Friday, September 24, 2004

No news is not good news

As has become the routine over the last few months, we scanned today's newspapers in search of material for a suitable Blog, only to conclude that there was very little of merit worth remarking upon.

To an extent, that is not surprising – politics proper has not yet resumed as we are only just into the conference season and the Lib-Dims have only just concluded the warm-up act. On the EU front, we are floundering in a vague interregnum, with the Prodi commission clearing their desks and the new Barroso children yet to make their mark.

Even allowing for this, though, there is something remarkable in the lack of real news in the newspapers, a continuing phenomenon on which we have remarked before and about which my colleague commented recently.

As one does, my colleague and I have spent many earnest hours discussing this issue, as we have with some serious journalists of national repute. The general consensus appears to be that the media has in fact given up on news and gone into the entertainment business, offering news as "soap opera" rather than real events. For want of real journalism, the newspapers fill the rest of their pages with re-written agency copy, sometimes days after it was first produced.

Therein we think, is one of the reasons why the newspapers, in particular, are losing out to the internet – we can now read the agency copy ourselves, hours ahead of the print media and even ahead of the broadcasters. Any number of Bloggers can re-write and represent this material, often adding informed comment that the hacks cannot, leaving them stranded with their stale, old news.

Reviewing this situation, we have asked ourselves many times how newspapers, in particular, could improve. Of course, there are no easy answers but the one thing we are agreed on is that they could go back to reporting the wide spread of news instead of concentrating on the "soap operas", recycling agency copy and filleting press releases.

If newspapers are the first draft of history, then it would be helpful to have intelligent journalists on the spot, asking questions, finding things out, analysing events and reporting on what is really happening, not what the establishment wants them to report.

In that context, there was some news yesterday – important news. The commission announced its intentions to strengthen its grip on defence policy, and to introduce regulatory measures to further defence integration.

But you would search in vain for any mention of it in today's newspapers and the pre-publicity came not from the detail of the proposals but the commission "spin" which found its way into the press release.

There is also the ongoing drama of the North East elected regional assembly referendum campaign – to which this Blog will be referring later – but nothing at all of this has reached the nationals today. That which we do get – such as Kinnock joining BIE (really unexpected that) and other inconsequential dross, on top of flat reporting on the Turkey story - makes for a pretty dull day.

It doesn't have to be like that – and it shouldn't be like that but, as long as it is, there will be a major gap in the system of public information. There may be no news today, but no news is not good news.

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