Thursday, 26 March 2009

The ‘Death’ of Newspapers: a Three Way Debate

On Wednesday of last week, The Seattle Post – Intelligencer, a 145 year-old daily newspaper quit printing. The paper is now a daily on-line news source focusing on local news, issues and events with a much reduced staff.

The Seattle daily is not alone. Newspapers throughout the nation are stopping or changing formats. Declines in advertising, classified and readership have created a national death knoll for print media.

Some newspapers will certainly survive, but many cities and towns across the nation have lost their print media outlets. The surviving outlets have severely reduced staff and coverage. Many papers are becoming “rip and read” outlets, meaning they are filling their pages with Associated Press (AP), Reuters, NY Times and other outlet wire stories.

The Los Angeles Times’ media correspondent, Jim Rainey, wrote a great column last week (March 20, 2009) titled, “Newspaper cuts open door to more political trickery.” You can read it here.

Jim Rainey’s article is interesting and it shows how the loss of print media coverage in political campaigns can provide some political consultants opportunities to manipulate coverage to their advantage with the loss of trained reporters, or just because there is minimal possible coverage. The political consultants interviewed also point out it is a double-edged sword and can also hurt a campaign, as much as it can help it.

As a political practitioner, I can see some advantage to being able to push stories or create other avenues of messaging – if you have the financial resources to do it.

On the other hand, I also see now what the loss of professional coverage can do for a candidate lacking resources to get positions or initiatives out. Emaciated newsrooms allow many issues and accusations to go unchallenged. It also prevents new initiatives and positions to get coverage - all of which could be a significant factor for the outcome of an election.

The article by Jim Rainey cites a study by Princeton University economists on the loss of a local news outlet and the decline of voter turnout in local elections in Cincinnati, Ohio. The study was posted here.

I do not think the loss of coverage is a good thing in any way, shape or form. The growth of blogging and Internet news sources is a great source of some equity for people to recoup some of the power of traditional media outlets and their influence in political campaigns and elections.

The lack of professional standards, commitment to journalistic ethics, and ability to get stories right makes this shift away from traditional media frightening and a tragic loss not just in politics.

It is hard to see how this will change in the future and the ridiculous popular phrase seems appropriate when thinking about the death of professional journalism – “It is what it is….”

Chuck Dalldorf

…and not only in the States! The threatened demise of local newspapers through the BBC’s intended local network was enough to send tails spinning at Westminster and the good ‘ol Beeb had to row back faster than a varsity boat crew!

The recognition of the importance of local print media to local communities around the country is partly a reflection of their political role: at elections they provide sustained coverage of candidate’s, their messages and their mess-ups. In between the cyclical political bun-fights local papers play a key role in supporting community cohesiveness with political campaigns on topics as wide as saving the local football club to recognising the symbolic importance of local landmarks threatened with removal or demolition.

Use of the emerging technologies is fine – isn’t it appropriate for politicians to be able to “twitter”?! – but there is something reassuring about the weekly search for the local gossip in the court column!

The third critical aspect of the local newspaper is to regularly hold local politicians to account as well as illuminate the populace on the antics of those politicians that are elected to far off places - such as Edinburgh, London or Brussels. Without this scrutiny, seen through the perspective of the local press (and often, therefore the public) our politicians would feel less connected to their local communities!

Of course, recent trends in Scotland have seen a merging of the once cherished distinction between local newspapers and the big national titles, particularly with the Johnston Group’s take-over of the Scotsman. It is too early to tell whether this particular entry in the marriage section will present opportunities for technological cross-platform innovation or whether the next we read about it will be as an obituary!

Ross Martin

The death of traditional media is unwelcome news for many reasons. Chief among them is the loss of jobs in these turbulent economic times – it’s the last thing local economies need at the moment.

Yet, does it sound the death knell for democracy by removing an effective check and balance as Ross pointed out? Open the door to the manipulation of political coverage as Chuck testifies? Or even result in a ‘tragic loss’?

I’m not sure.

Both Ross and Chuck, while not oblivious to the effectiveness of new media, present a somewhat rose-tinted view of traditional media. Aren’t newspapers already subject to manipulation by political consultants? Yes. Is the death of professional journalism a bad thing? Yes, but it died a long time ago (they are some exceptions). Do newspapers provide an objective analysis/coverage of elections that is reliable? No – check out Manufacturing Consent by Chomsky. Do they support community cohesiveness? If they do they’re a whisper in a wind. Do they hold politicians to account? Hardly – the bottom line is sales; not ethics.

The growth of new media has its dangers. They exclude scores of people who as yet remain technophobic and most blogs and forums lack rigor. But isn’t this part of their charm? Remember they don’t exactly bill themselves as the bastions of objectivity.

Isn’t it time, rather than clutch longingly for a lost friend, to look to the future, seize the opportunities and frame the discussion? Isn’t it time, in other words and with tongue firmly in cheek, to call for a Universal Declaration of Blogging Ethics?

In tandem with a grass-roots campaign, Barack Obama has from day one recognized that the future is in new media. His integrated e-campaign left few western (and others) homes untouched. In the guise of Organizing for America the campaign continues and has proved remarkably successful in getting its message across and more importantly in bringing communities together.

Instead of the death of traditional media we should be focusing on the birth of a new kind of politics.

Barry McCulloch

Friday, 13 March 2009

Public Services Innovation Summit: NESTA

Sponsors of our recent green jobs event at Scottish Labour, NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts), held a major conference on public service reform.

At the event Prime Minister Gordon Brown outlined his public sector vision.

The Q & A session that followed the speech can be accessed here.

Dragon's Den on Transport Projects

Following our successful dragon's den event on transport projects at last week's Scottish Labour Conference in Dundee, SPT (event sponsor) shot some footage of the event and interviewed some of the Dragon's.

"Time to emulate Roosevelt's New Deal and create green jobs"

Green jobs continues to be an important area for the Centre. Last week we held a successful event with RSPB and eaga plc at the Scottish Labour conference in Dundee. The Chair of the event, Sarah Boyack MSP, declared that Labour was committed to a green jobs agenda. The dialogue continues this week with a similar event at the Scottish Lib Dems conference.

On the eve of the Labour event Mark Lazarowicz MP and CSPP Board Member wrote an article in the Guardian calling for a green new deal, which can be read below. As ever we appreciate any comments or thoughts you have.

"As the economic downturn gathers pace, the number of people out of work is increasing also. Some commentators suggest that without remedial action UK unemployment could reach 3 million by the end of the year. Government measures to support businesses are welcome and will undoubtedly make a difference, but although some measures will have a swift effect others may not significantly impact employment figures for some time. So there is a need to take more steps which will help keep unemployment down now — not next year or in five years, but within months.

We have plenty of models from history for what can be done. There has been much talk of the 1930s recession, and the parallels with Roosevelt's administration have been drawn by many. Some of Roosevelt's most successful New Deal measures were the programmes of direct labour creation.

Nearer to home, the mass unemployment of the 1980s was reduced at the margins by creation and training schemes, most notably the Community Programme. There were a number of defects in that programme, but at its peak it kept almost 300,000 people a year out of unemployment, and in the process instigated a great deal of useful work in the community.

One of the most imaginative of Roosevelt's New Deal programmes was his Civilian Conservation Corps. During its nine years, it provided more than 3 million jobs, including work on many worthwhile environmental projects. And calls have been made for Barack Obama to set up a similar scheme as part of his economic stimulus programme.

As our jobless figures grow, we can learn from these examples from history. Here in the UK, we could launch our own modern version of the Conservation Corps, a new green community programme, which would take people immediately off the unemployment register. Like the original Community Programme, it should include a training element, although the main focus should be on job creation, as some community programme schemes were distorted by the need to meet somewhat nebulous training objectives.

Such a programme should in the first instance be tailored for NGOs and voluntary organisations, which would be funded to create jobs on specific projects. NGOs and voluntary organisations are often close to their communities and can deliver good projects quickly, and in a way that can bring tangible benefits to local communities.

Working primarily with these organisations would also make it easier to avoid such a project, with its government support, being used to substitute for jobs already provided by the private sector or local government, although there is no reason why such a programme could not be eventually extended to these sectors.

With the successes and mistakes of the Community Programme to draw on, there is no reason why such a scheme could not be up and running by the summer, allowing community projects on the ground to start by autumn. This would deliver jobs and worthwhile community benefits within months, not years.

The UK's own Green Community Programme could include a range of projects, offering employment, at proper wages, perhaps initially for a year, to suit a wide range of skills. Such projects could include local environmental improvements, while others help tackle climate change. For example, carrying out energy conservation and home insulation projects, schemes to encourage employers and their staff to develop sustainable transport plans, or meeting the growing demand for environmental education.

We can have a practical green jobs programme, which has the added benefit of easing unemployment, and quickly.

That doesn't mean, of course, we don't also need medium- and long-term public spending programmes. We do — but our communities and the growing number of unemployed require action now as well."

Thursday, 5 March 2009

PM Gordon Brown addressing Congress

In case you missed it posted below is the Prime Minister's address to Congress.

The Guardian compared his speech to a 'daring lover clutching a bunch of slightly wilted flowers'.

Best making your own mind up........

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

A New Era in the 'Special Relationship"

President Barack Obama had his first Head of State visit today. The first head of state to visit the new President is Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The man expected to save the world meets the man “saving the world” as Mr Brown so famously said in PMQs.

Whether the “special relationship” will be as close and intimate as Bush/Blair remains to be seen, but it will certainly remain important. There is little fun or touring on the menu. The main course is of course economy and banking regulation with a dessert of climate change and the Middle East.

In addition to the meeting with the President at The White House, the Prime Minister is addressing a joint-session of Congress. The Prime Minister is also making numerous press appearances carrying the message of tightening international banking regulations to prevent further collapse of the global financial system.

While the Prime Minister is doing exclusive interviews on national television and radio programs and media availability, he is not providing any exclusive interviews with West of the West Wing today. No visit to Sacramento, no pint at The Fox and Goose on R Street…go figure!

The Prime Minister’s interview on National Public Radio’s program, “Morning Edition” is available here.

The Prime Minister arrived on a very dismal day for the American economy with the Dow Jones closing Monday at a low of 6763.29 and the announcement this morning of a second federal bailout for the floundering financial giant, American International Group (AIG). Meanwhile, across the pond the furore over Sir Fred Goodwin’s pension continues and increasingly resembles a Salem witch hunt.

Prime Minister Brown’s visit, being the first by a visiting Head of State for President Obama, is another symbolic gesture and connection between America and its core allies. President Obama’s first international visit was to Canada and now his first visitor is from the United Kingdom. Prime Minister Brown’s comments, beyond the focus of the global banking system and the need for an international approach to stabilizing it, is also on the traditional subject of the continued importance of “the special relationship” between the UK and the US.

Of course, First Minister Alex Salmond was in the US last week and I am not sure how much of his discussion with Secretary of State Clinton will be shared with the Prime Minister. The latter’s visit will certainly receive more media attention.

From this side of the Atlantic, it is hard to see how much of this visit by the Prime Minister is about his own political objectives as much as it is to advance the upcoming London Summit 2009 in April. Photo opportunities and television time with the internationally popular President can’t hurt, which is exactly the line many U.K. commentators are taking.

The comparison many are making is historical: a President Bush struggling domestically in the polls needing the backing of a popular Prime Minister Blair (in the U.S. that is). Undeniably, there’s hope of an ‘Obama bounce’.

For President Obama, it is a golden opportunity to demonstrate his commitment to diplomacy and to his international philosophy that the US should be working with the nations of the world, not dictating the needs of the US and expecting everyone to jump.

Debates, rumors and counter-rumors are in full flow. Yet the magnitude of this visit cannot be underestimated nor should it be overlooked with many perceiving this as nothing more than a unique PR opportunity.

The free-market orthodoxy that drove globalisation is over. It is clear, indeed it has been clear to many for some time, that the ‘rising tide does not lift all sailboats’ as Joseph Stiglitz so memorably put it. The ideological strait-jacket can be placed on a coat-hanger. In its place, Brown and Obama (and countless others) must begin to forge a global financial architecture that does not simply adhere to a ‘Bretton Woods’ logic.

The Prime Minister is correct – this is not a time to return to protectionism. This does not mean, however, a return to neo-liberal economics. Reminiscent to Keynes’ visit to the U.S. in 1944, Brown and Obama must begin to forge a new ‘global bargain’ that is more just, more transparent and more ecologically sound.

Chuck Dalldorf & Barry McCulloch