One of the scariest ideas for a newspaper editor is to let the public into your offices. Just think of the havoc they’d cause? Stories leaked, interviews ruined and coffee supplies exhausted: it just doesn’t bear thinking about. But what if you invited your loyal readers into your hallowed domain and actively encouraged them to get involved and contribute to the success of the stories happening around them. But what newspaper would be daft enough to consider this notion? The Guardian.
This past weekend (24-25 March) saw the Guardian doors flung open for all to see as 5000 Guardianistas filed into Kings Place for two days of eye-opening discussion, heated debate and high quality journalism.
The charismatic, charming and ever-so-slightly odd Grayson Perry took the hot seat in Hall One as he was interviewed by Decca Aitkenhead who took the bulk of her questions from tweets that had been sent in, including one from Grayson’s wife who asked “What’s for dinner?” Grayson talked openly about his influences, the art world and other artists, stating “the only interesting thing about Damien Hirst is probably his bank accounts”. As Grayson answered questions both from Decca and the audience for an hour, he had the room hanging on his every word. Despite being quite media-friendly, Grayson is always a joy to listen to as he describes his relationship with Alan Measles, therapy and Claire. You can watch highlights of the interview here.
It wasn’t long before the Guardian heavyweights arrived at the Open Weekend to show the public how journalism is done. Chaired by Channel 4 news presenter Jon Snow, a debate entitled “What does the phone hacking scandal tell us about Britain?” featuring investigative journalist Nick Davies, Tom Watson MP, former Daily Mirror editor David Banks, Guardian journalist Amelia Hill and as a special treat the editor himself, Alan Rusbridger. Tom Watson – who has been at the forefront of the Leveson enquiry – blamed “weak political leadership” from as far back as Thatcher and that there almost certainly had been occasions when MPs refused to speak out for fear of a tabloid backlash against them. Nick Davies – the man who broke the Milly Dowler phone hacking scandal – even suggested that ‘dark arts’ were prevalent in TV news and that we’d have to wait until it came out. At times it was a gang of Guardian journos against the ex-tabloid leader, but even Davies slammed the Guardian for covering the ‘tabloid story’ of Jade Goody’s death. But for an audience of Guardian readers, it was like watching the masters at work.
One of the heroes of the phone-hacking scandal closed the Saturday in an interview with Alan Rusbridger himself. Steve Coogan revealed that overall it cost him £400,000 in legal fees and to gather enough evidence to take News International to court, and he only received £370,000 in compensation, but it was about the principle. Coogan had no qualms about the fact that the stories reported by News of the World were true, but they were “no-one’s fucking business” and that what happened to him wasn’t extraordinary but “typical”. He talked freely about being stitched up by Andy Coulson’s “bad behaviour” and how he was trapped by NotW. Watch highlights of the interview here.
One of the most hyped talks on Sunday was the “Will the internet ever be open?” debate, with guests Richard Allan (director of policy of Facebook in Europe), Rachel Whetstone (global head of communications and public policy for Google) and internet boffin favourite Clay Shirky (professor at NYU). China and Iran’s internet policies dominated the discussion as each of panel gave their thoughts on an internal internet and censorship. There was a definite degree of animosity between Allan and Whetstone and the audience were very aware of the online privacy issues that Facebook is the poster child for. Allan tried to quash these stories by explaining they don’t sell personal data, targeted advertising could go to all people of the same age with the same interests, but advertisers don’t have your personal information. This still didn’t settle with the audience.
For something musical (don’t forget you’re still readingTGTF), the Guardian’s music editor Caspar Llewellyn Smith hosted a discussion on “Music’s global revolutions” with guests DJ Abrantee, editor of fRoots magazine Ian Anderson, co-founder of Africa Express Ian Birrell and DJ/producer Johan Hugo, part of the Very Best. The primary theme of the talk was that African music, especially traditional music from Mali and Madagascar. As western music tries to reinvent itself and bands keep trying different things, bands such as Vampire Weekend are notable for being influenced in their later material by African tribal beats. Hip hop too has made itself known across the globe with different countries and institutions stamping their own sound firmly on it. But it’s the traditional, original sounds from traditional African instruments that impress these seasoned musical aficionados and are keen to see more African artists gain more exposure in the UK. Make it happen, people!
There are already rumours of another Open Weekend happening next year and if so then try your hardest to get there. Where else can you find some of the best journalists in the UK – arguably the world – under one roof, ready for your questions and input? The Guardian.