#newsrw: Constructive criticism is what we want, not abuse

I was at another conference, a while back, when one of the speakers said something along the lines of: “Then there’s ITN’s video, which is just rubbish.”

There was a small ripple of laughter from the audience. Let’s face it, while it might be possible to argue that ITN’s video production doesn’t hit the same mark as, say the BBC, it certainly isn’t rubbish. Criticism like that isn’t particularly helpful, or constructive.

Today, at news:rewired, it was the turn of one of the websites I work with, the Coventry Telegraph, to get an unjustified kicking – by a lecturer from Coventry University too.

John Mair, senior lecturer, at Coventry University, had a reasonable question lurking somewhere when he stood up to address Marc Reeves during one of the keynotes speeches. In a nutshell, he wanted Marc’s thoughts on whether he thought newspapers were getting it right online.

For some reason, though, Mair sought to make the point that Marc had recently taken redundancy from MRN (the old name for Trinity Mirror Midlands, a fact which was neither relevant or in need of repetition in front of an audience who’d heard Marc talk about leaving the Birmingham Post just moments before) before asking him: “Have you looked at the Coventry Telegraph website?”

Marc replied: “No.” Fair enough, an honest answer, to which Mair then said: “Well, don’t bother.” Nice eh? If he was after a cheap laugh, he didn’t get it. Quite what his motive was, I don’t know.

I’m not daft enough to think the websites I work with are perfect, but I do know that many of them – the Cov Tel included – are posting impressive monthly and annual increases in traffic. It is very much like the paper, proud to be local, and that might explain why Mair doesn’t like it – his twitter account (posted on the news:rewired website)  says he is from Oxford. I also know how hard the newsroom there works on the website.

Mair has an impressive CV, but I don’t see the benefit of journalism lecturers just dismissing something out of hand without offering up constructive criticism. Journalism lecturers are well placed to offer constructive criticism. Paul Bradshaw and Andy Dickinson are two senior lecturers and journalism experts who I have a lot of time for, largely because of the constructive criticism they have delivered in the past.

Interestingly, during the course of Marc’s response to Mair (which I didn’t catch), I received five messages via Twitter from lecturers either in the room or watching online to say that such a comment was out of order, and not what they’d do.

Criticism is essential if we’re to keep improving, but is only worth anything if it is constructive. Especially if you’re a journalism lecturer.

A previous critique of Mair can be found here

Note: I did think about whether to write this post, given that it would perhaps give more publicity to a very unfair comment. But given that news:rewired was livestreamed, and the audience at news:rewired included many influential members of the media, I decided it shouldn’t go unchallenged.

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