So there I was last Thursday, enjoying my daily peruse of regional media news stories on HoldtheFrontPage, when a disturbing headline nearly made me choke on my coffee.
“What the hell is this all about?” I spluttered, quickly sharpening my mental pencil to express my opinion at the politician and news chief concerned.
Those of you who’ve read the article will already know that it reported the strange but true tale of Paul Flynn, Labour MP for Newport West, tabling an Early Day Motion (EDM) that congratulated South Wales Argus editor Kevin Ward on four years in his chair, and praised the paper’s “fair and commendable political balance”.
Excuse me while I’m sick… BLUURRR!
Don’t get me wrong: I’ve met and dealt with Kevin, below, in the past, both when he was in the chair at the Worcester News and in his current role, and I’ve no reason to believe he’s anything but a fine example of an editor.
It may have been justifiable for an MP to have tabled an EDM congratulating Peter Barron on retiring after 17 years as editor of the Northern Echo – and not just because 17 years is a tenure worth congratulating.
Peter was regularly in MPs’ black books for telling them where to get off with their London-centric policies, regardless of their party.
And so it would have been great, for instance, to read what James Wharton, the Tory MP for Stockton South and the supposed ‘Northern Powerhouse Minister’, thought about Peter’s enviable tenure in the House of Commons this week.
I say ‘great’, but it would also have been unlikely, given the regular rows that Peter’s Northern Echo has had with that particular MP, whose latest response was to call on local readers to boycott the paper.
Now that – in my humble opinion – is how editors should get on with local politicians: at best uncomfortably, at worst pretty badly, but certainly never in a way that might confuse a local reader.
An editor, I believe, should start any relationship with any politician of any party under a cloud of heavy distrust, and should make the councillor, mayor, MP, MEP, minister, prime minister (or whatever sort of politician they are) sweat profusely for local people before they ever earn the right to grace the paper under favourable headlines.
Even then, as soon as the said politician indicates any sort of cosiness, an editor should challenge their latest policy, get a cartoonist to lampoon their dress code and looks, and invite readers to tell him or her what action they want next.
An editor’s battle honours in politics should be politicians they’ve fallen out with, not ones who’ve mentioned them in dispatches.
Not that I’m saying there’s anything wrong with Newport MP Paul Flynn: for all I know, he’s quite possibly one of Wales’ better politicians.
But because he’s a politician – that profession that sets out to win votes regardless of facts – he needs to be handled (if we’re in a good mood) like the worst door-to-door vacuum salesman and (if we’re in a bad mood) like something you’re putting into a small black plastic bag.
As it was, I was left scratching my head at editor Kevin Ward’s response to the praise that was heaped upon him, saying – amongst other things – that he was “flattered”.
Yes, yes, I know it was all qualified, in that Kevin was pleased that his editorship and papers were seen as unbiased politically, and willing to give all parties a say.
That’s all well and good, but that sort of behaviour should really go without saying, shouldn’t it?
It’s not Kevin’s fault for being made the subject of an EDM, of course, but to me it was a bit like being congratulated by a defence counsel for carefully reporting a court case with evidence from both sides. Would that be flattering?
A better retort – surely – might have been to ignore what was (in my opinion) such a silly EDM and, if pressed, to make your comment one that invited the MP to answer angry questions at the next controversial public debate on Labour’s policies in Wales.
That way, no-one’s left in any doubt that you’re always watching, always suspecting and always scrutinising everything that any politician says, which is no bad place for an editor or a local newspaper to be.
But perhaps I’m being too pernickety: what do you think, HoldtheFrontPage readers?