Tag Archives: newspapers

The real NOTW headline – the age of broadcast political bullies is nearly over

This week saw the closure of an outdated and unprofitable Sunday tabloid newspaper. It also saw a feeding frenzy on the unholy relationship between broadcast media players and politicians. One of these stories is very important.

It is so easy to use pantomime villains like Murdoch and Brooks, or even Cameron and Blair, as the focal point of our righteous indignation. To do this is to ignore something much more fundamental at work. What we are seeing is an assassination attempt on the now long-standing axis of News International and the British Government.

There are some angry people out there.

The white blood cells of the Guardian, celebrities and the massed ranks of the Twitterati are in full onslaught against every chink in the Murdoch armour. They are determined to use this moment, in which News International should have been celebrating their impending ascendancy as masters of the convergent media battlefield, to bring their ambitions crashing to earth.

This is no mean feat. After all, this is one of the most potent power relationships in the UK. To an extent many certainly do not realise.

This is also in the context of an entire past century in which political power and media broadcasting have been inseparable. In fact the political history of the 20th Century can be seen just as clearly through the lens of media change as through the lens of political wings. After all, it was the era of mass newspaper distribution, of radio fireside chats, of movie newsreels, and live televised debates.

When you think of the icons of the political nineteenth century, you might think of them through their portraits. Or perhaps through their speeches, or their nicknames. When you think of the icons of 20th Century Media, you almost immediately think of them through their media appearances. To be a political superstar in the 20th Century, you had to be a master of the media.

Perhaps the greatest of all was Churchill – just one of a list (FDR being another great example) of true gurus of the radio broadcast.

JFK is of course one of the most iconic American politicians of all time – despite a decidedly patchy administrative and moral record. But he was great on TV. Nixon (at this point a hugely respected figure of great integrity) was not.

And to take things to their most logical and ridiculous extreme, let’s not forget that this man is now pretty much the most respected President of the 20th Century.

And played out to its worst extremes, of course the 20th Century brought us the tide of fascism, of Communist based dictatorship – usually established on a bedrock of broadcast-driven cultural brainwashing.

Even in the succeeding and supposedly more cynical age, the power of the broadcast media continued. In particular, still the press, with which politicians remain absolutely entranced, it being the only medium that is truly interested in them, and which enables them to keep score. Particularly the tabloids, which they perceive as being able to connect with ‘ordinary people’ in a way that they have forgotten. And of course to many of them, it is still the Sun wot won it (or lost it).

Some say Kinnock could have lost it without them

Blair and his ‘spin doctors’ were described as a new generation of super-cynical, media-obsessed politicians. In reality, they were the end of the old era – the last generation of effective media managers. They could still, just about, manage public opinion through 3 or 4 really big media relationships, with Murdoch as the centrepiece. But the mere fact that the world of spin is one of the first things we think of in relation to a government that brought peace to Northern Ireland and war to Iraq is testament to the unravelling failure of that form of message management.

And now, we see Cameron, the apparent heir to Blair, the PR man in Number 10, playing out the next stage of this decaying power structure. Suddenly his power base looks fragile, and his big bet on Murdoch and Coulsen looks rash and destructive. Not only because of ethical questions – but because when it really comes to the crunch, even Murdoch’s legions represent a pretty small part of the spectrum of opinion, and a tiny fragment of the playing field of active participation in political discourse.

The relationship with the media isn’t going away as a crucial success factor for politicians. It can only become more extreme as media itself becomes a bigger part of life. But the axis of politicians with ‘The Media’ – ie a small circle of powerful but venal owners and editors – is no longer a sustainable power model. It is more transparent than ever, and there is more of the political discourse outside of their control. It is a more fragile base than ever on which to build control.

Nor are the traditional skills of message management going to retain the same power as before. The idea of owning the ‘news cycle’ practiced so successfully by Blair and Campbell in their honeymoon period, simply do not work if your ‘workings’ can be scaled to the population at any moment, without the need for a broadcaster to drive the distribution. Which is why this kind of approach from Ed Miliband simply will not work any more.

A new generation of politicians will find a new way to bend the media to their ends no doubt, but retaining the kind of control they are used to won’t be possible in the future. We see politicians dabbling in listening exercises and ‘Twitter Town Halls’ as they dip their feet in the future. But it is fair to see we haven’t got it work out yet (I will consider this in a future post.)

One thing that is clear is that as with entertainment and marketing, a distribution model on its own will not be enough. Ultimately content – transparent and compelling actions – will be more powerful than ever.

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

fox news = daily mail on happy pills

ok. so we all hate fox news. it is not for people like us. i shall subject myself to ten minutes of method viewing/writing, and see what conclusions i can draw.

fox news - like the daily mail, but happy about it

10:13pm: fox news is massively psyched about the fact that the queen is in new york. and that she is 84. aw, bless.

10:14pm:  a classic fox news story…priest + fraud + assumptions of sexual misconduct = screentime

10:17pm:  fox news is immensely proud of its semi-celebrity weatherman, and of the fact that its viewers baked his face onto a disgusting looking cake.

10:19pm:  fox news is watched by the kind of people that are more likely to buy a $899 bed if they are given a free gift of a small stuffed sheep or a plastic alarm clock.

10:21pm:  it is day 78 of the ‘BP crisis’ (sic). there are also many other big numbers associated this story, but few animals. fox news is confident that oil-eating bacteria are the answer. they are apparently ‘nature’s little housekeepers’.

10:22pm:  the people who create their credit sequences have definitely, DEFINITELY never seen the Day Today.

10:23pm:  the weather coverage is by far the most informative and accurate section of the news coverage.

10:25pm:  ‘in the news tonight, a submarine transformed to carry tonnes of cocaine – and that’s a wrap’ (queue laughter)

10:25-10:26pm:  ample to cover world news

10:30:  people like parks apparently. this is getting a much longer slot than the poitical situation in the middle east. in classic new york style, they seem to be including golf courses under the categorisation of parks. fox overall seems relatively in favour of privatising parks. this does not sound to me like a good idea…

conclusion…fox news…

LIKES: privatisation, the queen, the weather, pompous credit sequences, sexy priests, cocaine

DISLIKES: the environment, the world, the news

STYLE: cheerful, flippant, excitable, tanned, insane

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

daily mail online feels like my nightmares

in which my good internet dream is shattered by a swirl of shouty headlines and repeating pictures of samantha cameron


like a beautiful piece of design thinking, like the work of isambard kingdom brunel, the online experience is marching towards an ever greater sense of fluency, clarity and simplicity. the ruthless impact of unlimited user choice demands it. that type fonts become clearer. that things are easier to navigate. that images please the eye, but don’t distract from it. that html must triumph over flash. that i win.

in fact, surfing the internet now feels like my most liberating dreams – where i can fly, move with effortless speed, and shape the world around me. i feel stress ebbing away, and power seeping into my body.

but the daily mail online is the stuff of my nightmares.

like a nightmare i have set in a fairground

i shall leave any personal or political disagreements i have with this fine media outlet, and focus instead on style. have you ever had one of those dreams, where the same figure, menacing and strange for no good reason, keeps turning up in multiple places, with the same strange expression, like a hideous echoing noise? well check out this page, with its endlessly repeating samantha camerons. at least six on this page, i think all of them identical though framed to look slightly different. and for that matter, two andrea mcleans from loose women, looking alarmingly like the twins in the shining.

stay out of my dreams, strange repeating woman

totally mindbending.

and then the text. just so much of it, almost all of it BOLD SO IT FEELS LIKE IT WANTS TO SHOUT A THOUSAND TIMES AT ME AT THE SAME TIME WITH A THOUSAND MOUTHS AND TONGUES. This is like that bit at the very end of a nightmare just before you wake up where everything starts going much too quickly and you start getting panicky. me no like.

WHY ARE WE SHOUTING?!!!!

i know i can’t avoid my nightmares. but this is the internet god dammit. NO-ONE had to go there. and yet apparently many people do.

there can be only one conclusion. just as some people want a newspaper that scares the living daylights out of them every morning for no good reason, some internet users must want to find an online experience that makes them feel stressed, panicky and disorientated. and they are flooding to the mail online, basking in the experience of a simulated nightmare with grinning reflections in fairground mirrors coming from every direction, and a thousand angry journalists standing around them shouting.

it doesn’t make any sense. but i guess it takes all sorts to make the world. even people who prefer feeling like they are having a terrible nightmare when they could just go elsewhere for their news…

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The internet election that wasn’t, the digital democracy that might be

So, the UK election is finally over. Until the next one at least, which could be pretty soon.

This was supposed to be the ‘internet election’, whatever that means. It’s certainly pretty tricky to argue that the massive surge of Cleggmania amongst the Twitterati turned into anything very substantial. Or to disagree that if the media had any really significant role to play in this election, it was in the relentless long build of support for Tories, primarily in the press, undercut at the last moment by the arrival of its big daddy, live TV, which seemed to serve up a sample to people of what it would be like to have David Cameron on TV all day every day, which no-one really seemed to go far.

As an entertainment spectacle however, there is no doubt that the internet (preferably alongside a mobile phone) was the best way to watch this election. Endlessly entertaining pastiches of advertising, palpable excitement during live events from interaction in social environments – I even found out David Cameron was going to see the Queen just a few minutes ago on Twitter. Despite being in New York, I felt closer to this election than the last couple, and found myself talking to people about politics that I would never have spoken to before…which despite what some teachers of etiquette might say, is a good thing.

But whilst the Sun may have failed to win the election, Twitter and Facebook certainly can’t claim to have won the war either. But to me, what is much more interesting is to see whether, in this fragmented post election world, the value systems of a digital context generation will help to shape the peace.

Whatever exact form government takes is almost an irrelevance, taking the long view – some party or collection of parties will try to reduce the deficit without angering anyone, but the new government is hardly going to shape the ideological direction of the next two decades as 1997 did. What is inevitable however is that we will have to examine our system of beliefs and practices around government, and obviously this is overdue to say the least.

As part of this, a new generation will be coming to look at our existing systems of government. If they expect them to make sense, they should connect with their history. Virtually the establishing principle of British government is that nothing should ever make any sense, that it’s very stability relies on a system that flows, evolves and is patched up over time.

You may call this undemocratic (and surely, by any reasonable standard, it is) – but Edmund Burke, a strange but very intelligent conservative of the 19th Century would refer to it as a different form of democracy (though he would never have used that word, which would have been almost an insult in that period of history). He refers to the importance of institutions that have been build by many different people’s will – those of the past and those of the present. He said this in reaction to the Revolutionary thinkers of his contemporary France/USA such as Thomas Paine – who were much more of the ‘none of this makes any sense, let’s rethink it from base principles’ brand of political thinking. The path of British political reform, and particularly the development of its sense of voting rights, has tended to steer an even course between the anchor of tradition and the development of radical, a priori thinking based on a modern set of values. And now is clearly a time to re-triangulate once more.

But if we are re-triangulating, the new moving point becomes a re-revaluation of modern values – and if those values have a base anywhere, it is in the ethics of a digital-centred generation.

Waking up to the reality of their constitution, they are immediately astonished and disgusted by the logical insanity of a first past the post system, so distant from the wisdom of the crowds that has built the great online institutions like Wikipedia and Amazon.

They have turned up at a time of their own convenience to a community building that they didn’t know existed, and been deprived of their right to vote by their inability to get the right piece of paper, or to get into a little building in time – when every other decision in their life can be made wirelessly, any time, in any place.

They have had to wait for a week as a collection of white middle class men have secret, one to one meetings in secret, just as their real heroes and influencers put problems in the cloud for many hands to fix, transparently and collaboratively in public.

This group of people, this generation, need to act as the ‘radical anchor’ that helps to take politics to a different place right now. They need to engage, with scepticism but not cynicism, with this unique opportunity to change a system that is undeniably in need of intense surgery if it is not to suffer from perpetual disengagement.

They will not get everything they want, and neither should they – the Thomas Paine of today would no doubt subscribe to the theory of an always on, mobile-accessed, vote now system of referendum led government which I for one would not choose as a wise framework for government. We need a bit of Edmund Burke too. But it is surely time to apply some of the thought dedicated to building communication models, transactional models and technological models to one of the great eternal challenges – what is the ideal political model?

If the minds of the UK now engage with this challenge, this could turn  out to be a formative period in the next century of our government. And I hope that what we would form would be a political system that feels more rational, more open, more participate, and a lot more just than what we have at the moment.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized