Newsnight: Lessons for Libraries

I want to draw a bit of a line under the whole CILIP and Newsnight thing pretty soon, so a good way to do that would be to see what we, the library community, can learn from the whole thing. [For those of you who missed it, a previous blog post on CILIP and the media generated unheard-of-for-this-blog levels of views and comments, so clearly tapped into something a lot of people feel strongly about.] Clearly all of the below deals specifically with CILIP, and particularly with Newsnight. But there may be lessons which can be extrapolated across the board. Picture of a thumbs-up

In amongst all the debate it suddenly occurred to me that I have a Newsnight related contact! As exciting as a I like to think that sounds, all it means is one of my friends' career paths took them in that direction, so I could ask them about it from a Newsnight perspective. So there's a few quotes from, let's call them a nice androgynous name - Alex - below. Alex did not work on either specific programme that we're discussing, so Alex's views are NOT officially representative of Newsnight; they are just opinions based on what has happened.

CILIP does go where the conversation is

I was impressed that many representatives of CILIP tweeted links to, and commented on, my post. The social-media using arm of CILIP are always open to debate, never afraid of engaging with posts which criticise the organisation, and manage, insofar as I've seen, to remain fair and balanced in the face of something of a battering, at times. Remember kids, these people aren't necessarily the ones making the decisions they have to defend!

In addition to this, Chief Exec Bob McKee took the time to come and leave not one but two comments, responding to our questions, even though he had his own blog post on the same subject to deal with the responses to. I think that's great.

If we'd ALL acted after Newsnight, we'd probably have got an apology

I know that Debby Raven, editor of Gazette, and Johanna Bo Anderson, and a few other people, emailed Newsnight after the incorrect figures being wrong by several hundred million, thing, but really we should ALL have done so. I didn't, and I don't know why not really - no excuses for not taking action if you're going to stand on the side lines and criticise others' efforts, as I have done. Would've been simple enough to use Twitter to get 100 Information Professionals to send a brief email correcting the figure, so we should've. I asked Alex if the BBC would have been fussed about getting the figures so wrong:

Yes, the BBC would have been bothered. Someone would have got an earful but it would have entirely depended on the editor (Peter Rippon) whether there was an apology made or not. Unlikely to be on the web, not Newsnight style. More likely to be at the end of the next days programme or something.  If there were only a handful of complaints, chances are they would have responded to those individually and not broadcast a correction.

Now as far as I know, Jo and the others didn't actually get individual responses. But it seems that if literally 100 or 200 of us had emailed in, they would have corrected it on the next night's edition! Perfect Echo Chamber escaping behaviour, that would have been - letting the same audience that saw the original misinformation about libraries hear the truth the next day, rather than just repeating the truth to other each other as we have done.

We have to go to the media, rather than expect them to come to us

I proposed a theory to Alex, that went like this. The first Newsnight programme didn't invite CILIP simply because they weren't aware of them, ran with incorrect figures, then Debby and Jo et al emailed irately in, and with that in mind CILIP was firmly on the radar of Newsnight, hence the offer to appear on the second programme.

You'd be right in saying CILIP didn't get the nod for the first programme because nobody knew who they were. Unless you're either a. on the BBC 'ENPS' contacts system because you have been on before/a reporter has talked to you, or b. been a regular in the broadsheets you're not likely to be on Newsnight's radar.

So it seems, and this presumably goes for most media, that we have to force the issue and make people aware we have a professional body (with a royal charter, no less!) to represent us.

We have to play by the media's rules

It was suggested in the comments on my earlier post that even attempting to sum up the contribution of libraries / skilled librarians in just 1 minute was inevitably going to end up token and facile, and from Laura Wilkinson's tweets from a CILIP event yesterday I understand Bob put across the perfectly reasonable argument that it was better not to have anyone at all on the programme, than have someone under prepared who'd do a bad job representing libraries.

I agree with both those points. But on the other hand, the 1 minute elevator pitch is, considering libraries' legendary problems with marketing themselves, actually quite a well known idea and an established part of every Info Pros PR armoury - it's a shame there wasn't anyone on hand who could quickly brush up on theirs. More to the point, if you spurn someone like Newsnight are they really going to ask you back in future? Alex again:

Now that CILIP have refused to comment, I would say yes, they are unlikely to be contacted in the future. There are plenty of important, good value people with pro-library views and so they're not forced to go with an organisation which isn't willing to 'step-up'.  You have to remember that Newsnight is run by a very small team of people. They often have to put these things together in a day, so aren't going to chase people around who are too afraid to speak on TV, providing there are many suitable alternatives as I said.

So could there be an argument for getting someone on anyway, even unprepared? I don't know, it's so hard - I'm glad I'm not having to make this kind of decision myself.

I do think, though, with regards to the 'it was only a minute so it wasn't worth it' argument, that when libraries are in crisis, so many jobs are at stake under the new Government, and public perception has the potential to be a nail in a coffin or two, you've got to take any bone the media throws at you. Besides which, as Alex points out:

Note also that 1 minute of TV time is massive!  Any press person worth their salt should be able to get their point across in a 20 second clip. Bear in mind most news items are only 1 minute 30 to 2 minutes in total, and that usually includes 2 or 3 interviewees.  Newsnight is the exception.

There's hope yet...

I asked Alex if we could get CILIP back into Newsnight's good books, and to stay on their radar.

Basically, the BBC gets people on the radar because they either a. get to know reporters, b. have a high enough profile due to funding/politics or c. issue press releases alot and actively try and publicise the organisation.

I think that it would be a fairly rare thing for CILIP to be a regular story contributor as libraries are rarely in the news. But it might just be as simple as calling up Newsnight and asking to be contacted if there are similar stories in the future. the BBC has the system called ENPS which is a big database holding all contacts, scripts, research...everything. If someone types in 'Library Specialist', they'll [CILIP will] want to be the one that comes up.

So - someone at CILIP, make that call!

Edit: a final thought (just like Jerry Springer)

I feel like I should add something which I didn't make clear in the original version of this post.

For me, the thing to take from all of this is not, oh God, Newsnight are never going to invite CILIP back again. Admittedly that is rather depressing, but Alex could be mistaken about that, or CILIP could rectify the situation with a well placed call to the BBC. More to the point though, Newsnight is just one programme and doesn't represent the be all and end all.

The big thing, for me, is that CILIP, BIALL, the SLA, the ALA, all the other professional bodies and libraries generally, need to understand how the media operates in order to successfully engage with them - and that understanding isn't easy to come by! You have to proactively go out there and find out what makes the media tick, what the are the rules they operate by - in order that they / we get it right next time, and the time after that, and all the future times too. We must be self-confident enough to think to ourselves, yes, big news programmes do want to hear from us and yes, we do know how to deal with them effectively.

I think there's a hang-over from the old days of libraries as public institutions - charities in effect - that makes us somewhat meek, whereas in fact now they need to be run as businesses, with all the aggressive marketing that entails (and both pro-active and re-active PR).

- thewikiman

P.S Woodsiegirl and I will be discussing these issues and MANY MORE as part of our echo-chamber presentation in Leeds next month! :) Details elsewhere on the blog.