Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Perils of "Client Journalism"

This afternoon I took part in a discussion on blogging on the Simon Mayo Programme with Lance Price, Julia Clarke from MORI and Steve Richards from the Independent. Steve mentioned his column this morning in which he related this little tale about Damian McBride.
But McBride had always shown a reckless indifference to being caught out. He was often texting journalists with venomous messages or malevolent advice that took the breath away. On one occasion shortly before a presenter was about to interview a cabinet minister McBride texted him with the message: “Ask him about his drinking problem.” Again even if the attempted assassination of a minister was clever politics – and it was not – for the fingerprints to be all over the source was dangerously inept.
I put it to Steve that it was all very well relating this anecdote now, but perhaps we might all have more respect for political journalists if they told these tales when they actually happened. Lance Price dubbed it an issue of "client journalism" where journalists become so dependent on one or two sources that they lose sight of their independence and allow themselves to be spun.

It developed into a bit of a confrontation. I felt a bit guilty afterwards as I like Steve and he is a man of great integrity and gives great insight into what goes on in the corridors of power.

Listen on the iPlayer HERE. The whole discussions runs from 09.30 mins to 34 mins . The somewhat heated discussion with Steve Richards starts at 17.00 and lasts for five minutes. See what you make of it.


Plato said...

It was great radio and your question was a valid one.

Sure 'client-journalism' is a fact of life but surely this just shows that:

a) it promotes back-stabbing
b) it undermines journalistic integrity
c) ensures that the biggest bully 'wins' ?

Steve can be a great bloke but he can't be on both sides of the blanket at once

wv nonbon

Jah'sSword said...

I heard it Iain and it was a question that needed to be asked, and boy did he squirm. Especially when trying to define "truth" (his quotation marks). Some simple honesty and no game playing and we might believe what we read in the mainstream media. Until then though, we need you.
And as for you being salacious I've never seen that ever...a bit silly sometimes but never nasty.

Martin said...

The Westminster pack have been far too close to politicians to do their job correctly.

If politicians threaten to cut them out of the loop then the newspaper or TV network should refuse to cover any statements or political stunts for that party.

MSM need ot grow some balls Iain.

Dick the Prick said...

I've sort of started to get this perma culture of Malcolm Tucker stuff but the guy's dead - let's not gloat. Gordon didn't have a chuffing clue - he's fixed. Next?

Have remembered an Alan Clarke quote ' if he'd had any class ofcourse he would have called her a whore'. You can't buy that.

Simon Gardner said...

This business of ‘client jornalism’ was blindingly obvious in the Bush White House and under Blair/Campbell and looks like it will probably happen under the Obama administration.

What do you propose is done about it? The regular media are in thrall to it. It’s institutionalised in the lobby system. Both the Grauniad and the Indie tried to break free and had to come back.

Dick the Prick said...

Sorry really - hand on heart, I think Ali Campbell was a superstar. It takes 2 to be bullied - no one won, stats are stats. This McBride crap though is horrid.

Pity for the PM - has it come to this?

Anonymous said...

On one occasion shortly before a presenter was about to interview a cabinet minister McBride texted him with the message: “Ask him about his drinking problem.”

Interesting - Did they? I hope not but am interested in who was battling the bottle!

Anonymous said...

Guido says Watson has called in Carter-Ruck. I smell a big mistake on Watson's part. never mind him, what about any search and disclosure that the mail go for.
As GF says it might be worth the money for the Mail and bring out a host of snails from under the labour stone.

davidtbreaker (www.davidbreaker.com) said...

Client journalism is endemic - look at the attacks on Dan Hannan as an example (even after the YouTube speech got coverage in the MSM the attacks were hugely disproportionate to his "fame" as Labour seeks to shoot down every rising Conservative star because they don’t have any themselves) - and is hugely damaging to the country and politics.

David T Breaker

Jimmy said...

"I put it to Steve that it was all very well relating this anecdote now, but perhaps we might all have more respect for political journalists if they told these tales when they actually happened."

You make an excellent point. It's a fascinating ethical dilemma. To what extent is a source entitled to protection if this anonymity is being abused? Consider the following hypothesis:

A prominent blogger receives from what he considers to be a trusted source and allegation about a political opponent which subsequently transpires to be false. Meanwhile the blogger has inadvertently allowed himself to be used as the conduit whereby the allegation appears in the press. He would, to follow your argument, be obliged to name and shame would he not?

The Guv'nor said...

What was particularly amusing and telling was his perplexed nature as to what the definition of "the truth" was.

Surely even a five year old child knows this one.

Yet he carried on by asking you Iain what you meant as a definition of the truth, as if it was some absurd question as it could mean anything reading between the lines, er no Steve, get a dictionary, I think you shall find there is a very clear and concise definition of the word laid down in black and white.

He knew damn well you where inferring that what was reported as a supposed truth was complete fabricated rubbish that he and other journalists are forced to portray as the truth in order not to be blacklisted and therefore able to put dinner on the table.

"Client Journalism" is one definition but I think it is best summed up by David Icke ( yes go on and snigger )on the below link on 'Youtube' as being a "Repeater"-


Just about sums it up really.

bed123 said...

It’s difficult now to avoid the growing sense that the Labour Party is on the cusp of one of its periodic three-term peregrinations to the political wilderness. If an all-consuming economic cataclysm, which, if Brown didn’t exactly create, he certainly didn’t anticipate, and a still lingering anger over Iraq wasn’t enough, then the latest glimpse into the dark heart of New-Labour’s smear machine, will almost certainly consign them to as long a spell in dismal Opposition as the Tories have just endured.

Unknown said...

This was the very issue which struck me when reading Richards piece. I presume he's uncomfortable because he knows that he has effectively been a "client journalist", very much in McBride's pocket .... and, only now, when McBride has been floored and wounded has he been moved to tell the truth. Relax, Iain, you're doing a great job.

ChrisC said...

Why feel guilty since he obviously isn't a man of great integrity?!
Perhaps of some integrity, though he is a strong Labour partisan.

Ed said...

Iain, excellent discussion. I think Steve Richards droned on and on and you were far too gentle with him. Also, he never really answered the question you put to him.

Unsworth said...

Truly great journalists don't have to become clients. It's the mediocre ones who feel they have to - to survive.

Sean said...

Richards had a car crash.

Jimmy said...

"Also, he never really answered the question you put to him."

Well sometimes that happens.

gordon-bennett said...

A lot of price and richards' arguments were founded on the complacent assumption that the msm are factually accurate in contrast to the blogosphere. Not so. And the blogosphere proves this time and time again.

Here's a famous example, where someone ran a blog factchecking polly toynbee and found 2 or 3 substantive errors in almost every one of her columns:


I think they gave up in the end because it was so easy it wasn't satisfying, but it did show up the complacency of the msm.

wild said...

I thought that former BBC TV journalist/Labour spin doctor Lance Price and spineless Labour apologist Steve Richards were both equally repellent.

Both seem to be under the impression that we were privileged to get the benefit of their insights, and yet both had nothing to offer except knee jerk apologetics for "The Party".

What sad excuses for human beings.

Chris Paul said...

Journalists aren't supposed to reveal their sources - most don't - and like it or not McBride probably provided some usable and useful material as well as such nonsense as included in this anecdote.

If this guy is receiving mutant story tips from people who are still actors of whatever party he won't be dobbing them in. In fact he probably shouldn't have dobbed McBride in even now. That's why he was looking embarrassed I'd say. Not because he should have dobbed him in before.

Not (necessarily) because McBride will get him or cut him off but because other briefers of all parties and orgs may hear about SR giving someone up and stop talking to him so much.

Calling it "client journalism" seems rather grand. It's just not biting the hand that feeds ...

Unknown said...

Hey, Steve, 'It depends what your definition of truth is', was not your finest hour.

Hang your head in shame.

Abject shame.

Anonymous said...

Superb arguments, Iain. Well done!

Twig said...

I think he was slightly wrong-footed, but after he's had a chance to run it through his conscience maybe he'll get back with an answer.

Savonarola said...

Richards 'car crash'?

No he jumped out of the plane without a chute.

Quote of the year:

'It depends what you mean by the truth' Steve Richards, The Independent.

Unsworth said...

@ Chris Paul

"Journalists aren't supposed to reveal their sources"

Garbage. Who says so - apart from yourself? What of the many instances of attribution? They may choose not to reveal sources - but that is an entirely different matter.