Archive for August, 2007

How the coverage of Learco Chindamo has had a material impact on his case (and not in a good way)

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‘Hysteria’ is a word used all too regularly about media coverage. But it would be hard not to apply it to the last 48 hours coverage of Learco Chindamo. Yesterday’s and today’s front pages have been dominated by his imminent release and by the decision not to deport him to Italy.

But today’s stories have a strange circularity to them. Most talk about the Home Office papers that claim Chindamo’s ‘offences were so serious that he represents a genuine and present and sufficiently serious threat to the public in principle as to justify his deportation’. The Home Office claimed this partly because he was defined as ‘high risk’ by the multi-agency protection arrangements.

But as The Telegraph points out, ‘this ranking was largely due to the media interest he would receive on release and the risk of a “backlash”.’ Not surprisingly since, when on day release last year, Chindamo was hounded by the press (e.g. see John Kay, ‘Outrage’).

Fears of media coverage also led the tribunal which decided not to send Chindamo to Italy to hold its hearings in secret – ‘after extraordinary evidence from the governor of Ford open prison that “hysterical misinformed articles in the gutter press” were undermining their attempts to protect the public in Chindamo’s case’ (from Alan Travis, The Guardian).

So now we have yet more hysterical reporting, and yet more outrage at the supposed absurdities of the Human Rights Act.

When Chindamo is released we can assume he will be pursued by the press, that he may well respond, and that this will provoke further headlines saying the press were right all along and he should never have been released in the first place.

It’s difficult to see how this benefits either Chindamo or wider society.

Written by Martin Moore

August 22nd, 2007 at 7:49 am

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A pandemic of drunkenness or statistics designed to make a story?

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Amongst the current clump of articles about fear on the streets, anarchy in the UK and the sorry state of our policing there have been some shocking statistics about young people and alcohol.

86% of teenagers have consumed alcohol under age, David Wooding reports in The Sun. ‘More than half drink at least once a day – while one in ten hits the booze every day… More than 12 per cent also said they admired hellraising singer Amy Winehouse – who is currently in rehab‘ [Sun's italics].

The paper goes on to quote a head shaking John Sewell, managing director of OnePoll, the company who conducted the alcohol survey. “These results are extremely worrying” says Sewell, “Teenagers think it is a normal thing because they constantly see pictures of their idols going in and out of rehab”.

Indeed the statistics are worrying, although lose some of their impact if you read the blurb on OnePoll’s website.

“Many of our clients” the company says candidly, “use OnePoll to trigger high impact media coverage”. “Our team of national news journalists and PR experts know what the media will use”. And, in a remarkably frank admission it admits that “we draw up poll questions in a way that will maximise story hooks”.

Suddenly the evidence for a pandemic of drunkenness amongst young people seems slightly less convincing.

Written by Martin Moore

August 21st, 2007 at 7:46 am

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An undercover documentary at a British newspaper?

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Why hasn’t anyone tried the Daily Mirror tactics on the Daily Mirror?

Roy Greenslade wrote yesterday about the Mirror’s latest stunt – to get a ‘sleeper’ journalist into Conservative HQ. Emily Miller, the journalist in question, applied for a £40,000 a year post helping Caroline Spelman, from which position she could have fed confidential Tory documents to her newspaper in the months leading up to the next election. But Miller was rumbled by the Tories because of her references (or lack of them).

And this Wednesday night Current TV is screening Nick Angel’s film, ‘The Daily Mail Diet’. Taking a lead from Morgan Spurlock’s ‘Supersize Me’, Angel has restricted his news diet to the Daily Mail and filmed the effect it has on his (previously liberal) attitudes.

But what if you mixed Miller with Angel? What if someone managed get a job as a reporter on a British newspaper and spent a month secretly filming behind the scenes?

Imagine the fantastic footage you might capture – the feeding frenzy after a news story breaks; editors laying into journalists for missing out on an exclusive (Rebecca Wade after the Mirror beats the Sun to Pete Doherty again?); sub-editors mulling over how to ‘sex up’ a headline about prostate cancer (e.g. stories in Express & Mail earlier this month); or Express editors working out how on earth they can lead with yet another story about Diana.

The more I think about it, the more surprised I am someone hasn’t already tried it. Or perhaps they have and they got rumbled too…

Written by Martin Moore

August 20th, 2007 at 11:13 am

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If you're part of a news story you should be treated differently

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Why don’t news websites reserve a separate space for participants in the story?

It seems very strange that while most news websites now allow people to comment below their stories – they don’t provide any space or special treatment for the people and organisations referred to in the story.

Surely they’re missing a trick? A story feels much more authentic and ‘live’ if, having been published, it re-engages the people involved.

But if the partipant makes a comment it’s almost always mixed in with 30 or so others. This not only makes it seem less interesting, but less credible. You can’t help but think, is this really the person in the article? Would the paper have left their comment languishing down here if it was?

This struck me recently when Dr Fiona Scott, one of two critical sources referenced in the Observer’s front page piece about MMR and autism, left a comment beneath Stephen Pritchard’s column the following week. But since hers was the 19th comment (of 44) it was difficult to find and hard to know whether to take seriously – despite being so integral to the story, and despite the importance of the comment to the overall credibility of the original piece.

Similarly last week, in an internet debate hosted by Newsnight about the MoD’s new guidelines preventing the armed forces from publishing blogs, pictures and videos online, I came across the MoD’s spokesman’s comments nestling amongst 78 others.

Though this might please the democratic purists among us, it reduces the richness of the story and doesn’t help the reader at all.

Neither would giving the participants special treatment require news organisations to make a massive change from current practice. They could just add a separate email / phone number, and then highlight their responses or link to them directly from the article.

If Google, an organisation which extolls its lack of editorial staff, can give participants the chance to respond to news stories (see their announcement last week), then news organisations can certainly do this, and more.

Written by Martin Moore

August 16th, 2007 at 8:16 am

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