The Death of Accountability
How the political class defeated the citizen journalists
I first entered journalism around the dawn of what was then the blogging revolution. For the first time, anyone with an internet connection and a bit of nous could set themselves up as a ‘citizen journalist’ and hold the powerful to account.
As a newly-qualified journalist I saw this as an exciting alternative way into a career, from the old routes of working at local or regional papers, or doing long stints of work experience at national papers (although I did some of that too).
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With little more than a couple of ‘Blogspot’ accounts, I started covering events at London’s City Hall, where a certain Conservative backbench MP called Boris Johnson had just been elected as Mayor.
At a time when Twitter and other ‘microblogging’ accounts hadn’t yet quite taken off, I would publish several posts a day on my own website, often breaking stories that had been missed, or overlooked by London’s own Evening Standard, or ‘The Evening Boris’ as I sometimes dubbed it.
Some of these, like revealing sexual harassment allegations against one of Johnson’s Deputy Mayors, or exposing how Johnson was being treated to regular free trips to Evgeny Lebedev’s Italian villa, then found their way back into other local and national outlets - to the rather public annoyance of Johnson himself.
Before long I was being commissioned to write for papers and magazines like The Guardian and New Statesman as well as making regular appearances on channels like the BBC and LBC. Pretty soon I landed my first ‘proper’ journalism job with Ian Dunt at Politics.co.uk.
In the space of just a few years I went from firing out missives from my back-bedroom, to joining the lobby and putting questions to the Prime Minister at press conferences.
To anyone who has grown up in the more recent era of social media celebrity, this will probably not seem like a particularly remarkable story, but at the time it felt revolutionary. Here was I, an unknown twenty-something from South East London with little more than a blog, and I had somehow managed to make a name and career for myself in journalism, while sidestepping most of the traditional routes into the business.
I mention all of this because at the time it felt like it was part of a new rising tide of ‘accountability’ in politics. By bypassing traditional outlets and the kinds of relationships with politicians that they operated under, ‘citizen journalists’ like myself felt they were able to hold the powerful to account in ways that simply hadn’t happened before.
This was a revolution, and it felt like I was right at the centre of it.
Unfortunately it didn’t quite work out that way.
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