I REACTED with horror as a tweet from Torquay Police landed just as I was on deadline last week, proudly announcing that they had just uploaded a story directly to the website of the Herald Express newspaper. While the principle is just wrong, on reflection the practice left much to be desired as well.
Now the cops were obviously delighted about this ‘first’, and no doubt the Herald Express also scored some brownie points with Local World boss David Montgomery, who apparently sees this kind of thing as the way forward for his digital platforms. But if you were going to do this, wouldn’t you make sure that the first piece you uploaded was absolutely perfect – proofed, polished and appropriate?
That was certainly not the case with Plod’s offering, which included literals, a possible legal problem and the kind of clod-hopping language all reporters and subs are used to translating into English. (A quick example, plucked almost at random from the emergency services, in this case the helicopter ambulance: “HM65 attended a female patient entrapped after an RTC this morning. Patient transported by road to MTC.” Why do they do it?)
The bigger overall issue is that police press officers are far too fond of convicting the people who appear in their appeals long before they’re even arrested, never mind tried. I understand that Local World are relying on the rather woolly ‘privilege’ accorded to unmoderated website content. I certainly wouldn’t want to be the first editor trying to argue that one before a judge after being hauled up for contempt.
I am not, as it sometimes seems, perpetually raging against the dying of the light. I can see the sense in the police and other organisations being able to post information onto local newspaper websites – as long as that info is in a clearly defined area and is not allowed to be anywhere near an actual news feed. If it isn’t – and appeals for information containing pictures of suspects surely fall into the ‘news’ category – it has to go through the hands of a trained journalist. That way subs are relieved of the tiresome duty of handling things like flower show results and sports fixtures without the demarcation lines between editorial and external information being blurred. I hope Local World take this advice. There is no charge.
I AM beginning to think that the Guardian, now allegedly safe for perpetuity after selling off its holding in AutoTrader, is now just taking the piss. I refer the honourable reader to the front page blurb of today’s newspaper: “Do something,” it implores. “Go busking. Bake macarons. Forage for cocktails. Play ping pong.” Click on the website and one of the most-read articles is: “17 recipes for leftover coriander”.
Forage for fucking cocktails? Worry about leftover coriander? Don’t these hipster twats realise that normal people are far too busy drinking beer and playing bingo to be concerned with such humdrum matters?
The Grey Cardigan has been in newspapers since the days of hot metal and expense accounts. After a lengthy career as chief sub on several regional newspapers, plus a multitude of shifts on the nationals, he was appointed editor of the Evening Beast in 2009 before being ignominiously 'rationalised' last year. He is currently collecting gas in jam jars in case the Russians cut us off. @thegreycardigan