Sunday, 24 February 2013

Joshua Rozenberg

I talked to Joshua Rozenberg about this week's baffling news that The Guardian is abandoning its dedicated law section. Especially puzzling given there's so much legal news worth reporting at the moment! Guardian Law remains, but will be "semi-automated".  So essentially it will become a repository for legal content appearing elsewhere in the paper and online - no longer commissioned and edited as a separate specialist section. 

Could part of The Guardian's thinking be that it simply doesn't make sense for legal news to be separated from the rest of business and other news content any more, precisely because there is so much important legal material to report? I put this to Joshua.

"Well it was interesting that the news of the change to Guardian Law came on a day when the top two news stories were both legal cases: the Pistorius trial and the Vicky Pryce jury debacle. Legal content is as important as ever, there's no doubt. And I'm as passionate as I've always been to explain the legal stories in the headlines accurately and simply for the average man and woman on the street to understand - and to know how the law and legal process impacts on their lives. You'll still be able to read my regular column in the Guardian each week. 

"I do think there's something in what you say about legal issues permeating the news, so perhaps not always needing separate treatment. In a sense The Guardian's decision can be seen as confirmation of just how important law is in the world of current affairs. But I will miss having a dedicated law page editor, someone with specialist knowledge who challenged the ideas I pitched to her and who used to critique my work.  An editor in that position can champion legal stories for a prominent position in the paper or on the website, as well as promoting their importance to news editors in line with their true relevance to the news agenda (which is not always obvious to non-specialist editors)." 

We talked at length about the continuing challenge for the quality broadsheets to move with the times and grapple with the thorny issue of adapting to changing news consumption habits.

"It is well known that print editions generally run at a loss across the board. But broadsheets have yet to find a way of making enough money out of online content to support the considerable journalistic resource still required to keep the quality of content up - in terms of those classic journalist skills of breaking news first and reliably, and providing insightful analysis. Maybe it's because people were initially given online content for free, but now there's a definite reluctance to pay for it. And no newspaper website has yet to establish itself as the obvious first port of call for job adverts. 

"Interestingly, iPad editions are faring much better in terms of convincing people to part with their money. So as new platforms emerge, perhaps people will be more willing to pay for good quality content." 

Just when you thought the Huhne v Huhne case (Vicky Pryce trial) couldn't get any more bizarre, this week we had the gob-smacking story of the jury discharged for failing to reach a verdict, apparently having no clue what they were meant to be doing. The collective jaw of the nation dropped as press reports emerged of the questions this jury had asked by way of direction from the judge.  Most famously they asked the meaning of "reasonable doubt", to which a rather weary-sounding judge replied that these were "normal English words." You can read the full eye-goggling list of their questions here

More worrying perhaps, was the flurry of comment across all media platforms in the following hours and days. Not so much the debate whether juries are still relevant to the system (some very persuasive arguments were put that the man/woman on the street's involvement in the justice system is a key tenet of our democracy) but some very worrying tales of bizarre jury behaviour in other cases - eg one juror asking for a Ouija board to consult the deceased. I kid you not!

On the day the news broke that the jury had been disbanded, Joshua Rozenberg commented in a BBC interview: "I wouldn't want that jury judging my case." Perhaps the system does work after all...

London Fashion Week brought a spangly tinge to the area around King's College and Somerset House in legal London this week. I've never seen so many snappy trousers, natty hats and colourful platform shoes in this part of town before. 

My favourite story from Fashion Week though was the personal PR campaign of the fashion world's latest star Cara Delevingne. She must be one of the most photographed women of the moment (as the British Fashion Awards' Model of the Year), she's on the front cover of the current edition of Vogue. Yet she felt the need to add to the legion photographic images of her by making her own Instagram diary of her behind-the-scenes life at London Fashion Week. For someone whose image is so central to their career, Instagram makes total sense. It's the obvious medium.

Whilst pondering the rise in popularity of Instagram, another story caught my eye: a shockwave in the States as several states prepare to drop the teaching of hand-writing from their syllabuses on the grounds it is obsolete in our digital age.  They say it's keyboard skills they need to equip their students with for the real world. 

And what will this world look like in twenty years? Are we moving closer to Ray Bradbury's dystopian vision of a world where the written word is banned, books are outlawed and any houses containing them are burned by firemen? Time to get Truffaut's sublime film version of Fahrenheit 451 out again. #anyexcuse

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