How to cobble together a Daily Mail report without leaving the comfort of your desk

There’s coverage on newspaper websites today of the Royal Television Society Awards, which were held last night.  The Independent has a report headlined ‘TV talent shows miss out at Royal Television Society Awards’.  The report appears under the by-line of Lisa Williams.  The Daily Mail also has a report, headlined ‘Coronation Street Girls swap the cobbles for high fashion at the Royal Television Society Awards’.  The Mail’s report is credited to an unnamed Daily Mail Reporter.  I thought it might be interesting to compare and contrast the two stories.  Quotations from the Mail appear in green, those from the Independent in red.  Paragraphs are quoted in the order they appear in the Independent; more than one paragraph at a time is quoted when they appear in the same order in both stories.

Simon Cowell’s two Saturday night ITV talent shows were beaten in the entertainment category by BBC4’s Newswipe With Charlie Brooker, prompting a huge cheer from the crowd at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London.

Simon Cowell’s two Saturday night ITV talent shows were beaten in the entertainment category by BBC4’s Newswipe With Charlie Brooker, prompting a huge cheer from the crowd at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London.

BBC comedy The Thick Of It, written by Armando Ianucci and starring Peter Capaldi as a foul-mouthed government spin doctor, beat The Inbetweeners and Miranda to the title of best scripted comedy.

BBC comedy The Thick Of It, written by Armando Ianucci and starring Peter Capaldi as a foul-mouthed government spin doctor, beat The Inbetweeners and Miranda to the title of best scripted comedy.

Experimental chef Heston Blumenthal picked up the gong in the features and lifestyle series category for his Channel 4 series Heston’s Feasts.

The programme, in which he recreated weird and wonderful Victorian recipes, beat BBC3 series Don’t Tell The Bride and Channel 4’s The Sex Education Show vs Pornography.

Experimental chef Heston Blumenthal picked up the gong in the features and lifestyle series category for his Channel 4 series Heston’s Feasts.

The programme, in which he recreated weird and wonderful Victorian recipes, beat BBC3 series Don’t Tell The Bride and Channel 4’s The Sex Education Show vs Pornography.

There was a further blow for Britain’s Got Talent judge Piers Morgan.

He was beaten to the award for best presenter by Louis Theroux, who clinched the title for his BBC documentary A Place For Paedophiles in which he interviewed and sought to understand convicted paedophiles in America.

There was a further blow for Britain’s Got Talent judge Piers Morgan.

He was beaten to the award for best presenter by Louis Theroux, who clinched the title for his BBC documentary A Place For Paedophiles in which he interviewed and sought to understand convicted paedophiles in America.

Slick American advertising drama Mad Men, which stars John Hamm and Christina Hendricks, won in the international category, while Big And Small – Blame It On The Drain picked up the award for best children’s programme.

BBC soap EastEnders, which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year, beat The Bill and Casualty in the soap and continuing drama category.

BBC drama The Street, created by Bafta-winning writer Jimmy McGovern, won the prize for best drama series. The show was axed last year after its third series, which featured an ensemble cast including Stephen Graham and Anna Friel.

Naomie Harris beat Julie Walters and Suranne Jones to the title of best actress for her performance in BBC One’s Small Island.

At the ceremony, which was hosted by Gavin and Stacey star Rob Brydon, she thanked her mother, saying: “My mum was my accent coach. Without her I don’t think Hortense would have been half as good as she was.”

In a double win for the adaptation of Andrea Levy’s book Small Island, David Oyelowo picked up the award for best actor.

Slick American advertising drama Mad Men, which stars John Hamm and Christina Hendricks, won in the international category, while Big And Small – Blame It On The Drain picked up the award for best children’s programme.

BBC soap EastEnders, which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year, beat The Bill and Casualty in the soap and continuing drama category.

BBC drama The Street, created by Bafta-winning writer Jimmy McGovern, won the prize for best drama series.

The show was axed last year after its third series, which featured an ensemble cast including Stephen Graham and Anna Friel.

Naomie Harris beat Julie Walters and Suranne Jones to the title of best actress for her performance in BBC One’s Small Island.

At the ceremony, which was hosted by Gavin and Stacey star Rob Brydon, she thanked her mother, saying: “My mum was my accent coach. Without her I don’t think Hortense would have been half as good as she was.”

In a double win for the adaptation of Andrea Levy’s book Small Island, David Oyelowo picked up the award for best actor.

This is the point at which the story in The Independent comes to an end, while The Mail continue for several more paragraphs.  From this point on, therefore, the text appearing in light blue is taken from a story headlined ‘Royal Television Society Awards shun talent shows’ which appears in The Telegraph.

Iain Morris and Damon Beesley won the award for comedy writing for E4 teenage comedy The Inbetweeners, while comedian Harry Hill won in the entertainment performance category for ITV’s Harry Hill’s TV Burp.

Actress Miranda Hart won in the comedy performance category for her title role in BBC Two comedy Miranda.

Iain Morris and Damon Beesley won the award for comedy writing for E4 teenage comedy The Inbetweeners, while comedian Harry Hill won in the entertainment performance category for ITV’s Harry Hill’s TV Burp.

Actress Miranda Hart won in the comedy performance category for her title role in BBC Two comedy Miranda.

So there you have it, a perfect demonstration of the way to write a Daily Mail story.  Cut and paste the bulk of your article from copy produced by someone else, add in a couple of quotations from acceptance speeches that appear in video of the event, and include a small self-authored introduction feigning astonishment at photographs which show that, when Coronation Street cast members attend a formal black-tie event, they don’t turn up dressed as their characters.  Oh and don’t, under any circumstances, highlight the fact that 17 of the 25 awards for programmes appearing this year were won by the BBC – that cuts right against your editorial line about collapsing standards and fat-cat squandering of resources…

And now, a confession: I’ve indulged in a very Daily Mail-esque piece of subterfuge there.  I’ve very strongly hinted – without ever actually saying so – that the Mail are guilty of plagiarism.  If this was appearing on the Mail website, I’d now be sure to approve lots of comments that say things like ‘I’m no lawyer, but if this is right, then isn’t this plagiarism?’, and reject all the ones that point out that there might be another explanation  That way I’d get across precisely the point I wanted, without ever exposing myself to the risk of a law suit.  But this isn’t the Daily Mail’s website, and I’m not a Mail reporter, so I’m going to come clean and fess up.

You see, I did originally think this was a straightforward case of plagiarism, but when I looked a bit more closely at the story in The Independent, I noticed that Lisa Williams, the journalist credited with the story, is identified as a reporter for the Press Association.  I went off to look for the PA story, and it very rapidly became apparent that this article was the basis of the stories appearing in The Mail, The Independent and The Telegraph.  In other words, none of these papers are plagiarising each other – they’re all simply reproducing content supplied by a news agency, for which they’ve doubtless all  paid the appropriate fee.  Two of the papers – The Independent and The Telegraph – repeat the PA article more or less verbatim, while the Daily Mail does a little bit more tweaking.

There’s absolutely no law-breaking going on here, but I do wonder if there’s a little underhandedness for all that.  The Independent is very clear that the article was written by someone working for the Press Association rather than one of their own journalists, so they’re pretty much exempt from this criticism, and The Telegraph at least doesn’t credit the story to themselves, but what about the Mail?  They credit the story as though it was written in-house, and they seem sometimes to be implying that they had a reporter at the event.  They open their article with material about the outfits being worn by some of the nominees, for example, which suggests they had a reporter taking notes as the nominees arrived, even though these remarks were almost certainly written up by someone working from the photos that appear in the article.  Then there’s the quotations from acceptance speeches, and the detail about a loud cheer for Charlie Brooker (which appears in the PA’s original article), all of which seems to imply first-hand experience on the part of the unnamed ‘Daily Mail Reporter’ who claims credit for the story.

You could certainly make a convincing case that the Mail have done nothing wrong.  They’ve just collected information from a variety of sources and combined it together to give a vivid account of an event their readers are interested in – isn’t that a textbook definition of what a journalist does?  Does it really matter that the journalist was (presumably) sitting in front of a computer screen in Daily Mail HQ rather than actually attending the awards?  I guess the answer to that second question is ‘In this particular case, not really, but still…’

By and large, I think, most people still assume that what they read in newspapers is written by reporters who have first-hand knowledge of what they write about.  In a conventional newspaper report, information that’s acquired second hand is clearly identified as such, and reporters don’t try to pretend that they have knowledge they don’t – if a journalist hears accounts from the survivors of a plane crash, for example, they don’t tend to write as though they were personally in the plane as it skidded along the runway.  There’s also still a widely-held presumption, I think, that journalists get out in the field and directly research their stories, when it’s increasingly the case that they do what the Daily Mail’s reporter seems to have done in this case – sit behind a desk and draw together information collected by other people.

With a story like the RTA Awards, it doesn’t matter that most of the papers are relying on a single agency journalist’s impressions and observations, because there are no serious consequences if the story turns out to be wrong, or misleading, or wrongly emphasised.  What is potentially rather more worrying is that newspapers are increasingly doing the same with proper, hard news stories, especially ones from abroad.  As the number of journalists directly covering a story declines, so the chances for error and misrepresentation – deliberate or otherwise – increase.  To some extent this may be unavoidable – as newspaper revenues shrink, so the difficulty of funding large teams of journalists grows – but I don’t think it’s helpful for a newspaper to give the impression that they’re carrying on in the good, old-fashioned way when they aren’t.  Even when it relates to a trivial little story like the RTA Awards, it still strikes me that it’s bordering on the dishonest.

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3 Responses to How to cobble together a Daily Mail report without leaving the comfort of your desk

  1. la says:

    Goddamn. This is what happens when you decide to replace subs with spell-check.

  2. aethelreadtheunread says:

    Thanks for the comment, la. And yes, i agree. :o)

  3. Adair says:

    Nicely structured post!

Comments are closed.