From out of the wreckage caused by Hackgate, which has rocked Westminster, Fleet Street, and Scotland Yard alike, it is clear that a long-overdue programme of media reform must arise. What is unknown at this point, at the start of a process that will undoubtedly drag on for years, is how the relationship between citizens, the media, and public figures will change.
Because it has invariably been both too cosy, and too fear-driven, and above all too centralised. I personally experienced this during my time in government, my internship as I now call it, in developing and seeking to launch policies relating to the Big Society. The first time I came across it was when it became apparent that part of the reason that some journalists resisted the idea of Big Society was that it actually meant focussing less on what was going on in Whitehall or Parliament, where it is easier to pick up or blag your way to a story, and more on what is going on in real communities – breaking out of the bubble. The second was when a left wing journalist presented me with two potential stories she would run on me and essentially threatened me with running the worst of the two (for the record, relating to unfounded rumors about my ability to do my job), unless I gave her information which was eventually spun into the story that broke about my work life balance. That fear which all politicians feel at the hands of journalists where you have no recourse or way to correct the first story, led to much pain and difficulty for me and my young family, despite years of charitable service. The third was when I realized that the very business model of modem media itself now makes it almost impossible for new and innovative policy to be understood and piloted well, because resources are too constrained for journalists to get out into the country to find out what is going on and what is working. This is what I have previously called news by press release, where the same story is regurgitated from one news desk to another with lots of opinion and spin heaped upon it, not always sadly backed up by many facts. It too often stops the right ideas being turned into reality and breeds instead sadly cynicism and inertia.
So what now, now that we have arrived at the point when our politicians, media and increasingly even our judicial and policing system have suffered such a loss of trust? Well, we are likely to see increased regulation. I defer to Lord Mandelson on this who has already written articulately on how it needs tightening up. How can we have different regimes for television and broadcast media (which is incidentally more trusted than other forms) from print media which is essentially self/non/un-regulated? But as Mandelson also hints at, there is a role for technology, whether in more models such as iCorrect where people can correct mistaken articles written about them, to a place where media interviewees – whether celebrities and public figures or ordinary citizens – can upload recordings of interviews they have given so the public can compare how accurate articles are that were based on what has been recorded, to a site where individual journalists can be rated (who has the domain for ratemyjournalist.com?) based on how accurate, entertaining, and balanced their articles are (one may need to rate raters as well to avoid abuse). Beyond this there is a need for a different business model, one in which citizens actively help to generate news content, in partnership with professionals, and co-edit that content so the best filters up, and get rewarded financially or reputationally for their stories or receive donations or tips to encourage them to continue their citizen journalist careers. Twitter and blogging in a way is therefore just the start. Models such as blottr, with the right backing from us all, may represent a more sustainable, more humane, and dare I say it more Big Society way of doing media in the future.
UPDATE: of course politicians can be just as susceptible to spinning as well; when I left Labour politicians and their civil society representatives such as Peter Kyle claimed I worked less than a year in government, which is clearly not from the case from my original appointment and resignation letters and the PM’s acceptance letter of my resignation – which I am now putting into the public domain – showing I worked from the 18 May 2010 until the 1st of June 2011 at which point I switched to advising the Community Foundation Network