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…
I was at the London Wetlands Centre this morning for the launch of a new animated series called My Friend Boo, which is designed to be both informative and entertaining, in the best tradition of children’s TV. As it was part-financed by the European Commission’s LIFE+ financing programme (though we had no influence over content and creative direction), we were invited to say a few words, alongside the project partners, which include WWF and the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. The best bit was when a class of 7 and 8 years old came in to watch the three programmes that deal with Water (it being World Water Day and all…) The programmes clearly struck a chord with the children, who were all humming along with the theme tune by episode 2, and there was almost a riot when the project leader said they’d all get their own copy to take home!
I also got a few minutes for a bit of bird-watching over the Wetlands and in just the few moments I was there I saw cormorants, a lapwing and what I think was a Red-crested pochard, never mind many ducks, geese and moorhens. On a day like today, it was difficult not to totally fall for the place! And even better, I have discovered this fabulous widget on the RSPB site to help you identify birds you see – perfect for a novice twitcher like me. They even have a mobile version.
We had a briefing today in the office with members of the Foreign Press Association which brings together the non-UK media based in London. It goes quite well with today’s Charlemagne blog-post about journalists in Brussels (see also today’s links). The reason we organised the briefing was a feeling, borne out by discussions with the FPA, that more and more foreign (read mainly extra-EU) correspondents are covering EU issues from London and withdrawing full-time correspondents from Brussels, and they need someone to explain a bit how thigns work and who to talk to. We had several Japanese outlets, Canadian, Nigerian, Chinese, Indian, but also Greek and French It’s interesting for us here, because it means that we need to consider the international and non-UK angle of stories much more than colleagues in other EU capitals. It also means that Commissioners’ media teams should see a visit to London as an opportunity to reach out beyond the UK media scene. It’s not going to be easy, but I hope that we will be able to provide a service to that group as well as the traditional UK media that we work with.
Added 16.19 on 16 March: Just to be 100% clear. I worked as a Spokesperson in Brussels for years and know how important the press corps there is to getting quality coverage of the EU into the media here. I am certainly not advocating people moving their correspondents from Brussels. Having said that, such decisions once taken, for whatever reason, will have a consequence for my work here and I am happy to do what I can to make the connections with those in Brussels and elsewhere in the EU set-up that can help people working out of London understand the issues in their entirety.
Just signed up for, and created my first, Audioboo. Not a piece of fine intellectual work, obviously, but just giving it a go. Not quite sure how it will work, though maybe sometimes having the possibility to leave a voice message for the world (as opposed to the text message to the world that is twitter) will be useful. We’ll see… Can you integrate it with WordPress? I suppose if I were visiting something interesting and was out and about, it might be good to record my thoughts, rather than waiting till I was back at my desk to write about it (and not getting round to doing so). An example of that would be last Sunday’s Manel gig which was immense fun (and brought Barcelona to Shoreditch, if only for the night) but had been washed away by the joys of commuting before I got to my desk on Monday!