If the job of journalists is to hold the powerful to account, it’s clearly important to have enough of them – and of the right type. The late Patrick Hannan was one such – a man who grilled Welsh politicians for decades. At the second annual lecture in his honour, important questions were raised about the state of Welsh journalism today.
Prof Ian Hargreaves of Cardiff University’s School of Journalism gave the lecture in the presence of the great and the good of the Welsh media in the BBC’s Hoddinot Hall at the Wales Millenium Centre this week. It will be broadcast on Radio Wales this Sunday.
One point that hit home was Hargreaves’ statistic that while Wales has five per cent of the population of the United Kingdom, it can claim only two per cent of the UK’s journalists. What we don’t know is whether this proportion has declined in recent years, or whether it represents a historic deficit. London has always been a media powerhouse, which probably means that England has always been home to a disproportionate number of journalists.
The number of traditional journalists’ jobs has declined throughout the UK in recent years, and Wales has not been exempt from the effects of early retirement and redundancy in both print and broadcasting. The result has been the loss of in-depth knowledge and experience, which could have been used to inform the public and hold the powerful to account.
What is to be done? Hargreaves put some of his faith in ‘hyperlocal’ journalism – blogging by motivated citizens who might be supported by initiatives such as the Centre for Community Journalism recently launched by Cardiff University. It’s hard to see, though, how such citizen journalism could ever be a substitute for what Patrick Hannan delivered through the BBC or his no-less experienced colleagues were able to deliver at HTV or through weekly and daily newspapers.
Where do journalism schools (like Cardiff’s or ours, at the University of South Wales) come in? Speaking to experienced journalists after the lecture, there was agreement and concern about the fact that good journalism graduates have all the technical skills one could desire. What many lack is what made Hannan so effective – a determination to get to the bottom of things and the forensic abilities needed to dig out the hard facts.