09
Oct 12

Wisdom from India (and from children in Ethiopia)

The traffic figures for this blog make clear that what people like is strong opinions from the author. But occasionally this author grows tired of the sound his own thinking and just wants to pass on wisdom from others. I have two items to offer.

Last week’s James Cameron Memorial lecture at City University London was by N Ram, until recently editor of The Hindu, which has a claim to be India’s best daily paper. Ram delivered a magisterial overview of the Indian media which I can recommend as one of the best analysies of the subject you can find (video/audio, text).

My personal selection of edited highlights (page numbers for text in full):

  • Ram, who knew James Cameron, observed that the great foreign correspondent would not have had much truck with the idea, floated occasionally at the Leveson Inquiry and elsewhere, that journalism should be regulated as profession in the manner of doctors or lawyers. Cameron, writing in 1967, was clear that journalism was “not and never has been a profession…since its practice has neither standards nor sanctions” for the reason that “it can be practised in many ways.” (p2)
  • Ram stressed a discussion that far too many journalists complaining about failing business models forget: the fortunes of the news media are not the same as the state of the news media (p7).
  • Ram gives an up-to-date list of India’s juiciest corruption scandals (p11), remarking that the Indian media has been much better at reporting scandals in government and politics and much less good at chasing corporate corruption.
  • Reminding us that India was the first country in the world to ban Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses”, he lists the recent threats to free speech (p17).
  • He quotes often from a long piece on Indian media in the New Yorker by Ken Auletta: “Citizens Jain” (£).
  • If you want to see one o the most important differences between India and China, look at internet penetration rates: China: 40%, India 10%.

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Wisdom from India (and from children in Ethiopia)Wisdom from India (and from children in Ethiopia)Wisdom from India (and from children in Ethiopia)Wisdom from India (and from children in Ethiopia)Wisdom from India (and from children in Ethiopia)Share This Post

25
Sep 12

Funding journalism: not before a sharp, painful squeeze

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, sinking in the polls and suffering the media persecution which goes with that, thinks that newspapers won’t be around when his children are grown up. He implies that because printed papers might vanish, journalists of the future won’t pick apart the performance of politicians. Or at least they’ll be nicer when doing it.

Less naive, but nevertheless mistaken is the idea floated by David Leigh of The Guardian (declaration: he’s also a colleague at City University) that the financial problems of newspapers could be solved by a £2 a month levy taken from internet service providers (ISPs). Journalism has always been cross-subsidised, so it’s the right question. But the wrong answer.

Taken together these fragments of the debate about what’s happening to journalism show that a stark idea, long discussed by those who study this stuff, has now gone mainstream. Change in newspapers will be transformative and not just adaptive. And it’s coming very soon.

Take a quick look at the recent print circulation figures of the five serious national dailies (FT, Times, Guardian, Telegraph, Independent). Taking the figures from June 2011 to June 2012 (i.e. excluding Olympic effects) year-on-year falls range between 8.52% (Telegraph) and 44.62% (Independent). Take the Independent out of the equation on the assumption that the figure is distorted by some statistical manoevre and the bracket is from 8.52% to 17.75% (Guardian). Now imagine the effect of those numbers on print advertisers (still probably at least two thirds of the income of these papers) and speculate about the tone and type of discussions that are going on inside the offices.

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12
Jun 12

Paul Bradshaw on journalism education (and how slow some people are to wake up to change)

My colleague and City University Visiting Professor Paul Bradshaw has been reflecting in a 3-part blogpost on the changes in journalism education being driven by the disruption of the previous era’s pattern of communications.

Bare summaries of other peoples writings shouldn’t be so necessary in the digital world since I can link and you can click direct to the originals. But in case you’re short of time, I’d boil Paul’s case down like this:

I agree with Paul about the first, query part of the the second and think the third point overdone: Continue reading →


03
Nov 11

Media regulation: a new idea (and some older ones)

Almost every week in London this autumn there has been panel discussion, a lecture or a seminar on one aspect or another of regulating the media. Regulation fatigue is starting to set in.

Several dozen regulators, analysts and academics tried looking for a new ideas on regulation at City University this week. They heard a few, not least from the Irish and Australian media regulators who came to compare and contrast their own systems of self-regulation.

But the discussion never quite escaped the battles of the past. The issue of how a self-regulatory system guarantees that it covers all the major players was dramatised by the appearance of the editorial director of Northern & Shell, owners of the Daily and Sunday Express, which withdrew from the Press Complaints Commission earlier this year. One disgruntled commentator was led to wonder if the Leveson Inquiry was really worth holding if the informal debate on regulation would soon produce changes sooner.

The audience was offered one entirely new idea in the form of a book outlining a 3-tier system for the regulation of all news media by Lara Fielden, who has been both a broadcast journalist and a regulator. At first sight, Fielden’s scheme looks too complex and hard for consumers of news to grasp or use. But Fielden’s research and reflection has two great strengths: it relies heavily on incentives to voluntary submission to rules to improve journalism’s quality and it tackles the pivotal issue of producing a convergent regulatory scheme for converging media.


07
Oct 11

Wadah Khanfar: fascinating, but carefully tactful

Wadah Khanfar can claim to be one of the world’s most significant journalists in 2011. He doesn’t make that claim himself, but he ran the Middle East’s most outspoken satellite broadcaster, Al-Jazeera, as the revolutions erupted in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and as they spluttered in Bahrain, Yemen and Syria.

Last night he came to City University to give the James Cameron Memorial Lecture and most of his audience wondered if he would shed any light on his abrupt departure from Al-Jazeera’s director-generalship a few weeks ago. He shed no new light directly. But a few hints were dropped, and they illuminate both the power and the limits of the Arab Spring.

When people suddenly announce they are going to “move on”, that decision can be assumed to be not entirely voluntary. The deal to depart is sealed with a payment, conditional on neither party saying more than a very limited amount in public about the rupture. Khanfar was not replaced by a journalist or broadcasting executive but by a member of the Qatari royal family from one of the state’s oil and gas outfits. Khanfar is a charming and plausible speaker, but I doubt that many in his audience quite bought his explanation that after eight years at the top of Al-Jazeera, he had decided to quit while he was ahead. The indicators point to Qatar’s ruling family wanting someone a little “safer” in charge.

Al-Jazeera’s foundation in 1996 was a remarkably bold act by the Emir of Qatar. Even if Al-Jazeera did not report quite as vigorously on Qatar itself, it was allowed to report without inhibition on other states in the region. The Emir in effect tore up the convention among Gulf ruling families that news media from their own state try to avoid embarassing rulers of neighbouring states. Or at least that appeared to be the case until the Arab revolutions began this year. And Al-Jazeera’s own journalists rapidly built the station’s own editorial identity and strength, probably becoming more famous, influential and controversial than its cautious founders anticipated (backgrounder here). Qatar, Khanfar said in answer to a question last night, did not start Al-Jazeera “for charitable reasons”. The state had “expectations”, he said; but then, he added, so did Al-Jazeera’s journalists have their own expectations, aims and agenda. The channels, Khanfar said, found their “mission” and created a “solid identity”. This identity, he implied, was not quite what Qatar’s rulers had in mind.

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06
Oct 11

Wadah Khanfar in London

Wadah Khanfar, until very recently the director-general of Al-Jazeera, is due in London this evening to deliver the James Cameron Memorial Lecture at City University. This is the first time a journalist from the Middle East has been invited to give the lecture (the year of the Arab Spring seemed an appropriate moment) and the first time that Khanfar has been in London since he suddenly announced that he was stepping down from running Al-Jazeera.

To get an idea of the importance of satellite television in general – and of Al-Jazeera in particular – in this year’s events in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and Bahrain take a look at the annual Strategic Survey of the Institute of Strategic Studies (the relevant section starts at p97). I have a fair idea of who wrote the (unsigned) analysis and she is very expert. There have been many analyses of the influence of social networks and satellite television on the Arab revolutions. Because the IISS survey is sober and careful, its carefully weighed evidence about the influence of cross-border broadcasters counts for more. A slightly less sober (but well-rated by insiders) account of Al-Jazeera’s sudden global fame from GQ is here.

We still don’t know exactly why Khanfar left his job: this is his explanation and this is a summary of the rumours. Khanfar is a journalist; he was replaced by a member of the Qatari royal family previously working in a state oil and gas compnay. All of the above (significance, reasons for departure) in this piece from the Columbia Journalism Review. We may learn more this evening; I will report back tomorrow.


22
Sep 11

The future of international journalism is…female

I haven’t looked back to see if this is a growing trend or a one-off. But the gender ratio of students enrolled for Masters courses at City University London’s Graduate School of Journalism is striking.

Our largest course, the MA in International Journalism, has registered 89 students (from 32 countries). Sixty-eight of them – 76% – are women; there are just 21 men on that course. In our other nine MA courses, the ratio is 66:34 in favour of women. The overall balance for all our postgraduates is 69:31.

One of our students, Rizwan Syed, thinks that journalism’s bosses haven’t yet woken up to this shift.


16
May 11

Things to be optimistic about

So many discussions about journalism in the past few years have featured journalists from established media crying into their beer, I often forget how refreshing it is to have a different kind of conversation. One where people are working out for themselves how to rebuild the business model for journalism.

It is hard to convey the happiness you can feel when you hear people describing how they are taking a simple, empirical route to discovering and delivering what people need to know – and then finding ways to keep doing it.

I had one of these moments at City University a few days ago when a conference gathered to look at new ways of sustaining local journalism, arguably in much more immediate economic danger than the national and international varieties. An energetic group of our students, Wannabehacks, used Storify, as well as a liveblog, to record the day.

The point wasn’t agreement – there was very little on what works and what doesn’t – and speakers varied from Will Perrin of talkaboutlocal and the King’s Cross blog to Jeff Jarvis, of City University New York’ entrepreneurial journalism programme and the buzzmachine blog. Perrin illustrated what might be called the “pure, simple need” origin of a local blog: a local community identifies a problem and gathers to try to solve it, puts pressure on various local authorities and eventually ends up with what Will called a “community information burden”.

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