Daryl Ilbury

I never thought I’d ever say this, but…

In Free-thinking, media, Politics, Scoundrels on January 27, 2017 at 11:05 am

150826_donald_trump_2_gty_629.jpgI never thought I’d say this, but here goes: Since Donald Trump took office, I have developed a grudging respect for politicians. The very statement irks me to the point I feel nauseous. I have interviewed so many politicians, and found them, without exception, to be self-serving, and flexible with the truth. They revile me. They live in a filter-bubble of their own construct; they have to if they want to survive. And that’s why Trump won’t.

I once interviewed President Jimmy Carter. No matter what question I threw at him, he either delivered a brief, punchy answer, stepped to one side and deflected it, or spun it, creating the opportunity to talk about a pet project. It was a demonstration of the skill of a seasoned politician.

But all that comes with experience in dealing with the news media, who can be obstreperous at the best of times. They have to be. Part of their job is to hold politicians to account – tackle them at every turn, ensuring they do what’s right for the people, not for themselves. A successful politician is one that knuckles down, keeps their nose clean – or at least away from the media – and plays the game: remain sufficiently high profile to show they’re doing their job, but away from the spotlight when they’re not. And on those occasions when they fail, and they will fail, they need to endure the inevitable media backlash and, often brutal, public rebuke. It hurts; but if they stick it out, they’ll toughen up, even become impervious.

What they can not be, is thin-skinned. This is why successful business people usually make bad politicians – they are used to blind acquiescence from those lower in the hierarchy and selective accountability to a familiar higher authority. Being publicly challenged by a mainstream media with a mission to find fault is, for them, unsettling and annoying.

Donald Trump is the wrong person for the position of US President, for reasons already suggested: he is arrogant, selfish, bigoted, misogynist, ignorant, and delusional; hell, I’d venture to say he’s batshit crazy. But it’s his inexperienced, reactive, ill-tempered response to criticism in the media that will be his undoing.

The question is, how many people will suffer on his way down?




Fake news? Nothing new.

In media, Politics, Scoundrels on January 24, 2017 at 8:47 am

gadaffi-was-a-woman1Mainstream media is getting all frothy about ‘fake news’ as if it’s a new thing. It isn’t of course. So why all the bother? There are two reasons, but before I get to them, let me explain why it’s nothing new.

I took this photo while walking past my local newsagent on the Sunday after the death of Muammar Gaddafi, the deposed leader of Libya, on 20th October 2011. The paper claimed that according to an autopsy, Gadaffi was…well, you can read it in the headline.

Now you have to be a special kind of stupid to believe something like that, and yet there would have been readers breathlessly repeating this story over a beer or a cup of tea later that day. Of course, there would have been others who would’ve laughed about it.

The fact is, it was written by a ‘journalist’, edited and then published by a mainstream newspaper. All along the process, it would’ve been known the story was fake, but it was published nonetheless.

But there was a subtle nod to the possible dodgy nature of the story in the masthead. UK tabloids such as The Sun, The Mirror, Daily Star and Sunday Sport, publicly herald their tabloid nature right there on the front page, in their title: white, on a red background. It’s almost like a warning flag: ‘herein lies possible fake news’. In a way, it’s honest subterfuge.

And that’s one of the reasons why the fake news you’re hearing about in the mainstream news is such a big deal: it’s more insidious. It appears alongside real news under mastheads that seem so, well, ‘non-tabloid’. Readers no longer have the red tab to warn them. The people writing the stories also don’t seem to do so with a wry eye; more with the equivalence of malice aforethought. To make things worse, the stories are finding a firm footing in that most unguarded of news outlets: social media.

The second reason for the noise about ‘fake news’ is tied to the fact that it’s running amok from the conceiving grasp of mainstream media; and there’s a word for that: guilt.

Why context is still King Kong

In Eish!, media on May 26, 2016 at 11:18 am

Kong_oldWhen I was a journalism student, I embraced the mantra ‘content is king, context is King Kong’. This is especially the case in science journalism. Today, as I watch the world of the media mercilessly upended, the essence of context seems even more important, but for a reason possibly lost on many people.

‘Content is king, context is King Kong’ has several meanings – all connected:

  1. The accuracy of content only emerges when examined against the backdrop of the associated context;
  2. Whereas content may be powerful on its own, the significance only emerges when examined against the backdrop of the associated context; and,
  3. If you dig around in the context, you may find more stories.

In essence, it underscores the value of the journalist as a creative but disciplined storyteller, someone who sees the big picture and can therefore present a more comprehensive and accurate portrayal – something that is lost when compressed into a simple soundbite thoughtlessly shared by those not schooled in the rigours of the journalistic regimen.

However, it’s a mantra that’s sounding increasingly faint and anguished. In his excellent book Geeks Bearing Gifts: Imagining New Futures for News, Jeff Jarvis, head of Entrepreneurial Journalism at the City University of New York, paints an excruciatingly frank picture of an industry undergoing dramatic change. In brief, the era of vertically-structured powerful media organisations being the sole creators and gatekeepers of copyrighted content, is collapsing; the organisations desperately scrambling around in the debris for a viable business model.

Stepping in to take their place are myriads of smaller collectives, comprising former consumers hastily generating and sharing their own bite-sized content. Jarvis sees an opportunity for media organisations to tap into that content to learn more about their consumers so they can better serve them. ‘Serve’ is the key phrase here, because Jarvis insists that as content creators, media organisations separate themselves from the public while creating that content before making it public. If they are to survive, they need to adapt to providing a service that taps into, rather than competes with, those collectives.

However, I believe there is still a need for journalists to provide context, because without it these ‘new’ media generators and disseminators remain, to varying degrees, in what I call ‘content generation servitude’. Here I draw a distinction between content generation and content creation.

Let me explain through the example of a weather forecaster standing before a map of where you live, and telling you about the weather. You are interested in what the forecast is, so you can generate content, e.g. tweet, “Another sunny and warm day today!” You rely on the forecaster for you to generate that content. However, if the forecaster explains the context of her forecast – why the weather is going to be as it is – it can empower you. You begin to understand the bigger picture, and could get to a stage where you examine the local weather conditions – wind direction, air moisture content, barometric pressure – and forecast the weather yourself, and share that with others, with increasing authority and depth. Your content can become more creative.

Being able to fire off a tweet or share a story in a couple of lines may make you a content generator and disseminator, but it will keep you reliant on other people for content. Being able to see the big picture – knowing and understanding the forces at play – will help you be a better content creator, to tell a richer, more accurate, bigger and more powerful story.

And that’s why context is still King Kong.