How the news is made

by Chris Bertram on August 25, 2003

I guess at some level we all recognise the syndrome, but Ian Jack’s account of how the news get manufactured (especially by the Sunday papers) is well worth a look. Jack is the former editor of the Independent on Sunday, so knows whereof he speaks:

bq. The political editor is furiously sucking a paper clip. “Well, we could do a little ring-a-round of back-benchers who might not support the new Europe bill.” “And you could talk to that madman X [an alienated cabinet minister]”, says the deputy editor. “He’s bound to say something original.” And so the great hole – the lead story hole – on the front page is filled. The deputy editor, an excellent re-writer, “hardens up” a few of the political editor’s softer and more equivocal sentences. Headline type which really should be held in reserve for something significant, such as the sinking of the Titanic, reads: MAJOR IN NEW BATTLE OVER [something or other]. The first paragraph begins “A beleaguered John Major is this weekend facing one of the gravest crises of his political career.” The political editor looks wryly at the page proof and says, “That’s what you call a scoop of interpretation” The deputy and I (who, unlike the political editor, never need meet politicians) defend the choice of words: “one of” not “the gravest”, so that’s OK, and some clever use of the passive and conditional tenses further down, “It is believed” rather than “One embittered madman who wishes to remain anonymous thinks”, “may” rather than “will”, and so on.

Of course, Jack’s experience of all this is pre-blogosphere. In these newly enlightened times, if the story concerned some appropriate subject it would be referred to by Glenn Reynolds as evidence of something (European anti-semitism; French perfidy….) and then spun into a whole geopolitical theory by Steven Den Beste. And who is to say that “Secret EU plan to slaughter firstborn” wouldn’t get picked up by Samizdata!(Story first linked by Slugger O’ Toole).