Leeds International Festival of Ideas: Is the UK media broken?

Evan Davis, who is an economics expert and probably best known as the presenter of Dragons Den, facilitated an interesting discussion amongst five speakers, all of whom are interested in or play a role in the UK media. As is often the case with Leeds International Festival events, the session was a stimulating and provocative one.

The speakers included:

Amol Rajan, the BBC Media Editor. Amol reports on media-related stories from around the world and is also a frequent presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Robyn Vinte, a Leeds based investigative journalist. She founded The Overtake, an investigative news website, and also writes for national and regional publications.

Alastair Campbell, who was Tony Blair’s right hand man and his communications strategist and chief spokesman. In addition to continuing his political work, Alastair is now a writer and campaigner.

Matthew Parris, who is best known as the Parliamentary sketch writer for The Times, is a political journalist who writes on politics with insight, authority and wit for a range of publications.

Peg Alexander, who is a journalist and TV, radio and podcast presenter, based in Leeds, covering people, politics and how the world goes round. Prior to her current career, Peg worked in national politics, ran charities, developed major national social policy, and worked at a senior level in national and local government.

The panel explored important questions such as how the media has changed over recent years. Money and the lack of it was highlighted as being a key area of change for the UK media, with large corporations such as Google and social media taking much of the readership, and print declining, which has had a major impact on local media and local papers in particular, where the main revenue was in print. Peg also added that some positive changes have occurred, for example over recent years, more people’s voices have been heard, such as those of women. But she went on to say that more change is needed to allow a greater diversity of people to be heard.

Other topics considered included how the media picks up stories, and indeed how the media shapes how we perceive what the truth is. For instance, it was mentioned that a lot of stories now are picked up from the ground, from hearing about and seeing things on social media. Peg was saying that this has increased the speed of stories being shared, and has made people much more interested in a range of different stories and events. The shaping of stories and how they are portrayed was something that I thought about after the event, as I considered what role the media might have played in portraying stories related to fuel shortages, potentially sparking the panic buying of fuel across the UK. The speakers put forward their ideas for if and how the media shapes perceptions, and it was interesting to hear the thoughts and insights from speakers who work across media platforms.

The role of social media and ‘digital dependency’ in how we perceive news and information was also discussed. I know that I often spend a lot of time scrolling on my phone and laptop, briefly reading content and only half taking in new information. The speakers discussed their personal experiences, as well as their thoughts on how digital dependency may change the role of the media moving forward. The speakers also considered other changes such as how podcasts compete with radio and what that might mean for the future of radio. They also discussed how prevalent video and image content is and how easy it is to share new content online.

This, it was highlighted, is giving us all access to people’s private lives in ways that even 10 years ago, were not possible. However, it was also discussed how much of the content is not necessarily ‘true’ but instead it has been curated and is therefore potentially skewing the way that we perceive the world around us. I thought this was particularly interesting in light of the discussions that were had in the ‘Are we more lonely?’ International Festival panel session a couple of weeks ago.

The speakers considered how the web is acting to democratise journalism by allowing the public to share insights and perceptions like never before. It was highlighted that in this way, it may be that the media is now acting as mediators of information as we all self-publish and share more and more raw content online. This could be allowing more people to get involved in the media and in sharing content. But the media may be able to filter some of this, and through promoting certain stories or advertising others, could be shaping what we see and how we perceive stories. Such perceptions might also be affecting how we behave and who and what we believe.

The panel also considered what role media and others should be playing in controlling and limiting mis- and dis-information, which has the potential to have a negative impact on all of us. I am keen to look more into the role of the media in shaping the news and what we read, hear and scroll through every day.

I’ve really enjoyed the LiFI sessions and would encourage others to read about the topics discussed and listen in to the ‘Lificast003’ LiFI podcast. The podcasts are available on the website (https://leedsinternationalfestival.com/note/lificast003-is-the-uk-media-broken/).

Photography by Tom Martin.

Dr Gemma Bridge

Gemma, is a freelance writer and independent researcher. She has been writing for over 10 years and loves to share what's going on in and around Leeds. She is also an international athlete, the Running Mayor of Leeds and the creator of Leeds Food Guide. You can find her on Instagram at @GLB_racewalk or @Leeds_FoodGuide, or on Twitter at @glbridge1 or @RunMayor_Leeds

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