(Image courtesy of google images)
I have just been reading a copy of Paul Dacre’s speech from the Society of Editors conference online. The link was tweeted to me by one of my esteemed class mates lucky enough to hear it in person, ah the wonders of modern technology. So, following what Adam Tinworth said in our online lecture last week, I am going to blog about it and blog quickly, because tomorrow it won’t be news any more.

Whatever one thinks of the man personally, or about the paper he works for, it has to be said that many of the issues he covered and the way he covered them resonated with me:

  • “Today I worry that too many journalists write only for other journalists”

Despite the continually repeated adage of “know your reader,” have journalists become too insular and therefore isolated? Dacre says there are many columnists out there who have lost touch with who they are writing for. He says journalism is now populated by “a privileged elite of university graduates,” who do not know how, or perhaps do not want to know how, to connect with their reader.

This would seem to concur with what Peter Preston said in our Reporters and Reported lecture on Friday. He told us the national newspapers were now threatened by a proliferation of inexperienced journalists, who are way out their depth because they simply by-pass working for regionals. With regional newspapers in decline it has made it all the more tempting to leap frog that stepping-stone job. And what is the result? Out-of-touch and over-cocky young reporters who are lacking a crucial lesson in how to communicate with the public.

  • “…today, newspapers…think long and hard before contesting actions, even if they know they are in the right, for fear of the ruinous financial implications.”

Here Dacre is talking about an issue presented to Gordon Brown, with the aim of demonstrating the threat posed to freedom of speech if newspapers in Britain start to censor themselves for fear of going bust.

The Conditional Fee Arrangement (CFA) known to us law novices as “no win, no fee,” was originally passed by government in order to allow the less affluent in society fair access to the courts. In recent times, however, there has been a feeling that some lawyers and their firms are exploiting the arrangement to bleed newspapers close to dry.

Basically, if a newspaper (or indeed any publisher) is taken to court for libel and they decide to contest the charge, under CFA they will be liable to pay the extortionate fees of the prosecution lawyers if they lose. If, on the other hand, the newspaper wins the case, it can still often lose money since claimants may have After The Event insurance which protects them if they cannot afford to pay legal costs.

According to Dacre, all this legal clap trap is leading newspapers to settle out of court rather than face lengthy and financially devastating law suits. From here then, it is not too much of a leap to consider editors choosing to leave a scoop out altogether to avoid potential claims against them. This leaves us with quite the dent in the freedom of speech aspirations our country is supposed to endorse. Luckily, it would seem the government is planning to take action. We shall keep our fingers crossed.

  • “The real enemy, if you like, is within…why is the British newspaper industry so full of self-loathing?”

I found this to be the most interesting point made by Dacre. In a world where we are fighting our way through a perfect storm with one hand, we steadily undermine ourselves with a “drip, drip, drip of self denigration” in the other. What does Dacre mean by this? Essentially, he is referring to certain portions of the British press who make it their main-stay to look on other publications with disdain and to lament as a whole the state of British media.

In this sense, Dacre is worried there may be an element of self-prophesy. By writing, sneeringly, about the dumbing down of Britain and its newspapers, are certain journalists making matters worse?

I have no quick answer for this one. But the almost iconic status held by the Guardian among my journalism peers does worry me slightly. Not that I think it’s a bad paper, far from it. It’s more that I fear the narrow-mindedness of the next generation of journalists, carrying it as a banner of their integrity and intelligence…or could that read pretension?


Here’s a sample of Dacre’s speech I found on you-tube. This was the most covered aspect of his speech in the national press: