Journalists used to report news, y’know…

by Stephen Tall on September 3, 2006

When the media gets the bit between its teeth, perspective and accuracy are usually its first victims. And it’s easy to get riled if it’s your own party on the receiving end. So, for a change, I’m going to take to task the Indy on Sunday for its front page assault on New Labour’s leader, ‘Deluded’: Extraordinary attack on Blair by Cabinet.

In particular, this paragraph caught my eye:

The fallout from his instruction to MPs to stop “obsessing” about his departure showed little signs of abating yesterday. He was dogged during a visit to Edinburgh by reporters’ shouted questions on his exit plans.

This is the worst kind of news journalism – attempting to make the weather, rather than to report it, let alone analyse it. You might also observe the curious equation the Indy makes between MPs (in the first sentence) and journalists (in the second), as if Mr Blair’s fate is as dependent on his earning the media’s reprieve as it is on what Labour MPs do in the coming weeks.

This follows an all-too-familiar journalistic pattern . On day 1, “rumours mount” and “speculation grows”, as “internal sources suggest” that “tensions are increasing”, “plunging X into crisis”.

On day 2, “a weakened” X is “forced onto the defensive”, “issuing denials” which they hope might “put a stop” to this “idle speculation”.

All of which serves only to add fuel to the media fire by day 3: “rumours continue to mount” and “speculation continues to grow”, as X “comes under fire” from a couple of rent-a-quotes he once sacked, and now “appears increasingly beleaguered”, prompting “allies and close friends” to “wonder how much more X can take”.

Nothing new (and certainly not newsworthy) will actually have happened in those three days. But the mere act of reporting “rumours and speculation” – gossip, if you prefer – has transformed some loose talk into a major story, allowing the journalists who broke it on day 1 to justify to themselves that they have done their duty.

Yet it is all just fluff and misdirection. Of course Mr Blair should go, and go now. Only he cannot see that fact clearly. But I distrust and dislike the media manipulation of the news agenda to suit their own avaricious appetite for stuff to happen on their terms.