John Walker's Electronic House

How Journalism Works

by on Jan.03, 2008, under The Rest

You can read the full, unedited exchange, here:

A comment appeared on my obit for Kevin Greening (I’ve removed it since) asking me to email the poster, one Daniel Cochlin, stating that he’s a journalist. I did, teasing him slightly for failing to find my email address so subtly hidden on the right of this page. I asked how I could help.

“Sorry, it had been a long day. I work for the — and am looking to find out what Kevin’s address was and who his partner was. All info would obviously be treated in the strictest confidence and we do offer cash for info recieved. Could you get back to me ASAP on email or on 078—? Thanks”

Mmm, how tasteful. I replied,

“I’m sorry, but I cannot in good conscience do anything that would aid the —. While I’m aware that many of the people writing for the paper are perfectly decent, the paper is certainly not. It’s a nasty, dangerous thing.

I’m a little concerned as to why you are trying to track down his address and private life. Kevin kept such details very private for a good reason – he found fame embarrassing, had no desire to have his private life in the limelight, and I cannot think of a positive reason why you would wish to have this information.

I see that you write many gossip articles. I can only request that you give a decent man his dignity.

If you would like a quote about him, or what he was like to work with, I’m certain there are very many colleagues who are far more press-savvy than me, who would be willing to share with you what a good guy he was. My comments about him are in the public domain on my blog.

Sorry I can’t be of more help,”

I did my research, obviously, and found out that the man who had contacted me regularly writes invasive gossip stories, and there was no reason to think he was aiming to write anything positive. I received a reply.

“Thank you for you long and frank reply. I respect your views and understand your concerns.

The only reason we are trying to track down —, [I’ve deleted some information about his private life, and some unsubstatiated rumours about his death] Therefore — is the only person who may be able to give us some insight to Kevin. It is clear that Kevin was a popular man, and we would like to track down the truth. You may find that hard to believe, but I have never worked for a paper which checks and re-checks its facts so well. You say we/I write a lot of gossip, in fact I destest gossip and deal in hard facts and evidential news. You may still feel you do not want to give me the info, but it would be the best way for the truth to come out.”

It’s an apparently polite email. But sadly one that I already knew to be completely untrue. His stories are regularly about celebrities’ private lives, with headlines full of questions. But the line that bothered me the most was this insane notion that any newspaper report, of any nature, could possibly be, “the best way for the truth to come out.” What does that even mean? Deciding that the time for being polite was over, now that he’d so openly lied to me, I called him on this. I’ve heavily edited my reply as it refers to a number of his gossip stories, and I’m not going to give him the publicity.

“I’m sure that the debate over the age of [a celebrity], or [a celebrity’s] concerns about [another celebrity’s] fame, are the very hardest of facts. And it’s good to know that whether the [famous business man] is sleeping over at [a celebrity’s] isn’t gossip.

I couldn’t give a toss if attention-hungry celebs get acres of coverage.

I’m a freelance journalist, and I’m not an idiot. I know that you couldn’t give a fuck how Greening died, or who was involved. You, understandably, want a good story and a scoop. But you can’t be fooling yourself with lines like, “the best way for the truth to come out.” Yes – I’m certain that Kevin’s family, his former partner, the police, and just about everyone are desperately hoping that the — will be the ones to break the news, in its famously warm and delicate fashion. I’d like to venture the suggestion that the “best way for the truth to come out” would be a police investigation.

I’m not shocked or offended that you’re sniffing around this corpse. It’s your job, and I understand how it works. But I do take offense at your mendacious comments.

If I find out that [a politician] has [some food], however, you’ll be the first to know.”

I do not claim the higher ground here. Well, wait, I do. I’m not a wretched gossip-mongerer, trying to make a buck off the back of someone’s death. But I’m not claiming that this was a mature and helpful reply. However, it does look like the work of Gandhi compared with the reply it received:

“Well aren’t we the clever one? I’ve got the info elsewhere so spare me your ‘expertise’ on journalism matters. Get a job, get a life and I might respect what you say slightly more”

Aw, what a lovely man. He doesn’t seem to like it very much when you point out which articles he’s published in a national newspaper with his name on them, does he? Stumped by how to come back to this masterful wit, I could only say,

“Well put sir. Touche. I admit defeat in this battle of minds.”

And that, in case you weren’t sure, is how journalism works.

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