Newspapers need editors, not ‘Directors of Content’

Great piece by Peter Preston about the ethical shambles at the Daily Telegraph. Sample:

It’s easy, in such murky circumstances, to lose sight of basic command structures. Much of Fleet Street, indeed, has planted “content” and “strategy” nametags across its digital garden. But the grisly lesson of HSBC is also a fundamental one.

Title inflation may make a paper look cutting-edge digital. It may impress advertisers and investors. It may seem a modern necessity in a world of “native advertising” and fast-flowing revenue streams. But serious newspapers, in whatever form, have a duty of trust: a duty not to be leaned on by pushy politicians, chummy bankers – or advertisers. For how can you put truth first if the truth is for sale?

That’s why the Oborne storm is so deeply damaging. It can’t be put right by appointing some “chief integrity officer”. What the Telegraph lacks, as it stinks and stings under pressure, is what it must now rediscover: a journalist who looks at the likes of HSBC and tells them to get stuffed as and when necessary. A human being, not a corporate assassin. An editor.


ALSO: This from Roy Greenslade:

According to Oborne, at a meeting with MacLennan, the CEO was unapologetic about the matter, suggesting that it was no big deal. But it is, of course. It is a very big deal indeed because it goes to the heart of a paper’s credibility. Readers will not trust a newspaper that withholds or censors stories to please advertisers.

Everyone in the newspaper industry knows that advertising is harder and harder to come by. We know also that TMG has been reporting a level of profits for several years that surpasses any other national group. How, we wonder, does it do that?

The implication of Oborne’s revelations is that part of its strategy involves pandering to big advertisers to the extent of curbing critical editorial content.

I imagine this is rare, but once one company gets away with threatening to pull its advertising unless negative stories are pulled then the word goes round. It opens the door to discreet deals. So other instances may have occurred that we know nothing about.

Oborne felt that the HSBC case was so blatant that it was impossible to ignore and it could have far-reaching implications. Frankly, I’m amazed that MacLennan would be party to such activities.

Many people throw mud at him, but there are very few newspaper managers who love the company of journalists as much as he does. He and I have fallen out several times down the years, but I haven’t lost my regard for him. This matter, however, is of a different order altogether.

So what happens next? One theory going the rounds is that the Barclay twins, the owners of the Telegraph, have decided that the way to extract the most value from the paper is to let it go the profitable way of pandering to advertisers, on the grounds that it might last another ten profitable years before it finally collapses under the weight of its own absurdity. So it’s possible they’re not unduly bothered by the fuss about “ethics”.