what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Candide's Journey - an expose of journalism

I’m always intrigued by confessional-type books which sketch how the scales fell from a writer’s eyes and how (s)he began to “connect the dots” in their various worlds ie produce a coherent account of the exercise of power.
Voltaire’s Candide was, of course, a satire – I prefer less manipulative and anguished portrayals of “intellectual journeys”…..which seem to be quite rare….millions of autobiographies or memoirs which show what an interesting life the author had or interesting times they lived in – but few hints of the sorts of deep questions they might have been exploring…..let alone attempts to set out their “world views”, the assumptions which sustained them and how and why experience was forcing adjustments….
Almost before they start writing a book – be it political, financial, economic – authors have taken decisions about how they will “frame” and tell the story - and are writing the book to convince you of its rectitude. Don’t expect them to share their uncertainties with you….

Patrick Chalmers is a fellow Scot born in 1966 – the generation after mine – and, after graduating first in engineering then journalism, had several years of contract work before landing a job with Reuters in 1994. Happy to have such a job – initially on finance then EU affairs in Brussels – he was slow to recognise the interests he was serving although it was in Brussels he developed his Euroscepticism as he began to understand the extent of the “behind-the-doors” dealing and the power of the big business lobby…..a spell as a foreign correspondent in the Far East completed his disillusionment with the rhetoric of democracy and he resigned in order to seek a more honourable channel for his energies….Fraudcast News – how bad journalism supports bogus democracies is his (self-published) book which tells the story – with the final chapters updating his story and giving a quietly upbeat message about “alternative journalism”…..

We need more books like this….for the life of me I can’t at the moment remember others I’ve read of this genre – although I know they exist. Coincidentally, I’ve spent the past few days drafting possible text for a new introduction to the little E-book Crafting Effective Public Management which I uploaded a week or so ago. This latest effort of mine had collected my musings of the last decade about efforts to improve systems of government. This post earlier this month reflects my rather belated realisation of how few people seem to have had my experience of straddling “reform efforts” in so many countries and from a “practitioner” standpoint……Writers on this topic are academics – or employed by global institutions…..paid to  put walls around pretty gardens of increasingly specialized “knowledge”. Practitioners rarely have the time or temerity to challenge such gatekeepers…
It was some 15 years ago I started to pose serious questions about the conventional wisdom on the sort of “institutional change” which people in post-communist countries were being urged to make and the legitimacy of the bodies funding programmes of institutional reform….
I delivered a major paper Missionaries or mercenaries? on the topic to the 2007 Annual Conference of the NISPAcee network of schools of public administration; an update Play the Long Game – not the log frame! at the 2011 Conference; and have mused intermittently about public management reform, training and the use of structural funds in new member states – but realized only this week that I needed to pick out more explicitly the “theories of change” which have been implicit in the programmes of the past 4 decades…..

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