Tuesday, 8 June 2010

A Backward Journalist?

Being a journalist, Hacker had no particular talent for reporting facts. (Yes Minister Diaries)

Rob Shipley takes "a light-hearted" look at the week's news in his column "A Backward Glance". Last Saturday's column in the Jersey Evening Post was anything but lighthearted, however, although the phrase "backward glance" certainly seemed appropriate.

He was commenting on Senator Jim Perchard, a Senator who has been caught both in the House, and outside the Town Hall, speaking his mind extremely forcefully.

Senator Jim Perchard, a forthright man who occasionally calls a spade a *** shovel, has had his wrists slapped for being rude to a blogger during a radio phone in. Well to be fair, we can't really have our politicians exchanging insults on the air wave, can we?

Having mentioned the Senator being rude to a blogger, he then goes on to take on the bloggers, using language that reeked of venom:

That said there's a bit of a pot-kettle nexus here. Who is going to take the bloggers - or at least the most intemperate of them -- to task for name-calling and far worse on their often contemptible contributions to the world of electronic tittle-tattle? They have the effrontery to describe their venomous activities as 'citizen journalism' without, apparently, any understanding that proper journalism demands balance, fairness, evidence, the scrupulous avoidance of wild accusation and honest respect for the laws of defamation?

This is a scatter-gun approach. No bloggers are named - no examples given - instead a pretty blanket condemnation of bloggers is given. There is a let out - "the most intemperate of them", but having given no examples, it is difficult to know exactly who his target is. If it is Stuart Syvret's blog, then he should have the decency to say so. If other bloggers cause him such apoplexy, such as the "Voice" group of blogs, then he should say so, and give some hard examples. Fairness and evidence are in short supply!

Regarding "balance", I'm certainly not convinced that the JEP's record is pristine. Regarding accuracy, I have two emails from States Ministers - one from Senator Le Marquand (with permission to publish) in which the JEP has given misleading reports, which the Ministers concerned have corrected the mistakes. Moreover, a number of blogs have reported such items as Minutes of meetings, or Affidavits, which are certainly evidential.

Bloggers are all too aware that they are most unlikely to be sued for libel because the costs of taking them to court - not to mention the pain and trouble of doing so - are prohibitive, so in their world recklessness rules.

While it may be true that bloggers may not be sued for libel, it does not follow that "in their world recklessness rules". Team Voice have been putting out documentary material, and conducting interviews with a surprisingly wide range of people - you will find Senator Freddie Cohen there talking on planning, as well as Bob Hill on suspensions, and Simon Crowcroft. I'd like to see Team Voice following in the footsteps of Alan Breckon, and putting the early morning cleanup on line, so that we can see what the town cleaners have to face every day.

With the recent elections, they are offering 5 minutes to ALL candidates to present their case online, which the JEP has yet to do - it reports on the Hustings, but that is reportage, edited, and not direct material. This election has seen no States website giving a platform for candidates, so this is a much needed service to the general public.

It is true that the Voice team have been at times intemperate, but they are feeling their way, becoming better at reporting and asking questions, and while at first they struggled to get questions onto phone-ins, as they have matured, this has (I suspect) been acknowledged by the local BBC, who do allow them as much input as any member of the public, because they are polite, ask pertinent questions to the issue under discussion, and don't try to dominate the proceedings or go off on a different agenda.

Rob Shipley ends his piece with one of the most facile comments I have ever seen:

It has been said before, but it bears saying again, that if we accept the concept of citizen journalists, citizen dentists and citizen accountants will soon be asking why they aren't allowed to practise.

I know a number of journalists in the UK who are personal friends, they are writers for small provincial papers, sometimes alongside other jobs. They studied at University subjects like history or economics. They applied for interviews, and had little formal training in the job, other than advice on house style, the occasional comment by editors, but basically they went out to events - a Parish procession with bands and floats, a Parish Council Meeting, a Criminal Court - and wrote up from notes what they did. They could write good English, and report back, and put an article within a specified number of words, and that was largely their qualification, along with Union Membership. That's not to decry what they do, that is a worthwhile occupation, but I think they would readily admit that it does not require the same skill as dentistry.

If anyone - like Rob Shipley - thinks that being a dentist is the same as being a journalist, then I think they have a serious misunderstanding of the degree of training, and the expertise in dentistry that is required. Quite honestly, anyone, with a degree of application, and an ability to write, could become a journalist (or an MP!) - just read some journalist's autobiographies! The same is not true of a dentist. This is a spurious comparison that certainly doesn't bear saying again - unless it reflects on just how stupid some journalists can sometimes be.

I suspect that the real cause of Mr. Shipley's annoyance is that a new kind of journalism is in the process of formation, and while rough around the edges - as print journalism once was when it began, don't forget that - it is a rival, an extra source of news. The BBC, as a publically funded public service organisation doesn't have the same concerns, and is therefore more amenable to engaging with bloggers.


Nick Palmer said...

"without, apparently, any understanding that proper journalism demands balance, fairness, evidence..."

How true that, as you write, Shipley uses a "scattergun" approach to construct his piece of improper journalism using unbalanced, unfair, evidence-free assertions.

It is his conflation of the above quote with
"...the scrupulous avoidance of wild accusation and honest respect for the laws of defamation?" that shows the problem with the majority of the JEP's serious reporting (or lack of). The same goes, probably even more so, for Radio Jersey. They are over scared of libel lawyers to the great detriment of serious reportage or investigative journalism.

Famous science writer Simon Singh got sued by the Chiropractic Association for a reasonable piece of journalism because he wasn't afraid to tell it like it is instead of keeping schtum. He fought back and the libel reform campaign was born.

There are big moves afoot to seriously update the stifling libel laws and cowardly attitudes like Shipley's, acquiescing by showing "honest (sic) respect for the laws of defamation", without resistance do little credit to the JEP.

To be fair (ish) they did force into public knowledge the trial of some Middle Eastern chap but they seem a bit charier closer to home...

Times online on moves for libel law reform

BTW, I got a threatening "stop defaming my client letter" last December from Robin E. Troy, solicitor, about a link to some online information I passed on to a local politician who had requested it.

"Dear Sir


I am instructed by Mr. XXXX in connection with the issue of defamatory and libellous statements that you have made in connection with my client in respect of his standing as a candidate for the XXXXXX XXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXX and an untrue allegation of links to the blah blah blah..."

As his client appears to still let an ex-Euro MP make far more extensive allegations online without obvious or effective action, I can only assume that his client was using the onerous libel law sledgehammer to crack a perceived nut (that denies that any such libel was made in the way that was suggested).

So far, I can't see that his client has done much about the bigger fish.

If his client thinks that bully boy tactics like this will work in his favour, long term, he has another think coming...


BTW, here is an interesting website to browse around.

voiceforchildren said...


Rob Shipley's piece does smack of desperation. The truth is, if the JEP and most of the other "accredited" media were doing a good job there would be little or no need for Team Voice or others to exist.

He (Rob Shipley) rather than going around attacking Bloggers, would do better to question the JEP's output and maybe up their game, give the public some investigative journalism and Blogs would be less needed.

The (Jersey) "accredited" media just can't accept the fact that they were one of the biggest driving forces behind the creation of Team Voice because of their own, shall we say "Inadequacies?"

TonyTheProf said...

The one thing that bloggers need to do is to print any errors and apologies if they do make mistakes.

The JEP, the masterpiece of accurate reporting (according to Mr Shipley) confused a 30% rise on taxation with a 30% rise on income support in Patrick Ryan's speech. The highly trained reporter got it wrong! Actually it is a sensibly placed apology for once; normally, it is tucked away in some remote location.

I've had one occasion where the Dean pointed out an error, and I got permission to post his email with an apology as a blog entry, and link my original entry to that (rather than pretending it hadn't happened).

I also had an historical error on G.R. Bailleine which I put a correction on.

There have been differences of opinion, but that's different from a factual error which should always be corrected.

We are all flawed human beings, and it does us good to apologise for not being right!

Ryan Morrison said...

I think social media and blogging is an important part of the news media.

Bloggers is just the modern equivalent of Pamphleteers - sharing stories, opinions and issues outside of the mainstream media.

TonyTheProf said...


This is an extremely good example of what Bloggers can do - an in depth interview, highlighting the kind of conditions that prevail in a housing estate - unlike CTV (which has to keep attention short and go for sound-bites), this report can give 10 minutes, with well thought out and prepared questions asked by the interviewer.

No wild accusations, just plain honest and accurate reporting. The lady interviewed is calm, not in any way sounding bitter or angry, just resigned to bad conditions, and hoping for something better.

Thomas Wellard is becoming more and more practiced at interviewing, and he tackles those people who slip between the cracks. It's not loud blaring, but it is very important nonetheless.

Ryan Morrison said...

Both ITV and the BBC only have a limited duration - BBC up to 14 minutes and ITV 30 minutes.

In that time they need to cover all the news and it isn't possible to give 10 minutes to a single item.

We are trying to make use of the website more - posting longer versions of interviews with people for example.

TonyTheProf said...

I know, it's the nature of things as far as news is concerned.

Having said that, Radio Jersey does a brilliant job with Talkback - 2 55 minute sessions to explore matters at depth with States members and the public.

And the "Man from Belsen" was especially good. Perhaps Talkback could give way to the occasional documentary piece - perhaps repeat some of Mary Phillips wonderful talks.

Ryan Morrison said...

We have a 60 minute programme strand called Personal View that goes out on a Sunday afternoon at 4pm that is used for a number of 'specialist features'.

Everything from an extended interview with Cliff Richard to a tour of the palaces of the UK.

I did a special on the Liberation Music festival in the slot and have two more coming up in August - one on Blues and one on Music Comedy.

TonyTheProf said...

I didn't know - I see it is on "Listen again", so I'll keep an eye out for it.

Thanks, Ryan.

voiceforchildren said...


Deputy Trevor Pitman has now made contact with the lady interviewd by Thomas Wellard concerning her housing problems. He became aware of the situation through Citizens Media after watching the video on VFJ. Not something positive coming from Blogs? Perhaps Rob Shipley might want to mention some of the more positive things that come from Bloggers the next time he wants to write a piece on them?

Furthermore as you mentioned we (Team Voice) have offered ALL Senatorial Candidates a full five minutes of air time on video to appeal to the electorate and engage with the online community and we have just posted on VFP Peter Remon Whorrall's piece.

Not all candidates have taken us up on our very kind offer, but nevertheless we will be publishing their 5 minute speech from the hustings for those who don't take up our offer.