Apr 10

A mixed economy for news?

Trenchant, indignant post by Kevin Marsh on the BBC College of Journalism site reacting to people claiming that newspapers are owed a living because Britain has the best press in the world. He rightly zeroes in on the fact that editors and journalists lost sight of the fact that readers have gradually lost interest in what newspapers have to tell them over the past 20 years – for the simple reason that the journalism they produce is valued less highly.

If people thought that we have the best newspapers on the planet, Marsh says, “…a quarter of those who used to buy them wouldn’t have stopped doing so over the past 20 years – a desertion that long predates the web, incidentally. If we did, our press wouldn’t be one of the least trusted institutions in the land and our newspaper journalists the least trusted in the world.”

I’m wary of most trust figures – not because journalists are trusted, but because they apparently weren’t trusted when newspapers were genuinely popular – but Marsh’s point about the fall in perceived value is dead on and the one that newspaper journalists (in particular) don’t want to face. More on that here.

Where I think Marsh is wrong is in his assumption that all journalism can be freed from risk of criticism of its methods if only everyone would follow the BBC rules. He’s picked up on this in an equally robust comment on his post by James Goffin, who points out that good journalism often sails close to the edge (he cites the Daily Telegraph paying for the disc withthe unexpurgated  MPs expenses data).

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Feb 10

Straws in the wind: sublime and ridiculous

Jessica Lal

Jessica Lal

Almost at the same moment, two signals. I’m looking up a story that that was very big in the Indian media a few years ago, the murder of model Jessica Lal. Please note the prim note at the top from the Wikipedia edi- are we allowed to use the antique term “editors” any more? Perhaps Wikipersons would prefer to be “curators”. Anyhow they are being a bit severe with the author of the existing Lal entry: too much story-telling and not enough encyclopaedia-type detachment, they say. Crowd-sourcing comes in for a little correction and enhancement by the old-fashioned method applying standards. Bravely old-fashioned stuff. There’s a link through to a whole section on NPOV, or Neutral Point of View.

Then I see that the University of Staffordshire is offering a course in celebrity journalism. I guess that most journalism courses at one time or another look at celebrity inyterviewing; City University’s magazine course certainly does. But a whole course? Is this a good use of taxpayers’ money? There are some kinds of training that may just not be necessary or important. It’s hardly a complete justification to say that this will help the university’s graduates get jobs.

Put these two signals beside eachother and compare. Over at Wikipedia, once thought to be part of a digital world threatening journalism, someone cares about improving editorial standards. At the University of Staffordshire, some of the least edifying and memorable aspects of newspaper journalism are being enshrined in the curriculum.