Why not let the Canary into the Westminster lobby? It could do with a shakeup

The moral argument against giving hyperpartisan sites parliamentary access is weak.

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There is something intriguing about the possibility of hyper-partisan left-wing sites such as Evolve Media or the Canary gaining access to the closed shop of the Westminster Lobby. According to BuzzFeed, Evolve has already applied for a lobby pass, and the Canary is considering doing the same.

These sites have successfully taken tabloid tactics, melded them with social media savvy, and deployed them in service of a left-wing agenda - acting as cheerleaders for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. They have been criticised for spreading conspiracy theories and hounding disliked journalists such as the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, but their approach is arguably no better or worse than the right-wing popular papers to which they view themselves as a counterweight

So the moral argument for keeping them out of the lobby – the exclusive club of journalists who get unparalleled access to parliament and politicians - is weak. That they are relatively new and online-only isn’t much of a reason to deny them a place either, given the likes of BuzzFeed, the Huffington Post and Politico have been given passes.

Lobby journalists receive regular briefings, early access to announcements and the freedom to wander the halls of parliament. A pass is both an invaluable tool for scoop-chasing and a badge of honour.  

But the chumminess that comes from proximity to MPs, advisers and assorted political operatives day in, day out, contributes to a perception, not entirely unfounded, that some lobby journalists feel more affinity with the parliamentarians they cover than the public.

Lobby journalists also spend a lot of time with each other, and while they still compete viciously, the set-up is prone to groupthink. The practice of discussing what the “best line” is from any announcement or speech often leads to homogenised news coverage. It’s less conspiracy and more seeking safety in numbers. After all, if everyone else has the same story, then yours can’t be wrong.

All this, like much of UK democracy, is largely built on convention, and that means there is little to stop new blood disrupting things. The hyper-partisan sites pride themselves on being anything but conventional, and it’s difficult to imagine the lobby system being completely unchanged by their presence. Having a Canary or Evolve journalist hanging around might even make MPs think a little more carefully about how they try to play the media.

And of course, it’s perfectly possible the hyper-partisan sites could learn a thing or two about how journalism works and how to do it from those experienced lobby hacks. Getting an insider’s perspective might give them a chance to understand why some traditional journalistic practices have endured, even as they challenge some of those that could do with changing. 

Read more: Do the Canary and co have the skill and stamina to take on the popular press? 

Jasper Jackson is a freelance journalist and media columnist for the New Statesman.

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