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Editor ‘hacked off’ by BBC journalism drama

Jacqui MerringtonA senior regional editor has hit out at the BBC journalism drama ‘Press’ claiming the series presents an outdated portrait of the industry as well as “making journalists out to be arseholes.”

The six-part series, which is due to conclude next week, focuses on the two fictional newspapers, the broadsheet Herald and the tabloid Post, thought to be thinly-diguised versions of The Guardian and The Sun.

But Jacqui Merrington, left, regional digital editor for Reach plc and editor of Cornwall Live, Devon Live and Plymouth Live, has criticised it for presenting a “tired” and “cliched” view of newsrooms, with barely a mention of websites.

Writing in Cornwall Live, Jacqui admits that while some aspects of the series are an accurate reflection of modern journalism, others are “spectacularly off key.”

Said Jacqui: “The programme engages with some big themes that ring true across many newsrooms. The tensions between the advertising department and editorial around placing a commercial wrap around the newspaper was almost spot on – barring the young commercial chap telling the editor she had no say in it anyway.

“Attempts to turn around sales, journalistic integrity and press regulation all feature strongly and deliver some home truths. But in other areas, it’s spectacularly off-key.

“There’s barely a mention of the websites, which in reality are now the beating heart of most newsrooms, with real-time audience data setting the news agenda, rather than the gut instincts of a Machiavellian editor like Duncan Allen.”

“It feels like creator Mike Bartlett, the dramatist behind Doctor Foster, has done his research – but probably by speaking to an assembly of embittered retired hacks, which means that although the drama is set in 2018, it actually feels like the Fleet Street of 20 years ago.”

Herald journalist Holly Evans, played by Charlotte Riley.  Picture: BBC

Herald journalist Holly Evans, played by Charlotte Riley. Picture: BBC

Jacqui also argued that the series risked exacerbating the “trust” problem faced by the media.

“The media already has a trust problem. In a febrile atmosphere permeated by cries of ‘fake news’ and in the aftermath of the successes of Donald Trump, Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn, journalism has taken a battering,” she wrote.

“In a poll released by Ipsos Mori late last year, just 27 per cent of Britons surveyed trust journalists to tell them the truth. Only politicians ranked lower in the survey of 998 adults quizzed.

“That’s not the same for the regional media, which on the whole has a far greater level of trust and confidence from the public. But we’re all tarred with the same brush. And Press has now really stuck the boot in.”

“As a journalist, it’s impossible not to get a bit defensive about a programme painting a dark picture of an industry I know so well. And I’m not alone in feeling a bit hacked off by it.

“I’m sure medical professionals feel the same way when Holby City or Casualty are on and I’ve no doubt police officers are throwing things at the TV during Line Of Duty.

“But journalism has changed beyond recognition. And this programme fails to appreciate that, dragging up some of the worst elements of journalism in the 1980s and setting them in the here and now.

“It’s made journalists out to be arseholes, doing nothing to help restore the battered reputation of an industry I know and love. And for that, I hate it.”


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  • October 5, 2018 at 1:59 pm

    I can see Jacqui’s point. Last night’s episode was quite ridiculous and extremely grim, as far as the Post hounding somebody to death and then bullying his mother into endorsing them.

    But I also think Jacqui is being slightly overly negative. The ongoing storyline about the rich businessman being exposed as an abusive womaniser demonstrated the good that the media can do. It looks like the Resonance storyline may be a similarly good example of the power and importance of investigative journalism. Both are stories that both the Post and the Herald are chasing.

    The conscience of the show is Holly Evans, a journalist intent on doing the right thing and fighting for positive change. She is backed by the underdog newspaper, The Herald. Both she and the paper are very sympathetic.

    The fact that there’s little mention of the websites is of no relevance, really, because the medium via which stories are published is quite boring. What’s interesting is how the stories are found.

    Does it perpetuate lazy, ridiculous stereotypes – particularly about tabloid papers? Yes. Absolutely. Lazy and hackneyed beyond belief. But I think the show has the potential to inspire a lot more people to support good journalism.

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  • October 5, 2018 at 2:08 pm

    Yeah, and I didn’t see anyone shooting upright ‘live’ wobblecam footage for an inane 12 minute live piece on a mobile either……………..

    “It’s made journalists out to be arseholes” Well, that’s the job of senior management!

    “an assembly of embittered retired hacks”
    Oh my! I’m a embittered curren hack!

    And as for not mentioning websites…… much money do they make? Let’s ask Unilad. Ooopppps!

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  • October 5, 2018 at 5:03 pm

    I think it’s important to remember that Press is not a documentary, but a drama designed for our entertainment. I like Press in the same way I enjoy Our Girl even if our army medic daughter says it has little basis in reality…

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  • October 5, 2018 at 5:06 pm

    As a journalist I’m sure I’d appreciate a drama about real time audience data.

    The general audience just want their preconceived ideas affirmed, specifically that we are all a bunch of ruthless bar stewards apart from a few worthy exceptions.

    And given that our industry generally panders to preconceived ideas and plays up stereotypes or exaggerates as much as possible/needed whenever sales and/or clicks are at stake I don’t think any of us are in a position to argue.

    It’s a work of fiction, much like some people who think they know newspapers would say journalism is.

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  • October 5, 2018 at 6:12 pm

    If journalism was really like Press then I’m sure there would be many more recruits entering the industry. Ok, it bears very little resemblance to the newsrooms I’ve worked in, but heck I’d rather work in these offices any day! Particularly love the cynical Post editor played by Ben Chaplin

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  • October 5, 2018 at 6:18 pm

    It is entertaining, but a load of nonsense, The editor of The Post wanted to do a spread over pages 5 and 6! Seriously?
    I spend most of the time saying ‘Oh FFS’ while watching it.

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  • October 8, 2018 at 11:29 am

    I find the programme a bit of entertaining nonsense and I think Jacqui is being a tad precious with her chosen profession. Is Casualty typical of a real NHS hospital? Do events in Line of Duty really reflect how the police service operates? I think the answers are a resounding NO, but they still make very good tv dramas – exactly like Press.

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  • October 8, 2018 at 12:15 pm

    For a drama featuring editorial excellence nothing comes closer to the truth than Drop The Dead Donkey. Scarily accurate. 😉

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  • October 8, 2018 at 3:47 pm

    If people like to check, I think this is filed under fiction.
    Newspaper owners have done more to damage journalism than this unlikely tale could ever manage.
    Have a laugh at it, but no need to worry folks!

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  • October 8, 2018 at 5:27 pm

    I particularly liked the way the naive female reporter (aka Dumpling) – who would have been completely out of her depth on any weekly paper – was promoted to a top newsdesk job on the national Herald.

    Nothing like enough glory shone on subs though!

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  • October 8, 2018 at 5:59 pm

    Websites the beating heart?
    More like the coronary gradually killing off the print industry.
    Jacqui is right that journalism has changed beyond recognition.
    But it’s a shame that she pours scorn on ’embittered retired hacks’, many of whom were excellent journalists before being made redundant, while lapping up the brave new digital world and luxuriating in two or more job titles.

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  • October 10, 2018 at 8:32 am

    Is it a true portrayal of modern journalism and newsrooms? – No

    Is The Apprentice made up of Britain’s best young business minds? – No

    Are both programmes “made more entertaining” for TV? – Of course they are

    The modern newsroom isn’t the buzz of hounding down the accused and front door death knocks any longer. It’s more like finding stories that will drive digital engagement. A true modern portrayal of a newsroom would not make good TV.

    Did this programme drive engagement? It seems it has!

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  • October 11, 2018 at 3:01 pm

    Let’s not forget, some journos are career-minded arseholes who will trample over anyone and anything to get a splash. I only have to look at the nationals’ take on several of our well-researched local stories over the years to see bullshit of the highest order in their stories.
    And there are plenty of journos like the central character in the drama who want good, factual news reporting correctly.
    As for websites being the ‘beating hearts’ of newsrooms, ask JP staff today if they still enjoy looking at how little money is coming in from the websites they are horsewhipped into filling every day.

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