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Mea culpa? Johann Hari apologises for ‘error of judgement’

After yesterday’s storm, this morning’s calmer weather brings with it some reflection from Johann Hari about the scandal he has found himself caught up in.

Writing in today’s Independent, Hari has apologised for an “error of judgement” after being shown to have passed off unattributed material from elsewhere as direct interview quotes.

I did not and never have taken words from another context and twisted them to mean something different – I only ever substituted clearer expressions of the same sentiment, so the reader knew what the subject thinks in the most comprehensible possible words.

The front-page headline for his piece seems to have been changed at the 11th hour from “What I think about the attacks on my professional integrity” to “The lessons I must draw from these attacks on my journalism”.

Both have a certain amount of fighting talk about them. The second is softer around the edges and closer to Hari’s piece in the paper, which is an awkward mix of mea culpa and mea innocentia.

I don’t want to harp on about this. I’m not out to get Johann Hari, I don’t want to see him bullied or hounded, and some of yesterday’s frenzy left a sour taste in my mouth. But seeing people on Twitter call his piece in this morning’s paper “gracious” and “exemplary” and so on sticks in the craw a bit.

Hari is a very intelligent guy, intelligent enough for it not to wash that he was innocently doing something for the benefit of the reader. A “gracious” and “exemplary” response would be an honest one, which I don’t think this is. An honest response would admit that he knew then what he was doing was wrong, rather than sees now that it was. An honest response would admit that part of the reason he did it was to improve his own journalism. To make out that it was all about the reader is disingenuous, I think.

Commenting on my previous blog post on this, Guardian technology correspondent Charles Arthur disagreed with my claim that Hari was being disingenuous in his response. He says instead that a lack of proper journalism training is to blame. Arthur claims that the route up through King’s College, Cambridge to the New Statesman and on, didn’t give Hari the journalistic nous to know that what he was doing was wrong or the arsenal to defend himself against the allegations that followed.

It may be the case that Hari’s sentiments in the paper today are genuine, and bear out Arthur’s assessment that he didn’t know any better, but I don’t buy it. This was not about the readers. It does not do a disservice to the reader to give them an unpolished thought, the disservice is giving them one thing and telling them it’s another, and you don’t need to pass your NCTJs or come up the ranks of a local paper to know that.

Of course, phone hacking is worse, inventing quotes from scratch is worse, and there are probably plenty of other things that happen in our industry that are worse. But we don’t need to judge one thing by another, as if the worse of the two mitigated the lesser. Those other bad practices just serve to show that the reaction to this situation was way out of proportion. As James Ball pointed out in a discussion with me this morning, the fact of this 2003 Private Eye piece about Hari adequately demonstrates the amplifying power of Twitter today.

This is the last thing I’ll write about the issue, I hope, but I do think it merits further discussion. It’s a shame that the debate about the practice itself has been somewhat hijacked and deformed by the brouhaha on Twitter. I know these things aren’t black or white, and that Johann Hari is no Jayson Blair. There are shades of grey in between. And I don’t want to see a campaigning writer and someone who is a force for good in journalism end up on the scrap heap over something like this. But I’m just not sure that today’s defence stands up. As Samira Shackle notes in her New Statesman post today, Hari still hasn’t addressed the charge of lifting material from other interviews as well as from the writings of his subjects.

I’m sure that over the coming months Hari will vie with his Independent colleague Robert Fisk for the dubious honour of most-scrutinised journalist, and I’m equally sure they won’t find any new copy and paste jobs. The level of coverage of this has been sufficient to teach anyone a lesson.

It remains to be seen whether an inquiry into his 2008 Orwell Prize will find that his submissions are affected.

UPDATE: A discussion on Twitter between myself and the Guardian’s Charles Arthur followed this post after he commented on it below. You can see the whole thing at this link, starting at the bottom of the page. The first tweet should start “Interesting comment from @charlesarthur…” and the last “@charlesarthur @jeremyduns Sobering. Threatening to escalate…” – if this is no longer displaying properly please let me know: joelmgunter@gmail.com.

Image by internets_dairy on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

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Paul Foot Award opens for entries

May 7th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Events, Journalism

The annual Private Eye/Guardian Paul Foot Award for campaigning and investigative journalism is open for entries in 2010:

The overall winner will be awarded £5,000, with the 5 runners-up each receiving £1,000 at a ceremony to be held in London on 2nd November 2010. Submissions will be accepted for material published in a newspaper, magazine or on a website between 1st September 2009 and 31st August 2010.

The form can be found at this link [PDF] and the closing date is 1 September 2010.

Read Journalism.co.uk’s coverage from last year at this link.

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Today: Slideshow behind-the-scenes of Private Eye’s election special

April 29th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick

Fascinating behind-the-scenes look at Private Eye as it puts together its election special.

They said there’d be no satire after Thatcher; they said there’d be no satire after Blair; they said there’d be no satire after Bush. There will be, because they all make mistakes. They are ready to be parodied already, so we don’t have to worry too much.

View the slideshow at this link…

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Plans afoot for new management journalism service

Last August, amidst all the speculation over the Observer’s future, we reported how academics and business figures were threatening to cancel their subscriptions to the Sunday newspaper, following the decision to axe Simon Caulkin’s Observer Management column. Guardian News and Media never re-instated Caulkin and a letter of complaint from nearly 100 leading authors and academics went unpublished.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Observer did not later report how the Work Foundation had named Caulkin columnist of the year at the end of January. As noted by Private Eye in its latest issue (1255): “Newspapers usually trumpet awards their writers win. But the Observer and the Guardian were strangely silent…”

Philip Whiteley, management author, blogger and editor of the Human Capital Forum, who spearheaded the Caulkin complaint, has now launched a new campaign: for more effective coverage of management in UK media.

“It is also a reaction to the feeble coverage of the Kraft-Cadbury merger in mainstream newspapers in which business journalists repeatedly refused to put any tough questions to the Kraft or Cadbury leadership on the very high risks and integration costs that mega-mergers involve,” he said.

Whiteley believes that in reporting the Kraft-Cadbury merger, journalists focused on finances and the offer price rather than management challenges.

“The error common to the banks and the Kraft-Cadbury affair is to imagine that the management task, even though it is responsible for delivering the vast bulk of the returns from investment strategies of banking employees, or take-over activity respectively, is still bizarrely regarded as a junior matter, not front-page material,” Whiteley argued in a recent blog post, criticising both the Financial Times’ and the Telegraph’s coverage.

The new management project will collect blogs and other web news sections and launch a ‘blog of blogs’ – “a summary from the management blogosphere”.

Whiteley will circulate this to the Human Capital Forum’s database (16,000 subscribers) on a monthly basis, with the possibility of extending that to the databases of all participants.

“The aim is to provide more critical coverage of governance and management in the public and private sectors,” Whiteley said.

He cited a comment left on his blog, as another prompt for the new network:

“There was a time when papers like the FT and others had the expertise and inclination to dispel the myths of uttered corporate statements. Alas, no longer. The institutions that were supposed to be ever vigilant and fearless are now content to simply cover the passing parade. One has to read the right blogs and the right books to get any sense of objective insight into what’s going on. A real shame.”

Human Capital Forum has listed some online management resources here: http://www.humancapitalforum.com/links/index.php

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Express under fire for advertorials again

Only last week Journalism.co.uk reported how the Daily Express was criticised by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for masking advertorials as features.

Yesterday, as reported by MediaGuardian and others, the Express again came under fire for a similar incident.

An advertisement for Goldshield’s Rozip took up the bottom half of a page, with an article on the qualities of the product sitting on top.

Previously the ASA investigated as to ‘whether the features had been controlled by the advertiser and also whether the claims made by the products were true or exaggerated’.

They came to the conclusion that ‘both publisher and advertiser were purposefully trying to get around elements of the advertising code by presenting the articles and adverts in this way’.

When criticised for unsubstantiated claims made by the Express journalist about the healing properties of the products, Goldshield’s Rozip responded that ‘they were not responsible’ for the contents of the article.

Monitoring staff at the ASA said that the advertisement and the article were clearly linked. As with the previous cases reported last week, Goldshield had booked the ad on the understanding that the editorial would also appear.

The ASA state that because of the ‘reciprocal arrangement’, Goldshield in fact had implicit control over the top half of the page and as such Goldshield was responsible for ensuring the contents of the entire page complied with the Code.

In the latest issue of Private Eye (August 21 – September 3) it was suggested that the Express might not be the only newspaper guilty of this tactic. On August 5, the Evening Standard printed a piece about a world cruise that the Eye described as an ‘unmarked advertorial’ – it fell opposite a full-page ad for the very same cruise. The Evening Standard article in question can be found at this link.

It seems no action has yet been taken against the Evening Standard; the Daily Express on the other hand has been told ‘the ad must not appear again in its current form’.

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Response to the ABCs results: How are mag subscriptions and sales faring in the recession?

August 17th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Magazines

Subscription sales are up according to figures from online magazine retailer The Magazine Group, which runs sites for WH Smith, Books Direct and others; while last week the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) reported only a slight drop in overall magazine sales.

But individual titles have seen circulations plummet this. Do subscriptions offer a way to avoid such a loss in sales? Here, we examine the results of the two reports:

Last week’s report from The Magazine Group suggests subscription sales are on the up after analysing figures for the more than 800 titles from 140 publishers it offers. The findings are derived from more than 100,000 subscriptions sold by the group – comparing purchasing patterns from the first half of 2008 with those for the same period this year.

Meanwhile overall ABC results for January to June 2009 suggested that magazine circulation for the UK consumer magazine market is only 1.9 per cent down on the previous period.

But individual titles fared worse in last weeks ABCs: results suggested that most glossy magazines have lost sales (one of the worst hit has been FHM down 16.2 per cent). There are exceptions – such Men’s Health (up 2.1 per cent YOY), which has taken FHM’s place as top selling title.

According to the Magazine Group’s report, women’s glossies are also suffering with the biggest fall in subscriptions amongst the retailer’s titles. The ABC results show that overall sales for women’s weeklies are down 4.6 per cent year-on-year.

In contrast celebrity weeklies are doing well in subscriptions for the Magazine Group, which claimed that magazines with competitive prices were faring the best.

The public’s concerns and interest in the recession are reflected in the ABC report by the general increase in sales for news and business magazines compared with other sectors –  MoneyWeek (which has subscribers making up 96 per cent of readers, according to MediaGuardian) was up 15.3 per cent year-on-year, while the Week gained 10.3 per cent in sales.

Up 0.6 per cent year-on-year, Private Eye remains the biggest-selling title in the news and finance business sector.

According to The Magazine Group, TV, computer games and music magazines are also doing well – it seems that more people are trying to save money by staying in.

Speaking at the FIPP congress earlier this year, leading magazine publishers suggested that personalisation may be a key factor for future magazine revenue streams. This sentiment is reflected in the Magazine Group’s report, as specialist magazines are shown to be doing well. The figures suggested an increase of more than 20 per cent in the sales of home improvement, craft and gardening titles.

But, it may simply come down to money-saving to explain the drop in glossies, but rise in such specialist titles. Economising Brits seem to be fighting the recession by trying to make their money go further. Not surprisingly, the ABC report suggests that specialist titles such as house renovation and housing have fallen in circulation, as have health and beauty magazines.

“What these figures (The Magazine Group) show is that magazine consumers are looking for value. Titles that offer ways to combat the credit crunch are thriving,” says Don Brown of The Magazine Group in a release.

“With sales falling on the newsstand many magazines are having a tough time, but with big name brands offering discounts and free gifts, savvy subscribers have great choice of bargains.”

The magazine Group claims to generally have a rise in their subscriptions, compared to many falls in the ABC analysis on individual title’s sales. Does this suggest that subscription deals might be able to save/maintain some magazines?

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Made-up news bylines: does it matter?

Martin Moore, director of the Media Standards Trust, picked up a Private Eye story mentioning that seven regular sports journalists for the Telegraph are fakes.

Using the opportunity to plug the MST’s recently updated Journalisted.com as a research tool, he reckons ‘it would appear to be true.’ Read Moore’s post in full for his thoughts and concerns:

“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?”

But does it matter and what’s new about that, a couple of the commenters ask, below the piece.
What are the pros and cons of bylines? Is a byline a helpful mechanism in the checks and balances process anyway? Does a legit byline help decrease the level of agency-lifted copy? Some of the UK’s best journalism is un-bylined after all (the Eye, the Economist etc.).
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Local media: A stimulating discussion? Your ideas needed

June 15th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Journalism

Last week the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) sent an eight-point plan to new culture secretary Ben Bradshaw as an economic stimulus package for the UK’s local media.

In summary:

  1. Reform of cross-media ownership rules with a strengthened public interest test;
  2. Hard and fast commitment to ring-fence licence fee funding for the BBC;
  3. A levy introduced on commercial operators who benefit from quality public service content – including local news – but do not contribute to its production;
  4. Tax breaks for local media who meet clearly defined public purposes;
  5. Tax credits for individuals who buy quality media;
  6. Direct support to help establish new genuinely local media organisations;
  7. Strategic use of central and local government advertising;
  8. Support for training opportunities that open access to journalism

The proposals come ahead of the long-awaited Digital Britain report, part of which will make new suggestions for local media ownership models and provision.

Both, of course, come on top of a select committee inquiry into local media, countless pontifications from media commentators (ourselves included) and lobbying by industry groups of Bradshaw’s predecessor Andy Burnham.

Reactions to the NUJ’s suggestions from a range of industry representatives are featured below – Journalism.co.uk wanted to gauge the feeling on the ground, so to speak (feel free to leave more comments below or email laura at journalism.co.uk).

Having spoken to Society of Editors executive director Bob Satchwell as part of this process, one thing is clear: new ideas are needed to support newsgathering at a local level, whatever shape or platform it takes.

But with the current level of pressure on existing local news providers, it is short-term answers that are needed, says Satchwell:

“While we’re waiting to create new models to deal with new media landscape the existing reality may be so seriously damaged that it may be too late to apply those complex solutions.”

Here are some reactions to the NUJ’s proposals – what’s the next step?

Firstly starting with a comment left on our original post by James Goffin on levies for aggregators:
Presumably ‘A levy introduced on commercial operators who benefit from quality public service content – including local news – but do not contribute to its production’ is aimed at people like Google, but why leave it there – and why only in one direction?

If this is genuinely aimed at supporting local media (and not just shoring up the BBC, which tends to be the NUJ line nationally) then why shouldn’t the corporation be charged when it ‘benefits’ from stories it has followed up from the local press? (Or blogs for that matter).

And much as I enjoy the idea of claiming back my Private Eye subs against tax, I can see it being as effective in stimulating the economy as the VAT cut.

Give them some credit for at least trying; pity most of it is nonsense.

Tom Calver, a communications officer for Blackburn with Darwen County Council, on defining ‘quality’ and a plan for mutually owned local newspapers:
Point 7 calls for us to consider ‘quality journalism’ when we place ads, which puts those of us in council comms in the unenviable position of having to decide what constitutes ‘quality’. Does the NUJ really think we should be doing that? In any case, there is only one local paper here, so I don’t have any choice in which title to use anyway.

What guarantee is there that ad spend would really support quality journalism, rather than just boosting profits while the newsroom is still run down?

I’m also slightly confused as to what’s meant by “identifying appropriate targets”. Generally speaking, my targets are groups of local people. If a local paper is a good way to reach them, I’ll use it. If it’s not, then I’d be wasting taxpayers money, and failing to get the message to the right people. So is the suggestion that only people who read the local paper are appropriate targets for any campaign?

Or is the suggestion that ‘appropriate targets’ are ‘deserving’ newspapers which should be supported in some sort of charitable way? I’d understand that if local papers were not-for-profit with a clear commitment to good journalism and informing local people, but they’re owned by large groups who will look after the bottom line long before they look after quality journalism.

The NUJ just has not gone far enough. It is asking for more money to be chucked at the same failing model, albeit with some loose guarantees about quality from the same groups that have cut back in newsrooms. That might slow the decline, but it won’t turn things around.

How about mutual ownership for local papers? Newspaper staff, local people and those who support quality journalism could all be members. A constitution could guarantee day to day editorial independence, but the editor would answer to a board elected from the membership, which would set parameters for coverage, monitor quality and ensure investment in training.

That sort of organisation could then benefit from tax breaks and have access to funds supporting community development. With a clear duty to improve local coverage, it would probably get back some of the lost readers (and so make itself a more appealing advertising channel for public services!).

Rick Waghorn, ex-regional newspaper journalist and founder of MyFootballWriter.com on practical problems:
I think it’s all very well intentioned, but as ever the devil will be in the detail and the ‘how’ any of this is likely to work…

Or, indeed, who is going to have the political will/leverage to ensure any of this is adhered to.

Tax credits? Who adjudicates on the ‘quality’ assessment panel?

Direct support for ‘genuinely’ local media organisations? How? When? Via whom? Ofcom?

Strategic use of local and central government advertising is spot on – but that can start happening now. But again who is charged with making the ‘assessment’ that it is ‘quality’ journalism?

With Tom Watson out of government, Ben Bradshaw presumably given 10 days to master his new ‘brief’ before the publication of Digital Britain, I don’t see anyone with the drive or the will to oversee this – not whilst the Brown government is so fatally weakened.

Alas, I fear it’s going to be every man, woman and under-fire journalist for themselves for the foreseeable future – and the only people that are ever going to come to our rescue are ourselves.

Former editorial director for a UK regional newspaper group on media ownership problems:
My own concerns would be about possible loss of independence that could come with subsidy.

The cut backs in the industry are already leaving gaps. It might be better to see who and what steps in to fill the vacuum. [More emphasis on new media models – Ed]

On cross media ownership, take a look at Guardian Media in Manchester where it has already happened with TV, radio, web and newspapers under one roof. It has not been a success.

Comment from Dan Mason, director of Dan Mason Associates and former newspaper group managing editor, on journalism enterprise:

Full marks to the NUJ for keeping the ball rolling after the departure of Andy Burnham. I’m delighted to see the appalling lack of support for media innovation and enterprise included (this would top my list), as well as the need to focus on better media training.

My big concern is that trying to define something as subjective as ‘quality journalism’ as a cornerstone of any plan renders it impotent from the start, especially when the suggested criteria includes demands on media companies that are impossible to regulate, like maintaining paginations.

If this keeps the dialogue going and pressure on this government to act, great. But, if Lord Sugar has anything to say about it, ministers will need to focus on what can be achieved, by when, for what cost.

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Awards round-up: Index on Censorship winners; Mind Journalism Awards; Paul Foot nominations call

April 28th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Events, Journalism

Index on Censorship awards

This year’s winners of the Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards were named in London last week.

The Sunday Leader received the journalism award. Its editor Lasanthe Wickrematunge was murdered earlier this year, shortly after publishing an opinion piece in which he predicted his death.

The award winners were selected in five categories: books, films, journalism, new media and law and campaigning.

Mind Journalist of the Year

The prize, which honours excellence in covering mental health issues, will form part of the charity’s annual Mind week in May.

The winner of journalism award will be named together with winners of the Student Journalist, Book of the Year and Champion of the Year awards on May 14.

The journalism nominees include: Patrick Cockburn from the Independent, Toby Wiseman of Men’s Health and Eleanor Harding from the Wandsworth Guardian.

Paul Foot Award re-opens

And last but not least, this year’s Paul Foot Award is open for entries for its fifth year.

Sponsored by Private Eye and The Guardian, the prize rewards investigative or campaigning journalism in the UK.

Entries to the award written by individuals or teams of journalists must be submitted by September 1. To be eligible, material must have been published either in a newspaper, magazine or online between September 1 2008 and August 31 2009.

The prize money this year is going up to £10,000 (from £5,000) for the winner, with £1,000 each for the runners-up.

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Paul Foot 2008: The alternative highlights of the night

November 4th, 2008 | 4 Comments | Posted by in Events, Newspapers

Journalism.co.uk was very happy to make the acquaintance of Jim Oldfield, one of the runner-ups in the Paul Foot Award, last night. He is the editor of seven community newsletters in South Yorkshire.

He was nominated for the Rossington Community Newsletter, South Yorkshire Newspapers, for coverage of opposition to the proposed construction of an ‘eco-town’ in Rossington.

Oldfield very keen to emphasise the talents and commitment of his reporting team (which consists of one full-time and two part-time journalists), who were also there last night.

After hearing about the Newsletter’s various scoops over a canape or two (J.co.uk now has his ‘The Killer in My Cab’ splash decorating its desk), we got this pic:

Meanwhile, the prize for the biggest cheer of the night definitely went to another runner-up’s supporters: those rooting for the Observer’s Dan McDougall (he is pictured with host Ian Hislop, below). McDougall was nominated for his investigation of child labour in South Asia.

UPDATE (May 2009) – details of the 2008 Paul Foot award winners – Camilla Cavendish and Richard Brooks – can be found at this link

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