Monday, October 20, 2008

Lionel Barber, FT editor, on journalism

This piece is behind the registration wall of the FT now, and I cut and paste my extract a while ago.
Most damaging, the mainstream press lost touch with its audience at the very moment when technology, via the internet, was dramatically lowering the barriers to entry. Whether this was an unhappy coincidence or complacency is unclear. What is undeniable is that public trust in newspapers started to slip, to the point where a recent study by Sacred Heart University shows barely one in five say they can believe “all or most” media reporting (well below comparable British figures).

A google search finds the piece as someone's email here and I strongly recommend reading it, particularly as it addresses those "Practice of Everyday Life" issues such as celebrity journalists, and the robustly Hogarthian nature of British journalism (and the free DVDs). The piece also added richly to a very loose metaphor I'm developing of the layer cake when it comes to mapping journalist's motivations and their age. It is not surprisingly, for example, to find the 53 year old Lionel Barber writing about his time as a Laurence Stern Fellow at the Washington Post.
Entering the Post newsroom was like walking on to the set of All the President’s Men , the 1976 film starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as the Post’s own Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, with its row upon row of reporters, each with their desk-top computers. (At the FT, we still bashed away on typewriters.) Bradlee’s glass office stood in the centre of the newsroom. Woodward’s investigative team was tucked away at the back. There was a swagger about the place that was irresistible.

I wonder how many journalists were inspired by All the President's Men? And what more recent inspirations are? At this weekend's "End of Journalism" conference I spoke to many practitioners and educators, and there was a sense that much of the inspiration today to enter the business was as much about the celebrity of being a journalist, as the form's ability to change, or right, things. More Redford than Woodward, as it were. Should the inspirations in the layer cake now include Jon Stewart? Jon Ronson or Ali G? Jeremy Paxman or Katie Couric? Arianna Huffington or Stephen Colbert? And who was the last great popular journalist in cinema?

There is a lot more in Barber's piece than this.

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