The first was that I wandered into the kitchen while The Message, compered by Steve Hewlett, was on. They were talking about blogs and new media and stuff. One of the guests made the point that “In all the years I’ve listened to Radio 4, I’ve never heard anything useful on Any Answers. But on Any Questions, where you have professionals answering the questions, I have.”
The point about Any Answers is sooo true. It’s open mike for anyone who can’t be bothered to think beyond the headlines they might have seen. Last Saturday it was full of people who thought that the captured British sailors in Iran should have stuck to name, rank and serial number and refused to comply with demands to do daft TV pieces.
Name, rank and serial number must be one of those stuck memes – those things we think are still the form in which things are done (I mentioned the one of climbers making ascents by banging things into the rock, even though in rock climbing in Britain that’s been pretty much totally abandoned – because it damages the rock – since the 1970s). NR&SN was abandoned by the Allies some time ago – during the first Gulf War? – because they recognised that it simply doesn’t work. They are going to torture you, and it is going to hurt like hell, and precisely what is it you’re keeping from them? Any sensible command structure won’t have told you anything useful beyond your mission, else they wouldn’t have sent you. Military instructions have for some years been: don’t be obstructive. Don’t help, do escape if you get a clear chance, don’t volunteer stuff, but make your time there as pleasant for yourself as you can, and bear in mind that it’s all head games, apart from the bits which are really unpleasant, which aren’t.
So, no intelligence on display in Any Answers.
The second was trudging through the Technorati-discovered responses to Vic Keegan’s piece headlined “To the Average Joe, blogs aren’t cutting it“. There are 70-odd of them, so I’ll save you, but the reason why (on about the 30th, parroting the same response: “I’m an average joe and I like my blog”) this process persuaded me that journalism is here to last is that so many of the people whining hadn’t read the original. They had a link to it, but they’d not managed to go through it. They hadn’t managed to read it, absorb it, think of the questions it did and didn’t raise. They hadn’t been to look at the State of the Blogosphere report. They hadn’t checked primary sources. They hadn’t done the footwork.
Journalists do that: they do check, they do ask, they do look for inconsistencies, things left out, things unsaid. They do ask what procedures are, they do go looking for notes on what those procedures are, they ask people who’ve been captured what it was like, if they can tell them what they’ve been told.
You can’t get the average person to do that. It’s a skill, one which can to some extent be learnt, but the drive to know what’s going on comes from somewhere inside. And it’s absolutely the sort of thing that will be essential in future. It’s weird that it takes the counter-evidence to show it, but the exception proves – where “proves” has its Old English meaning, of “tests” – the rule. It’s exceptional for people who aren’t journalists to have those abilities. But as a rule, journalists do this stuff. And always will.