Now might be a good time to start a ‘slow journalism’ movement…?

Interesting spat over the media and politics, between Denis Bradley and Stephen Nolan. My own thoughts fall into two parts: one, this is not new nor specific to Northern Ireland; and two, in insisting Nolan carry the can, the abject nature of the general news cycle gets off the hook.

Any opportunity to reference John Lloyd’s seminal essay, What the Media Are Doing to Our Politics is a good day. The whole thing is worth reading, but I’ll just quickly crib from his final chapter, Deepening the democratic state where he offers some antidotes:

Public figures should feel obliged to talk through their projects and proposals with depth and evidence. This approach is the opposite of complaisant journalism – the charge usually levelled at it. It insists on seriousness and is designed to expose its lack. Its object is understanding and its procedure is to show what views, policies and constraints construct the actions of the public figure and to highly the insufficiencies of these.

If the aim is to illuminate our public life and public affairs rather than to degrade it, or express contempt for those who practice it, then the act of interrogating politicians, public officials, corporate managers and others who play a public role – the interview – has to be rethought for its enlightenment, rather than for its calorific values.

Time is needed to prepare, publish and understand careful journalism which explains the workings of society to its citizens. Now might be a good time to start a ‘slow journalism’ movement.

Quoting the the former UK Education Secretary of State Estelle Morris, “Society has to ask itself: doe it want to have politicians who act like they must when they’re under the media spotlight? Politicians would like to be more frank and honest – but they can’t  – because then they’re slaughtered by the media”.

The moderator of the debate is critical: she or he has to constantly force the participants back to real issues, rather than point scoring; and thus the debate must be constructed so that this happens. That needs more firmness on the part of the moderator and good will on the part of those who take part. [Emphasis added]

No one has mentioned the problem of socialisation within the media (into “the acceptable boundaries of discourse”). Andrew Sullivan talked about this at the Aspen Institute back in 2009 as a reason why he wanted to blog as an escape hatch:

Allied to this is the Flat Earth News scenario, where instead of offering an independent analysis of any given problem, the news cycle merely becomes flooded with comment: and, in particular, comment on politician’s comment.

This is politics or (more importantly) democracy on stilts. It’s been around since before Slugger came on the scene and since it’s a systemic problem, rather than one of personality, it’s not easily fixed.

Not only does it leave politicians unaccountable, it often leaves the journalist in an unsighted hole of his/her own making as the unquestioned acceptance of political lines leaves them unable to account for irregular occurrences (like f/i the sudden collapse of democracy in NI).

Final recommendation: Frances Wheen’s How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the world.

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  • Lucian Fletcher

    As a journalist who has worked for a number of sources, I believe that this shooting the messenger is just a tactic.

    Journalism is not to blame for the coarse nature of our debate or the shambolic nature of our politics.

    The politicians are to blame and the voters get far too much of a free pass for voting against politicians who are willing to debate properly and to compromise.

  • Brian O’Neill

    The media is the gatekeeper to the public. They control what is considered news and how it is framed. They stoke the flames of hate and fear to suit their own purpose. Just look at this nonsense from todays Daily Express:

    There is a reason rich men always like to be media barons. It gives you enormous power.

  • Lucian Fletcher

    You’ve got me there. Can’t really defend much of that front page including the huge NOW 10p (cheaper than the Mail).

  • mickfealty


    Personalising it on the Express is like palming all of NI’s problems off onto Stephen Nolan. The crux of Lloyd’s argument was that the problem arises at the nexus between the media and politicians.

    The problem is not exclusively with one or other but both. As a journalist Lloyd’s arguments are pre-occupied with what journalists can do about that.

    Nor is it exclusively a problem with impossibly rich men. The withdrawal from seriousness (which doesn’t mean solemnity by the way: affects the BBC too.

  • runnymede

    We could certainly do with more politicians like Estelle Morris who realise they are totally unsuited for their task and step back. Not holding my breath though.

  • runnymede

    If this was a problem only about the tabloids things might be easier. But of course it isn’t. The so-called serious papers run absurd, overcooked clickbait stories every day in large quantity too. And a lot of these stories consist of stuff spoonfed to them by politicians or their cronies.

    It’s cheap.

  • mickfealty

    That’s a rather perverse reading of what she said RM. it’s slightly insane to expect a generalist like a politician to know everything.

  • ted hagan

    FRANCIS Wheen.

  • Abucs

    Politics has become a pseudo moral religion and groups of people are very much emotionally entangled with morality.

    Media news is a business and tweaking people’s emotion is what makes money.

  • ted hagan

    Will there ever be a day when a politician responds to a journlist’s question with the words: ‘I don’t know’?

  • ted hagan

    But that, too, goes back to the cliff-edge that quality journalism is on, with fewer and fewer resources to fund top quality journalism. Really, if we want top quality journalism then we have to pay for it.

  • Abucs

    I agree that if they did, that person would then be at the mercy of journalists.

    I for one would like to see more of it though.

  • aquifer

    Slow journalism is probably realisable using web systems that use ‘upvoting’ by identifiable subscribers according to their rating of articles for a range of qualities such as ‘new research’; ‘may change my view’; ‘strong analysis’; ‘different from what I usually read’ ‘neither left nor right’ with discounting for ratings such as ‘put this person in charge’ ‘nothing new here’.