Journalism 101… Or How To Miss A Scoop…

In the olden days, Football was just a sport. Now it is a business and entertainment.

In the olden days, Politics was about governance. Now it is a business and entertainment.

And the means of reporting Football and Politics are now very different. The designated man (always a man) from the Manchester Evening News sat on the United coach. The designated men from the Liverpool Echo were on the Everton bus and the Liverpool bus. It was Access…the link between the readers of the readers and fans of the local teams. It was of course a very limited form of access because these embedded reporters were tolerated by Matt Busby, Harry Catterick, Bill Shankley and the rest on the understanding that they knew which players were gamblers, boozers and womanisers but they did not report it. Likewise, the reporters might keep a training ground employee on a retainer and pick up some gossip on which players had had a bust-up in the dressing room. But this was intelligence gathering not for general reporting. The reporter might be in a dodgy night club in Amsterdam after a European match or a dodgy night club in Copenhagen after a pre-season friendly. They knew the high jinks and maybe even joined in the high jinks, but it never was mentioned in their newspaper columns.

Ah, Jumpers for Goalposts…. and then the Premier League. And Footballers became famous for more things than Football. Celebrities. And that produced a new kinda reporter—one who wanted to get a story on the front page rather than the back page.

The reporters who now attached themselves to European trips and pre-season tours were a different breed.

And Politics.

Back in the day, the BBC in London only seemed to have two correspondents covering Westminster. Conrad Voss Bark and Peter Hardeman Scott might wonder just how many BBC need in 2020. But the reporting style has changed. There are Political Editors, Deputy Editors, Assistant Editors, correspondents and reporters but in a very real sense political journalists are a bit like the football correspondents from the Manchester Evening News and Liverpool Echo.

It is about Access. Limited Access. Intelligence gathering. Slipping a fiver to a training ground employee for some gossip is all high tech now. The reporters can stand outside Downing Street or sit in a studio and look at their smartphones and say things like “a source close to….”

They refer to it as the Westminster Village or the Bubble. I tend to think of it as a Venn Diagram where politicians and reporters, both useful trades, of course, meet lobbyists (useless of course).
Football reporters might get too dodgy night clubs in Amsterdam and Copenhagen, but political reporters get to party conferences, and they know the gamblers, the boozers and the womanisers. But it’s a world of limited access. What happens in Room 382 in Blackpool, Bournemouth and Brighton stays there. Cosy.

And that worked fine until politicians became celebrities. And generally speaking the poachers and the gamekeepers get on rather well. There was that unfortunate business when the some elements of the Press started taking an interest in the expenses of Members of Parliament. And the other unfortunate business when politicians started looking at phone hacking. But a Truce seemed to break out before too many “bad apples” on each side ended up in Wormwood Scrubs and Pentonville.

Of course, football journalists never married footballers. On the other hand, journalists always seem to be marrying politicians or other journalists.

Boris Johnson is engaged to Carrie, and Michael Gove is married to Sarah Vine. Robert Peston is married to a journo. Dominic Cummings another journo. And probably a lot of others. And that means perfect access or maybe it doesn’t. “I was speaking to a source over corn flakes this morning.”

As I write this, Dominic Cummings has announced that he will make a statement and answer questions and maybe that will be enough to make the clamour for his resignation go away.
I am not overly bothered about his running off to Durham. If it was an instinct, there are historical precedents for Londoners evacuating the city in times of plague or during the Blitz. It seems perfectly reasonable. Some of us are locked down in relative luxury like two old people in a three-bedroom detached house. Others are living in cramped conditions on the 10th Floor of a tower block in the East End of London.

If you are a resident of London and can take yourself off to (say) Balmoral or Sandringham, I don’t have a problem. And if you are a resident of West Belfast and can take yourself off to your second home on the Donegal coast, I won’t judge you.

Cummings will probably rely on a defence based on the health of his child. Fair play to him. The best-unsubstantiated statistic from LockDown is that 80% of people support LockDown and 20% adhere to it.

So I am not gathering the first stone.

What concerns me is that the scoop in The Guardian, The Observer and the Mirror was only published a few days ago.

I don’t know the full chronology, and that’s not the point.

The point is whether Dominic Cummings went off to Durham without telling at least some politicians and some members of his staff. And did Mrs Cummings run off with her hubby without telling journalistic colleagues?

And Cummings surely a high profile person who would be of interest to the spooks go off without the spooks knowing. Presumably, Cummings local police station at Dock Green or Sun Hill are aware of the high profile resident. It would seem like basic good manners to tell the local police (especially as it was “legal”).

Likewise, those colleagues of Dominic and Mary would surely be texting “can I bring you some groceries?” or “I have some crayons and colouring books for the child”. Did nobody leave off a 12 pack of Budweiser or some blue WKD? Nobody fed the goldfish or took the hamster for a walk? Waitrose and LIDL made no delivery. Nothing from Amazon? That seems a very odd LockDown.
If Cummings was doing that ZOOM thing at COBRA or SAGE at any point, then nobody noticed that he was not at home.

And all those journalists …nobody spotted anything until The Mirror, and The Guardian broke it.

There might be a bigger story here. And Journalists don’t come out of it well.

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