Peter Oborne: the Telegraph strikes back
Anger grows over suicides report
Sunday 22 February, 2015 The Daily Telegraph has come under further attack today over its front-page story suggesting that News UK advertising staff were being put under such unreasonable pressure to hit targets that two people had killed themselves and at least nine more have been signed off with stress.
The story, which appeared on the front page next to a Matt cartoon, was the latest salvo in the Telegraph's attempt to fight back after Peter Oborne's resignation blog accused it of committing a fraud against its readers by putting commercial concerns ahead of news judgment.
The use of the two suicides prompted a hail of disapproving tweets, including a personal appeal from Alan Rusbridger to Murdoch MacLennan to remove the story from the Telegraph website, and a "reminder to journalists" from Samaritans of the guidelines for reporting suicides. The reaction is reported today in news stories in the Sunday Times, Observer and Independent on Sunday and Alistair Campbell joined the chorus on the Andrew Marr show this morning, saying: "The Samaritans are now involved and saying that the reporting of this has not been helpful and it is getting very, very nasty...This is what happens when newspapers groups never stand back and think ‘how am I being seen in the way I am doing this’, I think that the way the Telegraph are handling this is absolutely appalling.”
Buzzfeed's Jim Waterson reported yesterday that the anonymous author of the Telegraph report had been given the story to write and had been seen arguing about it with the newsdesk. Waterson also wrote that eight phone calls requesting a comment from the Telegraph had gone unanswered.
The Telegraph story went on to quote News UK's creative content director Tiffanie Darke's comments about editorial involvement in commercial projects (see SubScribe on this here). On Friday the paper accused the Guardian of changing a headline on an Iraqi story to satisfy Apple, which had bought a wraparound ad on the website, and quoted "a Guardian insider" as saying: "If editorial staff knew what was happening here they would be horrified."
It had earlier published a leader saying that the HSBC story "so enthusiastically promoted by the BBC, the Guardian and their ideological soulmates in the Labour party" was old and declared: "We will take no lectures about journalism from the likes of the BBC, the Guardian or The Times." (read more here)
Both the Guardian and News UK responded to the allegations saying that advertisers had no influence on editorial content. News UK also confirmed that it was looking into the two unconnected deaths of members of staff in London and Manchester "in recent months", but would not comment further.
The Sunday Telegraph meanwhile published a much shorter leader than its daily sister, saying that it measures its success by the fact that readers are prepared to pay for the newspaper and that businesses are willing to pay to advertise in its pages. "In this organisation journalists will always pursue the facts - and only the facts - with no consideration other than sound editorial judgment."
SubScribe: The Oborne resignation
Peter Oborne: Why I resigned from the Telegraph (courtesy of openDemocracy.net)
The Telegraph strikes back
A layman's guide to editorial and advertising
Editor's blog: Blurred lines
'We will take no lectures about journalism from the BBC, the Guardian or the Times'
'Guardian changed head to please Apple'
Friday 20 February The Daily Telegraph has today come out fighting, three days after Peter Oborne's explosive resignation blog, questioning the Guardian's relationship with advertisers and insisting that no story was off-limits to its own journalists.
The counter-attack started with a full-drop leader saying that it made no apology for its approach to the HSBC tax-avoidance story and that it was proud to champion business and the financial services. It also announced plans to draw up guidelines to define "clearly and openly how our editorial and commercial staff will co-operate in an increasingly competitive media industry".
Then it took a swipe at the Guardian this afternoon with an anonymous story accusing it of changing a headline on a story about Iraq to avoid offending Apple, which had bought a wraparound ad on its website.
It quotes a "Guardian insider" as saying: "If editorial staff knew what was happening here they would be horrified", and a statement from the paper saying: "It is never the case that editorial content is changed to meet stipulations made by an advertiser."
The readers' comments buttons for both the leader and the Apple story are switched off.
Defending the Telegraph's stance on the HSBC story "so enthusiastically promoted by the BBC, the Guardian and their ideological soulmates in the Labour party", this morning's leader said that the allegations were a decade old and that rivals had seized on them with almost indecent glee through a deep-seated hostility to business and a desire to harm the Government and the Conservatives. "We have covered this matter according to our editorial judgment and informed by our values."
It continued: "We will take no lectures about journalism from the likes of the BBC, the Guardian or the Times."
For the avoidance of any doubt, we have no regard for the opinions of rival media organisations. None is the paragon of moral or journalistic virtue that their criticism this week might suggest. All have their own self-serving agendas, both political and commercial...
The leader was the paper's first detailed response to Oborne's allegation that the paper was committing a fraud against its readers by failing to cover the HSBC story, beyond its initial statement that it was an astonishing and unfounded attack, full of inaccuracy and innuendo.
Yesterday Oborne expressed despair at the failure of the chief executive Murdoch MacLennan or its owners, the Barclay twins, to say anything..
In an interview with Press Gazette, Oborne said of the brothers, who secured a £250m loan with HSBC for another company in 2012: "Their silence is becoming contemptible. They must answer the charges that are being made against them." To help to focus their minds, Roy Greenslade listed the allegations in his Guardian blog.
In another interview with the Guardian, Oborne said: “Mr Murdoch MacLennan must quit. I don’t want to sound bitter or anything, but in my personal opinion there is no way the Telegraph can be saved under his leadership. And there are huge questions about the Barclays. They need to show that they love the paper, that they understand it, and they need to explain how standards have slipped so sharply.
"I would just say this to the Barclays: do you really want to be remembered as the family which destroyed the Daily Telegraph? A great part of Britain’s civil fabric – is that how you want to be remembered? Either they must reverse their current policies and start to cherish and love the paper, or sell it. Please sell it.”
You can read the Telegraph leader here
You can see Oborne's essay here
SubScribe: key quotes and reaction
SubScribe: a layman's guide to the relationship between editorial and advertising
Editor's blog: blurred lines in the native advertising newsroom
Editor's blog: what's the point of an editor?
Oborne raises a crucial issue of editorial integrity. Any newspaper needs to turn a profit, and advertising is a significant part of that. The proper degree of influence that advertisers should be able to exert on the editorial coverage of the newspaper is zero. The wall between the commercial side of the newspaper business and what its journalists write must be absolute and inviolable.
- The Times 19/02/15
The Telegraph, as a privately owned newspaper, is not obliged to respond to questions about its editorial standards. If it wants to put up shutters and throw mud at rivals, it’s perfectly entitled to do so. But, the longer it remains silent, the more its readers may draw their own conclusions about the integrity of a great British institution.
- The Guardian 20/02/15
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