To preface this, I’ve never liveblogged a lecture and figure this would be a good place to start. Note that my Macbook Pro is getting old and I can only manage about an hour and a half of battery life, which might make this a touch challenging when combined with the non-functional power outlets in the Oliver Thompson Lecture Theatre. Please be kind…

For more information — http://www.city.ac.uk/events/2011/oct/heather-brook-civic-journalism-what-it-is-and-why-it-matters

Civic Journalism and Why It Matters

Heather Brooke

  • “When profit becomes the core function of the news business .. then it loses its public purpose.”
  • Governments suffer from this too.
  • Reading list: “Reporter’s Handbook”, “My Traitor’s Heart” — Rian Malan (Journalism as a way to change society.)
  • Malan: “Next to joining the underground, journalism was the most honourable calling for a white leftist.”
  • “That whole desire to change the world has been usurped by … marketing.”
  • “The ultimate moral bankruptcy of modern journalism is it’s forgotten its core purpose of informing the public.”
  • Example: Iceland. Financial elite comprises no more than 30 people; 2008, country goes bankrupt. Attempts to investigate were met with silence and figure pointing. Felt betrayed by the banks, the politicians and the media. Came to associate secrecy as the ultimate sin; has become the testing ground for “radical transparency.”
  • Lack of reporting in courts.
    • Royal Courts: used to have 25 dedicated court reporters.
    • Today: 4; 2 at the Old Bailey
    • PA Survey of magistrates’ court clerks: 79.3% of justices’ clerks who responded said local newspaper coverage of the courts in their area had declined.
    • Only 13.8% said it had remained the same.
    • 64.5% said they rarely saw a reporter in court,
    • 29% said they sometimes saw a reporter
    • 6.5% said they often saw one.
    • 98% said they believed it was very important or fairly important for local communities to know what was happening in the courts.
  • Police able to control the flow of information. Guardian found it difficult to get information on people who’ve been charged during the riots.
    • Clerks wouldn’t allow access to court records.
    • Wanted access to court register database, couldn’t access.
    • Were eventually able to get access to some of the datasets via Ministry of Justice, eventually started to cross-reference addresses of those charged with riot locations.
    • Access to the court registers had never been requested before — whaaaat?!
  • “Your Right to Know” written in response to that and the bureaucracy that prevents journalists from holding power to account.
  • Police incidence reports, fire inspection reports, parliament still not public.
  • “If you want to really shake up the system [and fulfill your role as a journalist] … then you have to invest in fighting for the information that’s really powerful.”
  • “If the information was easy to get, everyone would have it.”
  • Young people disillusioned because they don’t see the media as representing their interests.
    • “The Occupied Wall Street Journal” — Kickstarter project created in response to lack of media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street protests.
    • The Uptake’s tagline — “Will journalism be done by you or to you?”
  • “We need to remember who we are and what our public purpose is, and then maybe we can take back those words from Levis.”

Q&A Segment

  • How did we get to the state we are in journalism?
    • “We treat journalism like any other business, like a widget in a factory. … News is just not like that.”
    • “The demise of civic is across the sector, it’s not just journalism.” We no longer view civic world in which we live as actually ours.
  • Most shocking revelation from MP expense scandal?
    • No one single thing; just the amount of resources poured into keeping that information secret.
  • Do journalists need social movements?
    • Yes; most journalists start for idealistic reasons, need support group to continue fulfilling the public interest.
  • How do you reconcile doing open journalism with having the kinds of networks that makes journalists special?
    • “The most protected thing is British society is the name of somebody who holds power.”
    • These people can’t be protected behind a wall of bureaucracy if using open journalism techniques.
  • How to target FoI requests?
    • Know what you’re looking for! If you do, you’ll often find it.
  • Don’t journalists exist in secrecy networks as well?
    • Well, sometimes — you don’t want to endanger a source or harm somebody.
    • But confidential sources are used too often in lazy journalism.
  • Are your criticisms of the British press related to its self-regulation?
    • No; the press has a relationship with the public. The reason it’s self-regulating is that if people can’t connect with a news service, they lose interest.
    • The problem with the phone hacking is that the police knew this had occurred, but they both obfuscated it and did nothing about it.
  • Subsidizing journalism?
    • Norway has a big, relevant newspaper market — and it’s subsidized.
    • Might not work great in Britain, but we ARE subsidizing the press, much of which is free sheet propaganda.
    • If we are going to subsidize media, let’s give it to an independent media.
  • Why are you against Wikileaks?
    • Not anti-Wikileaks philosophy; anti-Julian Assange.
    • “Morally bankrupt individual who has completely used that organization to protect his own reputation — which leaves a lot to be desired.”
  • But what about withholding information during court cases, where it may endanger investigations (i.e., police incidence reports)?
    • If it will hamper an investigation, police won’t release it anyway.
    • Police incidence reports considered public information anyway; or you can go to the station and read arrest reports, but you have to be morally coherent about what you publish in order to maintain audience.
    • When journalists have to face the consequences of what they publish, it becomes a self-regulating system.
  • (Some guy talking about the student newspaper FoI’ing City University stuff, and how it should be done more often.)
    • Difference between British and US universities; much more acceptable for US student newspapers to FoI their parent universities.
  • It seems there’s a weird dialectic, with journalists failing their democratic function while the internet democratizes media…
    • Everybody can be a journalist, but the professional journalist’s currency is their reputation. We have citizen journalists, but more than ever do professional journalists matter.
  • How should the cable leaks have been handled?
    • Similar to the MP expenses story; leaked by a whistleblower to a paper. Information broker was never the story — it was about the information itself. All the gravity of the MP expense story stayed with the story; the cable leaks focused too much on Assange.
  • What should journalism ultimately be?
    • Too much is churnalism; too little going out and finding out information from first principles.
    • Not just to inform and entertain, but the fact book of how we all want to live together.
  • Where is good journalism being done?
    • Everywhere!
    • Was in South Africa and although good journalism is going on there, people still perceive that it’s not.
    • In Kenya to combat corruption, journalists would photograph any politician getting out of a car to the point that they created a law preventing photoing such.
    • Journalism is about the people who practice it, and they can be anywhere in the world.

Thanks to everyone who posted in the #citybrooke hash tag; see storify below: