Archive for the ‘Daily Telegraph’ tag

The Case of the Missing Journalists

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What’s the similarity between these 7 Telegraph sports journalists?
  • Oliver Clive (44 articles since November 2007, most recent on 30th June)
  • Austin Peters (109 articles since October 2007, most recent on 18th May)
  • Charles Carrick (169 articles since October 2007, most recent on 1st July)
  • Matthew Hannah (14 articles since September 2008, most recent on 30th June)
  • William Gray (180 articles since October 2007, most recent on 28th June)
  • Perry Crooke (60 articles since October 2007, most recent on 16th June)
  • Dan Harbles (35 articles since November 2008, most recent on 30th June)
Well, according to Private Eye, they don’t exist. They’re made up. Invented. Plucked from the imagination of someone in the Telegraph’s London HQ.

When I first read this allegation in Private Eye I admit, in my naïve way, I was unconvinced. I’m aware that news organisations have, for a very long time, published articles that bear a remarkable similiarity to agency copy with a byline from one of their own journalists. But inventing non-existent journalists is a step on from this. Would the Telegraph, the newspaper that was so – rightly – aghast at the improprieties of MPs create fictional correspondents? Wouldn’t that be potentially pretty embarrassing? And anyway, given they’ve got such a good repertoire of sports journalists in house, what would be the motivation?

But, having checked it with the help of the new Journalisted, it would appear to be true.

The new Journalisted site has a terribly helpful ‘similar articles’ feature, which finds stories that cover similar subjects. This is great for contextualising an article, for seeing alternative reviews (e.g. of books or films) and for checking facts.

But it also has another use. It makes it much easier to see when someone has simply republished copy from a news agency or a press release.

This is what I did with the allegedly non-existent Telegraph journalists. I looked up their profiles on Journalisted, checked their articles, and found that many of them bore a remarkable similarity to articles in other newspapers that were either not bylined or credited to agencies.
Take this football story, by ‘Oliver Clive’ on 5th May:

“Porto left-back Aly Cissokho is set to make a decision on his future at the end of the season after claiming Tottenham are interested in him.”

A story that was also covered in the Daily Express, without a byline:

“Porto left-back Aly Cissokho is set to make a decision on his future at the end of the season after claiming Tottenham are interested in him.”

Slapping a made-up journalist’s name on news agency copy is one thing, but it gets worse. And this is where there is a material difference from what is, I’m told, an age old practice of bylining agency copy. Someone appears to have gone through the copy and edited out references to other news organisations.

The same football article in the Express, for example, quoted Cissokho: ‘”I have a contract until 2012 and the club officials want me to add another year to that,” he told skysports.com.’ Yet in the Telegraph the reference to skysports.com was removed. Later in the article a separate quote, attributed to mountakhab.net was also removed from the Telegraph’s piece (accessed 2-7-09).

So, not only is the paper inventing bylines, but someone appears to be going through the agency copy and excising reference to competitors.

To check this wasn’t an unfortunate recent graduate called Oliver Clive being told to churn out agency copy I called the Telegraph and asked to speak to Clive. He could not be found. I emailed him at oliver.clive@telegraph.co.uk. No answer. Nor has there yet been any response from the other six ‘correspondents’ (if there is I’ll update this blog and make that apparent).

I’ve since managed to track down someone at the Telegraph. He did not deny the Private Eye story but said he thought it was hypocritical of a magazine that uses many pseudonyms and that it ignored the fact that this is ‘standard industry practice’. It was not, he suggested, a big deal – and was done more than anything for ‘design reasons’, because it looked odd to have an article without a byline (though the majority of BBC news online articles are published without bylines, and lots of the Express online is not bylined).

Even if one accepts that, in an age of print, this was a common and recognised inside practice, does that make it justified? And, in the age of blogging, linking, transparency, and of the importance of cementing the brand of your journalists? Isn’t it time it stopped?

Written by Martin Moore

July 2nd, 2009 at 10:03 am

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Journalism wins

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Though we don’t yet know the long term effects of the MPs expenses scandal we already know it has had a very positive impact on journalism. 

Despite the resignation of the Speaker, Michael Martin, the repercussions of this story will take a long time to play out for MPs and the political process. ‘Much much more needs to happen if MPs are to get out of the expenses morass’, Peter Riddell writes in The Times. And later in the same paper Daniel Finkelstein wonders if MPs have really yet understood what a profound impact the information revolution has had – and will have on politics.

But some of the beneficial repercussions on journalism are already apparent. For one thing it has reminded people – print journalists in particular – that not only are rumours of newspapers demise greatly exaggerated, but that they can genuinely hold politicians to account, and catalyse root and branch reform.

The expenses scandal has been a shot in the arm for public interest journalism. It has shown that political news can sell papers (the Telegraph has, according to Media Guardian, sold 600,000 more newspapers), that a newspaper (as opposed to a website or blog) can lead the news agenda for days – weeks – on end. And it has shown that the role of journalism as watchdog is alive and well.

This will not only put a spring in the step of political correspondents but make all journalists more conscious – and prouder – of their trade. It will help remind journalism students about why they’re going into a profession that has – in so many other respects – such an uncertain future.

All the better that the story has been owned – quite literally – by the conservative (Conservative?) bastion that is the Daily Telegraph. A paper that appeared to have lost its way politically and journalistically. The Telegraph has now found its voice – and found it in 130+ point type.

It is not yet clear whether this story represents a flare in the embers of newspapers that are already dying, or whether it represents a revival of the – often idealised – the Fourth Estate. Whichever it is, journalists should take a moment to reflect on a good time for public interest journalism.

Written by Martin Moore

May 20th, 2009 at 9:19 am

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Why do people comment?

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I’m genuinely perplexed. Why do people comment on news websites? On the BBC’s ‘Have Your Say’, on the Guardian’s Comment is Free (CiF), on the Telegraph’s View or on the various others?

The overwhelming number of comments on many of these (not all by any means) are one-sided, often aggressively one-sided, and often aggressively one-sided against the publication in which they’re commenting. Many of the community commenting on the Guardian’s CiF appear to feel little but contempt for the publication. Take a look, for example, at responses to Polly Toynbee’s piece about the ‘Miserablist’ media today. Since this is probably not a fair example – many commenters targeting their aggression at the columnist rather than the publication – have a look too at comments on David Cox’s fascinating piece a few months back, ‘Media and the Mob’.

Is it cathartic? Does leaving a comment attacking the column – or columnist – relieve some of the anger of the commenter? People have, it is true, spent so many years unable to respond in real time to opinion pieces to which they object that this may simply be a natural reaction to the many years mainstream media has filtered, censored and suppressed the public voice.

Still, there is a peculiar lack of balance that suggests big media have not yet worked out the best way to structure comment spaces. Responses to today’s Telegraph View, ‘What is the BBC for?‘, for example, though not anti-Telegraph, are overwhelmingly anti-BBC. Are Telegraph readers really that hostile to the BBC? Do the vast majority of them think the Corporation is “just another feature of the revoltingly decayed British state” (Jake). Or that its primary purpose is “Leftist propaganda” (Luke) and “the dissemination of left-wingery, political correctness and soft porn” (RS). These, by the way, are some of the more polite comments.

And yet, do an analysis of the media consumption of Telegraph readers and you find the majority of them consume significant amounts of the BBC and, in surveys at least, appear to like quite a lot of the news it provides and the programmes it makes.

Perhaps, as Jeff Jarvis told the ‘Future of Journalism’ conference, news organisations simply need to get much better at hosting debates. “We need to figure out who the smart people are – it’s not just about creating content but also curating people.” By this he means (I think) that news websites need the odd David Dimbleby to help frame a discussion and encourage those to speak who might otherwise lack a voice.

Equally, better that people vent their anger on the web than on the street. Perhaps we do need the odd Speakers’ Corner after all.

Written by Martin Moore

June 24th, 2008 at 3:20 pm

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The twilight zone between blogs and journalism

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Suddenly the purpose of my.telegraph becomes alot clearer. Yesterday on p.11 Nick Britten reported on the case of Ben Morphey, who has pleaded guilty to causing the death of two young women by dangerous driving. Only the story is not about Ben Morphey, it is about the anguish of the women’s father who has been writing a blog at My.Telegraph since May 12 (at http://my.telegraph.co.uk/phil_stod).

The article relies on the blog to a remarkable extent. Not only is there a box-out with quotes from three blog entries, the blog is referenced and quoted throughout. Indeed the final five paragraphs of the article are taken entirely from the blog.

Presumably this is exactly the type of authentic, reader generated material the Telegraph was looking for when it invested so much money in its website. By giving its readers the opportunity to record their thoughts within its walls, it not only creates a community but, with luck, is rewarded with blogs that can enhance the news in the main paper (and are ‘free’).

But this also raises fascinating questions. Was Mr Stoddart asked if he minded his blog going in the main paper? Presumably he was, or it was clear that by recording his thoughts within the Telegraph’s site they might be used in this way. But did he have any say about the context in which they were put?

A blog like this has a raw authenticity which makes it compelling, but can also make it difficult to contextualise or question. The blog is, for example, highly religious – indeed Mr Stoddart says his purpose in writing it is to make other people ‘consider’ God – should an article explain this is its purpose? Is it relevant? The boundaries between what personal information should be revealed and what shouldn’t is far from clear.

This is yet another blurring of the line between blogs and journalism, and one that needs alot more discussion and more thought.

Written by Martin Moore

June 5th, 2007 at 4:24 pm

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