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Tim Montgomerie: Blogging is only the beginning of a new media revolution

Timmontgomerieinthebusiness_1Tim Montgomerie is Editor of  In a version of this article for The Business he talks about 18 Doughty Street Talk TV.

Starting a new television station would once have required a Murdoch-sized wallet but the internet revolution has swept away the old barriers to entry.  18 Doughty Street is a new internet-based television station that aims to provide an alternative to mainstream media.  It’s the project of some of Britain’s best-known bloggers.

From invisibility only one year ago Britain’s blogs have shown that individual citizens can provide more serious and penetrating coverage of their specialist areas than many jack-of-all-trades journalists working for the mainstream media.

Many journalists appear to be promoted to anchor positions because they look good on TV.  The values of the blogosphere are in many ways much more old-fashioned.  Appearance is rarely important.  The best bloggers move to the top of Google search engines because other bloggers link to them.  The number of links a blogger receives reflects the extent to which they amuse, entertain or educate.

If I want to know what is going on in Iraq I go to the online journals written by residents of Baghdad and Basra.  The Army Rumour Service website teaches me more about military overstretch than any Parliamentary debate.  The best intelligence about waste and bureaucracy in the National Health Service comes from NHS Blog DoctorInspector Gadget has the most biting understand of the effects of political correctness on our nation’s police force.  My own blog, ConservativeHome, is a more popular and comprehensive blog about Tory politics than the official party website.

The mainstream media looks down on blogs.  They sneer at their partisanship and alleged lack of accountability but the old media’s sense of superiority does not have as much basis in fact as they would like.  Only last week a leaked account of an internal BBC meeting revealed that the Corporation’s executives have effectively conceded that some of its longest-standing critics have been right all along.

Andrew Marr has admitted that the BBC “is not impartial or neutral.”    BBC Washington correspondent Justin Webb noted that the BBC treated America with scorn and derision and gave it 'no moral weight'.  Former BBC Business Editor Jeff Randall was told by a “very senior news executive” that the BBC “believes in” and “promotes” the increasingly controversial idea of multiculturalism.  Other BBC executives admitted that the Corporation is dominated by “homosexuals and people from ethnic minorities”, was “anti-countryside” and “more sensitive to the feelings of Muslims than Christians."

The BBC is more likely to address its institutional leftism if it faces some serious competition.  Shadow Chancellor George Osborne has complained about the tendency of the Corporation to abuse its privileged position and use its huge resource muscle to crowd out smaller players.  Smaller players like 

18 Doughty Street Talk TV is Britain’s first all politics television station and it is attempting to ride the new media wave that has been most exemplified by YouTube and the blogging revolution.  Other internet stations are also emerging and are offering narrowcast programming for stock investors, lawyers, public sector workers and sports enthusiasts.

We are in our earliest days and will probably start perfecting our programming in three to six months.  We are starting early because we want to be ready for the imminent merger of television and internet as viewing platforms.

We hope to be distinctive from the BBC in three main ways: more honest, more democratic and more serious. 

More honest: 18 Doughty Street does not pretend to be impartial.  The difficulty of being impartial has long been recognised in the adversarial configuration of Britain’s political and legal systems. Our programming is intended to represent an alternative to the liberal-leftist worldview of BBC and Channel Four.  That doesn’t mean that left-liberal perspectives won’t get studio time but if watching BBC is a lot like consuming ‘Guardian TV’ - in terms of subjects chosen and questions asked - 18 Doughty Street will be a lot more like ‘Telegraph or Mail TV’.

More democratic: Building on our belief that bloggers are more insightful than many conventional journalists, 18 Doughty Street is embracing the idea of citizen journalism.  We have a very small core staff who will be commissioning a large number of private citizens to submit written reports and camcorder films to the channel.  ‘The many are wiser than the few’ is our inspiration.

More serious: Last week 18 Doughty Street conducted two thirty minute interviews with a Labour and a Tory politician, Stephen Twigg and Liam Fox.  Both interviews were all about foreign policy and were broadcast at the peak of the station’s schedule.  Both interviewees remarked upon the fact that a serious interview that didn’t dwell on the ups and downs of individuals in politics is now very exceptional on mainstream television.

In this age of dumbed down political coverage where politicians only get the shortest of soundbite opportunities on the main news bulletins 18 Doughty Street wants to offer ‘politics for adults’. We hope to provide programming that an increasing number of people enjoy but also to challenge the old media to revisit their sometimes trivial approach to political coverage.

The existing media giants will only survive if they become sources of the highest and most impeachable quality.  Names like the BBC and The Times of London could be stand out marques in this new age of many media voices.  Both would be unwise to continue to dumb down.

It is not, of course, just the old, centralised media that are no longer protected by the old barriers to entry.  Big, centralised political parties should be looking over their shoulders, too.  Greater state funding of political parties – should it be agreed by Britain’s incumbent leaders – will only increase detachment from grassroots political moods.  Sometime soon – if not first in Britain – a political movement will be birthed on the internet.  Established American parties have already used new media to raises tens of millions of dollars. There’s nothing to stop a new party with a grassroots or ‘Wiki’ manifesto from using the same technology to change the political landscape.

Dave Hill profiles 18 Doughty Street in today's Media Guardian.


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