Trump, Brexit creating most challenging time in journalism’s history–Jon Snow

C4 presenter says world is ‘living in a dicey moment’ with shift of advertising to Facebook

Channel 4 broadcaster Jon Snow has said he cannot recall a more challenging time for journalism than now due to being in "the accordion of agony which is Trump and Brexit".

Speaking at a dinner to mark the end of the 2018 BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition at Dublin's RDS on Saturday, Mr Snow said the world was "living in a dicey moment" when conventional communications in the form of national and local media were seriously imperilled by the shift of advertising to online platforms, notably Facebook.

He stressed the benefits of digital technology in enabling journalists do their work and loved “Twitter and all the rest”, but said there was a terrible lot of garbage online. Technology enabling instant transmission of content meant fake news, which had existed since the 19th century, now “takes hold and spreads like a prairie fire”.

He added: “The trouble is Trump has captured the whole concept of fake news and is adding to it, which is a difficult situation and a terrible challenge. I don’t think I can remember a more challenging time than to be in what I call ‘the accordion of agony’ which is Trump and Brexit.”


They were both “fuelled by the same thing, essentially, in the elite”, Mr Snow said, which included the media, “and most people in this room”.

“It’s the people who are not part of the elite, who feel hard done-by, who suffered from the banking crisis, who had their benefits reduced and cut, who are finding it hard to get employment and rescue. And they’re the people who have said, ‘we have had enough of you. We don’t care what the issue is. We don’t even care who the person is, but we are not going to have you.’ And that means that you get what we’ve got; which is Brexit and Trump.”

He said he was passing no judgement at all on Brexit because he would be fired if he said anything. “I have said nothing about Brexit, except that it’s there. Trump is there. I have said nothing about him either.”

Local newspapers

Mr Snow said the Grenfell Tower tragedy in west London had highlighted to him the demise of local journalism. As a “national journalist”, he had gone to the scene at 5.30am when the fire was still raging but could not find a local hack “who toils away on a local paper and knows everything and knows everyone”.

"There were none at all. Why was that? That was because Facebook has obliterated most local advertising, most people nowadays advertise on Facebook, Google or one of other platforms because they are far more rewarding and it's much easier to target. And consequently, there is no income for local newspapers, and they are dying."

He suddenly realised they were running into an age when “online was king but there was no money in it” because Facebook was paying them nothing at all but was firing a huge number of ads onto their product.

Channel 4 News, which had 800,000 television viewers last year, had an extraordinary 2.5 billion viewers on Facebook. While they loved the reach, and those 2.5 billion viewers was quite something, Facebook was “gobbling up” their content” and making an income from it, he said.

While science had secured great progress, there was also “great retreat of provision” and local and national media across the western world were being imperilled.

The journalist said viewing projects at this year's exhibition was "a most extraordinary absolute antidote to the things that are wrong in the world" – and paid tribute to the winner, 15-year-old Simon Meehan of Coláiste Choilm, Ballincollig, Co Cork who discovered natural antibiotics in common plants.

Referring to the event's founder Dr Tony Scott, he said, "what an amazing idea to have had; what an amazing thing to have nursed to this point".

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times