This is an item from Iain Martin’s weekly newsletter for subscribers to Reaction. To receive it every weekend, become a subscriber here.
It was the Reaction annual dinner in support of our Young Journalists Programme last week, generously supported by companies and individuals who bought tables and hosted by our chairman Lord Salisbury. The funds raised are ring-fenced to provide paid internships, and training and mentoring.
When a small group of us founded Reaction in 2016, at the heart of it were the ideas that good journalism is more important than ever and helping the next generation of journalists matters. The media and the economic model of journalism has been turned upside down by the tech giants in the last 15 years or so. Many of the opportunities that were available when I started in the industry have been shut off, or reduced. The local and regional newspaper training route is not nearly as available as it once was. Many of those publications have withered or closed.
There are only a few thriving large publishers with trainee schemes. At Reaction – a boutique media company – we decided to do what we could to create more opportunities.
If you would like to help next year in any way, when we hope to expand the programme, email me and we’ll talk.
Our star guest speaker at dinner last week was asked if the contemporary media has grown addicted to outrage and scandal. He pointed out the press in Britain for several centuries has specialised in raucous coverage and cartoons chronicling public life and political shenanigans.
This is true and a fair point. Still, I can’t shake the thought something terrible has happened to parts of the media in Britain, and elsewhere, that is peculiar and new, driven by high-speed social media and changing patterns of news production.
The old filter between political reporters, the publication and the reader has been abolished, or at least blurred. In the olden days, and I remember this as a former political editor, you had to negotiate several times a day with the news desk, usually run by hacks who were not political obsessives. They had to list stuff for morning or afternoon conference, to be presented to the editor for consideration. Get too far into the weeds – we’re told she said X has failed to report Y, and then Z responded Y has been mean to X – and the desk would say something along the lines of “this is Westminster bollocks, got anything substantial I can list?”
Now, pretty much at anyone in the Westminster reporting eco system can go straight to Twitter and produce a twenty tweet thread hailing the new “massive crisis” which will, understandably, be retweeted by opponents of the target and appalled observers who hate the government, opposition or everyone in general associated with public life. Round and round it goes, ever faster and faster.
The best political correspondents and newspapers are still mindful of the need for perspective. Not everyone is. On Twitter it is common to see baffling stories and fights branded as massive crises by political reporters when they are actually quite boring and confusing. The PM leaving in disgrace, then the monarch passing, then a new PM blowing up? Now, that’s worthy of the name “national crisis”.
Perhaps it is no surprise. So much has happened so quickly in British politics, from Brexit, through Covid, Johnson, Truss and now Sunak, that many people in the system are used to everything being a crisis. We’re high on permacrisis.
In comparison, much of what has followed since the chaotic departure of Liz Truss seems inherently ridiculous or small when there is a war on. I have tried, in vain, to follow the Suella Braverman row. The Home Secretary was reappointed by new PM Rishi Sunak, after she was forced to resign over a security breach, shortly before he became PM. I’m a not a Braverman fan, at all. She seems to have a cartoonish understanding of complex problems. I’ll admit though I cannot make head nor tail of the row since she was reappointed. It involves lots of people on Twitter shouting, while the real scandal seems to be the epic failure of British state capacity in dealing with a wave of migration via small boats across the Channel, a problem it may be impossible to solve in this age of mass migration.
I am not claiming any special wisdom or exalted classification for my own journalism or that of my colleagues. I’m sure I’ve leapt on to Twitter too often of late, particularly when they tried the bonkers idea of bringing back Boris Johnson. But something has made politics and media speed up these last few years, and become even more intense and hysterical. If there are better candidates for blame than the prevalence of smartphone technology, instant communication and the fight for survival by the contemporary media, I don’t know what they are.
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