Not Mid Morning Matters

JD in the Morning, off air…

Tag: journalism

The Papers and Politics: If in doubt, make it up.

It is only when you look back you realise that things are not what they first appeared or how they were actually sold. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. If we learn nothing more from the last four weeks and the febrile previous months before the 23rd June 2016 it must be this. What any public figure says or is what written in our newspapers needs to be checked, at east twice and only then can you know it might be, could possibly be true. I wrote about this last year when my daughter had just died. And it has happened again to me with the news (is it actually ‘news’?) that I have split up with my fiancé. Grief is an unrelenting bastard.

The factual failures (again) of the Bristol Post, The Times, The Daily Express and The Daily Mail are in black and white for anyone to read and again the newspapers don’t care. You should care. You must care. Information does not come from one source. There isn’t only one book to believe. As a journalist you’re told should double source (at the very least) the facts of any story. If you can’t do this then you just don’t publish. Names, ages, time lines (all of which the Daily Mail and the Bristol Post could not have got more wrong if they had actively tried) are facts that can be easily checked. Then it’s down to you, as the reader, to check them again by reading, listening or watching another source. There really is no such thing as face value. Don’t read one newspaper and don’t believe one book. That is nothing but naivety.

The campaign surrounding the EU and Brexit was riddled with lies, half-truths and counter lies. Many of the wild claims made were, at best, beneath those who made them. The competing sides played on our naivety about EU, Europe and on our prejudices. From the black top tabloid papers to the extremes of both sides of the campaigns, the absolute nonsense and falsehoods that were trotted out as “truth” mean many who voted one way feel robbed and cheated of their vote and its result. Is it a surprise that by changing our relationship with the rest of the world, which we related to via the EU, it will cause problems for years? Did you think that the promises made about staying or leaving the EU, made as facts, were in reality nothing more that snake oil sales lines? Did you check them?

Despite the many falsehoods of the campaign the turnout for this historic vote was the largest since the 1992 General election. 52% voted leave, 48% voted remain and we must respect this democratic result. To campaign to have another vote because we don’t like the result is just silly. That would be like Germany campaigning to have another world cup final, as they didn’t like the result of July 1966. It is nonsense to have another referendum.

Maybe some of those who are calling for another referendum should have taken their actual vote in the last referendum more seriously. Maybe they should have all voted on the question being asked, having checked and researched the arguments being made by both sides? That hard-won X was not a protest against the government of the day or thinking it will get rid of immigrants from tomorrow or whatever other silly notion attached to the referendum question. If you are one of those who voted for anything other than then arguments behind the question and are thinking ‘’what have I done’’ then lets hope the next time you vote you will think long and hard about where your X marks the spot.

Now our leaders and politicians need to get on with it and stop asking us what they should do all the time. Why do they do this? To empower us? To blame us as it’s what we said we wanted? To abdicate the responsibility to us for their failures in leadership? Maybe we are just electing the wrong types of leaders and politicians. One thing is for certain. We are in serious times and while we deal with the result of the self-indulgence of our referendum the world is in a perilous state. The world is killing, creating hatred and division while we deal with this and years of self-inflicted uncertainty.

Again, whether you were an “Inner” or an “Outer” the result is the result. If you feel cheated or robbed then, maybe, you should have asked more questions, read more than one newspaper, listen to more than one politician. Maybe you should have thought more about your family and friends before you voted? Maybe the result of this referendum is the result of self in a the world of social media, which is all about self. Maybe that is the thing that needs to change most.

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Good Grief Polly

It has been exactly four weeks since my eldest daughter Polly was killed in a car crash. It has been just over two weeks since her funeral, which was attended by 480 people. We thought about 100 would come.

In my last blog I wrote about how my daughter’s death had been reported by the media. This included the BBC, an organisation I am proud to work for, love and yet worry about on a daily basis as it faces attacks on all sides. The BBC were accurate in their reporting of Polly’s death, even if they did not include all the information they had sought from the family. They have written to me and I feel for my colleagues who are among the best journalists I know. We can all learn from this. I will certainly be a better journalist for all this.

The newspapers however were not accurate. They lifted quotes from social media without checking the provenance or the facts, causing further distress. They made claims of contact to me and other family members when to date no evidence of this can be found. The Bristol Post published my blog, contacting the BBC press office to see if I was going to get the sack for it. The credited ‘reporter’ did tweet me in the afternoon prior to publication to try to speak to me. In the Bristol Post’s published ‘report’ on my blog it says I had ‘been spoken to’ by the BBC, with all the disciplinary tone this implies. The BBC have been nothing but supportive. Other papers produced articles that were poorly written, inaccurate, with questionable personal relevance and lacking in either fact or respect. Formal complaints have been made.

This first four weeks of grief has been, err, yes. I have been back to work at BBC Radio Bristol and although I am trying I am finding it very hard. The listeners have been brilliant and the staff, my team have been complete in their support. I always said to my two elder children that they should never go to bed on a Sunday dreading Monday because if you do then you really are in the wrong job. Stop. Change it. Go to bed fundamentally happy. I love what I do and I can only hope the joy will return too.

Sitting here four weeks to the day after Polly’s death I thought I would start to make a few changes to my life. I’ve been told this is a life-changing event and I can see it is. I’m not unique, nor is our family. Other children have died in many tragic ways. Death is life and grief is not a competition as there are no winners.

The first week was awful, truly awful but with moments of real, honest, heartfelt laughter. Laughter is vital. Gallows humour is essential. You can learn from grief. I believe that.

Talking with my family, my dearest friends, my partner and my boss at work has been a huge comfort. This small group of people have been extraordinary and have reminded of who I am when I still really have no idea who I am at the moment. They have all done their best to keep me from jumping off at the deep end.

I won’t go through each day as I don’t want to read it back next year and be reminded of it but I can tell you that the first Tuesday was the worst day so far. See earlier blog. Last Sunday was awful too but lead to a Monday that I felt better. The grief kicked me in the nuts again on Tuesday. Simply, no parent should carry his or her child’s casket into a funeral. I now know what is really meant by a dead weight.

So what have I learned so far?

Drinking really does not work. I am a drinker and a cigar smoker. Don’t rely on drink; rely on your family and friends. I will give up smoking.

Right any family wrongs when you can. Don’t ever let them fester. Right beats wrong as much as truth beats lies. Don’t think you can put things right later. There really is no time like now if it needs to be said or done.

Listen to those who know you; your colleagues, your friends, your partner and your family. You are not you when you are grieving but a version of you. They know you and they will help you do what you should be doing when you really are not you.

Ride the support, the love and the messages you will get. The social media world means that you will be swamped by it. Take it, scan it, save it and then in time you can come back to it.

Cry. When you feel the need to cry just let it out. Don’t hold it in. Don’t stiffen your upper lip. Don’t worry about where you are or whom you are talking to. Cry when it comes. You need to and perhaps others need to learn from you that it is okay to cry. Try not to suppress how you really feel. I find this very hard as it is changing a habit of a lifetime.

Try and eat. I’m failing at this one but trying too. I’m either a simple snack that gives me all I need to keep going or a lavish taster menu with fine wines sort of chap. Polly, I am told, was the same.

 

I am ashamed to call myself a Journalist

On Saturday 31st October, at 1.30am, my 22-year-old eldest daughter Polly was killed when she lost control of the car she was driving and hit a tree. She was alone in her VW Beetle, no one else was hurt and, I am told, it was instant.

I can tell you that having lost my father as a child, other close family members along the timeline of life and having said many times ‘on air’ that losing a child must be the worst thing of all, it is. It really is. It’s not a grief ‘competition’ it just is. Losing a child is the worst thing of all.

Polly’s mother Sarah and her dad Simon, who brought Polly up from the age of 3 and did such a brilliant job, are broken by this, as are all our families. My eldest son, Polly’s brother Oliver, is broken too but one of the few comforts I am taking at the moment is what a fine, brave, courageous man he has become. Again his mother Sarah and dad Simon deserve all the credit.

It is Simon, Polly’s dad, who has prompted me to write this blog. I am Polly and Oliver’s father, Simon is their dad. That is always the language we use, though Ollie and Polly always call me dad when we are together. Language is vital if we are to understand who we are and what we do.

The news of my daughter’s death, because of the nature of the work I used to do (I know I will never be the same again) and who I am engaged to means that there is some media interest in me with the local and national newspapers and TV. Those who know me well will know that I never, ever wanted to be the story, just to tell or share the story, as a journalist, correctly. I have never wanted to be on TV, I don’t want to be known, perhaps just be known of, to do my job well and to help people if I can and to get to the truth for others.

As all the family came together on Monday morning to start the process of making arrangements for Polly, I was contacted by the BBC for a quote about her. There has been quite a reaction to the news, because of me, with many kind words paid in tribute to my daughter and kindness shown towards me from those who listen and maybe even enjoy what I do daily on the radio. I gave the BBC ‘the line’, agreeing it while on the ‘phone to them with Polly’s mother Sarah and Polly’s dad Simon hearing me do this. I wanted the quote, the tribute to come from Sarah, Polly’s mum, who did such a brilliant job in bringing our daughter up with Simon. The name order was also agreed to be ‘Sarah, her husband Simon Bosworth and John Darvall’. I was clear.

On Monday night, on Points West the local BBC News opt for the West, none of this happened in their broadcast about Polly. Simon was called Polly’s ‘stepdad’, a phrase we have NEVER used. Simon, Polly’s dad was straight on the phone to me. He was rightly furious and more. This journalistic failure significantly added to his pain, and to mine. To hear Polly’s dad rage at you about your profession, about the things you have clearly agreed whilst standing in his family home just hours before when our daughter has been killed…words fail me. This poor piece of journalism made Tuesday probably the worst day of this whole episode so far. This includes seeing our dead daughter in a hospital mortuary just 12 hours after she was killed.

Newspapers have contacted me and provided appallingly written articles, which I have had to change, ‘polish’ or make actual sense of. Other papers have published articles using my personal relationship as ‘the in line’, when this is NOT the story but, at best, just a very small part of the story. This has hurt many who are in the throes of grief. Other papers have just published without checking and have got facts wrong. See earlier blogs. One paper spliced a year off my age. I will take that!

The way we all consume news is changing. The way we share news has changed and will continue to change at a faster pace. This week TV and newspapers have proven to me why they are not the future of news. If they can’t even get their facts right, be trusted with clear information and then report it accurately is it any wonder that we are all turning to Facebook, Twitter and other internet sources for our news and information? The internet allows us to come to our own conclusions by checking our own facts. We really can’t trust the traditional outlets to do it right or properly.

I write this as a father who has lost a daughter. I write this as a journalist who loved his work but can now clearly see why so many have lost faith in his profession and traditional media. They, we and I have brought this on ourselves.

I also write this to set the record straight for Polly’s mother Sarah and Polly’s dad Simon. I am ashamed to call myself a journalist and I am truly sorry to have added to your grief. I have spoken to Simon and he knows I have written this.

Two bits of advice for you reading this, if I may:

Trust nothing you read or watch. Check it, at least twice, as it’s more than likely wrong from just a single source.

Love your children and loved ones. Properly love them. Tell them every day, make sure they know that you love them regardless of what might be happening. Nothing is more important than that.

Polls apart

For the last six weeks I have honoured the BBC’s request of me to step aside from the daily ‘phone in show I love and present the afternoon show, which was great fun and I really, truly enjoyed. It reminded me that radio and broadcasting is to inform, educate and entertain and I thank the BBC for this.

I also took this chance to positively step away from all the news I could. I avoided reading the newspapers, blogs, magazines, linked articles, opinion pieces or listening to podcasts. I just listened to the local news when I was on air and other news when it came to me, rather than me actively looking for it. I haven’t watched a news programme in over 6 weeks apart from the election night coverage. In the last few days, minded I am going back to my topical news based radio show on Monday 18th May, I thought I should get ‘up to speed’ on things and start to cram. I need not have bothered. Hardly anything has really happened nationally or locally apart from a change of government that the media failed to see coming.

I have learnt a great deal this year about many things. Firstly, the real kindness of people in contrast to how foul and depraved others can be for no real reason other blind stupidity, misplaced loyalty or actual mental health issues that could happen to any one of us at any time. Secondly, there is a real contrast between reporting and actual journalism in our papers and in on our broadcast media. There is plenty of the former but very little of the later. Thirdly, the news really doesn’t change that much at all. You might like to think it does but, in reality, nothing much happens other than the constant reporting on reports.

Here is a prime example of this. According to one study by a leading University on how the general election was covered by the main broadcasters, over a third of the coverage was based on reporting the polls. Broadcasters reported how close the polls were and what would happen if the polls were the actual result. There were lots of talking heads about red lines, coalitions, compromises and so on. The press followed this too. Nobody asked the question ‘what if the polls are wrong?’. In contrast the NHS got less than 2.5% of TV news coverage and according to other polls the NHS was a key issue in the election. Were those polls wrong too? In the current post-mortem of the election with the Left is complaining the Right got biased coverage and vice versa, we should all be complaining that our news was dominated by polls and surveys but very little actual journalism.

Any journalist should ask questions, get answers and then question those answers, regardless of what he or she might actually think. Thinking is not knowing and when you hear or read the phrase ‘I think’ it should be a warning to us all. Reporters are not journalists and journalists should not be reporters. To report and not to question is not news. To have an agenda and report it is not news. If you want this then buy your daily newspaper of choice just to confirm you were right all along.

Here’s a thing to try. Buy a newspaper you don’t usually take and see how you feel once you’ve read it. Listen to and watch other sources of news. Find local bloggers writing about where you live. Go beyond the lazy reporting and ask questions of those who just rehash press releases or report what they have been given without asking a single question about it.

The biggest lesson I have learnt over the last six weeks is to question everything and believe me I will, starting now.

This last week has been about the weak.

In Westminster last week the Leader of the opposition was called weak by the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister was called weak by the Leader of the Opposition. Next week neither will be there as they will both have a note from their mum’s saying they ‘can’t go as they are being bullied’.

Also it is the weak and vulnerable who will suffer with the coming winter fuel bills of the big six energy companies and their average of 9.2% increases in energy prices. What is actually being done about that? Naff all in reality. The ‘Big 6’ effectively said ‘not me mate’, Labour’s price freeze idea is totally potty as it can never work in the global energy market of today, the Coalition’s proposal of a competition review will take 12 months to reach a conclusion and shifting the Green tax into general taxation only mean you will pay more, just differently. It is going to be a long, cold winter for many so warm, snuggly Christmas jumpers might not be such a bad present idea this year.

All this has occurred against the background of Russell Brand calling for a revolution against the political class of today, those who seek to make a profit and pretty much anyone who is not him or who think like him. Free speech is a wonderful thing.

Yet it is free speech that is actually under threat by the very actions of those who benefit most from it, make money out of it and use it to fill the pages of our daily and Sunday papers.

Whether we end up the Royal Charter to govern and control the actions of the press, or they continue to ‘mark their own homework’ as the campaign group Hacked Off call it, one thing is for certain. Thanks to the actions of some journalists and maybe others on trial right now, our press and journalism will never be the same again in the UK.

But this is far bigger problem than just our UK press.

The world looks to us for a free press. Our tradition of free speech and a free press first gained its printed voice in the mewing 17th century newspapers and in the articles of Milton against the puritanical views of Cromwell and his the English Republic. If our press falls under parliamentary control other governments will use our newly ‘state controlled’ media as the very example they need to control, govern, censor what can and can’t be printed. Then it will be the same for broadcasting. Mr Brand may yet get his revolution, but perhaps not quite on the terms he was elucidating.

Why did all this happen? Why did the press do what they did? What made it okay for the press to rifle through the bins of Steve Coogan, ‘convict’ Bristol’s Christopher Jefferies on a series of front pages or hack into the phone of the then missing school girl Milly Dowler? You.

You bought the papers. You bought the stories. You chose the front page of the paper, you fed the beast. It is all down to you. And it’s down to me too. No paper, no journalist, no editor would have done any of the things revealed in the Leveson enquiry if you didn’t buy them.

So now we may not have lost the sensational headlines, but we have lost threatening, penetrating investigative journalism, challenging opinion and, most of all, the freedom of the press that we all enjoyed, maybe just a little too much.

The press will be weak from this last week.

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