Wednesday, 05 September 2007

The Press

Naming names: Blogs do another job the mainstream press won't do

On Monday, Glenn Reynolds linked this story (from which I'll be quoting below), with the comment:

The traditional English response to things like this involved tar and feathers. The British may want to bring those traditions back.
His "tar and feathers" remark triggered some reader mail, and Reynolds responded:
Traditionally, Anglo-American political philosophy allowed for what Gordon Wood called "out of doors political activity" -- behavior that was extralegal, but not exactly unlawful, in response to overreaching by authorities...
In my conversation with colleagues, we speculated that the Internet takes on part of this role, with humorous photoshops and YouTube parodies -- along with the ability to simply repeatedly criticize government officials by name (think Mike Nifong) undercutting the usual bureaucratic diffusion of responsibility -- taking the place of some of the older techniques. [Bolding mine - O.G.]
"Naming and shaming" of officials may turn out to be one of  the bloggers' most important functions, given the way the regular media (even talk radio) customarily omit identifying the people behind the positions. Example? Well, here's an extract of the Telegraph article, with my comments:
Social services' [No such agency. Probably the "Northumberland Safeguarding Children Board," but the story doesn't make that clear.] recommendation [Who made it?] that the baby should be taken from Fran Lyon... was based in part on a letter from a[n unnamed] paediatrician she has never met...
Hexham children's services [unnamed bureaucrats], part of Northumberland County Council [Whose members are?], said [Agencies don't "say."  Who?] the decision had been made [Who made it?  (And why the passive voice?)]  because Miss Lyon was likely to suffer from Munchausen's Syndrome by proxy, a condition  unproven by science in which a mother will make up an illness in her child, or harm it, to draw attention to herself. Social services' request [Who signed it?] for an emergency protection order - these are usually granted - will be heard in secret in the family court at Hexham magistrates [and who are they?] on the same day.
In fact, in its 825-word story, the Telegraph fails to identify any of the bureaucrats, officials, or council members involved: Only the victim and her supporters are named, while the government is allowed to hide behind an unnamed "spokesman."

Why are those people nameless? One dirty little secret of newsgathering is that reporters must deal repeatedly with their sources. A reporter who
embarrasses a source is unlikely to get much cooperation from that source in the future. I also believe there's an "establishment" factor in play: As
Reporters who embarrass sources risk future cooperation.
journalism's "ink-stained wretches" metamorphosed into "members of the fourth estate," they have become reluctant to rat out their establishment buddies-- it might be awkward the next time they meet over drinks.[1]

But this failing to "name names" hurts the press in the long run. It's always the same game, and readers feel that they are being played with. Time and again, we are confronted with the "outrage of the week," but each time the press leaves out the information we need to do something about it. It's as if their only goal was stirring up the masses and selling papers:
Fran Lyon's baby will be taken from her at birth, thanks to the Northumberland Council's "Safeguarding Children" Board.
  God  forbid that anything might be remedied!

Wouldn't it be more satisfactory if the Telegraph's story had begun, "Fran Lyon's baby will be taken away from her at birth, thanks to a recommendation by Ms. X---- Y---- of the Northumberland Council's Safeguarding Children Board."

And wouldn't it be interesting if, along with every story of outrageous conduct, newspapers appended a sidebar including the names, titles, telephone numbers, and email addresses of the guilty (and innocent). Just think: Civic-minded members of the public would know exactly who to contact to make their thoughts known.

And there would be one less case of Bloggers, Doing the Jobs the MSM Won't Do.

Appendix - Naming Names

Northumberland County Council

County Hall,
Northumberland NE61 2EF

tel: (01670) 533 000
fax: (01670) 534 117

Council Management Board
  • Mark Henderson - Chief Executive
  • Jill Dixon - Deputy Chief Executive
  • Trevor Doughty - Executive Director of Children’s Services
Council Executive
  • Peter Hillman - Leader
  • Tony Reid - Deputy Leader
  • Jim Wright - Executive Member for Children’s services
"Northumberland Safeguarding Children Board replaced the Area Child Protection Committee from October 2005 and is chaired by Trevor Doughty - Executive Director of Children's Services."

NSCB Contact:
Janet Ingham,
Beaconhill Centre,
163 Langdale Drive,
Cramlington NE23 8EH

tel: (01670) 714 411

[1]In the case of the judges of the "secret court" in the Telegraph story, there may be some U.K. law that prohibits naming them, but the Telegraph doesn't say that.

Posted by: Old Grouch in The Press at 05:11:35 GMT | No Comments | Add Comment
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