Ok, I’m not sure how logical or readable this post will be as my brain has been pretty fried this week. (I must remember to go home early once in a while) But it’s important, so I want to give it a go:
I have had a conversation with someone tonight that pretty much follows a pattern of numerous conversations I have had in the past. It is almost formulaic and ends up with me feeling helpless and sad.
The conversation pattern is as follows:
Person A is pouring their heart and soul into project/business/event B. Person A is being supported in this endevour by one or more of the bodies in the city that are responsible for delivering funding/support.
However, during this process person A discovers something they believe is a flaw in the system. It may be something political, or something about the way the thing is structured that means it’s making it difficult to achieve goal B.
Now, person A wants to do something about removing that barrier, but knows that confronting the organisation directly will, in all likelihood, not only jeopardise funding/help from that organisation but potentially blacklist them with the others as well. This is because, in this city, there seems to be a dislike of those that speak out in opposition to the way things are run and an unspoken code that these bodies will ALWAYS publicly support each other (even if if privately they have difficulties working together).
So, as is always the case, person A keeps quiet, doesn’t criticise and they compromise and jump the hoops that the funders/enablers want them to. Or, alternatively, B sinks without a trace.
This makes me cross, because I love Birmingham. I’m very proud of the city that has been my home for the past seven years and I want it to do well. But, that doesn’t mean that I’m not prepared to hear criticism of its institutions (mine included). By having those that use them voice their concerns , we have a chance to make what we offer stronger and make the city a better place. That is what we all want, right?
But it seems that in so many “higher” circles of the city there is a mentality that would prefer that healthy, intelligent criticism disappeared. Apparently, for some institituions we should just leave them alone because their intentions are good. It’s like they all want us to say: “Birmingham is great, we’re very happy thank you” and then shut up and let them get on with running things.
I don’t like this because, actually, I want us to be free to debate how to improve things. Yes, I understand some sections of the mainstream press can seem as if they are consistently searching for dead dogs to kick, but speaking for myself, that’s not why I signed up to this job.
For me, the whole point of taking on a career which I knew would forever destine me to be the pariah of social events (“oooh I can’t talk to you ‘cos you’re a journalist and you might put what I say in the paper”) was because I take the idea of being a citizen seriously and I want to be part of a debate that improves things. A newspaper is just one forum where that can happen.
That’s why I love doing work on both sustainability and the creative industries because both areas are about working towards creating a healthier, egalitarian and culturally rich society.
But it just makes me so sad when I have these reptitive conversations. All of them are part of bigger debates that are being stifled. Yes, there are things that are going right in the city, but it is obvious that there are also things going wrong. However, we can’t make them better because those that hold the purse strings/regulatory approval wish such criticism to be silenced. This means that those that feel there are ways to improve things are too afraid to rock the boat and will keep their criticisms to themselves.
Unable to get someone to speak openly about these problems for the paper, I know I’m not the person who can start the debate. Thus, I am left feeling helpless and sad that we’ve missed another opportunity to do things better.
Pingback: Created in Birmingham » Joanna Geary has a blog
Good to see your blog.
I agree Re: your post – there appears to be much ‘back slapping’ and little in the way of constructive critisism. I also have had this conversation with a number of people over a number of years. I think this might be a multi-level situation i.e. at policy, strategy, institutional and industry level. Good critical debate/support would help hone delivery, ideas etc at each level. It’s interesting that in the education of, for example, art and design students the notion of a ‘crit’ and to be critical (constructively) is part of the culture of creating/innovating.
Really think that you are right to raise the issue but for this old hand’s twop’worth I think we are in with a better chance of tilting the balance here and now than ever before.
Blogs like yours and the obvious other ones are leaving those feeling caught in this vice at least less lonely than they have been for decades and that’s a good start in dealing with the shenannigans that you refer to.
Perhaps you can at least now direct those suffering souls that you meet to places where they might find some succor and we haven’t been able to do that before!
Blog on and good luck to us all,
Thanks for your message. It’s good to think that at least there’s a forum for people to talk about these issues. But, my big question is, how can this be used to improve the way support and funding are delivered in the city?
I became a journalist because I wanted to start debate between those that have the power to make things happen and those that know what needs to change. But I now realise that, as great as the medium is, there are some instances when a newspaper story suffers from being too public a forum. It can frighten people (especially if they think their support is at risk). So, what can I do? Are my hands tied?
NB. Comment edited to fit within the confines of UK libel law and fair comment. Jonny – what you said was interesting but would need proving – if you want to get in touch to discuss futher, please email me. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
You are spot on J – the problem with Birmingham is, certainly in regards to the media scene, it’s a cartel – run by a group of ninnyist nomark internalists who largely cannot see the wood for the trees.
They cannot recognise that, actually, what Birmingham needs more than anything is an injection of new faces, new people and new ideas from OUTSIDE.
Many are governed by self-interest for their own businesses and how public money can line their own pockets. Other are rampant political careerists who will trample over or sleep with anyone for the No. 1 spot.
Others just plain egotist control freaks.
There are some good honest people within this mix – but many find working in this climate such a drain, the best will leave and head to other cities where ideas, knowledge, aspiration and perspiration CAN make a difference. Sure, enterprising people will come and go and seek out bigger opportunities – but I know of 4 ‘good people’ who have exacuated in the last 6 months, and no ‘bad people’ who have. A pattern?
People outside say ‘Birmingham, funny place to work’. Then the negative connotations of the industrial grime still cling to the city.
The landscape of Brum may smarten up, but until better people and less corruption exist within the business landscape, it will not achieve true regeneration as has been seen in Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield.
Do you best to clean it up, Jo…