Thursday, May 24, 2018

Journalism in a Post-Truth Society

As part of the Bath Festival I went to an interesting discussion on Tuesday, titled as above. It roamed a little freer than I would have liked so I think I will capture the atmosphere better with some quotations, scrawled as hastily as I could.

Julian Baggini is an author and popular philosopher (by which I mean he writes philosophy for an untrained reader). Good places to start include The Pig That Wants to be Eaten, Welcome to Everytown or Do They Think You're Stupid? He said:

‘People didn’t vote for Trump because he was telling the truth. They think all politicians are liars but he’s ‘our liar’.’

‘People don’t think Boris Johnson is great but he has managed to appear genuine - as have Farage and Corbyn (who has held the same views for 40 years).’

‘Philanthropy may come to the aid of local journalism. It may be the only hope.’

Heather Brooke is a Professor of Journalism at London City University. She said:

‘People have not had the journalistic training to assess the truths on the internet. But you could do a one day course in how to spot bullshit.’

‘We are seeing the consequence of the lack of local journalism - it may have caught Grenfell early.’

‘Local journalism holds power to account at a quite detailed and forensic level.’

James Ball, journalist and author, was the chair and also the most engaging speaker. He had to shut himself up a lot ('I'm meant to be the chair') but I wished he had said more:

‘In focus groups people say they want more foreign news and less celebrity. But if you do that, sales plummet.’

‘Newspapers need to make an assumption now that their intelligent, millennial readers are renting their accommodation.’

‘People go to fact-check sites to check stories they don’t want to believe.’

Stephen Bush, who  writes for the New Statesman - a centre-left publication - and occasional columns in broadsheets, was also there. I had looked forward to hearing him but he seemed a little disinterested on the day and  was following something on his phone to begin with.

The whole discussion was full of general agreement that we are where we are and we will have to see how things pan out. It felt pessimistic. The public debate is populated by people who have no rules of enagagement. Naturally they were all protective of journalists although it is clear they meant 'jouirnalists like us'. Apart from the insights about the local press I wasn't taken a huge way on in my thinking but it was an interesting snapshot.

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