Don’t tar us all with the same brush, please

I received a text from a friend the other day. I’ve saved it. It reads: “Who would be a journalist eh? I suggest you tell people you are a traffic warden! Ha ha”.
I suppose it could have been worse. He could have written ‘banker’. Or, heaven-forbid, ‘politician’.
For a week or more ‘journalist’ has been a dirty word courtesy of the blanket coverage of the phone-hacking scandal that ultimately engulfed a national institution.
It’s been pay-back time.
Every celebrity, high-profile public figure or MP who has ever been put under the microscope by the national press has relished this opportunity to give the News of the World (NotW) – and the press in general – a good kicking.
We haven’t been able to move for smug social commentators dropping pearls of wisdom amid the clamour for tighter controls on newspapers.
The press has been demonised to such an extent that television and radio presenters have been falling over themselves to be seen as a different species to those evil print journalists with whom they will be enjoying a pint next week.
Worse still, as they lap up the latest gossip about such-and-such sleeping with you-know who, people everywhere are appalled and outraged at the depths to which some hacks will sink for a story.
The hipocrisy is breath-taking.
Make no bones about it, what was painted as the mercy-killing of the biggest-selling newspaper in the English-speaking world was driven by purely financial considerations.
With a brand sullied and a share price endangered, ditching the NOTW was a not entirely unexpected attempt to kill the phone-hacking story by cutting off its head.
After 168 years and 8,674 issues, I would suggest the old girl – and its current staff who had nothing to do with the scandal – deserved a better end.
While it is true to say that no right-thinking person would approve of the kind of practices alleged in the latest phone-hacking revelations, the ensuing furore has, to my mind, been over-the-top.
To attempt, as some have done, to tar every print journalist with the same brush as the small NotW phone-hacking brigade is a bit like trying to implicate a cashier at your local bank in the global economic crisis.
I don’t doubt that in the coming weeks and months there will be more shocks and opprobrium as the police investigation and a public enquiry attempt to clean-up the sharper end of journalism in the UK.
I also wouldn’t dispute the need for some sort of review into the operating procedures of the media as a whole – as opposed to just newspapers.
However, I would suggest we are in danger here of throwing the baby out with the bath water.
I’m all for punishing wrong-doers and those who fall beneath the standards expected by decent people.
But I would say that a free press – one with the power to investigate, to challenge and to champion its readers – is the cornerstone of our democracy.
It is a vital element of the checks and balances to which key individuals and organisations should be subjected.
Yes, it might suit some public figures and institutions for the national press to be neutered but I, for one, would mourn the day that happened.
In my younger days I ran with ‘the pack’ for five years when working as a freelance agency reporter and I can honestly say I never broke the law.
Back then I relied very heavily on my own moral compass in order to decide what I felt comfortable doing and what I didn’t.
From experience, what I would say is that it is the nature of the beast that some journalists invariably sail close to the wind because they are dealing with sensitive information – often involving tip-offs and leaks.
Whether or not, ultimately, such information is in the public interest is a matter for debate but there is no doubt that newspaper journalists provide a crucial public service.
There is, of course, a world of difference between the national press and regional newspapers such as The Sentinel.
We don’t pay for stories, we don’t hack phones and we aren’t interested in the kind of tittle-tattle which sells red-top national papers.
By the same token, I would say that some of the best investigative journalism is done by regional newspapers who hold local councils, hospitals and the like to account and champion their readers day-in, day-out.
I am proud to work for one of them.

One thought on “Don’t tar us all with the same brush, please

  1. Hi Martin, can I ask when will The Sentinel hold the Port Vale Football Club board of directors to account? Whilst you’ve recently seen the light for what they are, for the lies they tell, for their lack of ideas and their ability to cling on to the club for grim death I would like to see not you but The Sentinel on behalf of its Port Vale supporting readers asking why.

    When the board release news such as the Ameriturf “deal” that the Sentinel ask the pertinent questions rather than just accepting every single word the club say and leaving it to concerned supporters to question whats being done.

    And what about our missing Chairman? Six weeks now and not a word off him. How many times has he offered to resign if we don’t want him? The vast majority of shareholders do not yet he’s still there, still clinging on and still refusing ALL investment that would see him removed.

    Is he not answerable to shareholders, supporters, your readers instead of letting him just stick his head back in the sand again?

    I really appreciate your comments via this blog but you are often preaching to the converted, those on the internet who have campaigned for the removal of the 3 stooges or even the Jackson Five as the two money men are still playing a very active role in how the club is run despite the shareholders wishes.

    I look forward to finally seeing The Sentinel bring to account these 3 /5 people or are ruining a lifetimes worth of football for hundreds of lifelong Port Vale supporters their own personal egotistical enjoyment. For Us All my A*$#

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