Also, because it happened in the centre of media land where everyone has twitter, cameraphones etc. If it had happened in Newton Abbot or Burnley, it wouldn't be getting this attention
The Dean Street fire seen through the lens of Twitter. Quicker to the draw than the BBC, I think.
The Guardian's story on 'phone hacking' at the News Of The World is creating a mini-storm, partly because of the press's narcissistic desire to talk about itself.
How does phone hacking work? In essence a reporter phones the target on his/her mobile and keeps them talking. Meanwhile a second reporter phones the same number and gets through to voice mail. Armed with a list of the default settings for voicemail passwords (8888 for one phone company, 1234 for another), it is possible to get through to the targets voicemail account, assuming s/he hasn't reset the password.
When I worked on papers (outside News International), this was widespread and regarded as little more than slightly sharp practice (it's illegal now, of course). But I am certain that many journalists and newspaper groups will be quaking slightly at today's revelations. And I don't think all of them will be tabloids...
Here's another piece from the NYT reflecting what Jeff Jarvis correctly calls the 'narcissism' of journalists.
"The table was formidable: oval and elegant, with curves of gleaming wood. The editors no less so: 11 men and 7 women with the power to decide what was important in the world."
The reporter is talking about the 4pm news conference at his own paper. They aren't just debating what to put in a newspaper, they are "deciding what's important in the world". British journalists probably wouldn't put it quite so self-confidently, but many would share the assumption.
Really, the need for this process stems from the formal size limitations of a newspaper. With print you have to leave something out. Journalists have parlayed it into something grander - a prioritisation of what matters - that is, like papers themselves, in the process of becoming obsolete.
The web lets me decide what is important to me through a host of means: swift browsing of key sites, feed readers, recommendations from trusted sources, be they blogs, Facebook friends, Twitterers. My news agenda is different to his, hers, yours, theirs and the NYT's. So why do I need 11 men and 7 women, formidable or not, to decide for me?
Roger Cohen of the New York Times reflects, in rather florid prose, on his time in Iran and what he sees as the 'actual responsibility' of the journalist. American journalists are famously serious about their calling but his sentiments would be shared by many Brits, too.
Cohen believes that journalists can bring something to a story such as the Iranian revolution that you could not get from Twitter, Youtube or the web. But is he right, I wonder, or is he really reflecting on the pleasure and sense of self-worth that he got from being close to and observing the conflict?
I'm not meaning to criticise Cohen - the attitude I detect in his piece is common among journalists. Ego has always been a motivating force in journalism, the desire for a byline, to prove yourself, to witness momentous events and believe you are helping shape them. But who gets the most out of this: readers or journalists?
Do we any longer need journalists as quasi-omiscient intermediaries, reflecting on and explaining events for us? Or can we get a better, more vivid, multidimensional view from other sources? Or is the journalist's role to curate what's out there, select the best and weave it together in coherent form?
Cricket fans used to receive their views and impressions of important matches from the pen of a Neville Cardus or a John Arlott, who are still remembered as great judges of the game and fine writers. Instead today we have the kind of live blogs you see on the BBC and elsewhere, replete with stats, debate, description and argument, with the journalist as ringmaster, rather than ultimate authority. I know which I prefer.
One thing that can make journalism valuable is its authority - the idea that the writer has knowledge or insight that cannot easiy be gained elsewhere. It is part of the personal and professional myth of many journalists that they have this authority, that they are highly knowledgeable, well connected or both. The reality is often different as Sathnam Sanghera of the Times candidly admits.
"business journalists rarely get the full truth about companies. The fact is that, despite all the awards we enjoy giving ourselves, with the exception of one or two individuals, we failed to predict almost all the crises enveloping us: the Ponzi schemes, the frauds, the credit crunch, everything in fact, including Cobra. Not that it’s our fault: journalists are only as good as their sources and if there’s one thing we’ve learnt this year it is that the people running businesses are as clueless as everyone else.
The second painful truth revealed by the Cobra debacle is that the business world is hugely susceptible to the influence of public relations. This is, in part, because business is overrun by PR people — and Cobra was more image-obsessed than most, announcing plans to sponsor this year’s Bafta awards as part of a £8.4 million PR and marketing drive only months before it went into administration — and, in part, because business is a bit boring and a good story, such as Cobra’s, gets seized upon.
I’m not guiltless in this respect. I was one of the hundreds of journalists who wrote positively about Bilimoria in recent years, penning a piece a decade ago that mindlessly cited growing sales without mentioning the lack of profits. Frankly, I should have realised when the company subsequently sent me some Cobra wine to try — a beverage that tasted like fermented mouthwash — that its attempts to diversify were going to get it into trouble."
Journalism is in big trouble. It doesn't seem very long since the internet was a saviour, opening up new ways of telling stories and bringing them to the public. Now online seems to be falling into the same mire as print. Is the web going to be able to support journalism even at the rather attenuated level at which it is practised in today's newspapers? Will there be experts, investigations, scoops, exclusives? At the moment, it doesn't look likely.
What's gone wrong?
1 The economics - the expectation that online everything is 'free' or, more accurately paid for by users being served advertising or handing over valuable personal data.
2 The recession - this has made everything worse
3 Structural problems with the advertising market - I think these are independent of the recession and won't go away
4 Shortsighted management determined to do things on the cheap - poor quality of most journalistic websites. Journalism is expensive.
5 Reluctance to embrace new ideas - most journalistic websites are print put online
6 Journalism isn't valued in Britain (which is often the fault of journalists) and this has led to a conviction that amateurs can do the job just as well as professionals.
7 Web metrics, which have encouraged publishers and editors to focus on the populist at the expense of the complex, risky.
8 Linked to 7, the death of the media 'package' wit its web of hidden cross subsidies.
9 The dominance of the BBC.
These are just notes to myself at the moment and my plan is to expand on each of them over the next few weeks and see where it takes me. Then I want to start thinking about what can be done to - and I know it sounds grandiose, but I can't put it any other way - save journalism.....