With rising complaints against the ‘mainstream media’ representing an out-of-touch elite, The Guardian’s John Domokos came to LSE to talk about a different approach in his ‘Anywhere but Westminster‘ series. Polis Summer School student Natalie Nicole Gilbert reports.
On Twitter it doesn’t take long to find people disgruntled with mainstream media’s broad stroke journalism that focuses predominantly on metropolitan areas. It’s not just the Leavers who are disenfranchised by what they feel is a lack of meaningful coverage, even those who tag their profiles with #FBPE (Follow Back Pro-EU, or Remainers) also have complaints. News outlets seem to keep offering a repetitive regurgitation of the same ideas from the top down and whoever may be in power, rather than looking at what’s going on in everyday life for everyday citizens.
John Domokos – video journalist behind the Guardian’s “Anywhere But Westminster” series explained:
What our project sought to do from the beginning was turn this on its head, and hear from ordinary people in towns that don’t often get a visit from the media, and explore the gap between the two
– the gap between those in power and the people.
Where do you find news that speaks to you if you don’t live in London or work in Westminster? What news do you find that’s relevant to Dartford, Walsall, Aberystwyth, or Falkirk?
In the “Anywhere But Westminster” series, plainclothes reporters set aside handheld microphones with TV channel flags identifying the broadcaster, and instead sit down as equals with those they interview. If you tune in mid-video clip on this series, for a moment you may be uncertain which person is the interviewer or interviewee.
The Guardian series by John Domokos (@JohnDomokos) and John Harris (@JohnHarris1969) speaks to people on the street outside Poundland and Boots on high streets in places such as Frimley, Manchester, Swindon, Jaywick, or Thornbury, asking what needs to be fixed and which issues are most important to them. Domokos revealed that that after filming this series, it was no shock to him that the referendum result was to leave the EU. When it came to Brexit, for many the question read as “Do you want to carry on like this, or do you want things to change?”
“Anywhere But Westminster” also seeks to remove the pristine polish of political press releases and campaign images, inspecting what really goes on behind the scenes of political conferences. Domokos says: “For us, party conferences embodied everything that was wrong with politics – everyone in suits, holed up inside a security ring of steel, stage-managed speeches, airless rooms with technocratic discussions. And the whole thing was projected on TV in ways that felt very controlled. We began to subvert it by showing what conference was actually like, and then exploring the gap between what people were saying on the street.”
To do this, both Johns left their own suits and ties at the office, approached ordinary people without a script, asked them about their lives and truly listened. The proof is in the pudding – people opened up as if speaking to a friend over a coffee rather than a stuffy news anchor with hair perfectly combed under ideal lighting.
Journalism offers a chance to disrupt the echo chamber and the trap of self-view validation we are all prone to fall into in our news consumption. To succeed at that disruption requires a different perspective on how news is acquired and presented. On these points, Domokos suggests some ways in which media has to change:
- Less commentary, more reportage and direct contact
- Be more open and transparent about the processes
- Have more curiosity and more humility
- More context and depth – looking at the history, sociology, etc.
- Recognize the story and the action aren’t where they used to be
- Seek out more diversity
- Seek more collaboration and engage in more experimentation
- Create and welcome different kinds of readership engagement
One of the biggest takeaways from Domokos’ LSE talk is that we can’t wait until after a major vote in a general election or referendum to find out what citizens think. We must hear all sides before the vote and keep listening long after. The more we enable polarization to flourish and dehumanization to hide behind issues and labels or prejudgments, the less we understand about one another and the world we live in together. Journalism isn’t just about asking the hard-hitting questions – it’s about truly listening to the responses.
This article is by Natalie Nicole Gilbert @NatalieNicole