Daily Archives: June 8, 2010

Journalistic Standards

Another day, another lazy Richard Littlejohn column. His main article is criticising an four-page leaflet produced by the Food Standards Agency, which mainly involves quoting large chunks of it verbatim (presumably, but you never know). Out of 922 words, 230 words (around 25%) are copied word-for-word, whilst another 50% seems to be paraphrased from the pamphlet. A member of the Mailwatch forum has an interesting theory as to why Littlejohn’s column is centred around an inane leaflet this week:

I think this latest column shows the fuck-ups of last week must have got back to him in some way – it’s a greatest hits of the usual simplistic bullshit to get the Mailites back on side. Bin collections, allegations of wasting money on ‘elf and safety, a dig at a comedy target (fat people), some climate change denialism, a dig at the BBC, a dig at labour and an accusation that Campbell is as bad as a Nazi. Short of a Dad’s army reference, it’s all there. And buried within, an apology that I’m sure he’ll hope his readers skim over, thinking it’s just a follow-up rather than an admission he does no research whatsoever.

While I’m depressingly sure it’ll work and he’ll have his fans wheeling out stale plaudits, it’s nice to know he obviously had a bit of a knock to the ego last week to feel the need to cram quite so many crowd-pleasers into one column. It’s like a faded rock star wheeling out all his best of hits everyone has heard a million times after his new material goes down like a lead balloon.

I appreciate the hypocrisy of calling Littlejohn lazy and then copying and pasting the above, before anyone points that out. If you haven’t seen Littlejohn’s apology, then you really should pop over to Tabloid Watch and take a look at it, it really does make clear that Littlejohn doesn’t even attempt to fact check the stories that are emailed to him.

But he isn’t alone, because surprise surprise the ‘boy thrown off bus for wearing England shirt’ story has now been unequivicolly debunked. This was a story in which a journalist just printed a story because it fitted the media narrative being created (England shirts are banned, as is patriotism and foreigners get offended with our way of life), not because it was true. The sad truth is that the journalist probably knew it was rubbish but printed it anyway.

Whenever a newspaper prints a story that was always unlikely to be true I’m always reminded of Kelvin MacKenzie’s ‘secret’ key to successful tabloid journalism. He imparted this wisdom after appointing only Oxford and Cambridge graduates during his early days at The Sun:

Satisfied that my bold move would take The Sun to a higher plain I waited for the results. They were not forthcoming. In fact, very little emerged from my new hirelings. Most disappointing.

I had to get to the bottom of this. It became clear that with their keen and analytical minds they had made a fatal mistake – they had continued investigating every story to the point where they had satisfied themselves that there was no story at all. This would not do.

I called in one of the super-brains and and explained a philosophy that had served me well over the years. The reporter leant forward with an earnest look as I told him the secret: if a story sounded true it probably was true and should therefore appear in the paper or there would be lots of white, unexplained spaces.

Such journalistic ‘standards’ result in stories like: ‘Child spotted apparently drinking beer at U.S. baseball game‘. In which we find out that:

The identity of the child, or the adults surrounding him, was not known and it has not been confirmed whether the bottle actually contained beer.

Still, we had better put it on the website, otherwise there would just be all this white space…