Gillian Duffy- the citizen journalism champion?

She was famously referred to as “bigoted” by Gordon Brown last year (we wrote about it on this very blog) and now Gillian Duffy has been at it again, this time tackling Nick Clegg.

Duffy, famously the subject of Brown’s “off the record” comments took on the Deputy PM this week as he toured Rochdale to question him on his alleged sell-out to the Tories.

Making no bones about it, she asked Clegg why he “went in” with the Tories instead of Labour after the last General Election “because you may remember, no-one won the election at all. No- one got a majority,”

It was nicely done, and it begs the question, as raised by the BBC this week, can ordinary people make good, indeed better intervierwers, than real journalists?

Unbowed by Clegg’s well-rehearsed answers Duffy posed some killer questions.

She asked the Deputy Prime Minister to “look me in the eye and tell me” he was happy with the current Government cuts.  “Whoever was in power now, any government would have to take difficult decisions,” he replied.

But this was, apparently, no chance encounter. Since the day Gordon Brown was caught referring to Duffy as a “bigoted woman” almost a year ago, she has apparently been befriended by the local Labour MP, Simon Danczuk. He advised her of Mr Clegg’s visit and suggested she take the chance to have her say.

As an interviewer Duffy’s natural ability lies in cutting through politicians’ steer away from difficult questions. And she’s not the first member of the public to do so. Remember Diana Gould, the housewife from Cheltenham, politely skewering Mrs Thatcher over the sinking of the Belgrano? Or Sharon Storer making things very uncomfortable for Tony Blair over the quality of cancer care her partner was receiving?

Sometimes chance confrontations with members of the public prove far tougher than even the most aggressive traditional political interview. Gillian Duffy uses persistence, she’s direct, and uses plain language. And perhaps most fearfully for her interviewees, she shows no sign of fear, repeatedly tackling the most senior politicians in the land without any sign of being intimidated by their entourage.

But perhaps more than anything else, perhaps Mrs Duffy is blessed with the skill all journalists crave, but can’t learn – being in the right place at the right time.

According to Dr Karin Wahl-Jorgensen, of the Cardiff School of Journalism, as a “citizen interviewer” Duffy also benefits from having an agenda, coming with just one question that demands an answer.

Furthermore, “Ordinary people embody the interests and viewpoints of the audience, and better represent their interests than professional journalists, who are sometimes viewed as an elite group that’s out of touch.”

Politicans beware. The public are increasingly playing a more central role in news-gathering.

Citizen journalism is gaining momentum, and right now, Mrs Gillian Duffy is at the helm.

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