What I found in two years of researching national and local press

The fact the family of Caroline Flack chose to release an unpublished Instagram post through her tru

The fact the family of Caroline Flack chose to release an unpublished Instagram post through her trusted local paper, the EDP, speaks volumes, writes Clive Strutt. Picture: PA Wire/PA Images/Matt Crossick - Credit: PA

For his new novel, Spiked News, a thriller based on the British media, Suffolk author Clive Strutt researched the country’s press. Here, he explains what he found – and the differences between national and local newspapers.

Clive Strutt, who has released a new book, Spiked News

Clive Strutt, who has released a new book, Spiked News - Credit: Archant

‘It’s good news week, someone’s dropped a bomb somewhere, contaminating atmosphere, and blackening the sky...’ Those opening lyrics of the 1965 best-selling satirical protest song by the British band ‘Hedgehoppers Anonymous’ summed up the doom-and-gloom stories portrayed in media headlines during the sixties.

Has anything changed?

Over half a century later it’s taken a turn for the worse. Some sections of the British mainstream media – the ‘popular’ national press – not only continue their obsession with headlining bad news stories, but increasingly it’s done at the expense of accuracy, intrusion into personal lives, blagging, and delivering blatant untruths. The uncontrolled ‘self-regulating’ social media have now joined the fray big-time. The so-called ‘keyboard warriors’ now leap onto this scurrilous bandwagon and rejoice in vilifying easy targets like high profile public figures, sporting personalities, and celebrities, often with tragic consequences, as in the case of the recent suicide of TV star, Caroline Flack.

For the past two years I’ve been researching the British mainstream news media for my latest novel, ‘Spiked News’. What an unedifying exploration that turned out to be.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex. When Harry was stationed at RAF Wattisham, he was able to live his l

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex. When Harry was stationed at RAF Wattisham, he was able to live his life without intrusion from local media. Picture: PA Wire/PA Images/Daniel Leal-Olivas. - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

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I discovered an ex Russian KGB officer and billionaire friend of Putin has bought two loss-making newspapers and a TV news channel based in our capital city.

Not to be outdone, the Chinese and Saudis have also secured financial interests in some of our national newspapers. I have no evidence to suggest anything untoward is happening editorially with these foreign interests, but it surely begs asking the question – what’s behind this interest in buying into the British loss-making media?

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Digging around the lesser known aspects of the national media also highlighted how powerful multi-billionaire American press barons, and their British editors, are still considered highly influential political ‘kingmakers’; and how our politicians – keen for good press coverage – pander to them to keep them on-side.

During my researches the local media came away virtually untarnished, holding on to their reputation for unbiased, accurate news reporting, putting local informed news to the fore, as evidenced during the coronavirus crisis.

Spiked News is the title of the new book by Clive Strutt

Spiked News is the title of the new book by Clive Strutt - Credit: Archant

I should declare an interest here. My first job, after leaving school, was as a trainee staff photographer with this esteemed county newspaper – the East Anglian Daily Times. That was back in the days when the aforesaid ‘Hedgehoppers Anonymous’ were topping the charts. In training I was imbued with the importance of reporting facts accurately, fairly, with the right to privacy, and accountability. The wrath of the then irascible news editor’s tongue was sufficient to keep us all in line. Those ethical guidelines still remain as potent for me, and presumably for today’s local journalists, as they were then.

In case I’m accused of being an EADT sycophant, I ceased working as a staff journalist many years ago, and no longer have any connection with them, other than as a loyal reader and occasional contributor to the letters page.

During my book research, I travelled to Canada to explore, and experience, the Canadian take on the media. I’d heard good things about the Canadian press. What a breath of fresh air that turned out to be! Not a Murdoch media machine in sight! It was like going back to the days of my early training – honest to goodness reporting, no slanging matches, no uncorroborated stories, no gratuitous persecution of celebrities or royalty. No wonder Harry and Meghan uprooted themselves to initially live there – it must have seemed like nirvana to them after the unbridled harassment that young couple suffered in the hands of certain sections of the British media. I just hope they get the same respect from the American media since deciding to settle in California?

Mention of Prince Harry brings me to cite an example of high-principled, responsible local journalism that I commended at the time. When Prince Harry was based in Suffolk, at RAF Wattisham, the then editor of the East Anglian Daily Times declared a voluntary editorial embargo on reporting Harry’s social activities while stationed in Suffolk. Other local news media followed suit and stood by that voluntary embargo. I understand Prince Harry was immensely grateful for the time he was allowed to be ‘one of the lads’ in Suffolk, without having to look over his shoulder for press snoopers when relaxing in local pubs or clubs. If the regional media can respect the privacy of a young member of the royal family – whose mother was tragically killed while being chased by the paparazzi – then surely our national newspapers and social media can take a leaf out of their book and respect the privacy of those in the public gaze, and not drive them out of the country.

I found it intriguing to learn that Caroline Flack’s family, who live in Norfolk, chose the EADT‘s sister newspaper – the Eastern Daily Press – rather then the national media, to release an unpublished heart wrenching Instagram post she made shortly before her death. That surely speaks volumes about the integrity and respect for local journalism as seen through the eyes of that family.

• Clive Strutt’s new novel ‘Spiked News’ is available as an eBook download on the Amazon Kindle.


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