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Friday, 6 September 2013

Dumb and dumber - or malicious?


Fr Ray Blake wrote a characteristically thoughtful and provocative post about the poor who turn up on his doorstep in Brighton. His article challenges romantic notions about the poor by detailing some of his experiences of the reality of helping poor people - which he does with heroism. He has to cope with lies, nuisance and mess, but his point he makes is that rather than become complacent, we must let the poor mess up our lives.

Enter Bill Gardner, journalist for The Argus in Brighton who writes a stupid article portraying Fr Blake as though he were simply attacking the poor. Fr Blake has replied in spirited fashion, inviting Mr Gardner to come and help with one or other of the projects that St Mary Magdalen's runs for the poor. (See, for example his thoughtful article on Soup Runs.) The Daily Mail has also run another stupid article in the same vein as Bill Gardner.

I don't agree with those who denigrate all journalists in response to this kind of thing. Many journalists of my acquaintance are good, honest people who want to provide a service to others by researching their stories well, portraying the truth, getting a human interest angle to interest readers, finding out a different view of things that can be included, and getting people to make comments. I am sometimes asked for comments myself. In these days of email, I try to persuade journalists that I will reply asap with something in writing: it is easy to make mistakes following a phone conversation. If the issue is wide-ranging, I sometimes send an email in the form "Fr Finigan said any or all of the following..." and give four or five separate sentences so that the journalist can choose.

Unfortunately there are some journalists who are not particularly interested in getting a genuinely good story but simply concerned to impress their editor with something that will look sensational enough to help sales of the paper. The Argus-Mail take on Fr Ray looks like an example of Dumb and Dumber, but realistically we have to say that it is simply malicious, unprincipled and a disgrace to a profession that labours under public criticism. I imagine that principled and honest journalists must be cursing those who sully their profession with the kind of rubbish that Fr Ray has been subjected to.
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