Media: Rob Brown's column

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The Independent Online
"Oh well, if you want to go and live in the middle of nowhere, that's up to you!" Such was the response from one of my colleagues when he heard I was packing in full-time media punditry in the metropolis in search of the good life - and a broader journalistic canvas - in the gourmet capital of Ireland.

John Rentoul's reaction would worry me if, like him, I'd become allergic to aeroplanes. I've not, and Cork is just a short shuttle from Britain's major hub airports. If you fancy a trip to North America, there's a choice of Shannon airport in the west or Dublin International. Ireland's "Green Card Generation" pop back and forth across the Atlantic all the time.

Personally, I've no intention of spending half my life hurtling through the clouds in a metal tube. Commuting every week for the past four months between Kinsale and Canary Wharf has forced me to jettison any ambitions of becoming a jet-setter.

Instead of succumbing to RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) like some desk- bound journalists, I've become a sufferer of ISS (Intermittent Spouse Syndrome) - now apparently recognised as a serious problem by multinationals and global agencies such as the Word Bank, which insist that their peripatetic employees are married to the job.

Yes, that's right folks, I want to spend more time with my family. I know it makes me sound like some downwardly mobile Tory politician, but it's true.

The macho, competitive, ballsy world of the metropolitan media is dominated by yuppies and dinkies (double income, no kids) and those who could bore for Britain about family values while constantly putting tomorrow's chip wrappings and soundbites before their own offspring.

Thankfully, this doesn't apply to every inhabitant of the mediapolis. Ian Hargreaves has just announced that he is stepping down as editor of the New Statesman to pursue a portfolio career that will allow him more time with his young family.

Announcing his decision, he stated: "Initially I plan to take two to three months off to help my wife Adele Blakebrough set up the Community Action Network - an Internet-based mutual support network for social entrepreneurs and other community development activists. Adele is expecting our second child in mid-May."

Ian and Adele, who is a Baptist minister, will be the first brave subjects to appear on The Choice, a new Radio 4 series hosted by Michael Buerk. They will reflect upon the torturous choice they faced after a scan carried out when they were expecting their first baby suggested that the foetus was "not compatible with life".

Tune in tomorrow at 9am if you want to know how they coped with this searing dilemma.

Meanwhile, Ian Hargreaves isn't exactly downshifting. As well as becoming a regular presenter of Radio 4's Analysis programme and serving as chairman of the New Statesman - which he has restored to an important feature of the political landscape - he is to become Professor of Journalism at Cardiff University (especially pleasing news to those of us who did our postgraduate training in the institution that pioneered Britain's first university courses in journalism).

In our different ways both he and I are going to be testing grand new theories that the communications revolution is radically transforming the way we live, work and play. The Economist has proclaimed that "distance is becoming increasingly irrelevant" and one of its staffers, Frances Cairncross, has recently penned a book entitled The Death of Distance.

In theory there is no reason why the self-styled cream of UK journalism should be clustered in antiseptic offices in London's Docklands or in a converted tobacco warehouse in Wapping. We should be out and about encountering real people in real places and unsettling our readers with real stories about hidden Britain, not crouched over computer terminals and huddled round faxes waiting for press releases.

I paint a grim picture, but the truth is that many hacks are happy as larry so long as they are so surrounded by their fellow hacks. Some crave nothing more than respect and popularity among their peers. The high-point in their lives is picking up one of the umpteen awards which they periodically shower upon each other.

When they aren't trying to be the most popular boy or girl in the class, aka newsroom, all too many journalists are happy consorting with PR flunkies and other spindoctors. John Pilger calls it "consorting with power" and he's correct.

The greatest compliment ever paid to me in all my time as a media pundit was totally unintended. A right-wing ranter in The Scotsman branded me in print the "scourge of the Scottish media establishment". That made my day.

In my 15 months as Media Editor of The Independent I would like to think I have occasionally annoyed the British media establishment. And, as I head off to the gourmet capital of Ireland, I can exclusively reveal that one of my goals is to become a gadfly of the new global media establishment. Don't watch this space.