It is obviously a relatively quiet day on Fleet Street with the papers falling back on their traditional strongholds.
The Guardian has a story about a man dying whilst being deported to Angola on Tuesday. If you look carefully it is fairly typical in its format as a Guardian article. The testimony of one, supposedly independent, citizen is pitted against the a number of dull and lifeless quotes from various figures in the state. Only one source, a 58-year old oil engineer, is used and so the article is a little weak on force but is interesting none-the-less.
Standing outside in the cold trying to interest someone in a subject that they couldn’t care less about is bad. Trying to convince them their bland opinions are strong enough that they want to be quoted in the paper is worse. Trying to get them to smile for a photograph to go with their bland opinion is truly demoralising.
Vox Pops are, lets face it, a completely lazy journalism tool, used when deadlines are looming and you have half a page of copy to fill. No local newspaper editor has ever sat down on a Thursday to plan next week’s issue and said “I think what this paper needs more of is the opinion of decrepit old ladies.” They are completely unrepresentative – partially because it is only certain types of people who wonder the streets during the day and partially because journalists are humans and see some people as more approachable than others. This leads to a much higher proportion of retired, friendly-looking old ladies than you could ever want.
And they are outdated. When did you last see an internet journalist doing a vox pop? That’s exactly what comments on all articles are for. Except with comments/blogs people have actively chosen to care enough about an issue to write about it. They have not just been accosted by a desperate journalist who wants more than anything to not be there.
Please lets stop teaching trainee journalists this horrible, outdated form of journalism.
Last night a panel at City university London including Max Mosley, Guardian journalist Nick Davies, former News of the World (NOTW) features editor Paul McMullan and Roy Greenslade and debated newspaper journalism in the post-NOTW phone-hacking world.
I felt the debate was a little stuck in 1980. All the panelists talked about newspaper editors like they were huge behemoths without once mentioning the internet. Nothing was mentioned of the number of dubious privacy stories which have that are being broke on the internet. Think, for example, of the story earlier this year about William Hague having gay relations with his aide. That broke not in the mainstream print media, many of whom had known of the rumours about his sexuality for years, but because of a number of online blogs starting rumours. Eventually Hague overreacted to the rumours and escalated the story, but the initial potentially libelous claims were made on a number of different sites on the internet. Who could you sue for libel in such cases?
As his solution to what is so-called ‘legitimate’ hacking in the public interest Nick Davies proposed a panel of ‘three wise men’ who would be able to decide whether a story is in the public interest before it was published. He suggested that the meetings would be kept secret but how long before the rumours would leak onto the internet? Then everything that went before the judges would be known by other papers and eventually linked to gossip websites.
When the John Terry affair rumours were to be published in The News of the World a judge ruled on the Friday that they be restricted by a super-injunction. By the following Thursday they were allowed to be published as internet rumours had made the story effectively in the public domain already. Therein the NOTW, the paper that had invested the resources in the story, had lost the scoop and the revenue that went with it. Having six distinguished panelists debate the future of the newspaper journalism is only really worthwhile if they can talk about the future of journalism as well. For a more thorough analysis they would have to have considered some of the sites, like popbitch, that the NOTW is increasingly in competition with.