BBC News and Biased Views in Belfast.

In Belfast one of the more memorable experiences I had was visiting the BBC Northern Ireland headquarters and visiting with Claire SavageMark Devenport and Martina Purdy.

It is always an incredible opportunity to be able to learn about the journalism industry from individuals who have worked first hand in it, but I found it fascinating to learn about the news system in Northern Ireland, and how it differs from the rest of the world.

In a country where religion transcends almost everything, and one’s faith influences political ideologies, moral beliefs, historical understandings and more, it is only natural that the same ideological separation exists in how one consumes the news.

Claire was telling us how she published a ‘neutral’ newspaper at one point during her career. The attempt was to create a single news source that everyone in Northern Ireland could read, regardless of religion or ideological/political beliefs. While staying away from religion and politics, it would serve the community as a whole.

When she first mentioned it I must admit that the idea struck me as ingenious. In a world where religion is seeming to have less of a visible influence over youth and the general population, it only seemed natural that the transition to a ‘neutral’ news source would come in time as it has seemed to in other countries.

In Canada, no blatantly religious newspapers are widely distributed. Apart from the Anglican Journal or other church-published newsletters there is little religious bias or focus in the journalism industry. Political bias absolutely, but that is held apart (mostly) from religion.

In Northern Ireland the political climate is unique. The religious beliefs of the Catholics and Protestants are tightly bound to the beliefs of the Nationalists and Unionists, respectively. And so where in North America we have clearly Conservative or Liberal newspapers (Republican or Democrat in the United States), Northern Ireland has Catholic or Protestant.

(For more information here is BBC UK’s ‘Brief History of the Troubles, to explain the divide).

Claire’s newspaper unfortunately didn’t make it past six weeks, which only stands to demonstrate the work that is still to be done in Northern Ireland, but also shows the current climate in the international journalism scene as well. Print is going out of style, and it is becoming harder and harder for new print publications to exist. The web is taking over, and only those pre-established newspapers are finding any readership; and even that is declining.

As printed newspapers are “phasing out” it will be interesting to see how these biases and ideologies choose to present, produce, and distribute their news, whether it be to continue printing the papers, or to amalgamate into one large journalism mass, or maintain their bias in an online presence. As the climate in Northern Ireland shifts towards a more unified people it will also be interesting to see the influence on the NI journalism business. Will these biased papers drop off the earth, or will the religious and political knots eventually untangle themselves and settle into their respective corners?

Certain Belfastians are optimistic about this separation of church, state and community as a whole. A gentlemen named Tom, who led me and my peers on an incredible Black Taxi tour around the city over the weekend, believes that the young people of Belfast are setting the stage for a new era of history. By putting aside religious segregation and biases, he believes the Peace Walls will be down by 2023, and a new Belfast will be ushered in led by a non-partisan youth.

As for me, I certainly hope he’s right, and that newspapers like Claire’s can exist and thrive in a bright community that reflects on it’s past while still marching forward.


Twitter and Politics.

Am I the only one that finds twitter an inappropriate platform to announce all things politics? Today’s cabinet shuffle in the Harper government came complete with it’s own hash tag and instagram video, with Harper looking awkward and uncomfortable; the exact same way I was feeling.

Maybe I’m the only person who feels this way, but even as an 18 year old who’s reliant on twitter and everything social media, I believe there are better ways to announce such things. Perhaps with more pomp and circumstance. I should not be able to picture PM Harper in one of my favored tweeting positions, curled up on my bed in sweats with a box of Ritz crackers between my knees or sitting in front of my laptop with tabs open for tumblr, Facebook, twitter and 9gag

Don’t get me wrong; I fully understand the allure of twitter and tweeting for politics and news. In fact, as a journalism student that how I get most of my news. But for making announcements such as this, I find it to be a little less fitting. Yes, it offers certain accessibility and offers the younger crowd a front-row seat for government actions. But unless that younger crowd has already demonstrated its desire for involvement by following @pmharper –and just to see his infamous picture with his pet chinchilla doesn’t count- they don’t benefit.

There is something very informal about christening this cabinet shuffle with its own distinct hash tag “#shuffle13”. Personally, I feel that a press conference would be more fitting. Something that isn’t interjected with tweets concerning the heat or last nights season two of Aaron Sorkin’s ‘The Newsroom’. For the number of individuals being shuffled, including 8 new faces and four “new strong, capable women”, it lacks a formality that I can only imagine is meaningful to those being mentioned.

Perhaps there is some justification for this social media use. Maybe it’s working better than I think it is. But it still feels wrong. In a world where camps are being developed for adults struggling to go even 3 days without technology, and the futuristic views of Pixar’s Wall-E are looking more probable than out of the question, should we not be encouraging a divide between politics and social media? Would this have occurred had we still been in the ages of MySpace, or on Facebook where duck-faces and games like ‘Mob Wars’ reign supreme? No. To that end, I do not believe it belongs on twitter and instagram. Not only because its informal, or because it falls upon the deaf ears of social-media literate Canadian youth. It just looks bad. It’s no surprise that those of the older generations are not as literate in social media as youth. The tech-savvy generation that grows up with the technology is automatically more effective at using it than the older generations. It makes the PM look poor, because –for no fault of his own, but by sheer adaptation- 13 year olds are showing him up. The Internet is dominated by youth, and twitter is not different. Top twitter feeds include celebrities like Justin Bieber and the boys of One Direction, the comedy group Funny or Die, Starbucks Coffee and a feed called ‘What the F*** Facts’, is there really room for significant political announcements? Even Barack Obama, with over 34 million followers, doesn’t attempt to make the same announcements via his twitter feed. And in a medium where Grumpy cats and fake Michael Bay’s reign supreme, I don’t think he should even try to.

Using twitter for such political announcements crossed the fine line between utilization and misuse: particularly when we can hear some technologically literate helper counting down in the instagram video before Harper invites Canadians to follow his twitter feed for the 2013 cabinet shuffle. I know pre-teens who wouldn’t make that rookie mistake.