble. In terms of general impact, a policy referenced on EastEnders or the Archers is going to be bigger than something on the front page of the FT, but that’s not always the way it’s seen.
Anyway, many thanks to the POLIS team and all their speakers for what was an informative and enjoyable day.
There’s been a lot of discussion about how this hasn’t been the “social media” election everyone thought it was. But, like some others, I believe that those writing about it are viewing it the wrong way down the telescope. No, social media may not have replaced the role of newpapers, or even TV. But as I tweeted “#ukvote SE7” this morning to help log turnout and clicked “Yes I voted” on the Democracy UK page on Facebook, it seemed very clear to me that things were different to how they had ever been before. Social media aren’t about replacing the old media, thaty’re about doing things differently and doing different things. The New Statesman yesterday said more or less the same thing, highlighting the role of Twitter and Facebook in creating cohesion among supporters and activists. Not to mention the mydavidcameron poster site (other poster sites exist…!). Maybe it won’t be Twitter wot won it this time, or maybe ever, but I believe that the advent of tools making it easier for people who focus on a particular issue to find each other and talk about it is a complete game-changer. As a psephology junkie, it’ll be really interesting to see whether there is any evidence that first-time voter turn-out is up on past elections. If it is that will be a vindication of social media’s role, I believe. Either way, if we *are* on the brink of a new era in British politics, our new leaders will have to take all of this into account.
[Update 12.12] And as if to prove my point, The Sun front page parodies have started…
There’s a saying, isn’t there, about not pleasing all of the people all of the time. But when you work for the European Commission, there are certain people you can never please. I wrote a while ago about the Daily Mail bashing us for having rules on fruit and veg and taking away rules on bread sizes. There’s another one on this today. We have come in for years of criticism on the issue of discards of fish caught by fisherman that are over the quota and so have to be thrown back, even though they are dead, or will not survive. This is an issue we are very concerned about, and trying to tackle. It was covered on BBC Countryfile last week, and the Daily Telegraph has of course covered this criticism several times. Yet in today’s Daily Telegraph Scotland edition (can’t find it on-line), there’s an article that says:
One of Britain’s most popular and instantly recognisable seabirds could be threatened by a proposed conservation measure to ban fishermen from throwing unwanted catches overboard…[Experts] are now concerned that EU proposals to halt the disposal of unwanted fish…could lead to a decline in gannet numbers.
So we’re bad if we force fishermen to throw away dead fish and bad if we seek to limit the practice. Another example of just not being able to get it right for some people…