Sunday Telegraph editor Ian Macgregor (left) was our guest at a power lunch in Westminster this week. His topic was “The importance of journalism in modern society”.
And of course, that’s a topic that Telegraph have earned a right to talk about in the last couple of months, with their brilliantly handled investigation into MPs expenses. There’s no question the story has been good for the Telegraph’s business, winning them many thousands of new readers. But I also think they have performed a genuine public service, by making people realize that you just can’t trust politicians to be responsible with taxpayers’ money.
Moreover, this precisely is the sort of thing that newspapers should be doing. My own view is that the media has been far too supine over the past decade, much too content to simply act as a broadcasting service for the government. The Telegraph’s expenses splash is a welcome step in the right direction.
That said, I don’t know whether it’s going to mark a lasting change in the all-too-cosy relationship between politicians and journalists. It’s one of the big problems with the way Westminster operates today – ministers leak stories to favoured journalists before making announcements to Parliament, journalists build their careers on these political connections, and then if they step out of line their supply of insider information gets cut off.
New House of Commons speaker John Bercow is making the right noises, saying he’ll take a tough line on ministers who speak to the media before Parliament, but that alone won’t be enough to change the spin culture. The real hope has to be that the media will see the success the Telegraph has had with its expenses revelations, and realize that the public wants to read proper, value-added journalism, and not just recycled press releases.
Ultimately, if they want to survive the competition from online news sources, I can’t help thinking that’s the way the press need to do it.