Pundit and campaigner Owen Jones has attracted more than his fair share of criticism from our free and fearless press over his characterisation of it. But yesterday he got yet more of it from Manchester Evening News politics and investigations editor Jennifer Williams. If only she had selected her target with more care.
Ms Williams is - rightly - highly regarded for her tireless public interest journalism, which stands out among all the proprietor and editor driven dross coming out of many national titles. It was undoubtedly the latter that Jones criticised in a Newsnight appearance earlier this week, but Ms Williams for some reason took it personally. Very personally.
Jennifer Williams ((c) MEN Online)
“Feel free to argue with me, Owen Jones, about where my public interest journalism comes from, which mogul is telling me and my colleagues across the country what to do and how to do it and how my relative poshness is a factor … Because actually here’s the thing: you earn your living writing polemic, which is fine, that’s a thing. But I earn my living doing public interest journalism. I know more about it” she snapped.
Jones did stress he was not targeting her personally, but to no avail. “No, I’m saying that you’re not a journalist. And that when I see you passing comment on the TV about me, a journalist, and my profession (journalism) it pisses me off”. Well, if Ms Williams is unhappy about those without journalistic qualifications, I have news for her.
Owen Jones is, as she points out, a pundit first and foremost. Those formerly in the service of the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines at the Guido Fawkes blog have no journalistic qualifications, but they parade themselves as real journalists - the odious flannelled fool Master Harry Cole at the Sun, former teaboy Alex Wickham at BuzzFeed News, and Ross Kempsell at TalkRADIO. They are symptomatic of the real pretence.
But for some reason, it is Owen Jones who sets Ms Williams off (and yes, those formerly at the Fawkes blog also get their turn on the box). But he isn’t pretending to do news journalism. Moreover, the idea that one has to be qualified as a journalist in order to critique the press is an odd one. The press routinely critiques every other profession; only journalism requires journalistic qualifications in order to accept criticism.
Even then, as Ms Williams has shown, it is possible to get it wrong. “What I’m taking so far from this Corbyn speech is that he’d like more public interest journalism. OK. But Labour supported Leveson 2 … That would mean papers paying legal costs for people suing us regardless of whether they won. So for example, today’s front page about a pathologist who had been getting the causes of death wrong was would probably be spiked due to legal/financial risk … also I really struggled to get Labour MPs to support us when we campaigned against Leveson 2 because none of them done their bloody homework on what it would mean for us so yeah haven’t forgotten that guys” she has told.
So, in the interests of “doing homework”, it has to be pointed out that Ms Williams has confused Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry with Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act, which came out of Leveson Part 1. Her interpretation of Section 40 cost protection is also wide of the mark (although par for the course for many journalists). Also, Labour still backs Leveson Part 2, which can’t have any legal repercussions as it has not taken place.
Also in the interests of “doing homework”, I would commend the terms of reference for both parts of the Leveson Inquiry to Ms Williams (see HERE), together with content on Section 40 from the excellent Inforrm’s Blog (HERE) and especially its effect on local journalism (HERE). As to having to have journalistic qualifications to critique the press, I look forward to her telling that to all the victims of press misbehaviour in the recent past.
And why Owen Jones should get it in the neck when there are so many “pretend journalists” already working in the national press (the three examples I quoted are most likely only the tip of a rather larger iceberg) will remain one of life’s mysteries.
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