Posts Tagged ‘bloggers’

Wikileaks, The Stalker Affair and the Press

August 2, 2010

Book: “The Stalker Affair and the Press” by David Murphy (I picked it up second hand).

It made me think about: my work and social media, even though the book was published well before there was any such thing.

Murphy sets out to challenge the conventional left view that the press reflect a pro estabishment view of events. If this is the case he asks why did every single newspaper (including those traditionally on the right of the spectrum) come to the same conclusion: that there was some kind of establishment conspiracy and cover up to prevent Stalker completing his enquries in Northern Ireland.

My thoughts:

News is a machine that needs raw material to work. The machine itself is not particularly ideological, but the simplest and quickest way for it to work is to rely on trusted sources – press releases or statements from official spokespeople.

If these sources are silent the machine will turn to other sources because it needs to construct a narrative. If you say nothing the outcome will always be something and that something may not be favourable to your point of view. Silence implies assent and the days when there is “no news today” are long gone.

Rather than being in conflict (as portrayed in “The Thick Of It”) the PR industry, official and unofficial spokepeople need each other and have a mutually dependent relationship (“flacks and hacks”). And it’s the spokespeople who have the upper hand – without them journalists would have to do a lot more work to actually find things out.

Which brings me to Wikileaks and in particular this article in the Guardian: “Why Wikileaks Turned to the Press”. by Dan Kennedy. Dan says:

The lesson: shocking material and a flair for public relations may be enough to get you noticed. But if it’s credibility you want, then old-fashioned news organisations still have something to offer.

But where does this “credibility” come from?

The job of journalists is to package up information is a way that people find easy to understand. Most of the time they’re not digging out or analysing information they are repackaging it.

When Wikileaks did the packaging itself (“Collateral Murder”) it was criticised for being too emotional and provocative in tone. The next time it did it it outsourced the job to Newspapers resulting in stories which were acceptable in terms of their tone and language, if not to some in content.

But this doesn’t mean Wikileaks somehow “needs” the mainstream media. Rather like Guido Fawkes they’ve worked out the way to get maximum impact and to get what they want.

They were already sifting through the material they had and thinking about what it meant.

They could have simply hired some journalists to do the rest of the job: turning it into acceptable copy.

Imagine if Wikileaks had packaged up their own material on a website and then sold adverts around it. I think they would be turning a tidy profit very quickly.

And to bring it back to Stalker, why is it that an emotional approach to a story is less acceptable than a more rational one?

I like to put myself (rather pompously) on the side of reason (although I can be pretty unreasonable and emotional). Being rational feels to me like a good thing in the context of politics and public policy (the more irrational a poltician, the more likely people might get killed).

But you could equally make the argument that the rational, factual approach hides the real horror of whatever’s happening. Murphy ends his book by pointing out that despite the fact that all the papers took a pro Stalker anti establishment line, no one really seemed to care. Or perhaps not enough people cared.

The question then is: who cares? and what do they care about?

How much do journalists really care about the job they do and the society they live in?

Do PRs care about the work they do or are all clients interchangeable? Is it all just a game or a function?

And does the non paid blogger armed with nothing but a publishing tool, Freedom of Information legistation and a cause to fight have one big advantage: he or she really cares?


Wikipedia’s Values Are The BBC’s Values

June 5, 2008

Over the past few days I’ve read both the BBC Trust’s Service Licence Review of and the BBC’s management’s submission.

It feels like the BBC is hovering on the edge of a conceptual leap forwards, scared about making the leap.

I quote (management submission p.98):

The BBC grew up in and often shaped the age of broadcasting. Over the last 10 years, it has been thrust into the age of computers where it has made important but fewer defining contributions. It has been a rapidly-evolving age, in which many of the truths of the broadcasting age have been contested. These are the truths on which the BBC has built its global stature – that professionals know best, that control is the way to ensure quality, that audience contributions are valuable but must be crafted or editorialised to release that value, that the audience must only be given the finished product, that professionals will create more content than the audience.

To fit itself for the future, the BBC must demonstrate a willingness and an ability to engage in the discussion about the new world. The internet will help it to do so by enabling a direct dialogue by which it can be held to account and develop greater responsiveness.

The BBc has to do a lot more than just “enter a dialogue”.

From the BBC Trust’s review (p. 31):

“The encouragement of user participation by means of user-generated content (UGC) will need to be managed carefully so that BBC news’ brand values of impartiality, accuracy and independence (which we have found to be particularly strong online) are not challenged.”

There’s an underlying anxiety that if we collaberate with licence fee payers in places not controlled by the BBC, or allow them to help make or influence BBC content it will somehow damage BBC values and traditional strengths.

It may be true that there are some places which the BBC should not go.

But to choose an example Wikipedia is not one of them.

Wikipedia’s values are almost exactly the same as the BBC’s.

What’s the difference between Wikipedia’s value of neutrality:

“Neutral point of view is a fundamental Wikimedia principle and a cornerstone of Wikipedia. All Wikipedia articles and other encyclopedic content must be written from a neutral point of view (NPOV), representing fairly, and as far as possible without bias, all significant views that have been published by reliable sources.”

and the BBC’s value of impartiality including this:

  • we strive to reflect a wide range of opinion and explore a range and conflict of views so that no significant strand of thought is knowingly unreflected or under represented. “
  • The difference is not in values or principles but in how you do it.

    Wikipedia says “we want to search for the truth. And we want everyone to help us find it”

    The BBC says “we want to search for the truth. But ONLY professional BBC people are allowed to do it.”

    We’re wrong.

    In practice there is at least one recent example of where the BBC used the wisdom of the crowd to change and improve its journalism. Last year the Newsround webpages about 9/11 were changed after some concerted lobbying from various bloggers. Here’s what Sinead Rocks said on the Editors blog. Here’s what I said at the time on my internal BBC blog. You won’t be able to see my blog outside the firewall so here’s a quote:

    “Is (this) an organised lobby of people with an axe to grind about the BBC’s output? Is it a example of “networked journalism”? Or perhaps both? …

    Has the conversation made what’s on Newsround’s website better? On balance I think yes, although I would be interested to know what others think.”

    This was an uncomfortable experience for the BBC. But how practically was it any different from the kind of often fractious debates and editing that go on in Wikipedia?

    We have to come down off our pedestals and realise that some licence fee payers are cleverer than we are. Anyone who shares the BBC values should be welcome to make or help make BBC content whether they are professional and paid by us or whether they are not.

    Doing this does not undermine BBC values. It strengthens them.

    What would it be like if licence fee payers not only understood and believed in impartiality (which they do), but also actively helped make the BBC’s content more impartial?

    Isn’t that an exciting prospect? Let’s jump!

    Top Slicing Jobs

    December 28, 2007

    Peter Preston on top slicing the licence fee from the Observer:

    “…the only thing worse than bringing it in would be five more years of talking about it.”

    John Naughton on Apple and bloggers in the Guardian :

    …Jobs may wear velvet gloves, but they’re lined with lead.