Editorial Intelligence

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"There is no conspiracy, I have not discussed these ideas with anybody in New Labour" –Julia Hobsbawm[1]

“So why does a faintly unpleasant odour rise from the pages of Editorial Intelligence...” –Cristina Odone[2]

Editorial Intelligence was a new venture launched in 2005 by one of New Labour's favourite PR people, Julia Hobsbawm. It attempts to blur the lines between spin and journalism. It was launched after the sudden demise of Hobsbawm's allegedly 'ethical' PR firm (as a result of bad debts owed to the firm) and involves a range of journalists, PR people and lobbyists such as the disgraced former lobbyist Derek Draper. Back in 2001 before its creation Hobsbawm had written that:

‘The role of PR is to provide information, to "tell the truth persuasively", and to allow journalism the right to interpret, for good or bad…. PR has nothing to hide. We send out press releases and give briefings openly (they are called press conferences and launches). With the exception of the mutually beneficial "off the record" quote, PR is transparent. But journalists' egos often make them demur when admitting the involvement of public relations, hence years of running doctored interviews rather than admit intervention.’[3]

By 2004 Hobsbawm was suggesting the need for 'content labelling' of the media to indicate the symbiosis with PR and also the establishment of what she called a 'Truth Institute':

If I could wave a magic wand there would be a forum - part academic, part think tank. A place where moral philosophy is applied to the question of where information goes in the 21st century. This place would be the 'truth institute'.[4]

Dismissed as 'Orwellian'[5] by Brent Cunningham, managing editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, Hobsbawm argues that:

What I am seeking is not just an end to the cold war between Journalism and PR but a warm rapprochement. As long as journalism tries to hide its head in the sand, unlike those in PR and public life who have examined their navel extensively, then journalism is going to come a cropper.[6]

Hobsbawm argues that there is little difference between the media and PR:

you can't now have a successful media coverage of the travel industry, the sports industry, the entertainment industry, without PR". Journalists like to argue that "the fact that we now require PR is some new defect in our moral structure. But actually I just think that's kind of bullshit. I think the reality is that since time immemorial a free press has actually been synonymous with a subsidized press... Journalists are representing the agenda of the proprietor, the agenda of their individual editor, the agenda of the section or the segment that they are presenting... Everybody is telling the story on behalf of somebody else. The idea that journalism isn't doing that is really fundamentally wrong - with exceptions.[7]

Hobsbawm’s argument attempts to ‘level’ journalism and PR to suggest that one is, at least, no worse than the other. The conflict is pointless and Editorial Intelligence is a kind of balm on the wound. She says that ‘ei’ will combine ‘the consulting and analysis of a think-tank with the accurate data of a directory and the inside scoop of a newspaper’. It aims to break down the 'traditional hostility' between journalism and PR by getting the two to mix at lunches, dinners and speaking events. "Cynicism is so over," she says.[8] The venture came in for criticism from some in the mainstream. Alluding to the ei strapline - ‘Where PR meets journalism’ – Christina Odone wrote:

PR meets journalism in Caribbean freebies, shameless backscratching and undeclared interests. A link to a PR firm should spell professional suicide for a journalist, rather than a place on a high-falutin advisory board. Journalists should meet PR in a spirit of hostility - treating the information passed on as suspect, scrutinising possible motives and investigating possible links. As it is, the Westminster village pens into a confined space politicos, hacks and PRs, making for an often unhealthy, if informal, proximity. An organised "network" such as EI's, where more than 1,000 hacks and PR figures formally join hands, risks institutionalising a clique where who knows who will influence who writes what.[9]

It then transpired that ei was offering journalists £1,000 a year to sit on its advisory board, and £250 a time to appear on discussion panels, while, according to the 'Sunday Times', 40 organisations such as the Royal Mail and Vodafone have paid £4,000 each to join the club in the hope of getting their agendas across to Britain's ‘most influential commentators’[10]

Editorial Intelligence is simply one (albeit prominent) example among an impressive variety of initiatives. Before Editorial Intelligence Hobsbawm floated the idea of a ‘truth commission’ an Orwellian sounding project in which a number of key journalistic and market ideologues were involved including John Lloyd, who has written a book about how it is the media (rather than government or the market) which is destroying politics.[11] Lloyd and Hobsbawm were also involved in the discussion leading to the formation of the new journalism think tank at the LSE/LCC. Called Polis, a key inspiration was the academic Roger Silverstone whose work on the media and morality chimed well with Hobsbawm and Lloyd’s distaste for independent journalism. In his last – posthumously published – book Silverstone refers to the ‘trashing of trust’ in which the media are held to have a central role.[12] Silverstone also proposed the importance of media literacy as a means to ensure ‘media justice’. He puts this clearly at one point: ‘The slogan? Let’s say “Education, not regulation!”’[13] – a slogan which is music to the ears of corporate lobbyists everywhere. He also notes that ‘it would be good’ to reduce ‘conflict, repression, discord’. The parallels between this and the Lloyd/Hobsbawm/Blair/New labour critique of the media is obvious.[14] The opposing view is that journalism and PR have differing interests and attempting to bring them closer can only damage the potential independence of journalism.


Contents

Hobsbawm Macaulay Communications

Hobsbawm Macaulay Communications, the company Hobsbawm originally set up with her old school friend Sarah Macaulay — who went on to marry Gordon Brown — was forced into liquidation after finding itself the 'victim' of a business deal that went wrong. Hobsbawm was faced with the option of paying a bill for £100,000, run up by a film company to whom HMC had assigned a property lease, or declare the business insolvent. The pair then fell out and Hobsbawm Macaulay Communications went silent. [15]

The split seems to be final, for Julia: "in our culture, being able to schmooze and cajole is every bit as valuable as having what the Brownies like to call 'a brain the size of the planet".[16]

The Role of EI

According to Hobsbawm it is all about 'truth':

"The role of PR is to provide information, to "tell the truth persuasively", and to allow journalism the right to interpret, for good or bad."[17]

But it didn't take long before the "or bad" part of that took over in the case of EI's own PR and their offer of payments to journalists to join its advisory board. For Hobsbawm some commentators have complained about the move because they prefer the relationship between PRs and hacks to be "cloak and dagger". In the same article she adds:

"PR has nothing to hide. We send out press releases and give briefings openly (they are called press conferences and launches). With the exception of the mutually beneficial "off the record" quote, PR is transparent. But journalists' egos often make them demur when admitting the involvement of public relations, hence years of running doctored interviews rather than admit intervention."[18]

Hobsbawm managed to sign up 'blue-chip clients' including, Morgan Stanley and the PR firm Fishburn Hedges but representitives of both are on the board listed below. It was eventually discovered that EI was offering journalists £1,000 a year to sit on its advisory board, and £250 a time to appear on discussion panels, while, according to the Sunday Times, 40 organisations such as the Royal Mail and Vodafone have paid £4,000 each to join the club in the hope of getting their agendas across to Britain's "most influential commentators". If everyone is part of this cosey marriage of convenience — who will then speak the truth about them? [19]

Hobsbawm's new venture was launched at the Cabinet War Rooms underneath Whitehall. Hobsbawm labels EI “The Economist Intelligence Unit meets the Yellow Pages meets the Week," (the Economist Intelligence Unit was the home of several spooks such as Brian Crozier and the IRD). Indeed Hobsbawm is a long standing member of The British American Project for the Successor Generation. [20]

EI

She says the new service will combine "the consulting and analysis of a think-tank with the accurate data of a directory and the inside scoop of a newspaper". EI aims to break down the 'traditional hostility' between journalists and PRs by getting the two to mix at lunches, dinners and speaking events. "Cynicism is so over," she says. [21]

Hobsbawm has noticed something about the mainstream press: "The notion that journalism is 'at the vanguard of truth seeking, truth telling', that it is 'further up the moral food chain than most other forms of communication,' that 'journalism is somehow seriously frank and free," is a delusion."[22]

EI's people and former people

EI's... former people

The Sunday Times reported on the inevitable falling-out, ostensibly over whether journalists and PRs could or should get away with such a blatantly biddable forum sponsored by big organisations. Sweetly termed Hobsbawm's “information and networking club”, it followed on from Christina Odone’s article which described EI as “PR meets journalism in Caribbean freebies, shameless backscratching and undeclared interests”. Institutionalising the “already rather dubious relationship between hacks, flacks and the organsiations the latter represent", Odone wrote, “is just bad news.” It also stated that the BBC forced Barney Jones and Kirsty Lang to quit the EI’s advisory board, after what surely someone referred to as the cash for comment affair.

Melanie Phillips has also refused to get involved and saying “I don’t think that journalists and PRs should be in a jolly boat together.” Rod Liddle described the project as “a disgusting idea which suggests journalists might be up for hire.” John Lloyd surprised everyone by resigning, but then it turns out he had been appointed to head the Reuters journalism institute at Oxford — although he still features on the site— Matthew d’Ancona also seems to have left, along with Jenni Russell. Peter York has recently joined. [23]

Ownership

Biggest shareholders are chief executive Hobsbawm and her husband. The four other shareholders are former Independent managing editor Charlie Burgess, public policy expert Neil Stewart, former journalist and co-founder of PR firm Luther Pendragon, Charles Stewart-Smith, and chair of the All Party Parliamentary Internet Group, Derek Wyatt MP.[24]

References, Resources and Contact

Resources

References

  1. Patrick Weever, The Julia Project, anti-spin.com, 17 December 2003. (No Longer available online at original source, checked 7 Oct 2007, accessible from the Internet Archive, accessed 20 December 2007)
  2. EI seems a dangerous meeting of minds, The Guardian, 27 March 2006
  3. Hobsbawm,Julia ‘PRs have nothing to hide. What about journalists?’ The Independent, 27 November 2001, p. 8
  4. PR BOSS SAYS TIDE IS TURNING AGAINST "MASSIVELY UNREGULATED" JOURNALISM. Investigative journalism "a pipedream" for 95 per cent of journalists today. Professor Hobsbawm flays the "delusion" that journalism is higher up food chain of truth than PR. By Nick Leader Anti Spin.com, No date retrieved from the Internet Archive of 27 April 2004, accessed 21 October 2008
  5. PR BOSS SAYS TIDE IS TURNING AGAINST "MASSIVELY UNREGULATED" JOURNALISM. Investigative journalism "a pipedream" for 95 per cent of journalists today. Professor Hobsbawm flays the "delusion" that journalism is higher up food chain of truth than PR. By Nick Leader Anti Spin.com, No date retrieved from the Internet Archive of 27 April 2004, accessed 21 October 2008
  6. PR BOSS SAYS TIDE IS TURNING AGAINST "MASSIVELY UNREGULATED" JOURNALISM. Investigative journalism "a pipedream" for 95 per cent of journalists today. Professor Hobsbawm flays the "delusion" that journalism is higher up food chain of truth than PR. By Nick Leader Anti Spin.com, No date retrieved from the Internet Archive of 27 April 2004, accessed 21 October 2008
  7. PR BOSS SAYS TIDE IS TURNING AGAINST "MASSIVELY UNREGULATED" JOURNALISM. Investigative journalism "a pipedream" for 95 per cent of journalists today. Professor Hobsbawm flays the "delusion" that journalism is higher up food chain of truth than PR. By Nick Leader Anti Spin.com, No date retrieved from the Internet Archive of 27 April 2004, accessed 21 October 2008
  8. Jardine, C. ‘The rise and rise of the professional networker’ Daily Telegraph, 3 November 2005, P. 027
  9. Christina Odone 'Media: On the press: EI seems a dangerous meeting of minds' The Guardian (London) - Final Edition March 27, 2006 Monday GUARDIAN MEDIA PAGES; Pg. 7
  10. Fixter, Alyson ‘Editorial Intelligence splits trade as it pays for journos’ Press Gazette, 7 April 2006 http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=1&storycode=33727
  11. John Lloyd What the Media Do to Our Politics, Constable, 2004.
  12. Silverstone, R. (2006) Media and Morality: On the rise of the mediapolis, Cambridge: Polity.
  13. Ibid. p. 185
  14. See David Miller (2004) 'System Failure: It's not just the media - the whole political system has failed', Journal of Public Affairs, Vol. 4(4), November 2004: 374-383
  15. Vincent Graff, How to handle the truth The Guardian, 7 November 2005.
  16. Julia Hobsbawm My week: Julia Hobsbawm Hobnobbing with David Cameron, Tessa Jowell and Matthew d'Ancona is all very well, but if you want a true sense of what matters in the real world, always ask a five-year-old] The Observer, Sunday May 14 2006
  17. Julia Hobsbawm, The Independent, 27 November 2001
  18. Hobsbawm,Julia ‘PRs have nothing to hide. What about journalists?’ The Independent, 27 November 2001, p. 8
  19. Alyson Fixter Editorial Intelligence splits trade as it pays for journos, Press Gazette, 07 April 2006
  20. Andy Beckett, Friends in high places: You won't have heard of the British-American Project, but its members include some of the most powerful men and women in the UK. Officially it exists to promote the 'special relationship', but it has been described as a Trojan horse for US foreign policy. Even its supporters joke that it's funded by the CIA. Should we be worried? The Guardian, Saturday November 6 2004
  21. Cassandra Jardine The rise and rise of the professional networker Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 03/11/2005
  22. PR BOSS SAYS TIDE IS TURNING AGAINST "MASSIVELY UNREGULATED" JOURNALISM. Investigative journalism "a pipedream" for 95 per cent of journalists today. Professor Hobsbawm flays the "delusion" that journalism is higher up food chain of truth than PR. By Nick Leader Anti Spin.com, No date retrieved from the Internet Archive of 27 April 2004, accessed 21 October 2008
  23. Editorial Intelligence Advisers and contributing editors, accessed 28 February 2008
  24. Katie Allen 'Media: Cutting a path through the media jungle: Businesses that sift and sort through the media are thriving as PRs, journalists, and the people who read them, struggle with information overload: Editorial Intelligence' The Guardian (London) - Final Edition, February 11, 2008 Monday GUARDIAN MEDIA PAGES; Pg. 9
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