Posted by Ian
You ‘might’ have noticed a recent ‘trend’ in newspapers and magazines and on websites to ‘report’ the news utilising a ‘morass’ of ‘speech marks’ or ‘inverted commas’.
This is the sort of thing I mean:
Elvis ‘found alive’ on Moon
Posh: ‘I hate football’
Traffic warden ‘dropped dead’ for ten minutes
It’s basically a way of reporting absolutely anything, no matter how dubious or blatantly wrong, as fact. Those all-important speech marks are the get-out clause; they allow editors and journalists, at least in their heads, to believe they’re not actually lying, whereas in fact they are publishing information that has barely a passing acquaintance with the truth.
Hence the above stories, far from promising the startling revelations implied by their respective headlines, invariably turn out to be along the lines of an Elvis doll found on a lump of Moon rock in an exhibition, or Victoria Beckham saying she dislikes table football, or a traffic warden playing dead as part of a piece of performance theatre.
It’s a form of reporting that’s both lazy and irresponsible. It’s presuming ordinary members of the public are stupid, guillible fools. It’s also a way of turning non-stories into stories, and there’s been a none more potent example of that these last few months than the case of Madeleine McCann.
A visitor to the MSN website wrote to us about this last week. "Regarding the Madeleine McCann story," they began, "I do wish you would stop reporting rumours as facts. It seems you are willing to put anything on your page regardless of whether it is true or not, so long as you put it in speech marks. Most times when I click on your Madeleine stories all I read is ‘could be’ this and ‘might be’ that. This is not journalism. Please only report on the story when there is something to say, in other words, actual news that has actually happened."
They have a fair point. There have been examples where we, along with – it seems – the whole of the country’s media have been guilty of treating hearsay and gossip as something important, elevating it to the status of news thanks to the use of a couple of inverted commas. Such tittle-tattling helps nobody. Least of all the swift resolution of this particular story.
The Guardian published an interesting montage of newspaper front pages last Saturday, showcasing the way the McCann story has been ruthlessly prolonged by tabloid and broadsheet alike, day in day out, since early May. In almost every case the front page headline was announcing, not news, but ‘news’.
‘Hair found’. ‘Hair not found’. Madeleine ‘seen with man’. Madeleine ‘seen with woman’. Parents ‘resolute’. Parents ‘distraught’. Parents ‘to stay in Portugal’. Parents ‘to leave Portugal’…
The writer Andrew Collins summed this up expertly on his blog:
Morning edition: POOR KATE McCANN LOOKING ‘HAGGARD’, SAY FRIENDS
Mid-morning edition: BLOOD ON HER HANDS: KATE IS DEFFO ‘MURDERER’, SAY INCOMPETENT, FOREIGN PORTUGUESE POLICE
Lunchtime edition: BLOOD ON HER HANDS: KATE DUNNIT
West End Final: KATE ‘INNOCENT AND BLAMELESS’, SAYS PERSON (AND THUS US, BY ASSOCIATION)
Evening edition: POOR OLD KATE: WHY WON’T THE MEDIA LEAVE HER ALONE?
Enough! Anything, anything, for a bit of real news, and not ‘news’ news. What chance of one day glancing at a newspaper or looking at a website and finding something of substance on the front page? Is that too much to hope for? We’ll do our best here at MSN, but I fear the omens, and indeed the ‘omens’, for our country do not look good.