David Reviews

 Biting the hand that feeds us since 2002.

THE STATE OF MODERN JOURNALISM

Jon Snow used the platform provided by the MacTaggart lecture at The TV Festival in Edinburgh to critique the existential crisis facing journalism. He showered blame on Google and Facebook - two of the most courted companies at broadcasting's annual jamboree - as well as asking what we need to learn from the Grenfell tower tragedy.

Although the many and varied challenges - both internal and external - are considerable, Snow remains sufficiently optimistic to believe we may be standing on the precipice of a golden age of journalism... even if little of what he said before this upbeat ending suggests the paths should be garlanded just yet.

Echoing his Game of Thrones namesake, Snow confessed his lack of qualifications for his job by announcing "I know nothing."

This isn't true, of course. He knows rather a lot, including the exact impact of his carefully chosen words as he identifies those responsible for journalism's malaise.

The potted history of his career which he provided after making this self-deprecating claim offers hope to a generation of dilettantes, blinking in the light after the cloistered existence of university. But, in reality, Snow was far from the aimless figure he suggests and, with the wisdom provided by hindsight, the worthwhile and adventurous endeavours of his youth demonstrate that he was always liable to end up in a position of influence.

In any case, Snow's unconventional career path does nothing to diminish the authority he has established as one of Britain's premier journalists and the MacTaggart audience listened to his pronouncements with appropriate reverence.

His first salvo was aimed at those in front of him... and himself. We are all - by dint of our presence in the room - members of the elite he's identified.

At times, his emphasis of the elite's role in securing a decent existence for itself at the expense of everyone else veers towards the kind of invective directed towards the illumanati on right-leaning websites but he brings it around to a more considered analysis.

The key problem with the 'elite', according to Snow, is that they have no knowledge or understanding of anyone outside their echo chamber, and they've made it almost impossible for outside voices to be heard in their inner sanctum.

The stunning apotheosis of this came in June when London woke to the news that a fire had taken hold of a West London tower killing an unknown number of its residents. Snow described his own response to the tragedy in heartfelt terms. He had nothing to offer the crowds who demanded to know where he and other journalists had been when warnings were being sounded by residents. He drew attention to the now notorious blog by local activist Eddie Dafarn which predicted that a fire would prove devastating, and asked why it hadn't been picked up by journalists.

Snow also revealed that among the victims was a 12 year old girl called Firdows Kedir who had won a debating competition he had judged two months before the fire. He had only learned that she lived at Grenfell when he saw her name on one of the 'missing posters', discovering later that she and her whole family had perished.

The evisceration of local journalism as their revenue streams migrate towards online alternatives is a major factor in the failure to properly scrutinise the actions of local councils, according to Snow, but it's Google's and Facebook's culpability that really draws his ire, especially the latter.

Facebook's exercise of power without responsibility is the gap through which news sources lacking in credibility have crawled.

In his speech's most memorable line, he accused Facebook of failing to prioritise "veracity over virality" and points out that their undiscriminating algorithms are as inclined to promote "fakery" from dubious sources as they are to get Channel 4's carefully-researched news stories in front of the online audience.

According to Snow, Facebook's indolence "could prove a vast threat to democracy" and he sees little to reassure him in Mark Zuckerberg's whimsical attitude to his responsibilities.

Equally problematic is Facebook's and Google's approach to revenue-sharing... which is avoid sharing it at all. Instead of funding quality journalism, they have taken every step necessary to direct it towards extinction. So much so that Zuckerberg's seems to think that Facebook now needs to invent it. Not so, says Snow, they just need to rescue it before it's too late by properly valuing it both financially and philosophically.

Like many before him, Jon Snow devoted part of his speech to diversity, praising various TV Festival initiatives but urging the gathered throng to do more. As always, there were murmurings of approval from a largely white audience whose good intentions were still where they left them last year.

As always, the MacTaggart Lecture provided an opportunity for a significant industry figure to ride one or more of their hobby horses in the vain hope that their eloquent complaints will provoke meaningful change.

It won't.

Not because there isn't a theoretical willingness to make improvements, but because everyone is too busy bailing water out of their listing boat to worry about those drowning around them.

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David Reviews - Lovely Lenzie Ltd, Woodbourne House, Seven Sisters, Lenzie, G66 3AW. Telephone: +44 141 776 7766. Editor: Jason Stone.