Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

MP’s expenses: the other scandal

Posted in Journalism, News and that by Adam Westbrook on May 15, 2009

A brief foray into the (now) seedy world of politics…but from a media point of view of course.

It’s fantastically scandalous isn’t it. Whether they meant to break the rules or not, it seems Britain’s elected representatives have spent quite a bit of time making sure they can get every penny from the tax payer possible; even if that has taken quite a lot of effort and thought.

“Is it possible to claim this portico back?” “Why not, it’s being repaired right?”

“16p for a lemon. Can I get that back too?”

And as for Elliot Morley, the mere suggestion it is possible to forget the end of your mortgage bill is ludicrous. For most human beings the final mortgage payment is serious party time. Especially if it’s costing £800 a month. Take our money, Mr. Morley, and try and take us for a ride, why don’t you.

So yes, I definitely put myself into the rather large camp of people pretty damn angry about our politicians’ behaviour.

But that’s only part of the reason I’m angry.

As a journalist, what makes my blood boil, is the sheer lack of accountability of these conmen and women. Let’s be straight: when you are elected by the public, and paid by them, you are 100% accountable to them. And even more so when you’ve been caught with your hand in their cookie jar.

So why have all these MPs been so hard to get hold of?

Friday: and John Prescott’s office never answered the phone. He also didn’t release a statement. For a man so tech savvy, his v-blog was decidedly unupdated.

Monday: and I was on the phone to David Davis’ office. “Oh he’s told me he isn’t going to hide away” his assistant Andrew assured me, “he’ll speak to you.” Several more calls and more answerphone messages later, and we still haven’t spoken to him.

Thursday: Elliot Morley’s office couldn’t even tell us where he was. “Somewhere in London,” they said, “we’re not sure where.” End of play Thursday and we hadn’t heard from the man himself. Friday morning and we decided to call his house. Amazingly he answered.

You can hear what happened by clicking here.

For 38 seconds, Elliot Morley was being held accountable to the public, through the media. But he even dodged our reporter Katie Hall‘s questions under the thin veil of legal advice.

Yes, they’ve released statements, and yes they’ve responded to the Daily Telegraph. But that isn’t being directly accountable to the people who put them there and the people who pay them.

When you’re elected by, and paid for by, the public you answer every question, from every media organisation.

If there was going to be a party for fraudulent politicians, chances are it would be held somewhere near Yorkshire, as its where a lot of them are. John Prescott, David Davis, James Clappison, Elliot Morley, Douglas HoggAustin Mitchell, Caroline Flint,  and now Shahid Malik. Now four of these are supposed to represent the Viking FM’s listeners.

One week since the first allegations were published and they haven’t had their questions answered.

And the disclaimer:

All the views expressed in this blog are my own, only, and do not represent those of my employer!


Whatever happened to the Fifth Estate?

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on October 16, 2006

fourth es-tate noun. journalists, the press or the media in general, in addition to the ‘three estates’ (the Lords spiritual, the Lords temporal, the House of Commons).

The media, in one of it’s key roles in a democracy, is seen as the fourth estate, the watchdog of those in power, recording their movements and holding the powerful to account. But who watches over the watchers?

The presence of a fifth estate is vital for keeping the media in check. But in Britain, a country hailed for the doggedness of its journalists, the press has no accessible watchdog. There is of course the Press Complaints Commission and (for broadcasters) Ofcom, who set the standard and deal with complaints.

But there’s no publication, no programme which regularly takes on the people with power over information.
And even worse, it seems attempts to set up a Fifth Estate have been quashed by fat cat editors in the most backhand of ways.

It’s known, for example, that media journalists face a constant battle with the papers and broadcasters they write about to stop critical articles going to print. Concerted efforts have taken place to stop papers running their own media pages…ever wondered why just the Guardian and the Independent run a weekly supplement?

There’s even allegedly a backroom deal between the owners of the Telegraph and Associated Newspapers (owners of the Daily Mail) to ensure no coverage critical of the Telegraph is printed in the Mail, Metro or Evening Standard.

So far from having a healthy press in Britain which monitors itself to avoid abuses of power, the Fifth Estate function has been silently suffocated.

It wasn’t always this way. In the late 80s good ol’ Raymond Snoddy (now of Newswatch fame) hosted a Channel 4 programme called Hard News which gave tabloids and the rest a weekly spanking for bad behaviour. It even won awards.

Of his new programme, Raymond Snoddy says “The idea of a programme like Newswatch is long overdue” and he couldn’t be more right. But we need more. We need a new programme that hauls the press and broadcasters into the dock and ensures they only do good in our name.

Creative producers could develop a Top Gear style format, live/as live studio based, with a fun cheeky tone that puts the assertions made in print and in broadcast to the test. Where Clarkson test drives a new car, the new Snoddy would test drive a sleazy allegation made by a Sunday tabloid.

It would be an entertaining programme as well, not to mention a shocking one on occasion. But it should be something to scare the press into maintaining high standards, so sad occurences like the hounding of Neil Kinnock and then the Tories and the Hutton affair are less likely to happen.


Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on September 28, 2006

Time for a much needed media-whore blog.

Old wrinkly manIt’s been quiet here the past couple of weeks but I’ve been busy; I’ve moved to the big smoke, moved into a new flat and started my new course – Broadcast Journalism at City University in London. It’s all awesome, and it’s got me thinking futures big time. Because the industry I’m finally on the verge of going into, is going to look unreckognisably different by the time I leave it as an old wrinkly man.

In fact it’s faster than that….the world of broadcast and media and even journalism is going to change within 5 years. We are, as Prof Roy Greenslade said in a lecture this week, in the midst of a digital revolution.

So I’ve been pondering the future..what will it be like to work in radio/tv news in 10 years time? Will radio and TV even exist?

The paper bin of history…

Well the first thing to say is that if you’re a newspaper journalist, you’re fucked. No not really, but it seems big change is on the horizon for the old hacks. UK paper circulation is declining big time; one doomsayers predicted something like 2043 as the year the last newspaper closes down.

Of course it won’t be that bad, but newspapers in their traditional form – i.e. on paper – seems a dying concept. All the major papers (with the exception of the Indie) are moving to online content and eventually we may all get our newspaper news online.

The big change this has brought has been the move to multimedia, eschewed neatly by the Daily Telegraph. A conservative piece of piffle here in the UK, the Telegraph is now on the forefront of the digital revolution. Soon all its journalists will be producing audio and video content as well as writing for the papers.

This, I reckon, is the future for the newspaper journalist. There’s a good site run by a lecturer at another journalism course at Westminster- David Dunkley Gyimah – who’s seen the same future.

Broadbandcast Journalism?

Video JournalismAnd it’ll be the same for the traditional BJ as well. Multiskilling’s the way forward and soon we’ll all be expected to shoot, record, edit and write the news ourselves. In many cases this is already happening.

But the bigger future for broadcast journalism is video journalism. This is where the traditional 2/3 person TV crew is replaced by an all singing all dancing journalist who writes, researches, shoots and edits reports all by themselves. 

VJ’s are in place all over the world but are used in conjunction with traditional crews. The future, I think, is the VJ-only newsroom, nicely described by it’s “guru” Michael Rosenblum and it works a bit like this: 

  • A daily 30 minute programme could be supplied by a team of 20-30 independent VJs.
  • Working like a traditional newspaper journalist they take on individual stories themselves seeing them through to transmission.
  • This gives each VJ a greater satisfaction in their work, and encourages more original journalism, moving away from the daily diary.
  • With 30 VJs and only 10 reports per programme, each journalist would only be expected to produce 2/3 reports a week rather than churning out 1 a day. Again, more considered, thorough journalism.
  • And as much as I hate to talk about money, it’d also be cheaper than hiring editors, camera crews etc.

It has it’s downsides of course. VJs as yet can’t report live via satellite and some news events require teams of producers behind the scenes. Some also moan about the quality of video journalism but excellent journalists like Inigo Gilmore and even these Inside Africa pieces prove those people wrong.

Finally, delivery will change too. Video News on Demand (VNOD) is in its early stages, with the marvellous CurrentTV leading the trend. Before long, TVs will be connected to broadband and we literally choose what news we want to watch. Good? Scary? I’m not sure yet.

So it’s all change. Changes are even causing ripples outside Europe and the US…check out Emmanuel’s blog on an E-media conference in Accra.

It’s all very exciting and a bit scary too..will there be jobs for journalists in the future? Emmanuel reckons so – he quite rightly reminded me that all these exciting technologies are tools for journalists and not substitutes.

Whatever the technology does there’ll always be a need for a cynical alcoholic to tell us the facts….I hope.