Jun 11

People-knitting, Anglo-Polish style

Many are the ways in which well-intentioned social engineers have tried to knit together the similar-but-yet-different peoples of Europe.

Some misbegotten schemes try to make different nations more like eachother. The best allow and encourage people to enjoy and appreciate their neighbours. The German poet and author Hans Magnus Enzensberger once said that cheap tickets which allow young people to travel across the continent’s rail network had done more for European integration than anything ever decided by the European Union.

If you want to see a working, evolving example of eyes and minds being opened, take a look at these blogs written from Poland by British students who are on summer assignment for Gazeta Wyborca, checking out whether Poland is ready for the next year’s football championship, Euro 2012. (Declaration of interest: these are some of my students).

The Misja21 scheme, the brainchild of the inspired Greg Piechota of Gazeta, wasn’t designed as a “cultural exchange” or anything as eat-your-greens boring as that. Greg wanted to generate raw material which his paper could use to tell Poles how their policemen, railway officials and ticket sellers look and sound to the rest of the world. And football is a language spoken by almost everyone.

Continue reading →


Jun 10

Jay Rosen’s Pressthink: journalism’s real bias

Jay Rosen of New York University is one of the most original thnkers alive about the printed press. This doesn’t mean that all he writes makes sense, merely that he is incapable of being dull about it. In this post from Rosen’s PressThink blog, he has been worrying at a theme which recurs in his writing: do political correspondents have an “ideology” and, if so, what is it? In a nutshell, Rosen turns the conventional search for left or right bias upside down and says that the collective biases are not political but ones arising from the wish to appear independent and/or neutral. (Warning on the packet: it’s long and the comments are well worth reading as well).

British readers will have to do some clicking on the links to adjust to the fact that this is entirely about the US. Such a discussion doesn’t translate automatically to the UK, where reporters have more latitude to express opinion than is generally reckoned proper in America. But his analysis isn’t totally irrelevant or unrecognisable either. Substitute “BBC” for the American publications cited here and the argument works well.

I’m fascinated  by this discussion because it forms part of the wider one about objectivity and fairness in news media which has been driven by the web. If the control and production of news is no longer in the hands of an oligarchy of owners and a thousand flowers of individual expression will bloom, does objectivity, fairness and the separation of fact and comment matter any more?

This debate is given extra thrust by the increasing weakness of the resources mobilised by mainstream media which is leading some commentators to conclude that much of the work done by NGOs should be recognised and encouraged as journalism. Or rather that the boundary previously marked between journalism and advocacy should be abolished. As examples, see this from Paris-based writer and teacher Mark Lee Hunter who is enthusiastically supported by Gazeta’s Wyborca’s energetic Greg Piechota.

Continue reading →