New media must communicate with the old world better…

I own up. In this company of political innovators, I’m a cuckoo in the nest. I’ve spent a lifetime in the big corporate media imagining myself speaking truth to power. IT meant the biggest electronic news production system in the world and a massive intranet; global indeed but inward looking and institutionally hugely reinforcing.

To new media I say, admit it. It may no longer be the Sun wot won it but the gap in influence between new and old media still yawns. New media stars like Iain Dale reinforce their clout with frequent old media appearances. They are a useful supplement to the old way of doing things.The chatter of social media may sometimes deafen. But to create new virtual families and communities is one thing, to become an agent for political change is quite another.

The American example is beguiling but misleading. The US is a huge federal country without a national media on the British model. At home the best of political blogs are (small c but often big C) conservative forums. They extend the conversation for likeminded souls. As such, new media is like Canada, always the coming thing.

But even I see the potential of new media as much more than hype. Its real future surely extends beyond the mature market of the traditional press.

Rather than compete head-on with the MSM, new media pioneers are trying to stretch the concept of political accountability far beyond the confines of traditional political debate. They combine the characteristics of the Peasants’ Revolt with the early cottage industry phase of the Industrial Revolution.

And what d’you know, they actually believe in extending direct democracy to challenge impersonal bureaucratic power.

Among the gems of new accountability in this forum are a website that explains the citizen’s liability before the law and a carers’ guide to social provision that is devising a common language to be understood equally by the bureaucrats and the needy. This is breaking new ground indeed.

New theories of communication are developing which match new technology with a growing understanding of thought processes. Nudge theory is only one of these. This is ambitious stuff.

But people power will not develop simply by existing. We live in a representative democracy whose institutions are labouring under the weight of the people’s aspirations and is keen to do better, regardless of party.

Politicians of all parties are caught between improving their intelligence about the popular will and losing control. Once lost, they fear, never regained. I have

watched their internal struggle in the debates about constitutional renewal.

From government’s viewpoint, consultations, FoI and the imminent release of masses of public documents are steps on the road to greater accountability – and by the way, to greater political success.

It is in the interests of both sides, new media and parliament and government national and local, to come closer together more systematically. New media have great ideas, government has the resources and much of the information to create a new dimension of the public service. They will wish to draw up protocols that restrict their liabilities and protect each other’s independence.

The peasants and the lords may be temperamentally different but these days mercifully, they are not locked in the huge distraction of ideological conflict. Although each side will want to sup with a long spoon with the other to start with, in the end they need each other. It is encouraging that think tanks and other para-politicians are working on this.

Independent, interactive Which? guides to the public service are among the great prizes to be won.

One big frustration is the outsider’s inaccessibility to what’s going on. The in-language puts me off. I don’t understand it much. When new media folk meet up face to face, it’s a frat party. OK, I hope they enjoy it. But what they must do in a phrase, is to communicate better. Lay language always wins in the end, even with kids. We also badly need a directory, a guide, and a 118118 of new media.

I freely admit I may be lagging behind developments. There maybe an awful lot happening, but are they really making the best of it if dinosaurs like me don’t really know what’s going on?

About Brian Walker

Brian Walker spent 30 years as reporter, senior manager and editor with the BBC in Belfast, Manchester and London. He is now an Hon senior research Fellow with UCL’s Constitution and blogs on Slugger O’Toole.
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