Alastair Campbell’s performance in Newsnight has already been mentioned in plenty of places across the internet, but it is well worth watching as an example of real journalism in action.
In this video, Alastair Campbell displays everything that I want to see from journalists. He’s seen an injustice, he’s angry about it and he is damn well going to put the perpetrator on the spot and make him account for his actions. Not only does Campbell very effectively put The Daily Mail’s deputy editor, Jon Steafel, on the spot but, in doing so, he also shines a light on the way in which the news media so often fails.
Far too often, journalists present an issue – any issue – using the same old approach of finding someone from each side, putting them in a studio together and essentially standing back. I can see why they do this – it allows them to claim impartiality – but in doing so, they create a false balance between the two sides. In this case, the format followed by Newsnight presents the, frankly rather pathetic, excuses dredged up by Jon Steafel and being as valid as Alastair Campbell’s view that carrying out a hatchet job on someone’s dead dad is despicable. These two positions are not equally valid yet far too much comment and analysis – and I am talking more widely than just Newsnight here – simply fails to keep sight of this fact.
Journalists need to have an opinion on the issues they cover. They do have an opinion, and however much they want to pretend otherwise, we know this. By pretending to be impartial, they not only lose thge trust of their audience but they also fail to get to the heart of the issue being covered. We all lose as a result of this.
Passionate and partisan journalists are a good thing. The only caveat I would add is we – the audience – should be aware of the journalist’s leanings, in general if not necessarily on every issue.
Of course, saying that journalists shouldn’t be constantly seeking a happy middle between each and every extreme does raise the question of impatiality. This is something the BBC does seek to achieve and. while I do think this is a good thing, I also think that they often veer too far towards everyone trying to be impartial about everything.
It is not the job of a journalist to try and remain impartial. It is the job of the editor to try to ensure the balance, across the programme, is reasonable (and being reasonable is not the same as being fair). If the editor is unable to do this then it is up to the producer to ensure that and accurate balance is maintained across the series.
Journalism should be about geting to the truth. Any journalist that lets other considerations get in the way of this is failing to do his or her job.