On Wednesday 25th February Professor Roy Greenslade held a journalism masterclass at Sussex University on ‘the British media landscape in 2015’.
The media commentator for the Guardian, and columnist at the Evening Standard, has an enviable CV including the editor position at the Daily Mirror and is now a professor of journalism at City University. A career like this seems – at first glance – to be unreachable. So it’s a definite confidence boost to hear that, like me, he studied as a mature student at the University of Sussex.
He spoke of the realities of private media ownership, after working at the Sun and the Daily Mail.
“You soon learn that the golden age always happened just before you got there. This is a myth and doesn’t take us anywhere”, says Greenslade.
The professor spoke about the importance of recognising that media and politics are intertwined and highlighted press freedom and influence as topics he would turn to. But wanted to focus first on the case of Edward Snowden.
Computer analyst whistleblower, Snowden provided the Guardian with top-secret NSA documents leading to revelations about US surveillance on phone and internet communications. He recalls some of the negative headlines about Snowden in the Sun and the Daily Mail newspapers after the Guardian had published this story. Additionally, US President Barak Obama called Edward Snowden a traitor.
Greenslade thinks this case is fascinating because it sparked a huge debate in the US about the right to privacy and surveillance, but in contrast, only one newspaper in Britain only took Snowden’s revelations seriously. Greenslade says that this information from Snowden was extremely important to publish. It was making the public aware that “the US and UK governments were responsible for a massive intrusion into people’s privacy”.
However, Greenslade informs us that the Home Affairs Select Committee called the editor of the Guardian in for questioning. He had to explain why he had allowed that story on Snowden to be published. Greenslade finds this remarkable and says:
“fancy calling in an editor to explain why his newspaper reported a world exclusive! The British obtained this right to freedom of press in the 17th century and here was parliament calling a newspaper to account for exercising that freedom!”
However, the Guardian later went on to receieve a Pulitzer prize for public service. Greenslade argues that the duty of the press is to inform people about the things they do not know and Snowdon had uncovered an unprecedented type of surveillance, on every British and US citizen, and this needed sharing.
After discussing the Leverson inquiry in some detail and then turning to Peter Oborne resigning from the Telegraph over commercial interest influencing editorial decision, he then spoke about the future of journalism.
“We are in a period of decline of traditional print media, although it has to be said, it still remains – in Britain – to be the most influential form of media. Newspapers still set the agenda for broadcast journalism; you’ll see this more obviously in the run up to the general election.”
He went on to explain how there are more avenues into journalism that ever before. The increasing number of media outlets are providing more and more opportunities for young, up-and-coming journalists. He also believes there is more innovation and invention in media formats. Young people who are naturals with digital media have a skill set that enables them to plunge into journalism, he said. “Start-ups just keep starting up”. He encourages experimenting with different ways of story telling and new platforms. But his last point was that while this is all good, the classic journalism skills, such as getting stories ethically, verifying facts and working extremely hard will always be absolutely essential.