Kelner, left, says tabloids such as Morgan’s Mirror, create a poor image
Journalism needs to lose its nasty streak and journalists their image of “sneering, aggressive little animals” if they are to win back the confidence of readers and viewers, according to Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan.
In the final session of the conference, entitled “Why don’t they trust us?”, Morgan suggested a number of faults that meant readers were losing confidence in both tabloid and broadsheet newspapers:
Promising what you cannot deliver. Too often, he said, headlines and frontpage teasers built reader expectations higher than the story warranted. A “Blair’s Viagra shame” teaser, for example, referred to a limp story about some pills being sent in the post, which the Prime Minister gave to Alastair Campbell.
Not saying sorry often enough. Most national newspaper first editions are “riddled with errors”, yet only the Mirror and The Guardian carry regular corrections columns.
Being too nasty. Journalists need to shed their image of being “sneering, aggressive little animals”, which does not appeal to the public. Too often, Morgan said, in high-profile cases such as John Leslie’s, he hears celebrities say: “The public were great. It was just the papers that were awful.” Morgan added: “At our worst we’re like a school bullyâ€¦ we tend to thump anything that gets in our way. We might be better off, when we nail public figures to the floor, if we didn’t look like we were enjoying it so much.”
Excessive navel gazing. “No industry beats itself up more than we do,” he said of the industry gossip written by the broadsheets, which sends a poor image to readers.
But on the same platform, Independent editor Simon Kelner said the redtop tabloids were largely to blame. “The excesses of one sector have contaminated the public trust for all of us,” he argued.
Although some errors, such as The Sun’s “Bonkers Bruno” headline, were written under deadline pressure and quickly rectified, others – such as the News of the World’s name and shame campaign – were not mistakes made in the heat of the moment.
Some redtop asylum coverage, Kelner said, “borders on incitement to racial hatred”. “It’s such a cut-throat battle for the hearts and wallets of the reading public that editors push the boundaries of taste, ethics, even the law of the land, looking to be distinctive,” he said.
Kelner also criticised the tabloids’ use of long-lens photography.
This provoked Morgan to attack the “rank hypocrisy” of the broadsheet press in the way it covers so-called “tabloid” stories – and particularly in their use of photography. About half of all celebrity long-lens pictures were set up by the celebrities, he claimed, and the public “don’t give a monkey’s”.
Although the tabloids are often berated for this, Morgan said, “I don’t believe the Mirror has published a single picture that falls outside the Press Complaints Commission code in the past five years.”
It was “glib and easy”, Morgan said, to criticise the tabloids, “but the broadsheets need to clean up their act” just as much, in particular in the way they use pictures that intrude into grief.
He singled out the The Daily Telegraph’s serialisation of a book by Trevor Rees-Jones, Princess Diana’s bodyguard, which was illustrated with 20 “intrusive’ pictures of the princess. “They did not seem to see a problem with that,” Morgan said.
By Ian Reeves