Saturday, 1 December 2012


I mentioned last week I've been following the fiasco of the Labour Party conference with its apparent in-fighting and jostling for position.

I watched with fascination as the wolves turned on each other! Considered opinion became swamped in accusation and counter-accusation, knee-jerk reactions, biased viewpoints, pot-shots from loose cannons and folks ducking for cover. And no, I'm not talking about the politicians, it was the media - newspaper columnists vs. bloggers, the official vs. the unofficial, the paid vs. the voluntary, and particularly on the blogs, the commentators vs. the commenters.

Fiction became facts and facts became fiction as anyone with an axe to grind found an easy forum in which to express it. It amazes me that in this incredible Information Age in which we live, that people can be so ignorant. And they say you can't believe everything you read in newspapers!

Sadly however, I do have to admit that there is some truth in that... I once worked with a reporter who would listen to their subject, paraphrase their comments in the reporter's own words, and then publish them as direct quotes - gross!

Then there was the journo who deliberately took the concept of journalistic licence so far beyond the extreme, that I read their subsequent reports with a good spoonful of salt.

And yes, I've met rookies who have closed minds, who wouldn't consider the other side of a question. And I've worked with old-school reporters who have become so cynical they've forgotten how to appreciate that some people actually do have genuine motives.

But I also know a contributor who writes his regular column, sleeps on it, re-reads it, gets his wife to check it, submits it, and even then, to his chagrin, will occasionally find a mistake when he opens the paper. And for all the daily writers, it's not their fault that in these days of lower staffing there are less checks in the process before a story hits the press.

So yes, it's true, the media - modern and traditional - is an imperfect beast, and we shouldn't  be surprised to find that journalists are just people. Some have an agenda, and all of them have an attitude, just as we do. But given the human-ness of the humanity they report, I dare you the reader to check your facts before you apportion blame.

I once spoke to a woman who spat the dummy about her local council's inaction in fixing her road. When I repeated back what she said, she pulled half the comments, and toned down the rest. What would she have said if I'd published without checking? Who would she have blamed? Whose fault would it have been? Moral of the story? Never say anything to a reporter that you don't want published.

I recently wrote a simple caption based on information given to me by the absolute head-honcho of the organisation in question. It turned out the information was wrong, and we published a correction. So yes, the dreaded media can get it wrong, but it's not always their fault. As in all relationships, what really counts is whether or not you have the intestinal fortitude to admit it, apologise and where possible, put it right.

And when deciding whether or not an article is believable, I invite you to consider whether you're reading a report or an opinion piece, though I admit that that is becoming more difficult. In an attempt to become more contemporary, many journos are encouraged to put themselves into the story rather than simply relaying the facts and letting the reader decide. As evidence, one need to look no further than the news anchors (professional actors) who are paid massive amounts of money just to read the autocue for our 6pm news bulletins. Journalists? Pfft!

Though when it comes to opinion, it seems to me that the biggest complaints about "facts" come from those who simply have an opposing opinion. It's easier to attack the writer than the view which is being expressed. And whether we the reader consider them to be objective or objectionable has a lot to do with our own (biased) viewpoint.

A friend of mine once rebutted my argument by saying, "That's just your opinion." My response was quite simple: "Yes, but if I agreed with you, that would also be 'Just my opinion'..."

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