A "feral" media?
Speaking of Tony Blair, I've not yet had the chance to fully read his speech on the "feral media" - though, having discussed this with him, I'm familiar with the argument. When I have I'll add my tuppence worth.
UPDATE: Actually, I have a better idea. Why don't you tell me what you think of the PM's speech and I'll then respond to you and him.
Here's his speech in the raw, and here's a link to a summary of it on the BBC website, if you prefer it pre-digested. And here, if you're really a glutton for punishment, is a blog relating to a lecture I gave on the same theme some months ago.
But this is, I think, the key extract from his speech.
- "The media are facing a hugely more intense form of competition than anything they have ever experienced before. They are not the masters of this change but its victims. The result is a media that increasingly and to a dangerous degree is driven by "impact". Impact is what matters. It is all that can distinguish, can rise above the clamour, can get noticed. Impact gives competitive edge. Of course the accuracy of a story counts. But it is secondary to impact.
- "It is this necessary devotion to impact that is unravelling standards, driving them down, making the diversity of the media not the strength it should be but an impulsion towards sensation above all else.
- "Broadsheets today face the same pressures as tabloids; broadcasters increasingly the same pressures as broadsheets. The audience needs to be arrested, held and their emotions engaged. Something that is interesting is less powerful than something that makes you angry or shocked.
- "The consequences of this are acute.
- "First, scandal or controversy beats ordinary reporting hands down. News is rarely news unless it generates heat as much as or more than light.
- "Second, attacking motive is far more potent than attacking judgement. It is not enough for someone to make an error. It has to be venal. Conspiratorial. Watergate was a great piece of journalism but there is a PhD thesis all on its own to examine the consequences for journalism of standing one conspiracy up. What creates cynicism is not mistakes; it is allegations of misconduct. But misconduct is what has impact.
- "Third, the fear of missing out means today's media, more than ever before, hunts in a pack. In these modes it is like a feral beast, just tearing people and reputations to bits. But no-one dares miss out.
- "Fourth, rather than just report news, even if sensational or controversial, the new technique is commentary on the news being as, if not more important than the news itself. So - for example - there will often be as much interpretation of what a politician is saying as there is coverage of them actually saying it. In the interpretation, what matters is not what they mean; but what they could be taken to mean. This leads to the incredibly frustrating pastime of expending a large amount of energy rebutting claims about the significance of things said, that bears little or no relation to what was intended.
- "In turn, this leads to a fifth point: the confusion of news and commentary.Comment is a perfectly respectable part of journalism. But it is supposed to be separate. Opinion and fact should be clearly divisible. The truth is a large part of the media today not merely elides the two but does so now as a matter of course. In other words, this is not exceptional. It is routine."