An event titled: ‘Can we believe the media? The role of journalism in the digital age’ was held last night at the Ulster University, Belfast campus.
It was organised by the new UK press regulatory body Impress, Ulster University and MeCCSA (Media, Communication and Cultural Studies Association)
A number of speakers were at the event including, Dr Phil Ramsey (Ulster University); BBC NI business reporter Clodagh Rice, Impress chief executive Jonathan Heawood,; Peter Feeney (Press Ombudsman for the Press Council of Ireland);, VIEW editor Brian Pelan; BBC journalist/broadcaster Yvette Shapiro; Milne Rowntree (Ulster University) and Irish News digital deputy editor Maeve Connolly.
The closing speech was given by Maire Messenger Davies, Professor of Media Policy at Ulster University.
Below is the speech given by VIEW editor Brian pelan
There is a well know quote which reads: ‘A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on’. To amend that slightly in today’s digital age, the lie would have spread around the world three times.
In the world of journalism we have always had ‘lies’ distortions, half-truths, bias, omissions, spin and no comment.
The role of the journalist, as I see it, is to try and and forge a path through that – and not to become lost in a swamp of weasel words and bluster.
At Wednesday’s Tory Party conference, the BBC’s political correspondent Laura Kuenssberg tweeted: “That was one of best speech entrances ever from the person the public might least expect it from.”
She was referring to the spectacle of Theresa May entering the stage to the sound of Abba’s Dancing Queen and stiffly moving her arms around.
I tweeted back in response to Ms Kuenssberg: “It was a contrived, carefully orchestrated entrance to grab a headline. It is not news, it is not a story. Ask yourself one question: Why did you come into journalism. To speak truth to power or peddle PR crap?”
So who do you trust – Ms Kuenssberg or my version of the event?
It all depends on your perspective, your political leanings, your social consciousness.
Karl Marx once wrote: “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.”
In other words we look at news through our own social lens. This explains why Trump supporters believe what he says, even if the facts ridicule what he says at the same time.
Some people will have loved Theresa May’s entrance whilst others will dismiss it as a stunt and vow never to listen to Dancing Queen again as they can’t get that image out of their mind.
I worked in newspapers for about 25 years in the UK and the Republic of Ireland before co-founding VIEWdigital and VIEW magazine with journalist Una Murphy,
Our aim was simple but difficult. We wanted to create a magazine, which, amongst other things, would tell the stories of people who are often marginalised in society.
We also wanted to be regulated. That’s why we chose Impress.
We take our work very seriously as we report on social affairs issues, such as suicide prevention, homelessness and domestic abuse.
Our stories are rigorously checked for factual evidence. If we get it wrong we will hold our hands up.
We want our readers to trust what we are saying.
The problem is that we are small and under-resourced.
We are competing in a digital world where Google, Facebook and Twitter reign supreme. On their platforms you will find truths, lies, smears, potential libels and incessant noise of keyboard warriors who often produce horrendous sexist and racist garbage. The sort of material that should and would be dumped in any self-respecting newsroom that is guided by a sense of values.
The rise of click bait and shallow entertainment is not accidental.
The rich and powerful often prefer ignorance from the masses as they feed them a diet of popcorn news.
Former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger writes in his new book: Breaking News: The Remaking of Journalism and Why It Matters Now: “For the vast majority of news organisations the money . . . is gone. The few serious newspapers operating in the black today make small fractions of the profits they earned before the digital revolution.”
He talks about a time a few years after he became editor of the Guardian. He was invited to give an after-dinner speech at the Thirty Club in London– a private gathering of big commercial cheeses in the advertising and media worlds. It was March 2003 – three years before the launch of Twitter and the creation of the Facebook “news feed”, before the collapse of the economic model that had underpinned journalism for a century.
“The subject of my speech was trust – and the truly abysmal ratings newspapers had in that department. Depending on the poll and the year, we were lucky if 13%-18% of the population trusted newspapers.”
I waffled on more about trust; how we’d lost it; how to earn it back; why it would matter so much more in the digital world. It was, even if true, worthy stuff. Afterwards, three Murdoch colleagues Andy Coulson, Rebecca Brooks and Les Hinton were very friendly. They suggested we go on to a club; we ended up drinking in Soho House till the early hours. The champagne’s on them. The speech is not mentioned. The evening is fun. Brooks and Coulson are good company. Hinton is full of seen-it-all bonhomie. Deep down, we’re all hacks together.
“Cut to 11 years later: Coulson was in jail, Les Hinton had resigned and Brooks had suffered the ordeal of a nerve-shredding trial at the Old Bailey – all because of reporting in the Guardian. That night in Soho House now feels like a lost world of Fleet Street innocence. A funny word – “innocence” – to use about Fleet Street. But we were certainly all innocent of what was to come – in virtually every way possible.”
Rusbringer ends by saying: “After two decades of disruption, it may be possible that none of the old conventional business models can still support serious news in the public interest. But the challenge has never been so urgent: we need the essential work of journalism – the calling that should, at its highest, separate lies from the truth.”
I echo those sentiments. We should endeavour to speak truth to power – no matter who is in power.