Oct 14

Don’t be vague: measure the value

I went last night to the Frontline Club in London for a panel discussion organised by Index on Censorship on – what else? – “Will the future of journalism mean we are better informed”? Two admirable outfits, but the debate was a mess.

Many discussions of this kind are driven by what live-debate-marketers think is a widespread worry about journalism. The internet may look and sound like a boon, but is it just a tsunami of unreliable, manipulated trash? And, what with phone-hacking and related sleaze, the established mainstream media is hardly better. Oh what do we do?

I doubt that these assumptions are even right: I think most people are quietly celebrating how much information the internet gives them (yes, it’s that simple) and mistrust of popular papers is long-established. But majoring on anxiety produces shapeless discussions in which journalists – including young ones who’ve hardly started – lament the passing of a supposed golden age in which huge, well-resourced newsrooms provided jobs for most wannabees. While at the same time panellists do their best to sound polite and politically correct about citizen journalists and “user generated content”. The connection between these two bits of the picture isn’t often made.

I could go on at length about what’s wrong with this kind of discussion, but I’ve done that at length elsewhere (see Out of Print to the right). Instead, a modest proposal.

Continue reading →


Mar 11

Tunileaks wins Index recognition

The Tunileaks site, which posted the relevant Wikileaks diplomatic cables almost as soon as they were released, was rewarded for its work with an award the other night. The award was collected by Sami Ben Gharbia, co-founder of the Tunisian blog Nawaat, which set up Tunileaks.

Proper acknowledgement of its likely influence I’d say. This blog argued way back that in certain circumstances – and the situation in Tunisia looked like those circumstances – a few cables could have a big influence. (Please bear in mind that the post linked here was written in December).


Oct 10

Wikileaks at City: last footnotes

The twitterstream arguing about Julian Assange’s appearance at City University is still active I see. So here are two footnote links, one from an Assange supporter GeorgieBC on the “new journalism“. That very phrase has of course been around a bit before now. I’m still not in sympathy in the least with the hacker outlook, but this is a calmer insight into a quite, entirely different philiosophy from journalism.

Second and last a post from Padraig Reidy of Index On Censorship on the the dilemmas which arranging Assange’s debate posed for an organisation devoted to open access. Even leakers want some media control.

Update 6/10/10: good post by Paul Prentice, one of the City University students who listened to Assange.


Jul 10

Journalism in truly tough conditions

As we discuss, deliberate and tweet our current anxieties about pixels and paywalls we’re always liable to lose sight of journalism’s genuinely tough stuff. Two vivid examples have crossed my path in the last few days.

First a beautifully written piece in Granta’s new issue by Janine di Giovanni, who covered the siege of Sarajevo for The Times fifteen years ago, on her return to the city and her bitter-sweet encounters with the people she knew in that different time under fire. (Di Giovanni is talking about her experience this evening at the LSE in London: details here. Granta has also just launched its online archive.)

The second is a Q & A with Alexei Venediktov, the editor-in-chief of the independent Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy. The interview is a gripoing insight into what it is like to try to preserve a fragile peace with authorities who have little time or interest in free news media. I once described the Russian government’s technique for dealing with the media as “predatory manipulation”. Venediktov tells us what dealing with predators every day feels like.

That interview is in print in Index on Censorship’s new magazine edition, web version here.