Grilled: Ross Kempsell on what PRs could do better, wastage in journalism and gammon (of course)

Currently chief reporter at political blog Guido Fawkes, Ross Kemspell moves to become talkRADIO's first political editor later this month. He sat down with PRWeek to do our Grilled interview ahead of the announcement.

As a political reporter, the question we all want answered: is 'gammon' a racist insult?

I can understand why people would be offended - I don't have a strong view on it, but I think there is a genuine concern about the way language is shaping politics with the advent of social media.

Is that bad for political discourse? Can we really not disentangle that silly stuff online from the serious business offline?

It's increasingly difficult to dissociate the life cycle of politics from social media. Our world does revolve, on a daily basis, largely around Twitter. Everyone in politics in Westminster will be taking most of their live information during the day primarily, I think, from Twitter - as well as talking to their sources.

Is Twitter's dominance in that respect entirely healthy?

There has been a huge democratisation in people's access to political information. It is becoming increasingly difficult to keep a lid on things, and I think that is very positive. There are negatives; stories can develop very quickly in a way that is out of proportion, individuals can feel they've been tried by social media, but broadly I think it skews towards the positive.

What is your overall view of PR?

Without PRs we would find life very difficult - I don't think it's wise to be cynical in your attitudes to them. The major agencies that are familiar to everyone in Westminster are all of a high quality.

What do you wish PRs did better?

When PR is weaker it is thinner and there is less depth to the material - just giving poorly researched lines, which we deal with a lot in politics, makes journalists sceptical. What really wows me is if a PR comes armed with an FOI, a Data Protection Act disclosure or a nice Excel file. These are rare 'golden eggs' [that] will make you sit up and think: "That's great," because there's more to get your teeth into.

Is it a job you'd ever do?

I'm looking to have a long career and reach a senior level in journalism, but you'd be foolish to rule it out.

Many journalists despair at the swelling ranks of the PR industry - how do you view journalism's future?

We have to face up to the fact that [historically] there has been a lot of wastage in journalism - those so-called 'glory days' stories of 25 reporters and four-hour lunches. Journalism is becoming more streamlined and we have been able to do more with less - I think that's part of a wider cultural change in work in this country in the past 50 years.

The current forms [of journalism] will stick around longer than we think and papers will survive longer than people predict, but we are going to see structural changes and we have to embrace them. I would like to see the quality of the output, rather than the sheer quantity of journalism, mattering more.

What is the biggest frustration for you in your job?

Missing a scoop that you know you should have had. I've learned quickly not to delay - that if you don't write it, someone else will. Journalists appreciate PRs who won't delay; we live in a 'get-going' culture in the media. The other thing that's disheartening is learning that you've been lied to by somebody you thought wasn't lying.

Do you have a favourite scoop from your career?

One of my favourites was picking up before the Tory conference last year in Manchester on a series of signs that had been put up saying "F*** the Tories", a huge graffitied sheet on a bridge saying something very rude about them, and someone had hung two dummies dressed up as a bankers by nooses from the bridge. It was the most viral story of the Tory conference and set the tone for coverage on the first day.

When you can bring something that's happening on the ground, ideally with pictures or video, in a more visceral way, showing what people out in the wider country feel about politics, I like those kinds of stories.

Previously in Grilled: The Telegraph's Asa Bennett on why the Brexit negotiations are a spin war

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in