When the lobbyists become the reporters

Andrew Brown looks back at the recent Anglican Consultative Council and sees the future. It is a world of journalism without reporters and where the news-gatherers and the lobbyists are one in the same.

If you wonder what the future of journalism looks like without profitable news­papers, study the coverage of the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Jamaica.

None of the national papers has a reporter there. None, of course, has any stringers left in the country, either. So what we’re left with is reports on blogs, none of them from people who are even trying to be neutral. (Why should they?) No one would raise the funds to travel to Jamaica and watch the Anglican Communion at work unless he or she was passionately com­mitted to one side or the other. But they are lobbyists, not journalists.

Those left in London can always try the Gledhill trick of ringing up lobbyists in the meeting and quoting what they say. But unless you believe that Canon Chris Sugden from Anglican Mainstream is entirely dispassionate and neutral about what is going on at the ACC — and not even his worst enemy would claim that — then it is hopeless quoting his accounts without making an attempt to check them, and we just can’t check anything for ourselves from this distance.

One thing that happens when lobbyists have press passes is that they attempt to influence the news they are writing about. This blurring of the lines make both roles less trustworthy.

See previous Lead reports here, and here. Don't forget the attempt to seat the Rev. Philip Ashey, an American, as a Uganda's clergy rep after he already had been issued a press pass because he blogs for the American Anglican Council.

Read the rest from Andrew Brown here.

Comments (2)

One of the (legal, philosophical, and perhaps ontological) problems faced in journalistic circles is the definition of journalist. Is the status of journalist bestowed by action, by employment, by simple self-identification? Can you be two things at once? Can you be journalist today, participant tomorrow, and journalist day after that?

American law has been careful, refusing to define who is and isn't a journalist. Pretty much, you are one legally if you call yourself one. Americans always have been reluctant to say "you aren't press" because it keeps us from barring those we disagree with.

For a Senate press pass, you have to show you're a journalist for a living. For a conference, it's up to organizers to decide. Is a blog "press"? Is a website "press"? Is Kendall Harmon press or participant? Is Jim Naughton press or participant?

It's tricky how one decides, especially in heated political settings and in an ever-changing media environment. Tread carefully.

Michael Rich

Brown is no doubt on to something -- the absence of the mainstream media has something to do with the effect of the internet on the business model of newspapers.

But I wonder why it is that mainstream media showed up for the last several primates meetings, and for Lambeth. Is it something intrinsic to legislative bodies like the ACC? Was there a lack of drama? Was it fatigue with the story? Was it a correct assessment that nothing breaking would occur? Was it simply that the mainstream media's interest has been declining and finally reached zero?

Perhaps editors grew tired of being scooped by bloggers on the ground or in electronic contact with participants.

While those bloggers are partisan they do have a clear incentive, also, to get the facts straight even as they spin them -- and to correct misrepresentations by others (the later they have in abundance relative to the mainstream which is neither interested or sufficiently informed). If your influence extends no farther than those who agree with your view of the world, that's not much of an accomplishment.

I for one do not regard it as unethical for someone like Sugden to wear two or three hats -- journalist, lobbyist and adviser to participants. For one thing, I would not want to deprive participants of advisers simply because of cost. For another, you cannot make the argument that denomination newspapers aren't wrapped in the game of affecting the story and how it is understand, if not to the same degree. It is an ontological reality.

Regarding Ashey, in applying for press credentials, he gave his address as Atlanta, GA. It was that that first gave the game away that he was not serving in Uganda -- it was because he wasn't serving in Uganda that he was not seated as a delegate. Otherwise, I don't see that there would have been a problem with him switching horses and giving up the press pass to a delegate. And nothing to prevent him from blogging anyway -- as other delegates did, and quite rightly.

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