Stand by your man. That was always the first response of editors when threats and warnings came in. At the Herald, where I worked from 1973 to 1987, it now seems Bend the Knee is the editor’s motto.
When thugs – be they individual or corporate – start dictating your policy, you’re finished. I suggest that while Magnus Llewellin remains editor the credibility of the Herald is zero.
Newspapers are more than a fistful of pages and a scattering of print. They are – the good ones – the messenger carrying the information gathered through a network of contacts, bringing to us all the intelligence that informs. Information makes us engaged citizens. The flow of information and ideas is the mortar that builds communities and collective ideals. Papers lead popular debate by raising issues and they challenge through scrutiny and interrogation. They earn respect as an essential tool of civilised society, or what the Americans are not too self-conscious still to call Freedom.
Digital media has ruthlessly exposed the weaknesses in the newspaper model by firing in volley after volley of correction, perspective and outright contradiction that can only be confronted through ever more intensive fact-checking and painstaking by the Press. Yet when the need for old-fashioned standards of reporting, writing and subbing is at its greatest, the unforgiving accountancy that demands inexorable budget cuts, hacks away at the roots of journalism. Draining resources from the main purpose of a paper – journalism – dilutes its effectiveness through second-rate appointments, corner-cutting and acceptance of mediocrity. When the budget is the bottom line rather than journalism, the door is open to corruption.
Bowing to boardroom braggadocio and threats of advertising withdrawal is the sign of an organisation in retreat. The squirming statement re Graham Spiers, arguably Scotland’s finest sports writer in the tradition of the Herald’s Ian Archer and the Scotsman’s John Rafferty, was a white flag. The peremptory dismissal of Angela Haggerty for the crime of re-tweeting in solidarity is falling on one’s knees.
This is the paper of Ian Bell (RIP), Iain Mcwhirter, David Pratt, recently released Robbie Dinwoodie and others but the gulf between the few and the generality of reporting and writing is widening. The coverage of the Twitter spat between Rowling and McGarry omitted, as far as I could see, mention of the trigger account whose holder was accused of mysogyny – an essential ingredient of the story and without which it becomes a vacuous bitch-fest between two celebs. Cursory reporting would reveal what the outside world knows – that the Spanner individual, barred two years ago by me, is the epitome of revolting misogyny. Is the Herald the only news outfit unaware of the truth? Or was it, more likely, simply afraid to print what it knows either because of the vile language he uses or because it feared getting on the wrong side of a powerful and rich personality? After this week’s cave-in, we can easily guess.
And that’s the problem, right there. You no longer trust them when you know they can be bought so cheaply. Who else does the Herald bow down to?by