Too many 'two-ways' soften political news

Jones: retires from BBC this week

Hard-hitting journalism is more difficult to do because of the increased number of live two-ways between political journalists and studio presenters, BBC political correspondent Nick Jones has claimed.

Jones, who is retiring from the BBC this week aged 60, said that when he first worked as a political correspondent, in 1974, 80 per cent of his reports were scripted.

In recent years, that figure has dropped to about a third as the amount of "conversational" reporting he is asked to do has increased.

"I know people think that this is more accessible and you only have to look at the success of News 24 and Radio Five Live to see there is a demand for that approach," said Jones. "But as a practitioner I regret that I’m not able to do as many considered packages as I used to because you can’t be as hard-hitting when you talk conversationally – you often walk away thinking you didn’t quite hit the button."

He added: "If you have time to sweat over writing a story in which you are criticising someone, then you can be a lot more precise and make sure you hit the target."

Jones, who has written a number of books, including The Control Freaks and Sultans Of Spin on the relationship between the media and government, acknowledged there was a need to examine how the BBC reported politics. The low turnout in the 2001 General Election was "an indictment of people like me", he claimed.

But Jones, the brother of Daily Telegraph political correspondent George Jones, said he had seen a fall in the standard of political journalism since he first entered the House of Commons gallery in 1968 as a reporter for The Times.

He believes the Government’s manipulation of the media – particularly the tendency of the Prime Minister’s head of communications, Alastair Campbell, to give off-the-record briefings to lobby journalists – is to blame.

"Day after day we have exclusive stories for which there is no attribution," said Jones. "The Prime Minister criticises the media for falling standards, but the Government could really take a lead by deciding to do away with off-the-record briefings and have Campbell and his team of political advisers speak on the record."

Jones joined the BBC as a news producer for Radio Leicester in 1972 and went on to win awards for his reporting of the miners’ strike as industrial correspondent, a post he held for 10 years.

Jones, who was also political correspondent for the BBC from 1974 until 1975, said he would like to continue making documentaries for the BBC and writing about the media.

A former Portsmouth Evening News and Oxford Mail journalist, before he moved to The Times, he also said he hoped to write a book on the 1984 to 1985 miners’ strike and is considering writing a memoir of his years at Westminster.

By Julie Tomlin

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