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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Band of Brothers

When the Assembly was established in 1999 we were at the centre of the Welsh universe. Admittedly, it was a fairly small universe but it was one that we dominated nevertheless. This had its disadvantages as well as benefits. For a start it meant that all our growing pains and every inch of our learning curve were out there for the public to scrutinise in minute detail. That made it much harder to gain acceptance for the institution. It also meant that there was an intense interest in every penny spent, whether it was on expenses or services.

This feeding frenzy was fuelled by a small group of journalists permanently based on the fourth floor. Most of them had a page of Assembly news to fill each day, some of them had columns in which they recorded the quirkier side of life down the bay. For a short time it was devolution that was setting the news agenda.

All of that has changed now of course. The only newspaper that retains a permanent presence in the Assembly is the Daily Post. All the rest have withdrawn their journalists and are now treating stories on their news value. Papers like the Western Mail are seeking to set the agenda more and to use their journalistic resource to scrutinise rather than to report.

The fourth floor is now a pretty forelorn place. Apart from the Daily Post there is one freelance journalist there, the Press Association, and the BBC and HTV Assembly studios. The South Wales Argus, the South Wales Evening Post, the Western Mail, and the South Wales Echo are all unrepresented. I believe that Golwg has a journalist here but cannot say without checking whether he is a permanent presence or just comes in when needed.

Most of the original journalists have moved on as well. Many of the Western Mail journalists who were here now work for the BBC, whilst one has left to become freelance. Others have gone onto better things.

The trend that got me thinking about all this is that of the original band of journalists migrating to the other side. One is working as Press Officer for the Tories, one for the Liberal Democrats and another, broadcast journalist, is working for Plaid Cymru. A broadcast journalist is now working for a Labour AM, whilst I hear that the former Evening Post Political Editor is on his way back here to work for Independent AM, Trish Law. What an incestuous lot we are.

Update: I am assured that the Golwg journalist is a permanent presence here. My apologies to Carwyn for implying otherwise.
It's not an ideal situation at all. The London based media (which I imagine the majority of the Welsh population exclusively read/watch/listen to) hardly ever mentions the Asssembly, so it's even more worrying that what little Welsh based media we have shows so little interest. This is going to make it difficult to pesuade the public that the Assembly needs more powers, as we don't know a lot about what it already can or can't do, or how well the current goverment are doing with limited powers.
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