Wednesday, 4 May 2011
Bristol street protests and the media
It won't surprise anyone who follows these things to hear that journalists don't always do their job very well. I have been a journalist, at an extremely above-board and by-the-book paper, so I do know something about this.
Recent dust-ups in Bristol's 'cultural quarter', Stoke's Croft - an area that's been transformed from the bottom up via a community collective, and is much the better for it - are a classic example of poor journalism. Art, music, teaching and food emporia have blossomed in the area - but there's the catch. Now developers want to move in and build flats and posh executive pads. The supermarket chain Tesco's has seized a piece of the action, and built a new shop slap bang in the middle of an area that prides itself on being full of independent, interesting, variegated shops and social enterprises. Lots of locals are very, extremely, totally hot under the collar about it. When the police entered a squatted house in the area on the evening of Thursday 21 April, all hell broke loose (above). You can watch some of the fuss for yourself here.
Even the BBC didn't exactly cover itself in glory on this one, focusing on the events rather than the background and some of the causes of the explosion. Most of the Corporation's report was a classic piece of 'churnalism' - repeating a police press release - rather than digging deeper. Veiled criticism from the local MP, Kerry McCarthy, focused on the instrumentals and the details - on overbearing police tactics. Further coverage has relied on writing up court reports. It comes to something when The Guardian's stories just repeat what the Police are saying. All this, rather than discussing the more interesting (and surely more enjoyable to write?) question of who is to make and carry out urban policy choices that make at least some sense. At the moment, what Jane Jacobs once famously termed the 'catastrophic money' wielded by developers like Tesco's will wipe out what's special about Stokes Croft - rather like the speculators who've moved into artistic quarters of East Berlin, thus obliterating the very reason why they were popular in the first place.
There was some rather more nuanced coverage in the local press, and on local TV and radio. The BBC eventually got its house in order and went out to actually ask people what had happened. But all of this still just didn't reflect the views of both sides - what you might have said was the precondition of good writing.
Want to take a very complex situation and reduce it to some pre-determined headlines that you've got written already? Maybe you should move to Fleet Street.