More light, less heat: a recipe for 21st century journalism

It’s been described by some as the most important vote in a generation, far more crucial than most general elections.

Admittedly there are just under ten action-packed weeks still to go before June 23, but many people are still woefully underprepared for the EU referendum.

A poll of polls has suggested that around one in six of us hasn’t yet made up our minds which way to vote.

But more worryingly, the average Brit’s knowledge of matters European isn’t all that great.

Only people in Latvia know less about Europe than we do, according to research carried out last year.

How can this be, when the issue of Britain’s place in Europe is rarely out of the news?

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As this excellent piece by Christopher Meyer from King’s College, London, says, too much of the coverage mounted by the national media is simply sound and fury. And, as that great man whose birthday we’re about to celebrate would have said, it signifies nothing.

Or rather, it signifies the interests of one or two owners, as this quote from Anthony Hilton in the Evening Standard reveals.

I once asked Rupert Murdoch why he was so opposed to the European Union. ‘That’s easy,’ he replied. ‘When I go into Downing Street they do what I say; when I go to Brussels they take no notice.’

There are notable exceptions, with the Guardian, Telegraph and The Week all doing their best to provide context, analysis and facts. The BBC is also doing a great job, although it has been accused of being too timid and giving too much weight to the flakier end of the Leave camp.

Plus there’s the wonderful Full Fact organisation, with pages of content aimed at carving through the bluster and posturing.

But, to me, too much of the media’s take on the EU debate simply shows how out of date and irrelevant elements of our mainstream news sources have become.

I was talking to one of my students last week about a far less significant story.

She said something that stuck in my mind: “I want to achieve resolution with this story.”

That constructive take on the role of the reporter has been echoed in a recent column by Roy Greenslade which looked at the movement for what is becoming known as solutions-focussed journalism.

It’s also been explored in a piece on

It’s a subject I’ve tackled before and one that, I think, offers us a glimpse of hope in some of the dark days that can blight this industry.

Too much of our coverage is like fracking – splashing our words into tiny fissures, so that they become giant cracks which produce negative and dangerous energy.

The EU vote offers us a chance to help people crying out for more information, who want the issues to be safely marshalled for them so they can make informed decisions.

Instead of creating heat, we should be shedding light.







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