Shoot an arrogant messenger

James Button has a thoughtful and interesting interview with John Lloyd in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Lloyd has helped to found the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University. Opened in November, it plans to analyse a profession he believes is too little studied. This is remarkable, given its power. Compare the amount it is studied with the scrutiny of politics or law. Part of the problem is that the media usually do a poor job of reflecting on themselves.

Lloyd, the institute’s director of journalism, plans to get journalists thinking and writing about what they do. How, for example, do they balance ethical priorities against the commercial demands of employers? How will the digital age change reporting? Lloyd knows of few centres anywhere trying to answer such questions (the University of Melbourne is believed to be planning a similar project). He thinks that, for journalism’s health, that has to change.

The idea for the institute came to him when he returned to London in 1996 after five years as Moscow bureau chief for the Financial Times. Before that, he had worked in television, edited Time Out and the moderate-left magazine New Statesman, and was British Journalist of the Year in 1984. But an insight changed him from being merely in the media to a thinker about the media.

In Russia, people relied almost totally on new newspapers and television stations for political information. That was unsurprising: the all-powerful Soviet state had collapsed and parties and the non-government sector were still too frail to command the political stage.

But in Britain, with its long history of civic institutions, Lloyd observed the same phenomenon. On the Labour side, unions had lost power. The many local and patriotic organisations linked to the Conservatives had atrophied. Neither party retained a large membership base; almost no one attended political meetings.

Instead, the media had become “almost the monopoly carrier of political messages”. If politicians wanted to speak to the people, they had nowhere to go but to a camera or a reporter’s notebook. In Britain, Russia and elsewhere, the fields had effectively merged. Politics had become media…

Thanks to Adrian Monck for the link.