If the Express do make a better fist of apologising than the standard 'remove the article from the internet and it's all alright', I'll gladly tip my hat to them though.Well, yesterday's Scottish Sunday Express did indeed make a (slightly) better first of apologising, and you can read it here. I wasn't pushing for heads to roll or for Paula Murray to be publicly flogged, so I suppose I should be happy, but the nature of the apology leaves a bit of a bad taste in the mouth. It's hugely self-serving, the bulk of it being dedicated to talking about how the Scottish Sunday Express is a 'great newspaper' which has 'enjoyed a long love affair with the people of our nation' and 'established a reputation for crusading journalism'.
The apology does eventually get round to admitting that they 'got it all wrong', which is what we wanted them to acknowledge, but immediately goes back on the defensive by erecting the following enormous straw man; 'It is our belief that nobody was misquoted'. That was never the point. It was suggested that MSP Elizabeth Smith was quoted out of context (suggested, indeed, by Smith herself), but no-one ever sought to claim she didn't say what she said or that the quotes pulled from Facebook weren't accurate, and it was always a side-issue. It was about people being tired of a press which increasingly seems to be losing the ability to differentiate between deserving targets and innocent ones, between stories and non-stories, between scandalous behaviour and the utterly normal boozing of 18-year-olds. Or worse, papers who can distinguish between those things but carry on anyway, expecting to get away with it. As the press rails against ministers for claiming ridiculous expenses using the excuse that they operated within the rules, this was a chance to remind the press that just because it might be legal to publish details of these young people now they've turned 18, that doesn't make it the right thing to do.
Hopefully this will all get put to bed now, but it's been interesting while it lasted. It's got people talking (again) about the relative roles of the mainstream media and bloggers/the internet. It seems that the massive surge in interest in this story over the past week or so online may have played a role in getting an apology of reasonable-ish prominence (it was on page 5 and quite long, rather than buried in the letters pages). We shouldn't overstate the case, but the the petition (currently just past the 10,000 signatures barrier) and the intervention of high-profile folks like Graham Linehan getting the word out probably helped (Linehan certainly helped me at any rate; my comments exploded briefly after he re-tweeted one of my entries). All this is good news for bloggers, and sometimes it's tempting to get overexcited about the role of new media like this. The internet, when mobilised, is proving a great way of organising responses, correcting facts and exploding myths, and the best bloggers are often hugely more entertaining and thorough than their hamstrung mainstream counterparts, partly because we don't have to spend most of our time copying out Reuters reports or talking about Jade Goody when we couldn't give a shit. There are certain benefits to writing for the love of it/because you have something to say, which you can lose to an extent when going professional and having to work to tight deadlines.
That said, most of us don't want to see the mainstream media die (not least because I'd have to find something else to moan about). What we can hopefully achieve is some greater quality control. Maybe, just maybe, more outrages like this might end up with the Paula Murrays of this world doing proper investigative journalism instead of poring over the Facebook accounts of people who were once nearly killed and really ought to be left alone. If there's a message that comes out of the ongoing Internet vs Print Journalism wars, hopefully it will be that journalists need to up their game. Make your USP the fact that you can do better research than the average blogger, or write more eloquently. Uncover the real hidden stories which we don't have time, contacts or ability for, go after the real shitbags, and then write about them in a compelling way. People will continue to pay for quality, so let's have it, and remember that when you try and foist too much shit on people, they will let you know about it.