5 January 2010

Brave new media (Scotland)?

Via a certain tactical voter, I read with great interest that the ex-editor of the Hootsmon website, Stewart Kirkpatrick, is imminently to launch what he describes as an “online, heavyweight publication committed to quality journalism”. A quick rummage through the files produced this post by Mr Kirkpatrick at allmediascotland, outlining – albeit with broad, impressionistic strokes – the sort of thing he has in mind. Much of this remains decidedly opaque, however, there are some promising motes of light. The following sections struck me as particularly pertinent.

...we will focus on specialist areas of expertise. This publication will not try to be all things to all readers. It will not cover every cough and sniffle of the news landscape. It will zero in on what we think is important and leave the rest to other publications. If there's a story not covered by our specialists we will show our readers where to find it elsewhere. To use the 'nu meedja' jargon, we will focus on what we do best and curate the rest.”

I find this idea of specialism interesting - speaking as someone who gets regularly wound up by amateurish all-rounders in the media, fudging and misleading. In particular, there is significant capacity in Scotland for learned and self-critical people to comment on public issues within their sphere of interest. In particular, in both directions, I don't think we're getting nearly enough civic juice out of the learned souls, propping up Scotland's universities. Although for some, the public intellectual is a problematic figure, disliked, easily accused of abstractions and architectural affinities with whited towers - mostly this is bunkum, an easy, too easy ad hominem. Kirkpatrick seems to be suggesting moving towards this sort of thing in his third section, although I fully recognise that expertise is by no means fenced in by institutions of higher learning.

“... most importantly, we will focus on high-quality, in-depth journalism written by established experts. In many years working in on- and offline newsrooms in Scotland and London, I've built up a fantasy newsroom in my head of talented journalists that I'd employ if I ever could. And now I am in that position. I've got out my journalism Panini sticker album and am merrily pasting in silky-skilled stars.

We've signed up leading writers, respected authorities in their fields and asked them to let rip. We want them to tell the stories that the churning maelstrom of the old-fashioned newsroom never allowed. We're interested in quality, not filling space. We're not worried about what's in the other papers this morning, we want to be told something we don't know already.”

Moreover, I detect the silvery traces of another strand in this same section - the notion of telling untold stories, of turning off the spin cycle. Certainly media - and certainly bloggers - can find themselves (ourselves) only discussing what everyone else is already talking about. Bereft of independence, of self-directed oomph and curiosity, issues go unexplored, under (or even un) remarked. While it is easy to mint a golden phrase and coin beguiling promises, Kirkpatrick's aspirations, as I understand them, are the right ones. In my own small way, I try to contribute something similar here by striving to shove the law more accessibly into our politics. Lets see how he fares. I'll be watching with interest.

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