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'Slamming' newspapers?

Kevin Marsh Kevin Marsh | 10:41 UK time, Thursday, 9 November 2006

Recently, I spoke at the Society of Editors annual conference in Glasgow where, according to the UK Press Gazette I "slam op-ed writers and reveal newspaper of tomorrow".

Well, sort of. I wasn't actually aware of slamming anyone or, for that matter, revealing anything. I was there to talk about the journalist of tomorrow and the learning we (the industry generally) need to offer.

Understandably, a lot of the talk was about skills; turning monomedial newspaper journalists into bi- and tri- and multi-media journalists. My argument was that this is the wrong focus. Yes, of course journalists need to acquire all the skills necessary for polished, professional production in any and every possible medium - and the BBC College of Journalism will be at the forefront of providing that learning.

But journalism is facing a much bigger crisis; the simple fact that five out of six don't trust what they read in the papers. And if journalism - newspaper journalism especially - doesn't address that, having all the skills in the world won't help.

Publishing skills are getting easier and easier to acquire - you can be faking photos as elegantly as any tabloid picture editor within an hour of buying Photoshop. Having those skills (or the means and money) is no longer the thing that distinguishes journalists from non-journalists. Nor is the ability to tell a good story.

Hundreds of millions of digitally literate 'ordinary people' are writing blogs and making podcasts every day... and telling very good stories in the process.

But the blogger or podcaster doesn't have to answer the question from a paying (or even non-paying) consumer; "do I trust this source to tell me something true and useful?" They may do both - but journalists have to. If there is a future market for journalism, it is for the work of trusted intermediaries dealing in fact.

The same isn't true of opinion... which is where "slamming" the op-ed pages comes in. Gutsy, partial, vitriolic and not-necessarily wholly fact-based argument is vital to any society's openness and free expression.

But I wonder how much longer consumers will be prepared to pay for it when many free blogs are already better written, more timely, more authentic, more argumentative and more thought provoking than most op-ed page columns.

As to revelation - that future of newspapers wasn't mine at all but part of a conversation with the reporter, photographer, blogger, author, thinker and renaissance man, Ben Hammersley at the Frontline Club in Paddington last September. Ben's prediction is that newspaper reporters will soon be using off-the-shelf software and hardware that "an eight year old" could master to choose how to tell their stories - text, film, audio, graphics... whatever. Mostly online. And with no deadlines, the 'newspaper' will be no more than a version of content frozen arbitrarily at the time someone pressed the print button.

He makes the same point; journalism will justify itself by what it is, not by what its practitioners can do. And if what it is can't be trusted, then why should anyone take any notice of it?

Comments

I don't trust any aspect of the Media (web, print or TV). Some are better than others, but even the BBC is hell-bent on spin. There is also too much reliance on 'expert opinion' rather than hard facts - especially with 24 hr news channels.

The Media is primarily responsible for whipping the public up into a frenzy. Whether it be about hoodies, global warming, interest rates, speed cameras, bird flu, the general decline of Britain, the housing market or whatever.

The only common goal is to attract viewers/readers with only a glancing consideration given to reporting a balanced, unbiased, unsensationalised view.

I never buy a newspaper and have been put off watching the news on TV.

And as for the anchor men/women of news bulletins - do you not need intelligence for the job?

  • 2.
  • At 12:15 PM on 09 Nov 2006,
  • gregor aitken wrote:

Hello kevin,

you worry about 5 out of 6 readers not believing what newspapers say.

Well i am not suprised, The underground 911 truth movement is a testament to the closed and corrupt news media.

And if you think it takes 1 hour to learn photoshop to a level where you can fake pictures, well, that only helps show how the media love saying things that are not exactly based in reality.

maybe i could be a journalist with half and hours training.

  • 3.
  • At 12:22 PM on 09 Nov 2006,
  • Jerry Bushell wrote:

Bias by lack of coverage?

The internet makes it easy for many formerly exclusive fields of enterprise to be eclipsed by amateurs. You mention journalism, you could add music promotion (see how successful Arctic Monkeys were?), possibly lots of other fields.

The internet also makes it easy for people to get a much broader view of the world. Consequently we are now far more critical of politicians, and indeed of the news media.

Take for example the 11am radio 4 news this morning. A big report about the death of 18 people in Gaza with detailed reports in factual language but instilling emotional visualisation. Reports of the "menacing" appearance of fighter planes (aren't they always menacing?), the fact that one man carried two coffins (yes small children do get hurt in wars, this is a normal statistical probability) and ambulances ferrying the dead (well this does happen in war zones doesn't it?) all created emotive mind-images making perfectly normal responses to horrific tragedy sound extreme. Yet I heard nothing whatever about the 45 deaths caused by the Sri-Lankan army attacking a school. Isn't this more extreme?

Both news reports were carried by media other than the BBC, and given equal coverage.

This is not a new phenomenon. Tony Blair has to do little more than blow his nose in public for the BBC to provide us with in-depth analysis of his health, estimates of his likely tenure of office, analysis from Washington of how this will affect the trans-atlantic relationship, and about 20 minutes of sheer drivel in the place of prime time news coverage.

Nevertheless the news media appear to cast themselves as a more effective opposition than parliamentarians. Perhaps the drip drip of unimportant information is a subtle plot to destabilise the pomposity of the elected.

It's not as though such items are even important as news. As the BBC ceases to be a genuine transmitter of real news, it's little wonder that people are frustrated by the absence of any breadth and look elsewhere in the hope of getting some barometer of objectivity. Of course, a few of us, now having the means to post real items of news, or having the ability to comment have learnt to do so.

Many of us have been present at news events. I have wonderful memories of watching the BBC filming a report on the temporary bridge in Mostar about the outcome of the first elections since the Dayton accord. Presumably they made 2 or 3 versions as the report was filmed a day or so before the elections. On the day itself only an Italian camera crew was seen filming there. As the "consumers" of BBC news, we have learnt from experience to be sceptical about what we are told, realising the inaccuracies of supposed live & objective broadcast journalism and preferring instead the more considered views of a journalist who takes time to write rather than dramatise. It becomes even more irritating when the BBC tries to make the news or report it before it happens.

Having been the subject of news myself I realise how much more journalism owes to creative writing than objectivity, but nevertheless, the calmer approach is often better.

However, as members of the public, we become highly critical of the media. We see the partial coverage & concentration on trivia and read into it not just a bias, but perhaps a far more sinister agenda.

We realise that as amateur the BBC would never publish what we write, even less invite others to comment similarly. Nevertheless as a psychotherapeutic exercise, it is valuable to write things down. It will never change society, even less the entrenched ostrich-practices of BBC journalism, but it gives us the opportunity to think and weigh the options.

Now Mr Fawkes, don't you think it would have been better to delay your actions a few years? It would not be treason to target the BBC instead...

  • 4.
  • At 12:33 PM on 09 Nov 2006,
  • Ian wrote:

The only two newspapers I consider to have any credibility are the Financial Times and The Economist.

It never ceases to amaze me when I read stories where I have some background knowledge through professional or personal interests at how newspaper stories can be full of so many basic errors. A recent story in the Daily Mail referred in an incident on a British Airways Boeing 777 on a long-haul flight, and the article was accompanied by a picture of an aircraft used on BA’s short-haul regional routes!

It seems to me part of the problem is that most journalists seem to be generalists and have little specialist knowledge, and journalists seem too reliant on being spoon-fed by spin doctors and press releases from PR agencies and NGOs, rather than going out into the field and finding stories. How often does a newspaper, through the sheer hard work and tenacity of the journalist, genuinely break a story that exposes wrong-doing in public or private life? It seems that it much easier, and less expensive, to whip up hysteria about whatever issues fit the paper's agenda from the newsroom in London.

I also think the days of columnists writing weekly columns are numbered. They cannot match the immediacy of bloggers and when readers are invited to respond to columns online (as per The Guardian’s Comment Is Free blog), readers regularly do a collective demolition job on the columnist’s article.

I really don’t know why the BBC bothers with reviews of the Sunday papers on TV and radio. In spite of their ever-expanding size, most of what is in the Sunday papers is inconsequential drivel that it is a waste of a Sunday that is soon forgotten by Monday.

And let’s not get started on the Daily Express and its diet of stories about Diana and the weather.

  • 5.
  • At 01:08 PM on 09 Nov 2006,
  • J Westerman wrote:

Are we expected to swallow as a simple fact that five people out of six do not trust what they read in the newspapers?
Put it the other way round:- as many as one person in six believes the newspapers.
That seems to be very doubtful. After all they are intelligent enough to read.

  • 6.
  • At 02:12 PM on 09 Nov 2006,
  • Jamin wrote:

Part of the reason is down to the "problem of plenty".

24 hour news channels telecast news bulletins all around the day. Also the always available news sites, and radio channels - all beaming news 24 hours a day. This must certainly put a pressure on the team of journalists to 'create' news. And of course the commercial side of this business - to keep it viable - also demands that news be catchy.

No wonder a good percentage of the news is manufactured.

  • 7.
  • At 02:14 PM on 09 Nov 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

Clearly BBC "IS" the media of tomorrow. It has a captive market in Britain which MUST pay to subsidize it no matter how it disagrees with the accuracy of its reporting or its squandering of money and even here in America, we are forced to subsidize it indirectly through our taxes which pay in part for PBS and NPR which in turn have contracts to rebroadcast BBC.

BBC's so called "BBC College of Journalism" can teach those journalists who want to be successful or even just survive its own secrets. And what a powerful quiver of arrows BBC has. When is a door not a door? When it's a-jar. How do you lie and pander to a segment of the market which will eat up your product while appearing to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth...at least sometimes...to some people? "...five out of six don't trust what they read in the papers." How sad for these amateurs. Either they have not learned the techniques for lying successfully or they aren't believed even when they are telling the truth. How do you skew the news in such a way that it appears even handed? Invent new meanings for old words (a la Noam Chomsky when he uses the term "rogue state" to describe America), new words for old meanings (a la the report on Islaminc banking and loans...when is paying interest not paying interest...when it's a-jar), select who you interview about a story knowing in advance he or she will agree with your point of view (a la the interviews with the Israeli dissident soldier who objected to what he did in the Lebanon war without not doing it as was leagally permitted and the Lebanese factory owner who complained about Isreal's use of cluster bombs without even so much as a mention of 4000 rockets rained down on Israeli civilian targets), interview people you disagree with and challenge them sharply on every last thing they say even if some of it makes perfect sense. Interview people you do agree with and don't challenge them at all no matter how outrageous their lies. This is just the tip of the iceberg of techniques which can be utilized. Yes they could learn a lot from BBC. But how do they learn how to be a government subsidized quasi monopoly run independently which can waste countless millions such as on whimsical new buildings and the like? They can't, that is a position BBC guards jealously for itself. And I am confident that is a subject BBC's college won't be including in its curriculum.

  • 8.
  • At 02:44 PM on 09 Nov 2006,
  • Peter wrote:

I so endorse what Duncan posted - the only thing he missed was the obsession with celebrity.

I don't take a paper either as I long ago found this obsession with sensationalism off putting. It even operates at local level where a boring Parish Council Meeting can be spiced up if some statement is printed in isolation or out of context.

Lets have more investigative work and a return to the educative role of journalism.

  • 9.
  • At 04:19 PM on 09 Nov 2006,
  • gregor aitken wrote:

I am just curious if the writers of the blogs ever read the comments posted here,

I cant help but feel this interactive blog thing is a bit of a waste of time.

please comment so we can ignore it

I shout at the news when its on the telly, at least then i know you aint listening.

But i have not seen one single BBC/Pravda blogger ever actually respond to the comments

Ivory towers and all that i suppose

Oh Well

Hi Gregor,

Editors do respond to comments left on blogs - here are just two examples.

The Editors.

My biggest problem with BBC news is the 'Hello-TV' factor.

Acres of coverage of real flotsam (Madonna's adoption anyone?) yet mere seconds given over to important stories.

Now, Nick Robinson often says how he only has the TV equivalent of an A4 page for his Ten O'clock reports however even on News24 where there is the space you seem to opt for a five minute cycle.

A few nights ago N24 had a genuinely good special where Lord Howe and others addressed the Iraq war in great depth yet it was put out way past peaktime.

As for the standards in written reports on this site, how many more times will BBC reporters need to be told there's no such thing as a Greater London Assembly?

  • 12.
  • At 06:36 PM on 09 Nov 2006,
  • gregor aitken wrote:

in fact kevin this is the only reply you have ever made on the blog as far as i can see

I think i will stick with my ivory towers

  • 13.
  • At 06:47 PM on 09 Nov 2006,
  • Adam wrote:

Most people don't trust journalists? Shock horror! It's hardly surprising when the newspapers are just packed full of lies. If the journalism industry wants to change this, then it really needs a radical shake-up, and the Press Complaints Commission would be a good place to start. I've heard that even most journalists acknowledge that it is totally ineffective.

I did once have cause to report a newspaper to the PCC myself when they wrote an article which affected me and which I knew to be utterly untrue in a great many ways. The PCC found in the paper's favour on the grounds that "the requirement not to print misleading information did not apply in this case".

Do you think I'm ever going to believe anything I read in a newspaper ever again?

  • 14.
  • At 06:51 PM on 09 Nov 2006,
  • Dave Parker wrote:

"Gutsy, partial, vitriolic and not-necessarily wholly fact-based argument is vital to any society's openness and free expression."

I have to question the extent to which this is appropriate for news media. I want facts, not opinion, outrage and shock. Thousands dead? Just give us the cold facts as known, not a droopy expression and mellowed tones.

A duty of citizenship should be to accumulate the information with which to form a balanced opinion. It is not the function of reporters to spoonfeed off-the-peg opinion: it is their task to report. It is the duty of the rest of us to form a reasoned opinion based on informed knowledge of our world.

  • 15.
  • At 09:22 PM on 09 Nov 2006,
  • anon wrote:

"The underground 911 truth movement is a testament to the closed and corrupt news media."

No, it's a testament to the lengths some people will go to try and find something, ANYTHING, to attack their hated (by the way they need to find help for their obsessive hatred as it's not healthy) enemy Bush, even if it's a nutty conspiracy theory involving neocons, freemasons, the NWO and the Jews (By the way BBC, it was Jewish workers that were rumoured to have stayed away from the WTC on September 11, not Muslim workers as you wrongly stated and refused to edit despite numerous corrections on the subject)

I can't help but make an anecdotal comment about your ideas bout bloggers vs. op-ed. I'm a twenty-three year-old freelance writer and my weekly op-ed column(and subsequent feature writing), which appears in a paper in Montreal, is a direct result of the editors of the paper reading my blogs and deciding that it should be put in print. (I now have the bizarre experience of observing the contrast in how my blogs affect people and how my published work fares.) I've since been sucked further into the world of journalism (which has always fascinated me) and am currently studying journalsim here in Montreal at Concordia. My point is that the journalists of the future aren't going to become multi-tasking, technologically savvy sharks. The ADD-inflicted tech-heads of my generation ( I had email when I was 11. Imagine that!) are becoming the journalists. Right now.
It's a moot point. We can already edit, shoot, write, produce and broadcast before we get out of junior high. Specialization is a thing of the past. Chew on that!
bonne journée!

  • 17.
  • At 11:37 AM on 10 Nov 2006,
  • Joe wrote:

I found the comments posted by Mark (7) were exactly the points I would have addressed, the BBC does not care about even handed reporting, I cannot remember one report from the BBC in which it has ever apologised for getting it's facts wrong (example Jenin).
If the people who post comments on the HYS site are representative of British people in general, then it reinforces the point that the BBC is totally out of touch with the British population.
When I look at the links on news articles they always seem to be links to left-wing centric sites, as I am not a member of any Socialist, Anti Catholic, White person hating group I wonder if the BBC could occasionally broadcast things that may appeal to me...such as a balanced report on US foreign policy whilst using presenters who are not completely to the left of the political spectrum.
A final point I am amazed at the arrogance of most of the 'Editors' on this site, you are continually challenged to answer comments, however you pick and choose which ones you will answer, and not surprising they are comments which agree with your viewpoints, which would be okay if that was the perspective of the majority of comments posted, however it is NOT and from a rough estimate it seems that about 90% of posts disagree with the 'Editors.'

  • 18.
  • At 01:33 PM on 10 Nov 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

‘The Editors do respond to comments left on blogs.’

Sorry to be pedantic but should that be ‘The Editors may sometime's respond to comments left on blogs.’

The public are screaming out for a reply on your Bias at the BBC blog.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/theeditors/2006/10/bias_at_the_bbc.html

Kind regards

Mark

Why are people so interested in inciting racial hatred? Instead we should be inculcating in our children noble values of tolerance and brotherhood. In this globalized world we should celebrate multiculturalism and promote racial harmony. They is so much to learn and appreciate of other cultures; life is short and we should foster a deeper understanding of other cultures. So when racial bigots try to sow the seeds of hatred they should be shunned and they should not be given the oxygen of publicity!

  • 20.
  • At 05:02 PM on 11 Nov 2006,
  • Mark Richmond wrote:

I do hope Mr Marsh's predictions of the end of newspaper journalism are premature. Otherwise, where will broadcasters like the BBC be able to find stories to follow up every day?
Apart from a handful of BBC outlets like Today, Panorama and Newsnight, very few broadcasting outlets provide anything like a regular supply of agenda-setting stories. Likewise, only a handful of the much-glorified new army of bloggers actually do their own first-hand reporting. Most rely on reports from on-line newspapers or agencies for the bulk of what they write about, especially for material from abroad or from dangerous places. And who provides that? Yes, it's those dodgy, untrustworthy journalists again.

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