More Whys

February 12, 2008

Blackwater over at Roy Greenslade’s blog has disagreed with this previous post from me.

So I thought I would explain further.

1. Steve Rubell has a better idea of what’s going on in new media than the average journalist. Most importantly he understands the value of the link. There are still too many journalists who think a story ends when they publish it on the web and don’t bother to link. A story without links on the web is dead (see this). Bloggers always link, which gives them an advantage.

Steve Rubell has also said “transparency is critical”. This is an unusual thing for someone working in PR to say. How many journalists would be prepared to say it, not just about the subjects of their stories but their own working practices?

2. I don’t think “the pursuit of truth” is a bad thing. I think it’s a good thing. Working for the BBC I abide by the BBC’s values of impartiality.

But journalists need to come off their high horses and accept that they are not the only people with a committment to the truth.

Blackwater asks: “Do journalists and PR folk really inhabit the same moral sphere? I mean, traditionally or ideally, at least?”

Traditionally they don’t. But the internet is changing all that. Ideally, they should. Indeed this may become essential.

I trust Steve Rubell even though he works in PR. I trust James Cridland and Hilary Perkins – not journalists, bloggers. I trust Jemima Kiss and Nick Robinson (journalists who use blogging tools). I trust them all not because of what they are called, or because I agree with them all the time but because of how they behave.

Can PR be done openly and honestly? I suspect like journalism, it will only survive if concentrates on building openness and trust.

3. Blackwater says:

“The lines between journalism and PR have been purposely blurred by those in the PR industry, carelessly mistaking a writer’s remit for the PR man’s brief. One manipulates a story to sell something and one manipulates something to tell a story. There is a subtle but meaningful difference.”

Blackwater should read today’s Daily Mail. The Daily Mail has a particular view of the world, a line like most newspapers. Does today’s Mail contain examples of stories “manipulated to sell something” i.e. The Mail?

Doesn’t the Independent do something similar? Aren’t both looking for stories and angles that support their readers’ world view and emotional preferences, and is “the truth” always revealed or does it sometimes get lost?

Bloggers, journalists, marketeers and PR people are a network, even a community who rely on each other and increasingly use the same tools and techniques.

They all need to be truthful and honest. The internet is forcing them to be.

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2 Responses to “More Whys”

  1. Blackwatch Says:

    Thought I’d better post this here as Mr Greenslade seems reluctant to let this be posted on his blog (I have no idea why).

    I totally agree with what Nick has said for the most part; educating the public about all these things (including ‘churnalism’) is the only way ahead – and the Internet has the potential to do that. I couldn’t agree with this more. But it won’t happen by itself. The internet is only as powerful as those who are prepared to use it and share its secrets.

    But I also wanted to address this point you made, Nick:

    “A belief in impartiality as a concept is similar to believing in a concept of truth, and that its worthwhile trying to search for it – which is the concept behind Wikipedia. The internet provides new tools with which to try to do this.”

    *****

    Again, I agree with you in principle but I think ‘impartiality’ is thesedays too often confused with a lack of conviction or a strong moral directive from writers and editors (all of which seems an inevitable consequence of 21st Century cultural liberalism – an amorphous, wishy-washy beast at the best of times). For me ‘impartiality’ is not about withholding or censuring ‘opinion’ it’s about disarming prejudice or political or cultural bias when presenting an opinion.

    I’ve found that the most satisfying reports and articles are those in which the writer probes the subtext of the press release and those in which they challenge their own preconceptions – the ones where the writer confronts their own cultural make-up – their own biases, their own prejudices – all those things that inform our opinions but which we are often least aware of.

    In my opinion, at least, true impartiality is about giving your report a ‘multi-angle’ feature. It’s not about withholding objection but illustrating it in a broad and sensitive fashion; it’s about multi-dimensions rather than zero dimensions.

    And whilst I believe in impartiality, I cannot endorse the flimsy, diluted, directionless and often inconsistent brand of ‘impartiality’ peddled by the Beeb on occasion (especially when they have the nerve to hide behind ‘transparency’ in the same way a reprobate minister might hide behind his dog-collar). This isn’t a criticism of Nick personally – but of a visible trend at the beeb.

    Here’s just a few reasons why I (and others no doubt) have become a little wary of the BBC in recent years:

    BBC PANORAMA IN POOR PRACTICES AND MISREPRESENTAION ROW
    May 13, 2007

    http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,2078503,00.html

    May 26, 2007
    BBC ADMITS IT BREACHES BROADCASTING IN BUSINESS COVERAGE
    The BBC’s coverage of business repeatedly breaches the Corporation’s own standards on impartiality, according to an internal report.

    http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/industry_sectors/media/article1843020.ece

    BBC PHONE-INS IN FAKE WINNERS SCANDAL

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/07/19/nbbc119.xml

    BBC REFUSES TO NAME SHAMED LABOUR MP

    http://iaindale.blogspot.com/2007/10/why-did-bbc-not-name-shamed-labour-mp.html

    BLUE PETER HIT WITH 50k FINE

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2007/jul/09/broadcastingethics.ofcom

    Don’t the public have a right to be made aware of all trangressions in the media? Not just those of the press? Shouldn’t this be a part of that ‘transparency’?

  2. nickreynoldsatwork Says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more about the need for being confident about impartiality and for the BBC to be more open. And your definition of impartiality is a good one and not far off the BBC’s own definition.

    But the examples you link to are not all about impartiality and show me again why I tend to take what’s written aboout the BBC in the press with a pinch of salt.

    For example – the story about buisness coverage. This wasn’t an “internal report” – it was research commissioned by the Governors/BBC Trust and made public for the world to see. It shows the BBC in a good light that it’s prepared to make these reviews public and hopefully for the BBC to learn from them.

    Quite often the BBC is spun by the press as being more secretive than it actually is as this makes a better story.

    Which is not to say that the BBC shouldn’t be more open. It should, and there’s a way to go on this.

    I don’t understand what you mean by the BBC hiding behind transparency.


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