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

This entry was posted on
Monday, February 16th, 2009
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.

About Tim Ireland

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