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Oct 25th, 2012

Sunday Times Magazine Interview

By 38 Degrees team


A journalist is writing a profile of 38 Degrees for the Sunday Times magazine. He wants to know who is really behind our influential, people-powered campaigns.

It just wouldn’t make sense for a journalist to try to write about 38 Degrees after only speaking to a couple of staff in the office. 38 Degrees is people powered. 38 Degrees members choose and run the campaigns, and donate the funds to make everything happen.

So, he’s agreed to “interview” 38 Degrees members, by preparing a survey for thousands of us to fill in. Nearly 20,000 of us have taken part so far.

A number of members have also been in touch with questions about this survey. I’ll use this blog post to try to answer them. If you’ve got further questions or comments please leave them in the comments thread below.

Why are you asking all of us to do this survey rather than just doing a traditional interview?

Working with the media can be a bit of a challenge for 38 Degrees. The media tends to focus on individual spokespeople and celebrities, whereas 38 Degrees is all about hundreds of thousands of us working together.

Being reported in newspapers, on television and on radio can be a powerful way of boosting our impact and spreading the word. But it’s important we do so in a way which is true to the spirit 38 Degrees.

We have been experimenting with ways of speaking to the media which feel more in the spirit of 38 Degrees. One example would be that before I do an interview on radio or television, I post up on Facebook and ask members to suggest what they’d like me to say and try to use their comments. Another example would be that we have been developing new online tools to make it easier for members to contact their local newspapers and radio stations directly.

This survey is another such experiment. It came about because I told the journalist that if he wanted to truly profile 38 Degrees he needed to speak to members, because that is what the organisation is all about. He readily agreed to this approach.

Alongside the survey Hannah and I travelled down to Canterbury to meet with the journalist on his home turf. We answered some of his questions ourselves but also to take him along to an NHS get-together which had been organised by local 38 Degrees members.

Why are you working with a Rupert Murdoch paper?

38 Degrees members have long campaigned for Rupert Murdoch’s power to be reined in. We played a significant role in helping stop his bid to take 100% control of BSkyB. We have also spoken up more broadly for the power of media barons to be checked, with stricter limits on how much of the media any one person can own.

Campaigning for better media in the UK, and recognising the big problems with the way the media works at present, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still try to get our message across. That’s why we also sometimes raise money to place adverts in newspapers including those owned by Rupert Murdoch.

Hundreds of thousands of people read the Sunday Times. Some will already be 38 Degrees members. Many more of them will be potential 38 Degrees members who may hear about things like our campaign to save the NHS for the first time through this article. Reaching more people will make future campaigns even more effective.

Given our continued campaign against Rupert Murdoch’s power, there is obviously risk that the piece could be hostile or biased against us. But refusing to be interviewed wouldn’t reduce that risk, it would just reduce our opportunity to put our side of the argument.

Thousands of us responding to the journalist’s questions boosts our chances of getting a fair hearing. It also puts us in a stronger position to respond together if we do get unfairly treated.

More generally, 38 Degrees campaigns for greater transparency. As an organisation we try to practice what we preach, for example by publishing our accounts in full on our website. In the same way, if people ask questions about 38 Degrees we try to answer them – whether they are a member of the public for a journalist working for a national newspaper. It wouldn’t feel very in the spirit 38 Degrees to refuse to answer a journalist’s questions.

These questions are leading, why didn’t you insist on more neutral questioning?

Ultimately, when you’re being interviewed by a journalist, it’s up to them what questions they ask! These questions were prepared by the journalist, 38 Degrees staff involvement was limited to editing them into a 38 Degrees format and putting them up on the website.

All the questions are optional – you are free to pick and choose which questions the answer. And there are several “open box” questions where you can put in whatever information and thoughts you have.

Who is the journalist?

The journalist is called Rod Liddle. You can read more about him here.

What do you think? Please share comments and questions below.

UPDATE 5/11/2012:

Thanks for all the additional queries about this. Here are a few more answers:

How is 38 Degrees members’ data and privacy being protected?

Firstly, as it states in our privacy policy 38 Degrees will never share or sell on personal data. The whole office team is committed to treating you details with the utmost respect. We also make sure we use the latest technology and take the best advice to maintain security across our web site.

Any answers submitted to the Sunday Times interview will be held securely by 38 Degrees, and analysed by members of the office team. Only a summary of our answers will be sent to the journalist, Rod Liddle. We will not be sending any of the raw data to the newspaper or the journalist.

The only case where a members’ name might be shared with Rod Liddle will be if they have made a comment which seems representative of a broader sentiment, and where they have ticked to indicate that they are willing to be quoted. We will get back in touch with anyone in this category to double check they’re happy for their name to be passed on before doing so.

Will the survey answers be put to some other use e.g. a commercial use?

This data will not be used for any commercial purposes. 38 Degrees is not-for-profit, and always will be. We will never sell data to other people.

The only other way this data will be used is to give all of us more of an insight into what other 38 Degrees members are like – e.g. it will be interesting to see what a broad spread of people belong to 38 Degrees.

We’ll put the same summary data we share with the Sunday Times up on our own web site – which makes it very unlikely that they would be able to sell it or otherwise profit from it.

Why didn’t you poll members before agreeing to this interview?

That’s an interesting suggestion, and one which I will make sure we consider in the future.

Nobody wants to receive too many emails, so the office team does have to make judgements about when to send out a poll. On this occasion, given that we regularly field enquiries from journalists (Including rather hostile Sky News presenters – see here for example) and this issue has never arisen before, we didn’t feel like it was necessary. It felt like the priority was to ensure that 38 Degrees members were given an authentic voice in the interview.

I’m not certain that this was the right decision – and we’ll think about how we could do it differently next time.  However, overall over 100,000 people have taken part which suggests a lot of 38 Degrees members do think this was a good idea.

I will make sure we consider ways of asking more members for their perspective on how the office team talks to journalists in our next regular member poll.

By agreeing to be interviewed by Rod Liddle, aren’t you endorsing his views?

No, we are just answering his questions – which he is putting to us as a journalist for the Sunday Times Magazine. Every week the office team fields queries from lots of journalists, from all kinds of publications and broadcasters.

If we’d refused to answer his questions, he is likely to still have written an article. We’d just have lost the chance to put across our point of view. And there may be been an additional risk of being accused of being hypocrites for campaigning for transparency and openness but refusing to answer questions.

By agreeing to be interviewed by the Sunday Times, aren’t you lending support to Rupert Murdoch?

No. Definitely not. 38 Degrees members have consistently voted to challenge the power of Rupert Murdoch and to speak up for politicians paying more attention to us voters and less attention to mega-rich media barons. That’s what we will continue to do.

Isn’t it inevitable that this will be a negative piece?

It’s not inevitable, and it’s probably less likely than if we’d refused to take part. But it is definitely a risk.

On the other hand, in the past even quite hostile pieces of coverage (e.g. Kay Burley’s infamous interview with me) have helped raise awareness of 38 Degrees and helped get more people involved.

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