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Devolution at the NCTJ: how journalists will cover the nations

December 6, 2010

Theory of Devolution was present at the National Council for the Training of Journalists conference last week. On the agenda? Devolution, and lots of it.

Specifically, BBC Wales political editor Betsan Powys and Belfast Telegraph editor Mike Gilson were on the panel for a discussion on ‘How to report devolution.’

Betsan made a very good case for the fascinating nature of devolved politics, though pointed out that it wasn’t always clear what was devolved and what was not. She said journalists would need a solid understanding of the UK’s constitutional arrangements in order to cover them, and many of the journalist trainers were keen to re-examine their public administration courses in this light.

Even for a UK-wide organisation like the BBC, it’s sometimes difficult to get London-based editors to take the devolved administrations seriously. She told us of her colleagues’ delight whenever she was given air time before the ‘devo slot’ on news bulletins, otherwise known as the ‘real news’.

Mike Gilson has previously edited The Scotsman, so he’s well placed to asses how the reporting of devolution is going. He was equally positive about the implications of devolution for journalists. It made London seem further away, he said, and this was no bad thing. He wasn’t above taking a few pot-shots at Alex Salmond (recalling the infamous ‘Arc of Prosperity’ quote ) and said that due to the tenuous nature of the coalition in Stormont, the media had become the official opposition in Northern Ireland.

All in all it was a fascinating talk on reporting devolution, which left even some of the most sceptical journalists keen to sink their teeth into devolution.

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