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Inaugural lecture

Professor George Brock, Head of Journalism, City University London

March 17, 2010

If you pause to look at the state of news media in the developed world, you may well be reminded of
the story, alas apocryphal, of the conjuror and his parrot who sailed on the Titanic.

The ship sailed with a large complement of bands, orchestras and entertainers. Down at the foot of the
bill was a conjuror whose gimmick or unique selling point was a parrot who sat on his shoulder and
gave a running commentary on where the conjuror was hiding a ball or a handkerchief. “It’s up his
sleeve,” the parrot might squawk, or “Watch his other hand!” And so on.

The ship hit the iceberg and sank. The conjuror and the parrot found themselves in a lifeboat. The bird
was out of sorts and said nothing for four whole days. When the parrot did finally speak, he asked the
conjuror a question: “OK, so what have you done with the ship?” When we look at news, in the same
way as that parrot, we’re failing to grasp what’s happening around us. And the failure of journalists to
see the whole picture is the worst of all.

What I want to do this evening is to use my own experience in the news business to try to paint in the
rest of that picture. I want to talk about the trajectory of change in my working lifetime, as well as
trust and alienation. In doing that I hope to achieve my basic aim, which is to rescue the ideals of
journalism. For they are in need of help.

Debate about news is almost exclusively doom-laden. There is gloom economic: print advertising
income falling in newspapers, online publishing failing to find a business model, the financing of
local television news uncertain. There is pessimism journalistic: original reporting, it is said, has been
replaced by “churnalism”, amounting to the rapid rewriting of press releases by underpaid serfs,
wholly owned by unscrupulous and manipulative tycoons. Steve Coogan, in one of those question-
and-answer features which magazines love, was asked recently: “If you could bring something extinct
back to life, what would you choose?” And he replied: “Genuine journalistic inquiry.” Other voices
don’t just ask: is news over? They ask if journalism exists or adds any value at all.

To meet that question head on, we have to start by asking once again what journalism actually is.
Perfectly easy to recognise, you might say: a person equipped with anything from a spiral-bound
notebook to a handycam reporting events to the rest of us. But anyone can now do that if they choose.

Can anyone relaying news to anyone call themselves a journalist? Journalism has now become a word
wandering around in search of a definition.

In the past decade and a half, the ability of very small computers to swop, replicate and link vast
quantities of data at high speed and at almost no cost have changed more than news. These
technologies push slow transformative shifts in human communication, the public sphere, privacy,
politics, the division between work and play and the distribution of power. Distilling the effects on
news, we can separate out three irreversible shifts:

 First, in the quantity of information available. When journalism began, reliable information
was scarce; despite the inaccuracy of much that you can find nowadays, news is in glut.
Perhaps the most dramatic effects of this explosion of information are still to be felt in regions
like Africa and South Asia where the internet’s riches arrive on a mobile phone, equipping the
poor with information which they haven’t had before. Across the world the internet adoption
rate is now eight times faster on mobile phones than it is on PCs. Here is one small example
from villages in Uttar Pradesh, the beneficiaries of an experiment being conducted by the
International Media Institute of India. The villages may or may not have access to radio or
television, but if they do, little of that news is local enough to matter. But everyone has a
mobile phone. A couple of people in each village, chosen as reporters, gather the stories. They
may be thefts, fires, holes in the road, floods, births, deaths, prayer meetings. They record the
stories in the local dialect and send them to an editor, who can filter and perhaps add in
region-wide information on crop prices, weather forecasts or even advice on sanitation or
childcare. A company in Hyderabad then sends the “news” back as a voice call. Thanks to
speakers on phones, the twice-daily bulletins have become a social event.
 Second big change: the instant alteration of information. Cable and satellite gave us rolling
24-hour news. The internet allows that to be updated, nuanced, corrected continuously from
many different directions. Those who enjoy this say that news has become a “process” or a
“conversation”. Those who do not enjoy this say that news is losing at least some of its
authority, clarity and coherence.
 The third change is the most profound. I would call it the decentralisation of news. The
production and consumption of news has been decoupled from advertising and its previous
sources of income. First and foremost that causes an economic crisis. The readers and
watchers of mass media news have never paid the full cost in subscription or cover price. In
print, advertising is somewhere between half and three-quarters of the income needed to keep
a quality newspaper going. Many newspapers, and particularly local and regional ones, get a
big slice of their income from classified ads, usually for jobs, houses and cars. Those small
ads have transferred to the web. Not “will” transfer, but “have”; past tense. The analyst Claire

Enders estimates that between 2007 and 2013, the value of print advertising coming to UK
newspapers will fall by almost half. A similarly respected American consultancy has just
predicted that for the first time in 2010 in the US, more advertising dollars will be spent
online than in print. One report this week reckoned that in Britain a hundred newspaper titles
stopped publishing in 2009.

What I’ve called decentralisation does not stop there. The ability for anyone to produce
something called “news”, circulate it, discuss it and edit it brings an oligopoly to a brutal end.
Until recently, journalists could define what they did as a craft or as a mission, but they could
rest secure in the knowledge that it wasn’t easy for anyone to claim to be a journalist unless
they owned or operated the capital-intensive equipment to publish or broadcast. That barrier
to entry has gone. Over the last 15 years, a lot of authority – not to mention social status and
sense of identity among journalists – evaporated.

The last decentralising effect is that the large communities of shared knowledge formed by
newspapers don’t survive or grow in this new information environment. We have to go back
to de Tocqueville, reporting what he saw in the early American republic, to see what a
remarkable social reshaper the newspaper once was. He found that
“In democratic countries…it frequently happens that a great number of men who
wish to or want to combine cannot accomplish it because…they cannot see and do
not know where to find one another. A newspaper takes up the notion or the feeling
that had occurred simultaneously, but singly, to each of them. All are then
immediately guided towards this beacon; and these wandering minds…at length meet
and unite. The newspaper brought them together, and the newspaper is necessary to
keep them united.”

This is journalism which requires psychological insight on a level which I fear many editors may not
achieve. And of course now online audiences and communities form, congeal, dissolve and disperse at
a speed unimaginable to de Tocqueville.

This description of the alterations wrought by the web, email and mobile wireless technology cannot
cover all that will happen. The only confident prediction I make is that the unexpected will occur. But
the changes that we have registered ask us: do we know what journalism is? Does it have a distinctive
purpose? Or does the idea just dissolve in a sea of media?

Digital technology allows mainstream news outlets to enrich what they do with a stream of pictures or
words from non-journalists. In the wake of the 7/7 bombings in London, many of the first images that

reached us were taken on camera phones by eyewitnesses. Few of the images which reach us now of
demonstrations in Iran, Burma or Tibet are taken by professional journalists. When The Guardian
seeks to fill gaps in the story of the man who died at the G20 demonstration last year or the Trafigura
case, its reporters tweet for help – and get it, drawing on a pool of expertise that may always have
been there but is now more instantly accessible than ever before.

Commenting on what he calls the “mutualisation” of journalism, the editor of The Guardian, Alan
Rusbridger said:

“Is any of this journalism? Does it matter? You could waste many doctoral theses arguing the
point but it seems futile to deny that something interesting is going on here.”

No doctoral time will be wasted here at City and there’s no dispute that something interesting is going
on. But I respectfully disagree about whether it matters. Journalism is the systematic effort to
establish the truth of what matters to society. It follows that expertise and experience, for example,
should count for something. There is a fascinating debate starting over what Clay Shirky christened
“algorithmic authority”. Shirky argues that for centuries, intellectual authority rested with the
individual experts and that this is now having to give way to collective, evolving judgements made
Wikipedia-style by groups of knowledgeable, interested people. Applied to news, this is journalism as
fluid process, always provisional, always being improved – and always open to contribution. In short,
the distinction between qualified professionals on the inside of the machine and amateurs outside

This is a competition for trust between two different forms of collective intelligence. This argument is
not being openly and clearly mapped by those who run news media. Perhaps understandably, no
editor wanting to encourage the highest level of participation online wants to underline that the
suggestions, tweets, tips and facts flowing in from this rich new sources are being filtered in a
traditional way.

But the facts of news consumption on the web tell us clearly that filtering is exactly what people tend
to prefer when they have the choice. Filtering used in the old days to be known as “editing”. If it’s
done right, it should be for the benefit and protection of the viewer or reader. It should create trust.

Editing isn’t uncontroversial: the risks of selection and judgement are required, as well as a practised
reflex for accuracy. Editors have to ask old questions. How do we know this is true? How reliable is
the record of this source? Can we check this down some other route? What is the level of risk if we
run this on one source only? The nature of research may have changed but the responsibilities of the

researcher have not. News may not be over but it doesn’t reach you in the same way and the way it is
assembled is also altering. But it is equally true and important that buried inside these changes,
something essential needs preserving. In the words of the great Harry Evans, at the very end of his
latest book:

“The question is not whether internet journalism will be dominant, but whether it will
maintain the quality of the best print journalism.”

The most visible and obvious factors which have brought journalism to an inflection point are
technical and financial. But there’s also a half-acknowledged crisis of consumer confidence. If
journalism is to be valued – and perhaps even to be paid for – that worth has to be clear to those who
are not journalists. Thoreau said that it takes two people to tell the truth: one to say it, another to hear

Journalists have to start by accepting that they don’t automatically hold the powerful place in the new
information system that they held in the old. William Perrin, a local blogger in King’s Cross who was
once a Cabinet Office civil servant, says that journalism “as a belief system” is over. Chris Anderson,
a professional exaggerator and author of the books The Long Tail and Free, says that there’s no longer
any such thing as news.

They’re nearly right. Many journalists speak as if and seem to believe that their assistance to
democracy is so vital and self-evident that it is up to society to provide a route out of their current
problems. At least some people watching the news media’s travails are, rather, waiting for its
practitioners to rethink their way of thinking and working. There are already people – William Perrin
is one of them – who are rethinking ways of supplying people with the information they need without
caring whether anyone calls it journalism or not.

Journalists should start by narrowing down the elements which make the core of what they do. There
are four of them:

 First, verification: the elimination of doubt about what has happened, especially as to events
which are disputed. When news media began, information of any kind was scarce, reliable
information even more so. Today, the reliable information is still scarce; but it is liable to be
hidden in a torrent of data.
 Second, sense-making. Some facts are easier to establish than others but there are very few
that are “pure” in the sense that they can divorced from context or values. There never was a
golden age when newspapers “of record” just stuck to the facts. There was a past age when

dull, formal, deferential reporting got nobody very excited. That is not the same as good
journalism, whose tasks include making sense of what it transmits. That involves the exercise
of judgement, which involves risk. Sense-making may go under the labels of reporting,
analysis, comment or opinion.
 Third, witness. Irrespective of the hugely amplified power of digital recording, there remain
situations best captured, with whatever technology is available, by an experienced eyewitness.
New technology has eliminated the need for the vast quantities of blanket, routine reporting
that was needed in the past.
 Fourth and last: investigation. Irrespective of greater transparency, there remain hidden
stories. They require skill, experience, patience and resources to tell. It’s a specialist skill.

These four overlapping functions should be the pillars of trust. They will be at the heart of what we
teach here at City. This isn’t supposed to be a list of what journalists do. I’m concerned here to frame
the essential moral, democratic foundation for what journalism lays a claim to do. None of these four
things can be done by an algorithm. There are plenty of other things that news media will do. They
might include…distilling and selection, argument, simplification, taste-making or arts criticism,
gossip, rumour, covering public and political institutions, what the media scholar Michael Schudson
calls “social empathy” (his term for the expansion of reporting to cover real lives), crosswords,
mobilising campaigns – and simply poking fun at the ridiculous. Disclosure can now be done by
anyone, experienced or inexperienced, with a bundle of motives or none. Significant disclosures can
be made by red-top papers, bloggers in their pyjamas, by political activists from Fox News to John

But all of these functions can be done, and are being done, by thousands of others who neither count
themselves as news organisations or journalists. The coverage of public and political institutions is
not in my core list. I am assuming that routine coverage of hearings, parliaments , some local and
national government data will happen, if gradually, with greater transparency made possible by new
technology. That doesn’t mean to say that these institutions may not deserve eye-witness reporting,
verification, analysis or investigation from time to time. They certainly will.

Why does tightening the boundaries round the definition of journalism matter? Because of what has
happened over the past half century.

A 20th century graph of all newspaper sales in Britain shows a peak in the 1920s and a downwards
slope since then. That decline may have been accelerated by the arrival of both radio and television,
but since neither newcomer forced more than a handful of newspapers out of business, print
publishers were gratefully surprised to be still in the game at all. Once the panic over survival had

subsided by around 1970, far less attention was paid to the slow but profound change which then took
place in newspapers. With broadcasting giving people their first inkling of news, print was gradually
nudged into territory where papers had the natural advantage over broadcast: descriptive writing,
investigations, context, analysis and opinion. Much of this was excellent and appreciated, but the shift
marked the weakening of the hold which newspapers had on their hitherto captive market.

Broadcasting channels multiplied. And the audience naturally fragmented. The amounts of time and
money spent on news media grew in the 1980s and 1990s; newspapers grew ever larger on the back of
a long advertising boom. But the big audiences shrank, split between more and more choices. Twenty
years ago the main evening news bulletins on the BBC and ITV commanded nightly news audiences
of 8-10m viewers each. Both are down to half that number.

Competition for attention became more expensive and difficult. Investment in reporting which took a
long time to research and write shrank. And it wasn’t just the producers of news who were short of
resources. The consumers of news saw themselves as having less and less time to read and watch. In
1997, the number of people saying that they “never have enough time to get anything done” hit an all-
time high of two-thirds of the sample. By no coincidence at all, that was just after London’s first free
morning newspaper, Metro, became available in the capital’s commuter trains and subways, offering
travellers a quick read only as long as their journey at no cost in effort or money.

These gradual changes started the long process of the hollowing or thinning of news. Competition for
attention became tough both between proliferating outlets on the same platform and between radio,
television and print. Justin Lewis of Cardiff University has shown that many journalists are today
turning out up to three times more material as they would have been expected to produce 20 or 30
years ago. The long term effect on the consumers of news was twofold but not surprising. People
began to lose both interest and faith in what they read, heard and watched.

Now it’s possible to exaggerate the loss of trust. Exaggerate, that is, by suggesting that journalists
have ever been much trusted. There wasn’t much trust in the past. But the trust levels for those who
enjoy higher ratings – BBC and broadcast journalists for example – are slipping in Britain. Journalists
have been long accustomed to write these ratings off as inevitable or irrelevant. But in the era when
people have the choice to opt out of established media, the public impact of fiascos and disgraces - the
handling of MMR, the worst excesses of the reporting of the search for Madeleine McCann and the
widespread use of phone-tapping - is far greater. The same development can be seen in America,
where trust levels in news media began declining in the mid-1970s. To capture the change, think of
the difference between the movie All The President’s Men in the mid-70s and the fifth season of The
Wire just a few years ago. I probably don’t have to describe Watergate, and if you haven’t seen the
last series of The Wire, I won’t spoil the plot. Suffice to say that the later drama does not show
journalists in anything like such a glamorous or flattering light as the earlier film.

The other effect, the loss of interest, is less easy to measure but more important. It is picked out most
strikingly in the Ofcom report New News, Future News in 2007. It disclosed a gap between news and
daily experience: more than half the people surveyed for Ofcom’s report did not think that news as
presented to them was relevant to their lives. This alienation and indifference was explored in an
excellent Reuters Institute study whose authors found that journalists were seen as

“…”insiders”, looking out from the citadels of power rather than outsiders looking in,
journalists were seen as being compromised by their proximity to social power…. our focus
groups did not consider journalists to be dishonest…. Distrust took a more oblique form. The
participants seemed to be questioning the institutional integrity of news.”

And again:

“When distrust in news was expressed…it was because people felt that their expectations of
the news were not shared by news producers; that they were being told stories that were not
adequately explained; that their lives were being reported in ways that were not adequately
researched; or that new communicative spaces were opening up in which useful, reliable or
amusing information could be accessed without having to subscribe to the authority of the
mainstream media.”

Those new communicative spaces opened up for users of news who felt taken for granted. And they
have been making full use of the opportunity.

As these changes work their way through, what do we see? What we actually have at the moment is a
mixed news economy: part industrial old mass media (printworks, terrestrial broadcasting and so on)
and part a networked digital information economy. Consumer loyalties are divided: affection for a
favourite newspaper or the appointment with the evening news doesn’t decline just because the
business model is going to run out of steam. But very gradually, the habit of using old media is
wearing off; and the young are not picking it up.

Above all, what we have here – and journalists find this the hardest of all to accept – is a fall in the
perceived value of what mainstream news organisations produce. It’s a double whammy: mainstream
news itself isn’t, in a connected age, as useful or interesting as it was. And the bundle that is the news
programme or newspaper no longer makes the sense it did. If you can get only the item you want, why
pay the cost of the whole package?

Imagine a common enough event in any large city. It is a Friday evening and a young woman on her
way home after a night out is attacked and robbed. The attack is not fatal, but serious enough to put
her in hospital overnight and to involve the police. By the next morning, her social network will have

been alerted. She might have triggered this by tweeting, posting on Facebook or another social
networking site or simply by sending emails or texts from a phone. Before 24 hours have gone by,
anything up to several hundred people will have read and discussed the details. What does the local
paper do? A routine police check which might put a few paragraphs on the website on the Saturday
and in Monday evening’s edition. It wasn’t a murder after all. In print, more potential readers but less

Conventional news’s disadvantage is not really lack of speed, although it will be slower. It is also that
the formal, one-size-fits-all “news” arrives in less satisfying form. For this is both a public event
(police, hospital and a possible court case) and a private one belonging to a network. The private
version of the news will be swifter, richer and more detailed and authentic, carried by voices who
know eachother. As young consumers of news say nowadays: “If the news is important enough it will
find me.”

None of these developments are being witnessed or described here with much pleasure by me. I spent
many years in newspapers. Historically speaking it is true that news media are regularly turned upside
down by technological innovation, by competition and market forces. But the fragmentation of
channels and instant interactivity is a huge adjustment. There are risks and loss to society as a whole.
Elected and unelected powers will be left less closely watched. For the first time in one or two
centuries, major cities may soon have no community conversation in print. For there is no law of
economics which guarantees that when one business model fails, a replacement one is immediately

Before asking what we might hope to do about this, let me highlight one issue which gets neglected as
we move away from an era dominated by print and broadcast.

If, as seems likely, most news consumption is on electronic and wireless devices and not in print, any
story can be told audio-visually. The only barriers to portable TV news are ones of technology and
cost and they will be crossed fairly soon. Most news websites now carry video and we are well on the
way to wireless networks which will carry video easily and at bearable cost to iPads, smartphones or
any of the new lightweight touchscreens which will multiply in the next few years.

Words can carry more complex meanings than sound and picture can sometimes manage. That’s not
to take anything away from the irreplaceable immediacy and power of witness which television and
radio have. And we should be grateful that ever-cheaper and ever-lighter devices make capturing the
history of the present easier than it ever was. But we have to find a way to make sure that words
survive in the equation. Each technology tends to affect the way news is reported on that particular

technology. No such rigid conventions have grown up yet for online and some of the most successful
ways of telling stories seem to weave words, video and sound together in new combinations, in a new
grammar if you will. I only plead that words – so beautiful and so useful – don’t get squeezed out of
the equation.

There’s no avoiding any longer the issue of how we make this pay. Big established news
organisations with large fixed costs are looking for ways of getting you to pay for what you learn. In a
lot of cases this probably won’t work. Not so much because the younger audience is used to online
news and information for free – that is an issue – but because the business logic is the wrong way
round. Most great news providers of today began small: they found a demand and supplied it. The
business model often came later. When radio became popular in the United States in the 1920s, no
one who started it had any idea how to make it pay. Proctor & Gamble, then as now makers of
detergents, offered to pay money to stations if the company could be identified as the sponsors of a
show. They went for drama. Thus was born the first “soap opera”.

I don’t have a magic fix answer to the burning question of how we pay for sustainable journalism. I’m
in good company: neither does anyone else. Journalists need to be quite sure and clear about what
they’re offering. We’re past the era when we could assume that journalism’s usefulness was self-
evident. Experiment has now to match value to demand. The media most likely to succeed in creating
new income streams are those which throw most spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. If you’ve
ever thrown spaghetti at a wall, you’ll know that very little of it does actually stay there. It isn’t just
messy; the failure rate is very high. It’s expensive and it’s risky.

If you’re looking for a job in a news organisation or – less likely these days – buying shares in one,
look for the one with the most unsentimental ability to run through the largest possible number of
tests and the agility to discard all the ones that don’t work. The first attempts to replicate the old print
business model in a digital context haven’t worked. Selling advertising at a good price depends on
scarcity of supply to keep that price up. In print, radio and television, the number of channels was
limited and the advertising inventory thus rationed. On the internet, the supply is almost infinite and
digital technology renders mass, one-size-fits-all advertising gradually obsolete and being replaced by
more targeted ads tailored to groups and individuals. That suggests to me that the old model isn’t
going to work in the new digital context. But if people keep experimenting, we’ll know.

By far the most interesting examples are taking place below the radar of most metropolitan
journalists. It is in these small online news laboratories – even if they don’t call themselves that – that
the rescue of what matters is most likely to succeed. It would require another lecture to describe and
analyse the variety of what is occurring in dozens of local news sites like Pits ‘n Potts (coal mines and
potteries: it’s in Staffordshire), Litchfield, Leeds, … and inside London in places like King’s Cross or

For an example of what has worked really well in a country whose local media were once in worse
shape than here, let me take you eastward to the Czech Republic. There a large insurance company
has invested in a chain of small coffee shops. They have also set up small newspapers and websites,
but they are – so far and commercially - less important than the coffee shops, which provide income
while the journalism finds its feet. The coffee shops are also the local newsrooms. The journalism is
local, parochial and stays close to its market. That “hyperlocal” reporting is balanced by a
headquarters newsroom in Prague, which serves the whole network, staffed by a handful of editors
with some experience. They lend a hand when asked with design or reporting and can tie together
story patterns (the provision of GP services right across the country, say) which emerge from the
localities. The formula works: dozens more coffee shop newsrooms are being rolled out now. They
plan more outlets and newsrooms for their country than McDonalds.

The discussions over paywalls and charging online have to be seen in this context. Risks will be
taken: the market will learn. If charging for online content works, the rules of the game will change. It
seems unlikely that putting a paywall round an entire paper, as the Editor of The Times has said that
he plans to do, can work. But we’ll see; and it looks as if we’ll see in as soon as May. Others argue
that links are the currency that counts: “do what you do best and link to the rest”. The odds are that a
wholly new formula may work better than either. The more experiments, the more discoveries, the
more journalism sustained. There may be no single, magic-bullet formula for success. There may be
several or many.

Philanthropy is bound to play a role for the foreseeable future, at the very least in bridging the old and
new eras. Not merely in providing a platform for some journalism but in assisting empirical
experiment. Take investigative journalism, along with war reporting perhaps the hardest and most
expensive reporting to keep going. Here at City we already run a specialised one-year MA in
investigative journalism. We host the Centre for Investigative Journalism which acts as an influential
network for teaching and discussion. Next month will see the launch of the Bureau of Investigative
Journalism, also based here, established by a generous donation from David and Elaine Potter. This
team will not only research and publish investigative stories but research and reflect on which
business models work. The inspiration here is similar philanthropically-funded initiatives in the
United States.

Can or should public funds – in addition to those already raised for the BBC - be used to ensure that
power, local power particularly, will be held to account? We can confidently expect that this question
will be asked as regional papers start to fail in greater numbers. Public subsidy cannot be the right
answer: if journalism has public value, it is as an independent source of knowledge and known to be
that. Independence is not a sufficient condition for useful quality but it is a necessary one. If public

funding for news media must find its way onto the political agenda, let’s at least observe two

 That if the state wants to help, that help should be transparent and indirect. The model is the
modest help for the pilot schemes for independently-financed news coalitions in local
television news.
 Second, that what should be supported is experiments in any media and not devoted to the
propping up of business models that are failing. Help should be “platform-agnostic”, available
to whatever scheme or medium looks likely to work.

Before finishing, I want to return to those functions which define journalism. In everyday journalism
there is a practice so regular, so little questioned that it can almost be called a default mode. Not bias
or inaccuracy. They both happen but so do many efforts to prevent them occurring. To witnessing and
sense-making, many journalists add a third element: telling us whether something is morally
acceptable or not. Usually it isn’t.

This is what Martin Bell calls reporting that “cares as well as knows”. Martin Bell may be sparing in
his caring but others aren’t so careful. Indignation is now a routine commodity in news. Reporting
without the judgement and selection involved in sense-making does little worthwhile. But the style
and posture into which much reporting has slipped goes much further – a mission creep on a grand

We need to go back to Paul Dacre’s speech to the Society of Editors in 2008 to read the manifesto for
moral outrage. The Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday was complaining about the
decisions of Mr Justice Eady in the case which the News of the World lost against Max Moseley,
who, the paper claimed, had been taking part in “sick Nazi orgies.”

(I quote) “Since time immemorial public shaming has been a vital element in defending the
parameters of what are considered acceptable standards of social behaviour,” Dacre argued. “If
readers don’t agree with the defence of such values, they would not buy those papers in such
numbers.” He then gave the game away. “If mass-circulation newspapers , which also devote
considerable space to reporting and analysis of public affairs, don’t have the freedom to write about
scandal, I doubt whether they will retain their mass circulations with the obvious worrying
implications for the democratic process.”

This is self-deluding arrogance. Revealing genuine scandal is right and Mr Dacre has done that. But
his claim went much further: that journalists are moral arbiters. This assumption has a catastrophic
distorting effect on the mission of journalism and a corroding effect on public trust. There are many
people in any society entitled to defend moral standards. Some of them may even be better qualified

than journalists to speak on the subject. Many developments, probably starting with Watergate, have
contributed to this inflation of journalism’s work but whatever the causes, the result has been an
epidemic of attitude masquerading as analysis, emotion trumping reasoning from the facts. No one
wants or will read journalism stripped of any passion. But synthetic outrage repels readers.

Editors might profitably concentrate on the moral behaviour of their own journalists for the simple
reason that they should fear other agencies doing so. Over the past 20 years there has been an
enormous quantity of judge-generated law in the UK which affects the news media from the
development of the Reynolds principles in defamation to the cumulative creation of what is new
privacy legislation. These judgements amount to attempts to define what good journalism might be in
law. This has been argued out, piece by piece, by judges because the news media stayed out of the
debate. They did so because, influenced by the editors and proprietors of the red-top papers, they
feared a new privacy law. They relied on a self-regulatory body, the Press Complaints Commission,
which lacks credibility because it is dominated by the media itself. And a new privacy law could not
possibly be worse than the haphazard jigsaw we have now.

But in general, rules won’t help journalists to connect better with their audiences in the changed
context I’ve tried to describe. And nothing at all can make journalism lovable, uncontroversial or
risk-free. Good journalism lives close to the edge of the rules. Journalism discloses things that no one
else gets into the public domain because risks get taken: the Daily Telegraph buys a CD-ROM,
running the risk of censure for its methods, but thus ensures that Parliament can’t edit the truth. It’s
not even easy to put a professional frontier round journalists. It’s a porous business: people are
recruited to it and discovered to be talented, both things happening in random accidents as much as by
careful choice. Not even training will guarantee quality: although naturally here at City we believe
that it can do a great deal of good and we are hard at work trying to adapt our curriculum to the needs
of the future.

We’re entering a new communications age and no one can accurately predict what exactly those needs
will be. We can only equip ourselves better to navigate change. You can only do that with a clear idea
of the value you want to add. And the value is that systematic attempt to get at the truth of what
matters. Making the argument for journalism all over again needs a little more self-critical appraisal
than we have been used to doing. For the worth of journalism is real and its case will need to be made
often in the next few years.



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