Sep 13

Out of Print: the elevator pitch versions and reviews

You would have been hard put to be reading this blog in the past few weeks and succeded in avoiding any mention of my book Out of Print. This post is yet another encouragement to buy a copy by rounding up some of the stuff I’ve done about it and a few reviews. And the book is another instalment in my campaign to stamp out pessimism about journalism.

For easy watching, there’s a BBC interview by Nick Higham here (I fear it’s available only outside the UK). I summarised the book’s theme and argument in a blogpost here and in a piece for The Conversation UK here. There are recent pieces connected to the book’s themes on “who’s a journalist?” in the Yorkshire Post and on spaghetti-throwing (or experiments) at local level at journalism.co.uk.

There are a couple of online reviews here (Geoff Ward) and here (Roy Greenslade) and one in the News Statesman from Emily Bell of the Columbia Journalism School. Matthew Ingram of PaidContent assessed the book here. To complete the set here is one in Dutch by Bart Brouwers.

I naturally hope that these only whet your appetite to read the whole thing….


Apr 11

Come off it Kelvin!

Kelvin MacKenzie sounds off today about university journalism schools, how they’re all a waste of space and how they should all be shut down. If training on the job was good enough for me, runs the argument, then it should be good enough for today’s generation.

Kelvin MacKenzie

Kelvin MacKenzie

First, a declaration of interest: I lead a university journalism school. Second, Kelvin is talking bollocks.

There is a delightful irony in the route that Kelvin’s opinion took to be published. Last November, he came to speak on a panel at City University on local television news. While wandering round the subject in characteristically subdued fashion, he took a sideswipe at journalism teaching in universities and advised any students present to abandon their course and get a job as a reporter on a local paper. The students took this on the chin and ignored the advice. And one of them must have thought: there’s an idea there someone can use.

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Oct 10

Lessig, El Pais, science reporting and Filloux

Occasionally I have to collect a series of bits and pieces into a roundup/catchup because I can’t find a thematic string on which I can thread the beads I’ve collected. This is one of those posts.

  • Of all the media stories across the globe in the past week, the hedge-fund pair who have taken a rescuing and controlling stake in the debt-crippled Prisa group, whose flagship is the Madrid daily El Pais and which operates throughout the Spanish-speaking world, look like the most important. The background history is here and a look at the new owners is here. “Industry agnostic” owners who don’t want to be media moguls have a mixed history with news media. They can be hands-off and allow the talent to flourish. But, because news media isn’t just another business like soap manufacture or semiconductors, hands-off can mean disconnected and under-informed. We’ll see.
  • Whether or not you see “The Social Network”, the movie about the creation (and subsequent lawsuits) of Facebook, read Lawrence Lessig’s reflection on the film.
  • I was on a panel a few months back with the science blogger Martin Robbins. Most of what he said seemed to make sense to me. The other day he wrote a blog post spoofing science reporting which deservedly went viral. This is his more serious – and more useful – follow-up.
  • There was a neatly-angled Monday Note this week from Frederic Filloux comparing the recent dealings of two papers, Le Monde and the Daily Telegraph, with their respective governments over leaks.
  • Lastly, a short shameless blast of the trumpet for my City University colleague Ann McFerran, who last night organised a panel discussion on the lessons of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal. If you enjoy reading discussions reported in Twitter fragments, it’s here. Roy Greenslade has summarised the debate here. (Disclosure: both Greenslade and I teach at City).

Jul 10

Andrew Marr: romance of news is over

My colleague Roy Greenslade spotted a provocative piece of reflection on “the end of news romantics” by Andrew Marr. The presenter and author regrets the “ubiquity” and “endlessness” of today’s news, but acknowledges that new media technology vastly improves our chances of recording what is happening. Journalism matters, Marr concludes, and is a difficult, important trade. It will, in the end, have to be paid for.


Jul 10

Lee Bollinger: the man from Fruitcake City

Lee C Bollinger, the President of Columbia University in New York, is an important man in American academia and has opined in the Wall St Journal that it is time to start considering state subsidy as a solution to the economic crisis in US news media. He is, alas, not alone in raising the idea.

Lateral thinking and fresh examination of prejudices are fine. But Bollinger’s argument is foolish and dangerous. Mercifully, what he suggests isn’t likely to happen. As the philosopher Bertrand Russell said in a different context: this is an idea so stupid it could only come from a clever man.

Bollinger points out, reasonably enough, that news media in the US and elsewhere are already entangled with the government by way of subsidies to public broadcasters and regulation. His argument boils down to saying that what America needs is a version of the BBC.

Leaving aside the flippant rejoinder that pretty well any American who wants to access the BBC’s news output can now do so either through the internet or the BBC’s worldwide outlets, Bollinger’s case for state subsidy falls on two grounds.

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May 10

Sense and nonsense about newspapers and elections

I’m getting asked a lot of questions about newspapers and their effects on elections. Any kind of close or surprising result usually unleashes a wave of claims that newspapers have manipulated, influenced or dumbed down coverage. If the past is any guide, most of these theories will be wrong.

I took part in a discussion on Radio 4’s Media Show on this subject yesterday. My City University colleague Roy Greenslade wrote a fine debunking Evening Standard column. Hold on to the following facts as you listen to claims that it was newspapers wot won it or lost it.

  • Evidence that formal endorsements of political parties by papers change votes is hard to come by. People mostly don’t choose their paper because of its political allegiance. Twenty per cent of Daily Mail readers regularly vote Labour. If newspapers ever influence how people think politically, they only do so very gradually. Stop Press: the complexity of this is well caught by a neat new experiment from The Times.
  • A majority of newspaper titles advocate a Tory vote and that’s been the case in the 17 elections since 1945. Labour won nine of those outright.
  • In 1945, when newspapers commanded a vastly greater “mindshare” than now and television broadcasting hadn’t begun, most editors and proprietors campaigned for a Conservative victory. Labour won a landslide.
  • Newspapers now compete in a media market filled with hundreds of broadcast channels and proliferating new media platforms. When The Sun switched allegiance from Labour to the Tories last autumn, one major pollster pointed out that they were following, not leading, their readers who had moved in the same direction earlier in the year.
  • The media event of this election wasn’t the much-hyped new media or print but TV. The leaders debates moved Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems 9-11 points up in the polls and they stayed there. Print does not do this and never has.

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