Roger Alton: why I’ve lost faith in The Independent

Posted by Tim Ireland at February 16, 2009

Category: Old Media

This entry was posted on
Monday, February 16th, 2009
at
11:23 am and is filed
under Old Media.

Hi folks. I plan on chatting with you about the credibility of old and new media this week. Please bear with me…

(Psst! Or, if it’s more to your speed, perhaps instead check out Sim-O on The Sun and their defence of their reporting on Baby P or, if you can stomach the bile, have a laugh at Donal Blaney attacking Derek Draper over his use of the term ‘window lickers’ when Blaney’s client* Paul Staines is the man most deserving of his criticism, and all Draper is guilty of is outstanding ignorance and a desperation to be part of the ‘in’ crowd.)

[*I say ‘client’, even though there’s a very good chance that the ‘fee’ in this case was a couple of bottles of wine.]

… even if it seems at first that we are going over old ground:

Iain Dale has a self-penned bio that he puts about, and it contains a number of claims that may or may not be true. When this results in a newspaper or broadcaster making a claim that definitely is not true, Iain is fond of claiming that this is something beyond his control (presumably on the basis that his bio is open to interpretation… so when someone takes it at face value, it isn’t entirely his fault).

One claim that definitely isn’t true that was in Iain Dale’s distributed bio until very recently is the claim that Iain Dale has 300,000 to 350,000 readers every month.

This claim was distributed by Iain and repeated in a number of places long after it was revealed that Iain was, at the very least, a little bit confused about the difference between a ‘visit’ and a ‘visitor’ (more).

That claim also (somehow) found its way into this puff-piece in The Independent.

Iain later claimed that (a) this was an error, and (b) not his fault.

But this figure matched the bio claim so very closely, and Iain has been known to be less than forthcoming with the truth, so I emailed the author of the puff-piece (Nigel Morris, Deputy Political Editor of The Independent) and asked how he arrived at the “350,000 readers every month” figure in his article.

There was no answer, so I chased.

It was conference season, I was told. Nigel was busy.

So I waited. Later, I sent a follow-up email or two. But still there was no answer.

A month passed.

Without. So. Much. As. The. Courtesy. Of. A. Reply.

I get this from associates of Iain sometimes – even the loose ones – so I gave up chasing the monkey and emailed his organ-grinder; Roger Alton, the recently-appointed Editor of The Independent

In that email, I pointed out the following:

– The Independent had published (and was still broadcasting) a ridiculously overstated claim
– The most likely source of that figure was known for (ahem) some confusion on this front
– The most likely source of this figure was also acknowledging it was false, but blaming this on a mistake by The Independent

I also repeated my question about the origin of the claim/figure.

Roger Alton took a look at this, and my surprise at being ignored for four weeks, and described me as ‘fixated’.

He then went on to say that the ridiculously overstated claim meant very little to him because his own website received far too many visitors for a figure/error of this size to be significant to him.

The question about where the figure came from was entirely ignored.

I’ll let my response at this stage of proceedings speak for itself:

It seems like such a small thing; you would think that answering a small question about it would be no bother.

And yet here I am, a month later, really quite annoyed that I have to take it to this level just to have you ask why I bother.

Thanks for that, by the way.

So is it seriously your position that numbers that seem inconsequential to you personally will be allowed to stand uncorrected (and not even investigated) in your publication, no matter how incorrect they may be?

I ask because my trust in the Independent has been seriously shaken by the failure to address a really quite straightforward question and your reply has taken me quite by surprise.

I dread to think what would happen if you got your figures wrong on an article about the minimum wage, for example, and delivered this as your response.

Tim Ireland

(PS – Bloggers with integrity take readership figures quite seriously; just as seriously as you do circulation figures. I am sure that you would have something to say about another newspaper vastly inflating their circulation estimates, not least because such behaviour undermines trust in all figures, including your own.)

Roger Alton skipped over all of these points and responded with an email suggesting that I “write a letter to the editor”…!

That was over three months ago, and I haven’t bought a copy of The Independent since.

I was a regular reader, buyer and supporter of that newspaper for a decade prior to this, and must admit to initially having some reservations about the measure, but I felt more than a little vindicated when the ‘grooming’ spin on Damian Green’s arrest emerged, and The Independent led on it.

I may return to the paper once Nigel Morris and Roger Alton have moved on, or there are other signs of improvement or renewal, but until then, they’ll not get a penny from me.

UPDATE – The article in question used to carry a series of comments underneath. Those comments have now been retro-moderated out of existence. It looks like The Independent, like most other newspapers, can’t be trusted to maintain an honest comments facility, either… but for further comment on that subject from moi, you’ll have to wait until later in the week.

UPDATE – It surprises me not at all that a selective listener like Roger Alton supported the invasion of Iraq.








17 Comments

  1. Jonathan McCalmont says

    I used to adore the Indie. Not least for its principled stand over the Iraq War but over the last year or so (interestingly, largely since Alton has taken over), the paper has gone further and further down-market.I stopped buying it when, in a horrific attempt to boost sales, they had a sex pull-out (and not even a particularly interesting sex pull-out either) but since then the rise of lifestyle journalism at the paper has coincided with a decline in real journalistic values.There have been times in the past when the Indie's apparent lack of resources has lead them to make strange decisions (the Bono and fashion person editorships for starters) and they have printed US propaganda without checking facts (in the run up to the Iraq War they printed a planted story about how a number of US prisoners of war were still being held by Saddam from the Gulf War) but by and large the Indie was a decent paper.Nowadays I don't even check the website, let alone buy the bloody thing.

  2. beaubodor says

    Only good (excellent) things about The Indie these days are:Mark SteelDave BrownI used to be a regular purchaser but not any more.When its much improved website launched, I emailed, stating it was carrying too many processor-intensive ads on individual pages which slowed my browser to a crawl.No response and the surfeit of ads continued so I had to adblock the whole site.So, no cover price from me and no eyeballs on any of its adverts.Not a good business model.

  3. mikkimoose says

    Draper is certainly not better than Staines. Staines is a smutty blogger, whereas Draper has been in a trusted position close to (and abusing) power for much of the last 15 years.Blaney's response to Draper's revenge attack dressed up as cleaning up the interweb – feigned outrage over Draper's use of the term 'window lickers', seems entirely apt in the circumstances.

  4. mikkimoose says
  5. Manic says

    Staines has shown time and again that he's willing to abuse what little power he does have. The only thing that makes them markedly different in my view is opportunity.Blaney is now claiming that he has never seen 'Guido' using the term "window licker", BTW:http://tinyurl.com/bs5ge2

  6. Manic says

    Whoop. Just seen your other comment.*cringes*http://derekdrapersblog.blogspot.com/2009/02/apol…BTW, I hear 'embiggens' is a perfectly cromulent word. All you blogsiters and chazwazzers out there know what I'm talking about.

  7. Justin says

    Alton's never been one to answer to mere readers: http://tinyurl.com/a9rvuy

  8. Manic says

    I must admit to almost describing Alton's position as 'Draperesque'.

  9. mikkimoose says

    From what I can see it took you about 12 months to figure out what you thought of Guido http://www.bloggerheads.com/archives/2006/01/guid…Draper seems to have managed to antagonise the entire interweb within several hours of arriving.Of course that might be that Staines felt he had less to be arrogant about when he first started, but regardless Draper is most definitely not less deserving of criticism, as you put it.This may be like choosing between one form of torture and another, but defending Draper at this point in anything is unwarranted.

  10. Manic says

    I'm defending a principle, not a person.

  11. Manic says

    And I should point out that my position is that Paul Staines is the man most deserving of criticism… over use of the term "window lickers" specifically.

  12. mikkimoose says

    Oh dear. It seems Draper's even managed to annoyed mild-mannered Liberal Democrats:http://politicalbetting.com/index.php/archives/20

  13. mikkimoose says

    Draper's playing the "If you want to be friends with me, you can't be friends with him" game:http://www.labourhome.org/story/2009/2/16/131227/

  14. Manic says

    See my comments…http://www.labourhome.org/comments/2009/2/16/1312…Whoever is talking to Hilton (people only assume it's Draper) has a point… up to the point where Hilton's association with Staines might damage his relationship with other Labour members.If he's saying what Hilton is claiming and making secret threats about deliberately tagging Hilton with Staines' popular brand of casual racism, then that's not on, but I've come to expect misrepresentation from that quarter.Hilton could have been issued with a warning that such association would happen naturally and without interference or effort; that's a warning that could easily be passed off as a threat.That, and Hilton often starts calling people 'comrade' when he's laying it on thick.I'm not saying that this is the way it's happened, but it's a bloody likely possibility from where I'm standing.A lot depends on who made the call. Draper, I'd expect such threats from, especially after his over-reaching attach-a-word attacks on Dale and Staines and his finger-jabbing attack on Hencke.But if almost anyone else made the phone call, I'd have serious doubts about Hilton's claim. That I'm not able to hear the context of what was said forces me to make that judgement call, and Hilton is one of the people in this world that I trust the least.

  15. Manic says

    UPDATE – I've now posted about this:http://www.bloggerheads.com/archives/2009/02/alex

  16. Tom says

    "That was over three months ago, and I haven't bought a copy of The Independent since."My parents switched back to the Times about last October, after being with the Indie since it started. It takes something seismic to make my Dad (who hates the Guardian for some reason, thus limiting his choice a bit) willingly pay Murdoch money, but there you go.Personally I'm thinking of hedging my bets and going for the FT and Morning Star on the rare occasions I have time to read the paper.

  17. Manic says

    I can totally appreciate your father's position.

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