I should open this blog with a disclaimer that these are my views as a Journlaist, and not necessarily those of my employer. The piece is meant as an observation of the relationship between reporters and their sources, and may well stimulate some debate on the subject.
Since the start of the year, I’ve been covering the story of a group in Nottingham who set up two makeshift camps, with the claim that they were supporting the homeless. They were also demanding that the city council opened up empty buildings as shelters, something which happened in Manchester.
As usual, it’s been something of a war of words between the activists and the authorities. But this one has been made all the more difficult by walls of silence on both sides – a somewhat unusual scenario when trying to accurately report the situation.
By their very nature, the activists – operating under the umbrella name Fightback Nottingham – were rather erratic in their behaviour towards the media. On some days, they were more than happy to portray themselves as modern day urban warriors, not only supporting the homeless people who were apparently sleeping in their tents, but sending our a wider, social, political message. Activism at its best, you might say.
But on other days it was a different story. “We’re not talking to you (the BBC) because you’ve twisted our words. We’ll only do live interviews because they can’t be edited.” Clearly those are editorial demands which we wouldn’t and couldn’t agree to with anybody.
Yet from the authorities, there’ve also been mixed messages. Officially, the City Council wouldn’t provide anyone for an interview. The policy seemed to be one of written statements, as getting into a debate might lead to difficult questions. Questions which we were unable to put in a broadcast environment.
But off the record – though there for all to see on social media – were comments from senior council officers, and the head of Safe Nottingham (a police and council partnership) openly condemning the activists, calling them “hired anarchists” – before quickly retreating from their attack by hiding or deleting Tweets.
The challenge is that we all live in a 24/7 media society, fuelled by instant claim and counter claim. And that raises questions about the relationship between journalists and their sources. It might be argued that social media is king, since everybody has access to it all the time. Though it doesn’t help when some individuals choose to bulk block entire newsrooms from their accounts, lest they actually report or challenge what is being said.
The camps have now been cleared, the final one was being dismantled as court proceedings for eviction were still underway. But there’ll doubtless be other fights in the pipeline : this weekend the war of words was taken to public buildings, where abusive slogans were chalked up. It remains to be seen who exactly has gained the upper hand.
Our job as journalists is to keep asking questions. And we will.