Insomnia (insomnia) wrote,

Wherein Mark declares war on the British press corps.

So... I was emailed by a British reporter recently and asked to do an interview for , Britain's answer to Editor & Publisher.

Well, it turns out that the reporter in question chopped up my interview with him, throwing away the substance of what I had to say and editing the story down to the most controversial statements made.

To make matters worse, he then contacted Richard Sambrook, Director of the BBC's World Service and Global News division, and did a short phone interview with him about the difference between blogging and large news organisations. At no point did the interviewer say that he had spoken to me, nor did he share my views with Mr. Sambrook. The reporter then proceeded to similarly butcher what Mr. Sambrook had said, until he had an article that pitted me against one of Britain's foremost authorities on journalism.

Needed to say, I was pretty irked. Not knowing that Mr. Sambrook had also been a victim of bad journalism and that we were both set up, I agressively laid into his quotes, then cc:ed my email to Mr. Sambrook and the reporter's boss.

As a weblogger, I find it dismissive of Mr. Sambrook to suggest that weblogs are merely opinion -- i.e. not newsworthy -- and that those of us who feel that the media buries stories are "conspiracy theorists". It's also deeply flawed for Mr Sambrook to suggest that we, as citizens, should have to pick and choose whether the media should report on and factcheck our government on issues involving Iraq, or global warming, or immigration. Is he honestly suggesting that we should have to choose where to tolerate government distortions and where not to, because the BBC is not up to the task of doing so itself?

The BBC is funded to a degree that would make any US media organization weep with joy. They are largely removed from the burden of profitability and exist as a public institution. This isn't a criticism, but an acknowledgement of the BBC as a vital public institution, which I have strongly defended in the past. I am, in fact, on record with the British government as defending the BBC.

Maybe the members of the mainstream media operate from high mountain tops, in a rarified atmosphere above the rest of the public, and none of them noticed the longstanding claims of WP in Iraq, both from within the media and from outside sources. But frankly, I doubt that is the case. Rather, there was no commitment made on the part of the mainstream media to investigate and follow up on these public claims . . .

Contrary to Mr. Sambrook's suggestions, I never once mentioned a "vast media conspiracy" to withhold the truth, but as an institution and a gatekeeper, there is little doubt to me that the media does indeed put often insurmountable roadblocks in the way of the truth ever reaching a wide public audience.

Take, for example, the recent email by New York Times' Executive Editor Bill Keller to his employees, where he said he said that he backed off investigating the false claims of WMDs in Iraq (due to internal politics in the news organization). . .

It is perhaps fitting that Mr. Sambrook responded to this matter. After all, BBC News is a classic example of a media source that was pressured --- indeed, punished -- over the whole "dodgy dossier" affair. Yes, Gilligan's reporting was sloppy, and the BBC management should've handled the issue in a more forthright, responsible manner, pointing our their failings while still supporting Gilligan for a story whose claims were also essentially correct. Does Sambrook actually believe that the Gilligan affair *didn't* have a stifling effect on the BBC's coverage of the war? If so, I'm sure that about 60% of the British people would gladly join me in the ranks of the "conspiracy theorists" who believe otherwise. The BBC was clearly punished. And it appears now that al-Jazeera, too, may have been punished. With bombs.

Thankfully, I got this nice email back from Richard Sambrook yesterday.


Dear Mr Kraft

I have now read the UK Press Gazette piece. It's a disgrace. I had a brief phone conversation with Lou Thomas about "the difference between blogging and large news organisations" At no point did he say he had spoken to you or relate your views. He did ask me my thoughts about the phosphorous story - and I told him I did not know enough about the background to it to comment.

I would certainly not have sought to oppose your views - indeed I agree with most (if not all) of them.

My personal position on blogging and participatory media is not as olympian as you presume. See these links:

In particular I agree news organisations like the BBC need to start to use new media and technologies to support their journalism. I am keen to appoint an open source reporter to spearhead this and we are developing means to incorporate blogs into our news web pages.

Thank you for your support for the BBC in the past. I am glad we have been put in touch with each other but regret it should be through such misrepresentation - an issue I shall be taking up direct with the UK Press GAzette.

Best wishes

Richard Sambrook



I sent him a nice thank you letter and also regretted we got off on the wrong foot, no thanks to the reporter in question, who must now answer to his editor and explain to him why he got a nastygram from one of Britain's most prominent journalists.

Hopefully Mr. Sambrook and I can talk more later under less adversarial circumstances about this whole "new media" thing. Welcome to the new media. Same as the old media. Kinda.

So, that was an interesting Thanksgiving holiday.

Kirsten, Natalie, and I also went to dim sum and a nice restaurant on Thanksgiving, hit a few of the Black Friday sales, sorted out many of our gifts, and I bought a new computer online... a fairly barebones system with a highend Athlon dual core CPU. Should blow doors on any Intel-based PC as far as speed and upgradability goes, and the dual cores will guarantee excellent multitasking. It's supposed to run very cool with minimal fan noise, and I hear it overclocks nicely too! All I have to do is throw in extra memory and a high-end graphics card, and it should blow doors as a game machine too.

In any case, it should tide me over until they release the new Macs. I want a highend Mac laptop, but I don't want to buy one now which might become obsolete in six months.

So, how was your Thanksgiving?

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