Posts Tagged ‘Guardian’

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?


I Hate Senior Sources 2

February 5, 2009

“BBC Hit By Backlash…” says the story.

Sounds exciting doesn’t it.

So how many people constitute a “backlash” these days?

Two it would seem. And both of them anonymous.

Mind you they do represent a “growing number of BBC staff”. There’s no indication of how fast their numbers are “growing”. Perhaps by the end of the day there’ll be three or four.

And as they don’t have the courage to be named, then it’s difficult to challenge a statement like this:

“Chris Moyles says some terrible things and he is allowed to get away with it and Jonathan Ross did and said what he did and he is back on air,”

Has Chris Moyles used the word “golliwog” on air? Has he used racially offensive language? I’d like to see some evidence. This quote could be simply translated as “I’m a radio presenter and I don’t like Chris Moyles”.

And Russell Brand was sacked and Jonathan Ross given a six month suspension. And not for racially offensive langauge either.

It is also a pity that the senior BBC figure defending the BBC also felt they could not be named. As my last post on this subject revealed this seems to be a long standing convention.

I wish it could be changed. Would it hurt if that person was named?

Anyway without any names this isn’t really a news story, as there is no news in it. In the sense that nothing has actually happened.

It’s really just people talking, giving their opinions. Not unlike this blog post from Jemima, which is also people talking (as nothing has been decided) and giving their (quite useful) opinions.

But at least in the comments there are some names (albeit sometimes silly ones) so you can start to make a judgement on who they are. And I’m named. And so is Jem.

A blog post which is more transparent than a news story?

Surely not!

Update 2 p.m. – nice to see Jay Hunt defending the BBC’s position on this in public.

OFCOM PSB Review 10: Useful Summary

January 9, 2009

Maggie Brown at the Guardian has a useful summary of submissions for phase 2 of the OFCOM PSB Review.

Everybody seems a bit grumpy. Perhaps understandably…

Saving The BBC By Linking

October 10, 2008

It was nice of the Guardian to devote most of their media section on Monday to thoughts on how to save the BBC.

To me, it’s simple.

Anyone who wants to save the BBC should just write to the Culture Secretary and politely ask him not to top slice the licence fee.

For all the kind words in the Guardian though, I’m not sure if the arguments progressed any further and I found it hard to disentangle ideas (certainly new ones) from emotions.

For example the comments on the Guardian’s blog post are too familar:

“The BBC is great and we love your programmes and content” (Thank you very much)


“You’re just a lunch of lefties, and you should be closed down” (You’re entitled to your opinion, you’re wrong but thank you very much)


“It’s all the executives’ fault” (Well, it probably isn’t actually)

So far, so predictable.

A more interesting perspective was provided by a colleague of mine Tom Scott on his personal blog.

Entitled BBC public value in the online world what’s different about Tom’s thoughts is his attempt to see developments in digital media alongside the very heart of what the BBC does: its’ public purposes as outlined in the BBC’s Charter. Here’s a quote:

By joining BBC data, in this fashion, with the rest of the web the Network Effect is magnified yet further. That does benefit to the BBC, but it also benefits the web at large and that is important. The BBC has a role that transcends its business needs – it can help create public value around its content for others to benefit from (assuming, of course, there remains one, non-discriminatory, free and open internet).

Tom is on to something.

In the old world of television the “mixed schedule” was one of the ways the BBC delivered its public purposes. The thinking went (and I summarise crudely) “If we put Panorama next to Eastenders then some people might watch both”.

I don’t think the mixed schedule is dead. But in an on demand world where people can just watch Eastenders whenever or wherever they like it’s clear the BBC needs some new methods of bringing people wonderful things they didn’t know they liked or needed.

And on the internet the method is clearly the link.

How a linking journey that took you from Eastenders to other drama to Shakespeare?

Or that took you from watching Dr Who online on to buy a ticket to see David Tennant in Hamlet?

Or from BBC music content to Wikipedia music content? (Oh yes I forgot the BBC music beta does just that and that’s why it’s such a breakthrough for the BBC).

Let’s take a look at a couple of those public purposes again:

Sustaining citizenship and civil society

(How does citizenship get encouraged – surely by sharing? A citizen has a stake, a link to other citizens?)

Bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK

(Sounds like linking to me)

And linking is a lot easier than other ideas like sharing assets, creative commons or ideas around open source as Jemima suggests and common platforms (as the BBC’s blogger in residence Steve Bowbrick suggests – disclaimer – Steve works for me). All these are complex and most bump up against the brutal political realities of the rights regieme and the rights holders’ understandable desire to hold on to their intellectual property.

But links don’t feel like intellectual property or at least they’re not valuable enough for any body to care (yet). And in order to link all the BBC has to do is change its’ culture, not change the law (difficult but easier than facing down the rights holders). And everybody agrees The BBC should link more.

Linking the country together sounds like a tall order.

It also sounds like a job for the BBC.

“Iran leader’s blog attracts critics”

November 26, 2007

Some brave people in Iran (from the Guardian).

Why Ed Richards Should Blog

November 20, 2007

Emily Bell’s column in the Guardian on Monday about OFCOM set me thinking.

I went to a Media Literacy Summit recently and then a week afterwards to a BBC Innovation day (which I will blog about shortly).

What struck me as a result was this.

There is a big gap between what people (like Jelly Ellie) are doing with these new media tools and broadcasting policy makers and regulators who don’t use them. As Euan Macintosh points out the people who make the decisions about media are illiterate in these forms of media themselves.

Among the many things on its agenda OFCOM wants to increase media literacy and safeguard public service content (through its’ proposal for a Public Service Publisher).

So Ed Richards (Ofcom’s Chief Executive) should start a blog.

This would increase media literacy in that one more person (i.e. Ed himself) would become more media literate. And the fact of him doing it might make the people around him more media literate.

It would also increase the amount of public service content. A sucessful blog from Ed might contain his thoughts on broadcasting, strategy and regulation (very public service). Even if he didn’t want to do that, Ed is a cultured man so his cultural tastes would also be public service. A blog from Ed is unlikely to contain porn, guns, tobacco or abuse.

I’m not expecting this to happen. And even if it did it would be a minor miracle if Ed had the kind of “inner blogger” that would make for a good blog.

But if would be much simpler, easier and cheaper than media literacy initiatives or a PSP.