There was once a time, and within living memory, when the publication now known as the Maily Telegraph was justifiably considered a paper of record. The separation of news and comment was such that it was not a problem for Guardian readers, finding their preferred selection sold out, to take the Telegraph instead, but by-pass the comment part.
True believers, too, had no problem with this approach: just in case the piece being read didn’t tell them what opinion the paper held, an editorial or pundit column would be discreetly signposted. Sadly, though, those days are over, and today brought an example of just how far standards have slipped, along with the merging of news and comment.
The piece, titled “British taxpayers face £600 million bill as EU defies Cameron’s call for austerity”, under the by-line of Bruno Waterfield (whom we have encountered before), tells in its sub-heading that “Brussels has demanded that British taxpayers stump up more than £682 million”, and that the EU has “defied” Young Dave.
What is yet more dispiriting is that most Telegraph readers, occasional or otherwise, will not find this introduction unusual in character. But in the days before the paper began its conversion into a broadsheet Daily Mail, any hack presenting such a piece for editorial consideration would have seen it instantly spiked, then told to go away and do the job properly.
I’ll go further: Bruno Waterfield would not have got anywhere near his berth as the paper’s Brussels point man by writing that kind of drivel, and had he started down that road once in post, would not have kept well for long. So the Telegraph’s readers would have been spared the stream of pejoratives, such as “[EC] will ignore pleas ... painful national cuts ... swell the Brussels budget ... demand for additional cash ... declaration of war ... soaring British contributions ... rocketing costs”.
In any case, Waterfield’s use of the term “demand” is plain flat wrong: the EC has made a request, and negotiations will follow (last year’s figure, first pitched as a near 6% rise, ended up at less than 3%). But then, once one creative reinterpretation creeps into the story, the temptation to go further, when editorial control absents itself, is clearly too much, and thus standards are debased, or even discarded.If there is no attempt to separate news and comment, the paper concerned cannot consider itself a publication of record. The Telegraph has now passed that point.