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Journalism trainer defends media amid claims it is ‘missing public mood’

Paul BradshawA journalism trainer has hit back at claims journalists are “missing the mood” of the country during the coronavirus crisis.

Paul Bradshaw, who teaches at Birmingham City University, has written a blog defending the media’s approach to the pandemic amid criticism from some quarters that it is being insufficiently supportive of the government.

Those making such accusations include Lord Alan Sugar, whose post criticising the press on Twitter has been shared more than 14,000 times, while Downing Street itself has claimed “public confidence in the media has collapsed during this emergency”.

Paul was inspired to write his defence after being sent an edited version of a widely shared social media post originally published on Twitter by “pro UK” blogger Effie Deans.

A version of the post seen by Paul on WhatsApp claims the public do not want “constant criticism of our government who are doing their very best in a very difficult and unprecedented global emergency”.

It goes on to call on journalists to change their “negative and political rhetoric for the health of this nation and start supporting our government”.

On his personal blog, Paul wrote in response: “It’s understandable to feel sympathy for the politicians and other people having to manage the crisis — but doing their best does not mean a person should be protected from questioning, or even criticism.

“Indeed, many politicians (perhaps the best ones) welcome critical scrutiny because it helps them address problems or concerns they might have missed.”

“Journalists are expected to report those facts, regardless of whether an audience is in the mood to hear them or not. If an audience is not in the mood, they can always switch to another channel.

“The health of this nation is determined by its health system. The government is just one of many parts of that system — and many journalists’ role right now is to act as a bridge passing information between different parts of the system.

“By giving a voice to nurses who do not have enough PPE, or to care home workers who are concerned about the numbers of residents dying, or to those struggling to get tests, journalists are actively working for the health of this nation.

“What’s more: it has an impact. The government has repeatedly announced initiatives in response to news reports. So journalists are actually supporting the government, too — but supporting them through concrete information they can act on, rather than just nice words.”

Paul’s blog has been shared by journalists including Mark Austin, of Sky News, and the BBC’s Emily Maitlis, who described it as a “very good piece”.

Speaking to HTFP about the reaction it had received, Paul said: “I hesitated to write the piece to be honest because I knew how tribal these things can be, but I also saw some fundamental misunderstandings of why journalists don’t do what some people want them to do, and I wanted to write something that other journalists could do to explain that when they see this sort of thing shared in their social groups – even by family members.

“Some of the responses seem to think I’m defending journalism but I’m not – there’s good journalism and there’s poor journalism and I didn’t want to suggest that all journalism is one or the other.

“One of the hardest things as a journalism educator is to see young journalists having to face the sort of anti-journalist abuse that is increasingly stirred up online.”

Paul added: “In some cases people have said it’s changed their opinion, and in others we’ve agreed to differ, but it does feel like it’s been a positive thing.

“The sheer volume of responses has been difficult to deal with but I’ve tried to engage with every one. It’s easy to dismiss those behind these messages but that’s the sort of mistake that journalism makes too often.

“We still don’t understand the power shift that has taken place, any more than the public understands the power they now hold – and the responsibility that comes with that.

“What’s trickiest is that when people talk about the ‘mood’ of the country there are probably three separate moods: people who want more positive reporting; people who want more tough questioning; and people who don’t care.”


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  • April 30, 2020 at 10:44 am

    This is a very interesting, and welcome article, and not just because I had many dealings with BCU during my own career.
    I am on a WhatsApp group with former schoolmates who I’ve been friends with for 50 years, but a couple of those friendships have been strained by their criticisms of the media during questions at the daily Covid briefings. One ‘mate’ even claimed the press had sunk to a “new low” over the questioning of Raab as to the PM’s absence, which resulted in me having a rant back and largely giving the WhatsApp group a miss ever since.
    Why is it that only journalists seem to understand and recognise the essential and critical job we do?

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  • April 30, 2020 at 2:50 pm

    Anyone who thinks journalists should be supportive of governments clearly fail to understand the nature of journalism and its fundamental role in holding power to account, otherwise what you are dealing with is propaganda.
    Still finding the publically broadcast press conference an odd and frustrating experience. While there are always good questions most of the answers are treated as opportunities to regurgitate stats, advice, pledges etc with very little chance for follow-up questions.
    It makes it look like the public is being fed the final, definitive story, when, in my experience, press conferences are events where you gather information which is later added to, verified, put into context etc before being published.

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