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The “shrinking middle ground”: Guardian correspondent on the state of the modern media

By Will Ford.

Former Guardian Brexit editor Dan Roberts warned of a “shrinking middle ground” in his talk on the state of the modern media at Leeds Trinity Journalism and Media Week.

Mr Roberts has experience at world-renowned broadsheet newspapers including the Daily Telegraph and Financial Times, as well as working for the Guardian in Washington DC.

He suggested that the left and right wing newspapers in the UK are becoming more extreme in line with the polarised opinions of the people after Brexit.

“That disappearing middle worries me almost as much as Brexit worries me,” he said. And he defended the BBC for its decision to interview businessman Arron Banks, at the centre of a row over funds donated to the Leave campaign during the Brexit referendum.

‘Slow news’ is becoming more popular, with Mr Roberts citing former BBC head of news James Harding’s new venture ‘Tortoise’ as an example.

The news stories that have the biggest impact are now those that take a significant amount of time to research and put together, so are in essence ‘slower’ than what is widely available through the media today.

He said: “There’s a gap in the market for tried and trusted journalism.

“I’m conscious that as a reader, I now have to read six or seven things to really triangulate what’s going on… In this time-poor era, we’re going to tire of that.”

Mr Roberts worked as Bureau Chief of  The Guardian’s Washington office during the 2016 presidential election, before returning to the UK as Brexit Policy Editor.

He talked about the differences between journalism in the UK and the USA – particularly topical as voters in the United States go to the polls in their mid-term elections.

He said: “In the US the broadcasters are very shrill and shouty and partisan… whereas the papers are quite sombre and serious.

“In Britain it’s a little bit of the reverse.”

Mr Roberts gave plenty of other top tips to prospective journalists, including the importance of “finding a niche” and “rolling up your sleeves and getting stuck in” – a sentiment shared by many of the speakers at Journalism and Media Week.


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