I had the honour of being invited by Marc Wadsworth to speak at the Media and the Riots Conference held by the Citizen Journalism Educational Trust and The-Latest.com in November.
Media and the Riots: A Call for Action, published on the first anniversary of the Tottenham, north London, riot is the first report to examine the impact of the mainstream print and broadcast media’s reporting on the communities most affected.
The report, written by University of Leicester sociologist Dr Leah Bassel, reflects the views of those people who attended the conference – I was there as a former local journalist and as staunch defender of local journalism while at the same time being an academic and educator.
You can get the report here http://www.the-latest.com/riots-and-media-report
Along with Roy Greenslade (who wrote the foreword) and Marc Wadsworth, (the organiser) I have been singled out for particular criticism on the website Holdthefrontpage.co.uk, and have been on the receiving end of pretty personal attacks from journalists who for the most part conceal their identity. Their main ‘beef’ is with me being a professor, but what I am most concerned about is how some have responded with anger at the very suggestion that there should be more black and other minority ethnic journalists employed in the media. Holdthefrontpage.co.uk closed the comments section before I had the opportunity to respond, and has breached its own house rules by failing to moderate or remove certain personal remarks. I have asked them for my right-to-reply, and we’ll see if I get it.
I can see why some correspondents are feeling so defensive – I’ve been pitched as the typical ‘lofty white middle class professor’ who hasn’t got a clue about real-world journalism having a bit of an ill-informed pop. Indeed one commentator – Steve Dyson – takes the rip out of my name. Well if they read this positive report (in which I actually play a minor role) and heard what I had to say on the day, they’d know I speak as former local, regional and national journalist and as an NCTJ trainer who actively defends and promotes local journalism, not least against the cutbacks wrought by the companies that own their last-remaining titles. My origins were far from middle-class too.
While my family slept, I went out into Wood Green all night on the first night of the riots, and saw the rioting and looting with my own eyes. I spoke to loads of people in Tottenham over the next few days and I heard amazing stories from people keen to tell their tale but with no outlet and a sense that the local media had no part to play in their lives. I monitored what colleagues, friends and former students were doing up and down the country with awe and respect. No-one’s denying the widespread criminality. Nor was anyone in that conference knocking the professionalism of the individual journalists. Quite the opposite in fact. They took massive risks. What is at the heart of the issue is the lack of time and resources local journalists have at their disposal to do their best for their communities 365 days a year, not only when big stories break.
Surely it’s good to reflect on these things and debate them at a time when readership figures and trust in journalists are at a low point, It was great that the conference brought together readers, journalists and people from the communities worst-affected. All agreed the local media have a powerful and positive role to play in their areas and should be supported in doing so.