Archive for the ‘sport’ 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

Posted in Uncategorized

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