Journalism Today: James Harding lecture at the British Library

James Harding, Director of BBC News, gave the inaugural W.T. Stead lecture at the British Library on Monday night, 13th January. The W.T. Stead Lectures are named in honour of the pioneering and tenacious journalist who met an untimely death onboard the Titanic. William Thomas Stead helped to pioneer the populist, inquisitive and crusading style of newspaper production which has proved so enduring.

As the opening of the British Library's new News & Media Reading room approaches, Harding’s central argument was that we are in the throes of another news revolution today. We are, he asserted, at the most exciting time for journalism since advent of television.

The tools now available for storytelling and story-getting are unprecedented, but we still need a free, courageous press The digital revolution has brought the power of information and the tools to distribute that information into the hands of anyone. This changes journalism, the news agenda, the relationship between producers and consumers of news, and changes the business models on which news production and particularly the regional Press has depended.

At such a time, there has never been a greater need for original reporting, insightful analysis and challenging opinion. People making choices need information and intelligence. We need professional journalism. And, he maintains, in Britain, we are extremely fortunate to have a boisterous, curious and courageous Press.

Herein lies the contradiction that Harding identifies at the centre of our current situation. He welcomed the disruption to existing models of news production that the upstart newcomers such as Buzzfeed, Vice, Upworthy, and Propublica are delivering (and referring to Probublica, “we are at the foothills of data journalism” was one of the evening’s most memorable phrases). At the same time he made a strong defence of the values of traditional journalism to deliver "a voice you can trust". And, he asserted, the BBC's great asset is the trust with which it is held. However, this has to be centred in "uncompromising commitment to accuracy, impartiality, diversity of opinion and the decent treatment of people in the news".

To get more flavours of the evening, including the Q&A session, track #BLNewsroom on Twitter.

The full text of Harding’s lecture can be found on the BBC Media Centre.

Additional news commentary on his remarks on regional news is covered in the Evening Standard and BBC News.

– Donald Lickley

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