What the Papers Say

NewspapersI have a fairly jaundiced view of the media that stems from my working life when I had to have day to day contact with journalists. And as we know, familiarity can breed contempt.

Not that I would tar all journos with the same brush. Many I knew were very good at their job and often did a public service, but all had their moments when neutrality and accuracy went out of the window.

The problem is that journalism is a profession and any reporter with ambition is looking for their byline  under banner headlines of uncovered scandals and their editors encourage this because headlines sell newspapers. And because of this and the hours they put into ‘research’, they are reluctant to let a story go even if it’s nonsense.

An appropriate example for this time of year was a call I took from the Manchester Evening News on a Monday morning from a reporter who said that they were about to run a story saying that a flu epidemic would hit the city by the end of the week.

Now it was winter and a few people were off sick with the flu, but the prevalence was pretty normal, in fact, it was lower than you might expect, so I was a bit perplexed at where this information had come from.

The reporter assured me her information was reliable, but she was reluctant to reveal her sources. When I pushed her, it turned out that the impeccable source was the website of a pharmaceutical company that makes over-the-counter cough and cold remedies.

To be fair to the company, they didn’t actually say that there was a flu epidemic in the offing, just that there was an epidemic of flu-like illness ranging from a case of the sniffles to a full-blown cold.

I explained to a journo what the definition of an epidemic was at the time – affecting one in six people – and asked her to look round her office to see if anyone was missing from their desk. There wasn’t, but even the evidence of her own eyes wasn’t enough to put her off the story and it ran on the front page the next day.

This was hardly in the same league as some of the shenanigans that some of the media has got up to that led to the Leveson Inquiry, but it still did damage in its own way as a scare story and no doubt gave lots of people an excuse to take time off work. And in their heart of hearts, they knew it was inaccurate.

I could have complained to the PCC, but there didn’t seem much point in spoiling what was usually a good relationship. Besides, her editor sat on the PCC board.

The question now is whether the media needs statutory regulation as recommended by Leveson. My inner autocrat tends to agree, but I also worry about what happens when governments start to control the free press.

Sadly, journalistic standards aren’t what they once were, particularly on local papers. The pay is terrible so you mostly get kids straight from college who think they’re the next Woodward or Bernstein when they’re covering the local council meeting or church bazaar.

So I thought some nostalgia was in order, of a time when newspapers were taken seriously. Below is the theme from the marvellous What the Papers Say programme that ran on tv from 1956 to 2008 and can now be found on radio. It comes from Malcolm Arnold’s English Dances.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

10 comments… Add yours
  • Old Hack Pudding 1st December 2012

    It is all a bit of a dilemma but why spend all those millions on the Leveson Inquiry if you’re effectively just going to bin the final report? When I use the contraction “you’re”, I am of course not implying that you are David Cameron in disguise! (Mind you – you might be!) Just in case – Hiya Dave! How’re SamCam and the brats?

    Reply
  • rhymeswithplague 2nd December 2012

    Over here, what is derisively called “the mainstream press” doesn’t so much invent stories as avoid them. Although Rupert Fox’s network pounds us hourly with their latest hot buttons, the other media lob softballs at their beloved during so-called presidential press conferences. Case in point: the details surrounding Benghazi on September 11, 2012.

    Reply
  • Holley Bragado 2nd December 2012

    Hi there, folk ! It is your chance to be with lovely women who are for you to make you in a good mood. You have an opportunity not to fantasize of them but be with them. You had to see how good they are on female glasgow escorts.

    (Spam links deleted – Ed)

    Reply
  • Trevor Rowley 3rd December 2012

    The only escorts coming in and out of Glasgow would usually be taking a big, sweaty Jock to Barlinnie Prison. I don’t really think you’d want to be fantasising about one of them although they do say it takes all kinds to make a world.

    Reply
    • Old Hack Pudding 3rd December 2012

      Perhaps Holley Bragado knows something about the creator of “Shooting Parrots” that he hasn’t shared with us! Come on Cecil – spill the beans!

      Reply
  • john 3rd December 2012

    In the late 80s one of my best friends was a news photographer for the SUNDAY TIMES
    he did a few jobs that for me were unethical although I did respect his abilities
    his ambition shocked me as a young man!
    ( he died in 1989 in a plane crash leaving Romania after a story)

    Reply
  • Trevor Rowley 4th December 2012

    Memories get triggered by references to “What the Papers Say” – Brian Inglis, the presenter, a rather serious but kindly figure who you just knew you could trust to discuss the news sensibly. For some reason, Sir Teddy Taylor (MP for Southend), a rather dour Scot pontificating on all things political and Brian Walden who had been the MP for Birmingham Ladywood then ventured into TV (“Weekend World”?) where he interviewed with a fervour. Finally, a posh boy on TV whose name I can’t just conjur up (Anthony?); gap-toothed, slight speech impediment and crinkly hair, political columnist for one of the broadsheets. Funny thing memory, you retain all sorts of junk for no obvious reason.

    Reply
  • Francisca 8th December 2012

    This was a thought-provoking read… (all but the spam… are you leaving that here, Mr Parrot, and gracing them with a permanent link to boost their SEO?)… but being in the middle of the final days of packing a household (yes, we are at last flying, after nearly four months of hurry up and wait), it gives me a headache to try respond. I want to say too much. This was a distraction and I have to get back to work. Hahaha…. Oh, I liked the music!

    Reply

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