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The end of The Independent: has print lost its place?

The end of The Independent: has print lost its place?

After 30 years, one of the nation’s most well-known newspapers has announced it will be ceasing print; the final issue of The Independent will be published on 26th March, with The Independent on Sunday’s final issue appearing the following day.

The Independent is renowned for its vivid front pages and campaigning tone. Most recently, its sensitive and compelling coverage of the European migrant crisis starkly communicated the gravity of the distressing situation. Its now-famous front page depicting the lifeless body of Aylan Al-Kurdi highlighted the reality and desperation of the crisis, engaging directly with every individual who saw that image.

Newspaper stand, closure of Independent

Image courtesy of Scorpians and Centaurs on Flickr

With this in mind, we have to wonder what the paper’s final front page will look like. How to sum up 30 years in one issue? A copy to look forward to that is for certain.

Of course, the digitalisation of a national newspaper automatically calls into question what this means for print media as a whole. This discussion is not new and has been going on for a lengthy amount of time. However, now The Indy has taken this step, these conversations will no doubt amplify.

Breaking news is now available at every second of every minute of every hour of every day, with alerts set up so we receive the stories directly to our phones.  We digest news quickly and in bite-size chunks, reading a feature during our mid-morning coffee break, an article during a lunchtime browse, scrolling down the news feeds on our train journey home. If a paper has an exclusive, it is increasingly difficult to keep this under wraps before it is released to the internet, where it becomes old news within seconds.

Therefore, does print news still have a place in our society? Is it an out-dated legacy of a time before life online?

Front page of the Independent

Image courtesy of At-Ram on Flickr

We have to wonder whether The Independent is acting as a trailblazer, ensuring the way we digest news is compatible with the modern person. Alternatively, is its decision to end a sign of defeat (which its reduced number of readers might suggest)?

There is already a nostalgic element to turning the pages of a paper or a book, with the new generation now exposed to digital, as opposed to being gradually introduced like generations of previous years. Yes, the world of digital brings exciting opportunities, with the ever-changing social climate allowing us to engage like never before. Yet, there is something different about picking up a physical paper copy of a paper. You may be encouraged to read stories you would simply glance at online or spend your time reading the whole piece instead of scrolling to the end. A paper is a curated collection of news, features and articles that are deemed the most important that day and should be considered as a complete package.

Although modernisation is important, I for one will be sad to see The Independent go and wistfully hope the others will not follow suit.

 

Changing the Narrative: Is Business Action on Climate Change Believable?

climate change narrative

‘Image courtesy of Michael on Flickr’

Blizzards in America. Heat waves ‘beyond the limit of human survival’ in the Middle East. Droughts across Australia, Africa, India. Floods bursting through city after city across the UK.

Such stories are part of the 20-year-long narrative surrounding global warming, backed up by scientific studies and the accelerating signs that our Earth’s temperature is probably going to kill us.

Attention-grabbing it may be, but reading headlines like these you’d be forgiven for thinking climate change is a Doomsday tale. After all, you come away knowing we’re basically just “rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic”. That humanity is on an inevitable, irreversible path towards destruction. The end.

It’s not a pleasant narrative. Not an inspiring narrative. Perhaps one with an element of smugness for the scientists who, in twenty years time and the planet is burning, can say, “We told you so.” But essentially a narrative of despair complete with finger-pointing over who is responsible: the fossil fuel industry, greedy corporates, thoughtless Westerners, over-ambitious BRICS. Even before the Paris Climate Summit last December, changing this narrative was a concern.

COP21 was a hugely positive turning point, committing 195 nations to decarbonisation and action on climate change. The best (and potentially last) chance to save the planet as we know it, the summit stood out because more than just the same figureheads attended. The private sector had a real, tangible presence too, seeming equally invested in creating a zero-carbon future.

Of course, putting words into action isn’t something for which the corporate sector is known. At least not when it comes to addressing climate change. As pointed out by Georg Kell, founder of the UN Global Compact and Vice-Chair of Arabesque Partners, the private sector has “often played a sophisticated game to demonstrate green credentials with marketing campaigns, whilst at the same time using its influence to stop or undermine climate policy action.”

This is why business is never the good guy in climate stories, news headlines, literature. Certainly not in our films or television shows. Highlighting failures, missed targets, lost jobs and huge expenses, the narrative around business and climate change has long been negative.

And on reflection, it doesn’t take much scrutiny to reveal the only thing holding the COP21 together is peer pressure.

At a Guardian Sustainable Business’ debate on the role of the business sector in addressing global warming, the promises made at COP21 were the nominal concern of the panel.

Pledges were made, brands swore themselves to the cause, sweeping promises ensured a positive spin to the Paris summit. But will any of them be kept? Will world leaders keep climate change on the agenda once cameras have stopped rolling and there are no more pretty speeches to be made?

Sitting in the audience, however, what was most evident was that the real problem wasn’t whether or not promises will be kept, nor even what’s worse – the companies that fail to keep their pledges or the ones not making them. The question most urgently on the agenda but noticeably unanswered was how we can tackle the narrative underpinning the two-decade long collective action failure.

Steve Howard, IKEA’s Chief Sustainability Officer, first raised narrative as a central issue for climate action. According to him, we ‘need to be strong on carbon pricing. We want enforced obligations. We want accountability. To drive actions. To drive solutions.”

After all, the question shouldn’t be is business action believable? We need to be answering on how to ensure action on climate change happens. We need to focus on solutions and those creating them.

What became apparent during the debate was that the lack of homogeny within the corporate sector represented a significant hurdle. The panel itself conveyed this.

Howard represented the most optimistic viewpoint. Emphasising the success of IKEA and the positivity surrounding COP21, he talked about Green Growth and how it can improve material well-being by creating a world of abundance. On the other hand, Kevin Anderson (Tyndall Centre for Climate Research) employed shock and awe rhetoric to present a ‘hard change’ narrative that concluded by accentuating how unlikely it was for the Marshall Islands to still exist in twenty years as temperatures would almost certainly rise by at least 4 degrees, not the 2 degrees promised in Paris.

Green MP Caroline Lucas raised the spectre of conspiracy, pointing out that the business lobbyists negotiating in parliament are far from supportive with many oil industry representatives having a hand in the legislation being drawn up to create the regulations deemed necessary if promises made at COP21 are to succeed. This, she pointed out, is problematic for the main reason that Big Oil is possibly the biggest enemy of climate action.

On the other hand, the two representatives of the financial sector – Nordea’s Sasja Breslik and Alliance Trust’s Katherine Garrett-Cox – seemed more concerned with the remaining faction of climate deniers who still lurk in boardrooms. This is understandable. According to a survey of 1,400 CEOs from around the world compiled by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and published at Davos, only 50% of CEOS perceive climate change and environmental damage as a threat to business growth. Instead “over-regulation was listed as the biggest threat (by 79% of CEOs), followed by geopolitical uncertainty (74%) and other key threats including cyber attacks (61%).”

Garrett-Cox explained, “If you ask what’s at the top of your risk register in a boardroom it’s not going to be climate change. But it probably should be. We’ve made progress … but too many CFOs think it’s still a novel conversation.”

Somewhat supporting the conspiracy theory upheld by Lucas, Garrett-Cox and Breslik also alluded back to the concerns of Georg Kell and the idea that climate action in the business sector is systemic lip service. It looks good to look green, but actually going green is still perceived as undesirable. Why? Because ‘mitigating climate change undermines the ability of the world’s people to achieve and sustain prosperity’.

However, whilst there remain entities determined to maintain the status quo, and the panel couldn’t come to a consensus on accountability for ensuring targets nor responsibility for presenting solutions, the one thing agreed on was things need to change. There’s no more space for doom and gloom. There’s no more time for emotional dialogue. It’s imperative we move to something more practical.

So to pull everything together and ignore the general confusion of the panel’s dialogue, several factors were seen as crucial to recreating the narrative so it says neither ‘everything is roses’ or ‘everything is futile’.

Firstly, there needs to be a mental change within the economic system. We need to update the way people are taught. The IPCC released their first emissions report in 1990, but education has barely changed and certainly not the basics on the challenges of global warming or how to face them. Instead, we need to teach the links between sustainability and profitability that Garrett-Cox pointed out. The market opportunities highlighted by Howard, not to mention the invaluable benefits a zero-carbon economy could produce through innovative, cost-effective energy solutions and renewable technologies.

Secondly, sustainability has to become a lifestyle choice. Rather than just being that scary thing we read about, that thing that requires sacrifice, that thing that hangs like an albatross around our necks, it needs to be shown as an opportunity for everyone. At the debate, it was pointed out that there are no real leaders in sustainability yet. But this, in itself, is a powerful position. As Armstrong described, it’s an opportunity. The lack of leadership means ‘we are all catalysts for change.’ We can all be leaders for the future.

Thirdly, creating jobs, boosting economic growth, improving lives, this is just part of the business case for a decarbonised society extending into our every day lives and this needs to be demonstrated through politics and the media in particular. It will also have to include rebuilding the West’s culture of shame and praise. Whilst incentive systems exist for a reason, ‘name and shame’ horror stories deter individuals and companies from even trying. We’re a naturally risk-averse species, after all. It’s why the Doomsday narrative doesn’t work.

And lastly, we have to ignore the lure of silver bullets. Regulation is not a silver bullet. Geoscience is not a silver bullet. At the end of the day, the only thing that is going to work is collective action.

Across the world, these alterations to the way we live and work are already beginning to be seen. COP21 highlighted them. The UN Global Compact, the rise of B Corporations, The B Team, Generation S and others all show movement within the corporate sector. Initiatives like the Forward Institute and Singularity U are emerging with the single focus of educating and empowering a future generation of leaders. The increased coverage of these initiatives in the media is also key. There are more dedicated climate change awareness sections in the established media as well as many new outlets such as Triple Pundit, Blue and Green Tomorrow, The New Economy, Collectively, and GOOD. All of this indicates a wider interest from the public and business leadership.

The narrative is changing. But now it’s time to completely cast out the doom and gloom and convey a realistic but aspirational alternative. Hard work it might be, but COP21 is not too little, too late. It’s just in time.

It has to be.

How the #TubeStrike Can Stem the Loss of Public Sympathy

The strike has affected millions of commuters

This morning, like many of my friends and colleagues, I crawled out of bed an hour earlier to spend half an hour waiting for a bus that could manage to squeeze in a handful more frustrated passengers, to spend the next 45 minutes pressed up against my fellow Londoners with a metal bar below my ribs and a gentleman’s sandals repeatedly crushing my toes. I can’t say I’m a fan of the tube being down.

Over the last few days I have spent many a conversation lamenting the imminent temporary loss of my regular commute, and almost all my eye-rolling contemporaries have bemoaned the significant salaries that striking tube drivers earn for their work. It’s obviously hard to sympathise with our better-off neighbours when they disrupt an entire capital city. But, if they had so desired, could the unions have gained more public sympathy?

The biggest problem for tube workers in such an aim is the torrent of social media spawned quips and highly shareable stats that are flying around the Twittersphere. During the last tube strike, Facebook was littered with tables and graphs comparing the salaries and training conditions of tube drivers with paramedics and other health workers – or with teachers, firefighters and the police. The vast majority of conversations – both digital and ‘IRL’ – around the strikes parrot the same statistics that tube drivers on average earn nearly £50,000 and have up to 52 days holiday a year. Twitter and Facebook users aren’t alone in their outrage at well-paid tube personnel wreaking havoc on other working Londoners’ commutes – the media has consistently highlighted the pay package of tube drivers in their coverage of the recent union action. The BBC, for example, noted that “according to HM Treasury figures, the drivers’ starting salary of £49,673 means they earn more than 90% of the population.” No wonder everyone around us is annoyed.

Comparisons have been drawn between other essential professions.

Comparisons have been drawn between other essential professions.

But the overwhelming irritation at tube drivers’ pay has dwarfed the key issues for union members: TfL’s lack of clarity on work-life balance for employees and the details on the night shift conditions workers will be required to perform under. This message has been mostly lost on the public, who are generally steadfast in their annoyance at the drivers’ remuneration.

There have been a handful of articles which have tried to debunk certain misconceptions, and which have highlighted how the multi-faceted deals must either be rejected or accepted in full and are “not pick and mix offers”. But the majority of coverage easily stokes the fire of resentment that has been spreading across social media all week.

Whether or not it’s fair and proportionate to disrupt a whole city to make these points heard, it seems to me that the unions could have somewhat improved their chance for public sympathy if they gave a human face to the issues and effectively put the public in the drivers’ shoes. This isn’t easy – I’ve heard several friends announce that they’d kill to get £200 for a night shift, that they’d switch with tube drivers any day for their salary and holiday package. For many people that’s a fair point – but if any of us had signed up to one job and then were demanded to work nights, with only vague assurances on how many nights a year or how much sleep time we’d be afforded after each, we might be more sympathetic to the unions’ cause – even if we don’t support the full extent of their actions.

Some have rallied to back the strike.

Some have rallied to back the strike.

 

It’s possible to see the impact a real-life case study can have on changing stubborn minds. An open letter from a tube driver ahead of last month’s strikes gathered viral support when he explained on Facebook how the proposed measures would affect him personally:

Drivers have had their say.

Drivers have had their say.

The public can sympathise with this kind of personal account, which clearly outlines the possible impact of the terms then proposed. And the unions could go further in putting the public in the drivers’ shoes – highlighting working parents who would need extra overnight childcare to cover the possible many weeks of night shifts, for example. Demonstrating data on the importance of certainty and work-life balance to mental health, perhaps.

It’s no mean feat to draw sympathy from often worse-off Londoners who are directly disrupted by the unions’ actions. But focusing on the human lives and stories behind the issues, alongside being clear about the real-life impact of the proposals, might tease out understanding from even the most toe-crushed, sleep-deprived of commuters.

The Greek financial crisis – Twitter’s take

For the past few weeks the news agenda has been dominated by the Greek crisis and what seemed to have become the never-ending discussions by political leaders to end the stalemate. However, at the same time that the political negotiations and debates were taking place, the online world of social media was also heating up.

Social media and Twitter, in particular, are now the key channels where people express views, debate, criticise and argue, but what is even more interesting is how users use humour and creativity to address hot topics on these platforms. Major political topics and personalities are targeted through a different lens, pointing out elements that are often exaggerated and have become almost stereotypical. The aim? To give a new spin to the grim reality and in many ways to challenge ‘authority’ and emphasise its ‘weak’ points.

Interactivity and engagement are among the key perks of social media and coupled with humour and political satire, they make a powerful mixture. Hashtags like #ilovetsipras and #merkelmeme gained in popularity with users tagging caricatures and other content, while hashjacking like in the cases of #greferendum and #agreekment also inspired users to post their own version of political analysis in a humorous way.

Social media has been awash with satire throughout the crisis.

Social media has been awash with satire throughout the crisis.

Is humour people’s way of dealing with a highly stressful and uncertain situation? Politics and humour have always been different sides of the same coin. Political cartoons made their presence in the UK in newspapers as early as in the 1700s. The internet, however, has enabled the creative potential of humour to unleash and at the same time it has also made it easier for satirists to bypass censorship and stay anonymous.

What was even more interesting was that the parallel online satirical trend that followed the EU talks had no geographical limit with users across the world participating and engaging with one another and exchanging jokes, cartoons and memes. Humour creates a global communication channel and social media have made it possible for this content to enjoy a global reach they never would have had otherwise.

Coverage of the issue has been mixed to say the least.

Coverage of the issue has been mixed to say the least.

What the recent example of the EU talks on the Greek crisis shows is that humour is a fantastic way to create virtual community bonds among users that would potentially have never interacted otherwise. It is also a great shock absorber helping people to make sense of reality and look at things in a more positive way. It is clear that the social media frenzy over the Greek crisis will continue in the weeks and months to come.

After all political satire was a Greek invention.

The Greek financial crisis – Twitter's take

For the past few weeks the news agenda has been dominated by the Greek crisis and what seemed to have become the never-ending discussions by political leaders to end the stalemate. However, at the same time that the political negotiations and debates were taking place, the online world of social media was also heating up.

Social media and Twitter, in particular, are now the key channels where people express views, debate, criticise and argue, but what is even more interesting is how users use humour and creativity to address hot topics on these platforms. Major political topics and personalities are targeted through a different lens, pointing out elements that are often exaggerated and have become almost stereotypical. The aim? To give a new spin to the grim reality and in many ways to challenge ‘authority’ and emphasise its ‘weak’ points.

Interactivity and engagement are among the key perks of social media and coupled with humour and political satire, they make a powerful mixture. Hashtags like #ilovetsipras and #merkelmeme gained in popularity with users tagging caricatures and other content, while hashjacking like in the cases of #greferendum and #agreekment also inspired users to post their own version of political analysis in a humorous way.

Social media has been awash with satire throughout the crisis.

Social media has been awash with satire throughout the crisis.

Is humour people’s way of dealing with a highly stressful and uncertain situation? Politics and humour have always been different sides of the same coin. Political cartoons made their presence in the UK in newspapers as early as in the 1700s. The internet, however, has enabled the creative potential of humour to unleash and at the same time it has also made it easier for satirists to bypass censorship and stay anonymous.

What was even more interesting was that the parallel online satirical trend that followed the EU talks had no geographical limit with users across the world participating and engaging with one another and exchanging jokes, cartoons and memes. Humour creates a global communication channel and social media have made it possible for this content to enjoy a global reach they never would have had otherwise.

Coverage of the issue has been mixed to say the least.

Coverage of the issue has been mixed to say the least.

What the recent example of the EU talks on the Greek crisis show is that humour is a fantastic way to create virtual community bonds among users that would potentially have never interacted otherwise. It is also a great shock absorber helping people to make sense of reality and look at things in a more positive way. It is clear that the social media frenzy over the Greek crisis will continue in the weeks and months to come.

After all political satire was a Greek invention.