It’s a fact …

A few things have thrilled me today so I’m back again.

I have access to heating and hot water – a massive £12 on my meter – and was able to have yet another luxurious bath (please don’t tell Edwina Currie); I’m able to feel smug yet again about justifying the use of colour; I’ve had my fortnightly shop delivered, and Chaplin was thrilled with the economy cat food; and I’ve not received a single call from a debt collector.

Wait. “Justifying the use of colour?” you ask. “Really?” Well, yes. You see I read about the Twitter account of Rupert Murdoch’s protective wife Wendi Deng.

I read in The Telegraph how “Wendi Deng ticks off Rupert Murdoch on Twitter”.

I read in the Daily Mail, “Murdoch’s tweets were toe-curling” but now I could see “wife Wendi … flapping about her husband and flirting with Ricky Gervais.”

And I read in the Guardian how “Wendi Deng flirts with Ricky Gervais after joining husband on Twitter”. The Guardian used a quote from her feed as a sub-heading: “i think you look HOT ricky!!! (sssh dont tell @rupertmurdoch)”. This was described as “a Tweet to comedian by sassy wife who came to media mogul’s aid”.

Except it wasn’t: it was a spoof Twitter account that led a lot of journalists up the garden path.

Now I don’t blame the reporters for writing about this – but it isn’t news. None of it, not one word is worth writing but it is factual, it is the truth. It’s utter nonsense, vacuous, pointless drivel but it is fact … well, apart from the fact that it wasn’t Wendi Deng at all but someone on Twitter having a laugh.

The journalists were tricked when the account was bizarrely verified on Twitter and seemed genuine.

Nevertheless, who cares if Wendi Deng is on Twitter or not? The Guardian also went so far as to analyse Rupert Murdoch’s Tweets – this account is also verified and not yet outed as a spoof – including his top 20 words and how he likes to discuss films.

This is codswallop. It is facts, yes, plainly and clearly but, really, who cares? It’s not interesting, entertaining, it’s not a good yarn and won’t give a tired mum a chance to have a sit down and enjoy a good read before she picks up the kids from school: real-life stories will.

When I wrote about “colour” a while back I got a few mean Tweets saying no wonder I couldn’t get work and what I did wasn’t journalism but the fact is – yes, fact – what reporters do on real-life magazines is journalism and I’d say it’s better journalism than any of the nonsense written about Wendi Deng – whether it’s a spoof account or not. Although it being a spoof did tickle me.

My point is while I shouldn’t, perhaps, have made up that bit about the baby kicking in one feature a few years ago, there is as much pressure on real-life journalists to make their work cheerful as there is for Guardian journalists to analyse the banal.

There is as much pressure on real-life reporters to ensure the central “character” is shown in a good light as there is on Daily Mail writers to find a way of entertainingly sharing Wendi Deng’s tedious Tweets.

And there is as huge pressure for real-life writers to make everything – from a three-in-a-bed gone badly to grieving for a dead pet – upbeat.

I’ve also been told on news desks to make the news cheerful, to choose happy stories over sad. I’ve seen crime stories justified as going into the paper only to make those in salubrious areas feel smug about their lives: especially when the papers stopped delivering altogether to the poorer areas because this didn’t satisfy advertisers. Yes, this happens.

What we should be thinking about is not the fight between fact and “colour” but what our news consists of. Before we dismiss real-life journalism or creative non-fiction for not being journalism – or condemning me to a life on the dole – let’s have a serious think about what journalism really means.

Let’s think about what we mean by fact and what news is significant and worthy of sharing, what will educate, inform and entertain: certainly none of the stories about Wendi Deng managed to meet this criteria.

On a more serious note, personally and journalistically, I was also thrilled to hear the jury unanimously found Gary Dobson and David Norris guilty of the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

The Daily Mail back in 1997 knew they were guilty. Fact.


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