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Death, taxes, lazy journalism

On a note related to Si’s thoughts on journalism, I came across this piece when attempting to find out who on earth the Taxpayers’ Alliance might be or represent. From Paul Lashmar, a lecturer in journalism:

“What you see now is journalists who are grateful for news which is almost perfectly packaged to go into the paper with a ready top line. In that sense, journalism is becoming very passive. It is a processor of other people’s information rather than being engaged in actively seeking out and determining what the truth of a situation is in an energetic and inquisitive way.”

And more, from one of the Alliance’s founders:

“What we’ve tried to do since 2004 is understand how the media works, so we’ve tried to give news stories to journalists on a plate. Journalists have 101 things to do in their day and don’t often have time to read long and dry reports from think-thanks. So we use the Freedom of Information Act and a team of researchers to get fresh figures from government and local councils, which we package up into brief, media-friendly research papers, complete with eye-catching headline figures to give reporters a ready-made top line”.

It’s both an interesting and disturbing read: how a relatively small organisation (no figures given on site, but the BBC says 18,000 members) with private funding from “generous people we know” (Telegraph) can generate huge amounts of coverage, much in the broadsheets, by spoonfeeding research. One wonders how often, and how, thoroughly said research is checked.

You have to wonder also how much the pressure of an online publishing environment has an effect on this – I’ve just spent the best part of five days trying to pull together a story but many would, I imagine, be glad of so much time. And poor reporting from one outlet also makes it harder for everyone else: it’s going to be hard to check, for example, FOI data in time if there’s another, lazier writer happy to take the release, rewrite it without checking, hit the top of Google News first and watch the clicks roll in.

Also, it should be said: loathsome as you may or may not consider its aims, the TPA has a great name; one that screams “you pay tax, so we represent you” rather than “we want flat rate tax that’ll entail a massive cut in in the public services that you, but not I, rely on, peasant”. It also, when scanned in a newspaper, gives absolutely no clue as to the organisation’s political allegiance (check the founders’ employment histories). After all, people of all political persuasions pay tax – unless they’re right wing enough to want to, and rich enough to be able to, practice tax avoidance.

And, credit where it’s due, they do get the apostrophe in the right place (Taxpayers’). I suppose that counts for something.

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