Anorak that I am, my idea of a time off last night was to head to the David Hume Institute to catch one of their excellent seminars, this time from Blair Jenkins, Fellow of the Carnegie Trust UK to talk about Journalism in the Age of Disclosure. He was joined on the panel by Athol Duncan, his replacement as Head of News & Current Affairs at the BBC, Iain MacWhirter, the Herald’s political commentator whom I regard as the best in Scotland and Prof. Philip Schlesinger, Chair of Ofcom.
Blair’s argument was that disclosure may prevent a culture of abuse but that requires a higher level of journalism as the scrutiny applies there as well. Given the shrinking revenues for print media and that few have cracked how quality journalism can tap commercial opportunity in the internet, there is a direct conflict here between bigger demand but fewer resources.
This can lead to superficial relations with those being reported on, as when a cosy US media missed the financial crash of 2008. Over here, MacWhirter was alone in ringing the alarm. However the MP expenses story was one of exemplary investigative journalism by the Telegraph, which, despite is long support for the Tory party, treated all MPs to the same scrutiny and spotlit abuse, irrespective of party. In contrast, the sting on L-D ministers that caught Vince Cable fulminating about Murdoch broke many rules as entrapment journalism.
The most interesting part was where this all might lead and whether the relatively scarce media in Scotland could survive as a financially viable centre in its own right. The panel agreed that outsourcing the difficult investigative work to bodies like Pro Publica in the US, much as TV production is frequently done by outside companies may be the model. But until the Press Complaints Commission becomes independent of the business itself, they will always suffer suspicion.