The Fourth Estate, with its continuum line from radical Grub Street through investigatory Fleet Street to compliant Canary Wharf, has no formal constitutional role, but is popularly supposed to hold Parliament and the government to account.
Journalists would tell you that they âspeak truth unto powerâ. The Lobby pack, the 170 journalists who hold parliamentary press passes, would tell you that this is what they do.
The Damian McBride scandal, whose bullying of any lobby journalist who stepped out of line and wrote anything other than the approved government spin was exposed by the blogger Guido Fawkes, and later, the MPs expenses scandal, exposed by the tenacity of freelance investigator Heather Brooke, exposed the utter hypocrisy of the lobbyâs ability to speak âtruth unto powerâ.
The Parliamentary press pack remained silent for years, only coming to life and filing stories revealing the âterrible strainâ they had been under, how dreadful it had all been, once a lowly blogger had disarmed and neutralised McBride.
In similar vein, the main stream media fell upon the revelations of MPs expenses like a pack of hungry vultures, not as a result of investigation from their own privileged position with direct access to MPs, but only from a safe distance once a leaked copy of the information had been fed to the Daily Telegraph, as a direct result of Heather Brookes tenacity in filing Freedom of Information requests.
The Lobby journalists are a cosy cabal, prepared to âwriteâ â if we can use that term â the spin that MPs wish to see in print, in return for a comfortable life, flying in the Prime Ministerial jet to foreign fields, wining and dining in the subsidised bars of the House of Commons and enjoying the kudos and expenses attached to being a âpolitical journalistâ.
So it was a surprise to discover this morning that they wished to admit outsiders to their hermetically sealed world. Had they suddenly discovered a back bone? Were they reverting to their Grub Street origins and seeking to give a chance to a struggling writer in some lonely garret? Was this an opportunity for the blogosphere?
More to the point, why? Why now? What pressure was being applied backstage to persuade them to throw a rope down to those âbelow the saltâ?
The aims are to increase the diversity of reporters in House of Commons and to enhance the reporting of Parliament to Britainâs varied communities. It is organised by journalists who work in the Press Gallery and supported by the Serjeant at Arms, who is in charge of security and facilities at Westminster.
You will get a desk, security clearance and a warm welcome.
It sounds great! Has Heather Brookes already got her application is? Are we about to have real transparency in parliamentary reporting?
Who is eligible? The scheme is open to full-time reporters from a black and minority ethnic background.
Not just any old black background, but black and minority ethnicâ¦..
Unfortunately, it is not open to freelancers [â¦]
So, black, minority ethnic group and already employed on a newspaperâ¦.
A 2006 report revealed the extent of white, middle class, privately educated domination of the main stream media, and how incredibly difficult it was for anyone not Oxbridge educated, without the ability to survive unpaid internships, with no family contacts, to obtain employment in the industry.
A section in the report about nepotism says: âFamily ties remain a powerful force in the newsroom.
There are countless examples of sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, partners and former partners who have followed in the footsteps of relatives in pursuing successful careers in journalism.
Only three or four places a year will be available, so there may be a waiting list.
Waiting list? If they can find more than three or four black minority ethnic group journalists already employed on newspapers whose editors are prepared to release them â hang onâ¦â¦
âYour employer will also have to pay your expenses.â
Oops! And pay their expenses whilst on secondment in central London, then I will personally eat my best hat.
Pity, I really thought this might be a genuine opportunity.