Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website

A long-standing lament of my final years with BBC radio and television was disappointment at having far fewer opportunities than I would have liked to write considered news reports, or to offer crafted packages illustrated with actuality and interviews. Increasingly the live-two way had come to dominate my daily output at BBC Westminster: the disciplines of the 24-hour news cycle necessitated immediacy rather than the precision of a prepared text.

My 30-year career encompassed a transformation in broadcasting, the shift from scripted reporting towards conversational journalism, a change that has had a profound effect on the delivery of political news.

When I joined Radio Leicester in 1972, 90 per cent of what I said on air had been written in advance. Three decades later, in my last year as a BBC correspondent, before having to retire at 60, the reverse was the case. I calculated that 80 to 90 per cent of my broadcasts in 2002 were live two-ways, either with a newsreader or programme presenter.

Therefore, imagine my fascination when asked to review News and Politics: The Rise of Live and Interpretive Journalism --  the fruits of Stephen Cushion’s extensive statistical research and analysis into the extent to which television news bulletins have adapted their formats to keep pace with the competitive pressures of 24-hour news channels, online services and social media.

Such was the divisive nature of so much of the news reporting of the 1984-85 miners’ strike – and media concentration on picket line violence – that there was often little coverage of the remarkable solidarity shown by the international trade union movement.

Pit Props, a new book examining the strength of international support during the dispute, seeks to put the record straight. Editor Granville Williams says it tells the story of the magnificent response of fellow trade unionists around the world.

Nicholas Jones, a former labour and industrial correspondent, who reported the strike for BBC Radio, compiled a diary of news reports of help and assistance from overseas during the miners’ year-long struggle.

For the first time for 30 years he re-opened his file marked “miners’ international solidarity”, and it took him straight back to the events surrounding the largely under-reported, but totally unprecedented action by other mining unions and the wider international trade union movement.

 

Two pressing concerns for journalists were addressed head on by the Home Secretary, Mrs Theresa May, in a speech at the Journalists’ Charity’s annual reception at the Embassy of Ireland in London.

She gave an assurance that action was being taken to guard against the identification of journalists’ sources, and that there would be new safeguards on the length of time accused people could be held on pre-trial bail without charge.

Mrs May, welcomed by the Ambassador of Ireland Mr Dan Mulhall, was on fine form, complementing the charity on all the work it did to look after journalists who had fallen on hard times or were in need of help.

MPs at Westminster recognised the problem, and the House of Commons shared the concept of helping colleagues in distress, “but we just call it the House of Lords”.

She raised another laugh when describing how gripped she had been by Sunday television viewing on the BBC, “watching all those characters in War and Peace coming out in support of Mother Russia, and not least of all, Andrew Marr interviewing the Labour leader”.

While the ability of pro-Conservative newspapers to manipulate and often dictate the news agenda far outweighed the political impact of a burgeoning online discourse during the 2015 general election, there was no doubt that the power and reach of social media did have a profound effect on the conduct of the campaign.

Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and host of other inter-active services became the top destination for instant news and comment.

Political journalists complained that they had been deprived of the chance to question politicians with the thoroughness of previous elections, but in many ways they had been complicit in allowing the internet to become a pivotal channel of channel of communication.

All too often correspondents and presenters had themselves become slaves to social media, jostling with each other in cyber space in their clamour for attention.

Electioneering via the internet had led inexorably to a reduction in the opportunities for journalists to hold politicians to account.    

Corbyn ElectedComing to terms with the trials and tribulations of leading the Labour Party is proving a steep learning curve for Jeremy Corby, but he has had plenty of training for the media onslaught that he is having to endure.

I know from personal experience as a former BBC political correspondent that Corbyn’s durability under fire should not be underestimated.

His criticism in his acceptance speech of the unacceptable level of media intrusion being experienced by politicians was heartfelt – and something of a premonition given that five days later he was subjected to a frenzy of revelations about his relationship in the 1980s with Diane Abbott, the shadow international development secretary.

But Corbyn has remained steadfast and resolute for the last 30 years in the face of sustained denigration at the hands of Conservative-supporting newspapers and their erstwhile allies in New Labour.