Archive for May, 2008

How did you get that story?

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How much information should journalists give about how they came to get a story?

Well, much depends, of course, on relevance. If I’m reading a story about the Chinese earthquake I want to know if it’s written by an eyewitness on the ground, or written from a distance and based on reports. But process becomes less relevant if it’s a report of a public event or speech.

Unless the report is based on material fed to the journalist prior to the event. If, for example, a report about Gordon Brown’s new healthcare initiative is based not on his announcement to the House but on special papers sent the previous day to the news organisation.

Then the fact that No.10 leaked the report early, and leaked it to only one news organisation, gives the reader some useful background about the government’s motivation, and about aspects of the government agenda that it views as important.

The New York Times did this in its front page report today about John McCain seeking to cap carbon emissions. McCain was due to announce his plans in a speech and gave the script, in advance, to the NY Times. To make this clear the Times, in its lead in to the third paragraph, noted that ‘In a prepared text of his speech, emailed to reporters on Sunday night and Monday morning…’. The sentence may end up a little clunkier but it gives an insight into the political process as well as insuring that, if McCain changes his speech at the last minute, the news report doesn’t look outdated or misrepresentative.

British papers very rarely do this but should.

Written by Martin Moore

May 13th, 2008 at 9:44 pm

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Vegas news

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Sporadic posting due to an inordinate amount of time on the road (or rather in the air). I’m in Las Vegas for an online news conference organised by the Knight News Foundation (the people who recently opened the ‘Newseum’). Will be posting soon.

Written by Martin Moore

May 13th, 2008 at 8:04 pm

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Commenting on the commentators commenting

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There was a distinct sound of chomping in the air at last night’s ‘The Power of the Commentariat’ event at the Royal Society of Arts. It was the sound of the press eating itself. A panel of commentators (Simon Jenkins, Suzanne Moore, Daniel Finkelstein et al) commenting on a report written by Editorial Intelligence and the Reuters Institute about the influence of commentators in front of an audience of… commentators.

At least it was – in some cases – self-conscious cannibalism. Simon Jenkins opened by calling the occasion ‘impossibly narcissistic’, and Suzanne Moore worried about the clash of egos. Still, one couldn’t help thinking that, if you’re trying to assess the power of media commentators, shouldn’t you do it with an audience of those they are supposed to have power over?

Still, despite its incestuousness, the discussion was not without its talking points. Polly Toynbee – from the audience – asking (in all seriousness) how we create an objective measure of the influence of commentators. Simon Jenkins saying, in reference to online debate and comments by the public, “we’ve unleashed a monster”. And Daniel Finkelstein claiming that Paddy Ashdown’s proposed appointment as chief administrator in Afghanistan was vetoed by Hamid Karzai due to a column published in a British paper.

Yet no-one raised the central question of whether the ‘power of the commentariat’ was rising or falling. The assumption implicit in the panel, and within the accompanying pamphlet, is that it is rising. I’d take issue with this. In fact I’d argue the opposite.

If, as Peter Wilby suggested in the Media Guardian on Monday, the power of commentators now comes mainly from their role as the representative voice of their readers – rather than ‘because their judgments were thought to have value in themselves’ (as in the past) – then as their readers splinter and atomize, so does their influence.

This is borne out by the increasing tendency of commentators – even those previously calm and measured – to shriek and yell to get heard. As Timothy Garton Ash says in the EI/Reuters report “I think it is true that the pressure is to shout louder and louder”. Take Anatole Kaletsky, the awfully smart political economist who writes for The Times. In a column about house prices and the economy last month Kaletsky told his readers they ‘had better reach for the Book of Revelations to find an appropriate word for Britain’s economic prospects in the next year or two’. Isn’t there a teensy bit of hyperbole there?

The current position of commentators is, I think, anomalous. They have temporarily filled a gap in the body politic vacated by local and national politicians, unions, and other bodies that developed to represent the public. But commentators’ right to that representation is tenuous to say the least. They were not voted in, they have no executive political power. All they have is the power of their pen. As their audiences drop and if they resort to hyperbole to cling onto those that remain, that power will, inevitably, fade.

Written by Martin Moore

May 8th, 2008 at 7:27 am

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Journalisted adds biographical links

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Yet more useful features on journalisted

As Comment is Free has shown, a brief bio about a journalist can be helpful when reading their opinion. It gives you a little more context and colour and – sometimes – gives you a steer on where the journalist is coming from.

I didn’t know, for example, that Simon Jenkins has edited the Evening Standard as well as The Times. Nor was I aware that David Aaronovitch was the author of ‘Paddling to Jerusalem: An Aquatic Tour of Our Small Country’ (2000). And though I knew Ghaith Abdul-Ahad’s articles from Baghdad I hadn’t realised he also reported from behind the insurgent lines in Falluja.

This is why we’ve just added some biographical details to When there is a Wikipedia page on a journalist or biographical details on Comment is Free we’ll indicate that and provide a link through. It’s only these two at the moment but as time goes on we’ll keep adding more.

Oh, and we’ve had alot of people emailing us asking for contact details of journalists. For the record we don’t keep contact details but if a journalist has helpfully provided their email at the bottom of one of their articles, journalisted will now automatically display that address on the journalist’s page.

If you have any more suggestions for the site feel free to email and let me / us know (

Written by Martin Moore

May 6th, 2008 at 5:05 pm

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