Monday, November 23, 2009

Wise words not to be ignored. From those who know...

After publishing my last entry, I did a bit of hunting around on the net to come up with these quotations. I hope they amuse you. But more than amuse you, they should also be taken seriously. There is more than a grain of truth in each

The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.

Thomas Jefferson

I am unable to understand how a man of honour could take a newspaper in his hands without a shudder of disgust.

Charles Baudelaire

Once a newspaper touches a story, the facts are lost forever, even to the protagonists.

Norman Mailer

Newspapers are unable, seemingly, to discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilisation.

George Bernard Shaw

Editor: a person employed on a newspaper whose business it is to separate the wheat from the chaff, and to see that the chaff is printed.

Elbert Hubbard

I fear three newspapers more than a hundred thousand bayonets.


I've always said there's a place for the press but they haven't dug it yet.

Tommy Docherty

Journalism - a profession whose business it is to explain to others what it personally does not understand.

Lord Northcliffe

Northcliffe was in many ways something of a genius. He was born Alfred Harmsworth, the son - if I am getting this right - of a rather useless and impoverished barrister, and, if I remember, he was a cycling enthusiast. I don't think that was in any way significant except that because of his enthusiasm, he met an awful lot of people from different backgrounds and, I think, came to realise that people who might not usually mix socially (as was far more the case at the end of the 19th century) could and would do so if they had a common interest. Perhaps he realised that that approach might be successful in newspapers. To this day, the Mail is read by members of the many middle classes which exist in Britain. (There are far more middle classes than the simple distinction between, lower-middle, middle and upper-middle might suggest. And before American readers pat themselves on the back and tell themselves their society is classless, it is, in fact, nothing of the kind. If anything, it is even more class-ridden than Old Blighty.)
Norhtcliffe's first venture was a magazine called Answers To Correspondents in which people wrote in with queries and other readers answered them. Northclifee had a great empathy with the little man and his greatest creation, the Daily Mail, for whom I work, was built on that empathy. Furthermore, pandering - I’m afraid to say there is no better word for describing what the Mail does - to the middlebrow prejudices of the little man has ensured the Mail remains one of the world’s most successful newspapers. Northcliffe had no children and reputedly died insane, keeping a revolver under his pillow. His brother, ennobled as Rothermere, was the business brains whose expertise made Northdliffe's dreams pay, and he took over the group when Alfred died. Rothermere’s great-grandson Jonathan is the current owner of the fabulous group known as Associated Newspapers. I once found myself alone in a lift with Jonathan and I was buggered if I was going to stand there like some bloody serf. So I said the first thing which came into my head:
“You’re Lord Rothermere, aren’t you.”
“Yes,” said Lord Rothermere. It was all horribly flat and I did not want to leave it at that. So I said the next thing which came into my head:
“What’s your job like, then?”
“Oh,” said Lord Rothermere, “pretty much like every other job. Some good days, some bad days.”
And with that the lift reached his floor, the doors opened and he left the lift. He probably thought I was the biggest pillock he had ever met.
Incidentally, the Daily Mail was once referred to by a certain Robert Cecil as 'written by office boys for office boys'. This sneer is better put in context when you know that Robert Cecil, briefly a Prime Minister, was better known as Lord Salisbury.

The public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything. Except what is worth knowing. Journalism, conscious of this, and having tradesman-like habits, supplies their demands.

Oscar Wilde

Freedom of the press in Britain is freedom to print such of the proprietor's prejudices as the advertisers won't object to.

Hannen Swaffer

Journalism largely consists of saying ‘Lord Jones is dead’ to people who never knew that Lord Jones was alive.’


You cannot hope to bribe or twist (thank God!) the British journalist. But, seeing what the man will do unbribed, there's no occasion to.

Humbert Wolfe

Journalists aren't supposed to praise things. It's a violation of work rules almost as serious as buying drinks with our own money or absolving the CIA of something.

PJ O’Rourke

And from my favourite author:
If, for instance, they have heard something from the postman, they attribute it to a semi-official statement; if they have fallen into conversation with a stranger at a bar, they can conscientiously describe him as a source that has hitherto proved unimpeachable. It is only when the journalist is reporting a whim of his own, and one to which he attaches minor importance, that he defines it as the opinion of well-informed circles.

Evelyn Waugh

Just days after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, I went along to Waterstone's in High St. Kensington and found a copy of Waugh's Scoop. I flicked through the pages and found the passage I was looking for. It was when Lord Copper briefs young William Boot before Boot takes off to cover the war in Ishmaelia, the country based on Abyssinia. I shall dig out the copy and reprint it word for word. It so suited 2003 gungho attitude to the invasion of Iraq. Incidentally, there is still no word of WMDs. I fear they were so well hidden, they will never be found.

Everything you read in newspapers is absolutely true, except for that rare story of which you happen to have first-hand knowledge.

Erwin Knoll

I can illuminate that: a year or two ago, I met a neighbour in a local petrol station and he told me that his son, on holiday in Australia, had gone snorkelling and lost his credit cards (which he stupidly had in the back pocket of his shorts). He was very upset, rang his dad etc, and my neighbour set about getting money to him. At the end of the day, the son was sitting with friends in a bar, when a stranger walked up and laid his credit cards on the table. It turned out that snorkelling in the same spot an hour or two later, had spotted the credit card wallet on the seabed, rescued it, come across a picture of Daniel on a pass among the credit cards, spotted Daniel on the other side of the bar and returned the cards.
"Great story," I said to Paddy, the father. "Do you mind if I tell the Western Morning News?" He didn't, so I rang the paper, told them the details, it rang Paddy and then printed the story.
Of course, being rather slow on the uptake, I should have thought of selling the story to the nationals who pay good money instead of merely alerting the WMN. (I story I had once heard about and tipped off the Mail newsdesk earned my £300 and all I did was to alert newsdesk.) Hoevery, one of the local news agencies did spot the story in the WMN and flogged it to the nationals and one paper it appeared in was the Mail, the paper I work for. They, or the news agency - I don't know who - got one or two details very wrong indeed: they said Daniel was a student at Manchester University. He wasn't, he was a student at a college in Cheltenham. And they said he was studying town planning or something. He wasn't, he was studying geography. Oh, and the Mail had several direct quotes from Daniel all the way over there in Australia. That was news to Daniel and his father as Daniel didn't speak to anyone, and his father had only spoken to the WMN.
Once, while still working as a reporter in Newcastle on The Journal, I was asked to cover the anniversary of the death of a local man, a soldier who had been shot dead in Northern Ireland. As usual, coming to a story cold like that, I went to the cuttings library and looked up previous stories we had printed about the man's death. Then I wrote my story, using details which had previously appeared in The Journal, describing as background how the man was out on patril when he had 'died in a hail of bullets'. Except that he hadn't. The following day, a relative of his rang the paper to point out the man had been killed by a single sniper's bullet, and could we please get it straight the next time we mentioned his death. I'm sure the relative was assured by newsdesk that, yes, we would certainly get it right, but I am equally sure that the next time we mentioned his death, no, we most certainly did not get it right. Why should we? A hail of bullets if far more dramatic than a mere single shot from a sniper, and, anyway, there is a certain dramatic truth* in what we wrote (or some such bullshit). *©The Guardian
Beware hacks. Always.

Apropos bullshit: Now comfortably settled in the Lords, Shirley Williams, once a Labour Cabinet Minister who grew disillusioned with the drift leftwards by Labour in their Eighties' wilderness years and threw in her lot with the Social Democrats, commented, after the Social Democrats suffered a sound drubbing in a general election and barely reached 10 per cent of the votes cast (rather than a hoped-for reaching out by the electorate to this new party of reason, hope and compassion): "It was a moral victory."
Well, that's all right then, Mrs Williams. There really aren't enough of those. And I am a moral millionaire.
Just how toe-curlingly embarrassing the Social Democrats were at their worst can be typified by a description of them in a speech by the then David Owen, a Labour Foreign Secretary before he, too, jumped ship. He referred to the Social Democrats as: 'The caring and the daring, the tough and the tender.'

To this list of admonition from many who have fallen foul of the Press, I’ll add the very useful advice given to all young reporters and heeded by those who are serious about making a good career for themselves:
‘Never let a couple of facts stand in the way of a good story’

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