Friday, June 18, 2010...9:00 am

#VOJ10: What’s the value of journalism? The shape of things to come

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In association with the Martin Cloake blog

So far we’ve covered a wealth of ground on editorial skills, the audience for journalism (and its shortcomings), the need for narrative in human experience and, most important of all, why sub-editors are the backbone of the media.

Today, my blogging colleague Martin Cloake rightly takes me to task for defeatism:

It’s our job to engage with people and make issues relevant. No one “wanted” to hear about Thalidomide or Agent Orange, but good journalism brought the issues to public attention and made them care.

This is true enough – though I wonder whether it will be the research efforts of the media that bring the 21st century version of these stories to our attention. As Soilman points out in one of the comment threads for this discussion:

Today, we discover that the CCTV system intended to improve road safety has grown to become a surveillance system. And only because of persistent, determined FOI work by what the Telegraph coyly calls ‘civil liberties campaigners’. Why doesn’t it say exactly who? Because it wants to give the impression that it got the story itself (which, of course, it didn’t).

Increasingly, I do believe that the value in 21st century journalism will be to give a voice to the discoveries and campaigns of others. Yes, to organise and express these coherently – but crucially to give them a platform and credibility.

It’s a kind of librarianship – but an active one. Not simply cataloguing and storing, but filtering and organising. It’s actually what editing is – figuring out which stories need telling, understanding how they fit in with the wider picture, and then telling them in a way that does capture the audience. So what if it means less investigation is being done by reporters? Investigation will still get done.

But as Soilman points out it will often tend to be by activist groups or political parties (in this case the Liberal Democrats). Given this, a key job for the media will be to try to understand the agenda behind the investigation. If needed, the editorial role will be to give it balance, to distill the facts from the activism and to rubbish meritless claims.

Actually, I’d be glad if the media did that today. I can only hope it’s something we can aspire to…

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