This is not journalism

Reporting what you are told by one person without any research or critical questioning  just because you like what they are saying is not journalism.  Yet it is happening more and more frequently in the Daily Mail who are now demonstrating that they will print anything – no matter how incredulous – as long as it supports their core narratives. Take this story currently enjoying a lot of exposure – and a great deal of outraged comments on the Daily Mail website: ‘‘£500-a-week? I can earn more on benefits!’, unemployed driver tells stunned haulage boss‘.

The whole article is based entirely on the account of one man – Graham Poole, managing director of a small haulage firm – who claims that:

[he] was left stunned after an unemployed driver rejected the offer of a job paying more than £500 a week so he could remain on benefits…

Furious Mr Poole said: ‘What is wrong with this country. I was offering him more than £500 a week before tax.

‘It is no wonder that so many people are out of work when others are allowed to blatantly refuse to work because their benefits are higher’

Reporting Graham Poole’s assertions as if they are absolute fact is not journalism. We have no evidence that this interview ever took place or that this person – if they exist – is better off on benefits. Yet the Daily Mail is happy to use this account – which is essentially gossip – as evidence for their general narrative that benefits are so generous that they are worth more than £500 a week.

Obviously they get some help from a couple of rentaquotes. First up is the Small Business Federation, who rather than act as a serious organisation and refuse to comment on one man’s story, they actually have grave concerns:

‘With unemployment so high and full-time jobs so hard to come by, there is clearly too much dependency on the benefits system if people can turn down well paid, full-time work.

‘The FSB welcomes coalition government proposals to extend the time that benefits can be cut for people who turn down a full-time position from six months to three years.’

Then there is the obvious quotations from the Taxpayers Alliance, who are naturally outraged:

‘This case shows how desperately the welfare system in this country needs to be reformed as there are currently people trapped on benefits.

‘Taxpayers will be angry that they are going out to work, while others are getting just as much money without taking a job.

‘The government needs to make it pay for people to go out and work.

‘People should be better off if they have a job than if they stay at home on benefits.’

Writing this blog for well over a year now and I’ve seen some horrifically poor journalism – manipulated statistics, pure inventions about Muslims, health and safety, political correctness, swine flu and of course the huge amount of pure unverified churnalism that makes up the bulk of the content – but this just feels as low as it can get for Daily Mail journalism. This is just taking someone’s word for it, purely because they are saying the right thing.

I know this is not the first story of its kind – we all know the invented story about the tale of a mum who had claimed her son was ordered off a bus, apparently by a ‘Polish or East European’ driver, because he was wearing an ‘offensive’ England shirt. But it does seem to be a bit of an evolution of the way this journalism is carried out, the lesson from the Polish bus driver story was in order for this kind of story to be effective it must not involve an organisation that can check facts and defend itself – which led to the debunking of the Polish bus driver story. Instead it must only involve the word of someone who cannot be fact-checked – like, for example the managing director of a small haulage firm who just happens to get his company name and truck into the paper for moaning about benefits scroungers.

I’m not saying this story is not true, I’m just saying that there is no possible way to verify that it is or isn’t; in which case it should not be printed. I know I’m repeating myself, but it is worth saying over and over again: this is not journalism. Not even close.

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