Patron blog: The B word

"Bother, blast, blimey. I wasn't going to mention the B word but, to be honest, there is no getting away from it. Bugger."

In her role as patron, Alex Crawford, special correspondent for Sky News, will write a bi-monthly blog post for the NCTJ. Here is December's instalment: 

Bother, blast, blimey. I wasn't going to mention the B word but, to be honest, there is no getting away from it. Bugger.

There is no getting away from the implications whatever the outcome. As journalists, the whole issue of ‘B’ throws up some alarming questions which we should all be trying to answer. How did we as an industry get so blindsided by this? How did none of us see it coming?

We readily and enthusiastically call out politicians and lawmakers for being out of touch with the ‘people’, but this whole issue has served once again to show only how painfully removed we, as journalists are, from a noisy, angry and sizeable section of society. 

I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say even those journalists who may have thought splitting from Europe was a good idea, did not actually believe the vote would fall in their favour. Anyone who saw Boris Johnson’s face the morning after the referendum vote the night before, will think, like I did, how knocked sideways he was by the idea that the Leavers had actually won.

In his first speech afterwards he actually cautioned against being too hasty! But the incredulity about that is matched only by the fact that Britain’s collective journalist huddle was also completely and utterly gob-smacked. It was as if we’d all been simultaneously punched in the stomach and winded. Some remain doubled-up.

How, how did that happen? Part of me wonders if we still had a thriving local newspaper and radio family which encouraged investigations and spending and just ‘getting out there’, we’d have found out more; we may have had more of an inkling; and we certainly may have reflected this more in columns, think pieces and our reporting. But we seemed to have treated the concerns as a small issue.

We listened too much perhaps to the loud voices within the M25 and not enough to the very many rumblings of discontent in rural areas or inner cities outside the capital.

We have to look at the make-up of our newsrooms. They are largely composed of a comfortable, white, middle-class, educated, liberal elite and still mostly male (you know the breed). That’s got to change.

We don’t need any more people with academic qualifications as long as your arm from Britain’s most privileged universities. We need street-wise hustlers from a multitude of cultures, backgrounds and, dare I say it, from different countries too. And we need editors who reflect these different genders and backgrounds too. If your world is based on braying dinner parties and theatre outings in the Home Counties (you know the breed), how aware are you going to be of the real pain suffered by families lining up at food banks – food banks in one of the world’s richest nations? 

Secondly, as journalists we didn’t ask enough questions about the referendum. The whole world order has changed. The old rules were out. So giving parity to lies, misogyny and racism is not journalism. It’s propaganda. Journalists are meant to question, rail, argue and basically be a pain in the a**e to everyone. They don’t accept point blank what anyone says – whether they be a homeless person sleeping under a bridge or the leader of a nation.

Good journalists call out lies. They’re meant to tear them down. They’re meant to gut them and pick them apart one by one – not swallow them and spout them out in a ‘this side claims this but the other side claims that’ fashion. It makes it palpable nonsense if that’s what we’ve become.

We didn’t ask enough questions and we didn’t spell out what the vote actually meant or what people were voting for. And that is our fault. If the politicians fail, journalists should be there to fill in the gaps (with opprobrium). We didn’t.

It is massively revealing that the one journalist who appears to have gone out on a limb and on her own – seems to have drawn both massive respect and scorn in equal measure. I’m talking about Carole Cadwalladr, who’s broken some of the most important stories of the past two years, headed by the exposure of the role of Cambridge Analytica and Facebook in the Brexit and Trump campaigns. She has been subjected to some vile, derogatory comments. I seriously don’t want to hear or even care if she’s a ‘difficult woman’. She should be!

She’s unearthing some momentous material which is actually determining the shape of our world and governments. Of course she’s going to be ‘difficult’ and –  really, in all honesty – that should be replaced by ‘efficient and thorough’.

The whole issue of Europe – as far as journalists should be concerned – is not solely about the outcome, although that will determine our lives for decades to come. It is about where we all went wrong – and how to right those wrongs and make goddam sure it doesn’t happen again.

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