Sunday, November 26, 2006
The first thing I do each morning after switching on the laptop is to go to Sky News's splendid daily home page feature. It's the internet equivalent of the display of newspapers outside a newsagent. I like to scan the headlines from across the entire spectrum of the UK press, thus quickly apprising myself of what is flavour of the day.
But sadly there is a downside to this, and it's been there now for too long. Far be it from me to jeopardise the supply of someone's bread and butter, but the person who writes Sky's little comments on each paper's front page is not quite, how can one put this, not quite the sharpest knife in the drawer.
Today was a case in point. The Mail on Sunday was the third of 7 Sunday newspapers to be given the quick once over. You can see the headline: "SUSHI BAR MAN IS NUCLEAR WASTE EXPERT".
And what was Sky's comment ?
"The Mail on Sunday claims the former KGB agent who died last week is a "former nuclear waste expert".
So someone who works for Sky, despite all their journalistic exposure, has confused Alexander Litvinenko, the former Russian spy ( who finally succumbed last week to poisoning with radioactive polonium-210) with the contact that he met in the sushi bar.
The Sky staffer concerned seems to have missed entirely the strap above the headline that reads: "Exclusive: mysterious past of last man to meet dead Russian"
So anyone reading Sky News who does not check what the Mail actually said, will go away with the idea , perhaps, that Litvinenko was a victim of his own expertise, and indeed may speculate whether it was an accident or possibly even suicide.
To complicate matters, there is indeed one newspaper that is suggesting the latter, claiming that Litvinenko may have been prepared to sacrifice his own life simply to spite President Vladimir Putin, whom he reportedly knew personally from his KGB days.
But that angle does not get a mention in the Mail article, so Sky's hapless editorial assistant cannot claim that as an excuse.
I would not be taking this harsh tone if today's was an isolated incident. Sadly, it is not. These misreadings, misinterpretations of newspaper headlines have been going on sporadically for many months.
From time to time, I have felt sufficiently aerated to contact Sky and point out these errors (both as regards the headlines and home page generally). The result is the same in all cases : no correction is ever made. All that one ever receives is an auto acknowledgement thanking one for the interest, and that can take a week - or even two- to arrive. I no longer bother using Sky's contact facility.
Now you listen here, Sky News: those newspaper headlines can be thought of as a kind of shopwindow for UK journalism. They are read by folk abroad as well as at home. In using facsimiles of the front pages to brighten up your home page, you have a duty and responsibility to interpret those headlines correctly. Instead, what do you do ? You advertise the defects of your human resources department, the shortcomings of Britain's education system, or possibly both.
If you want someone, once described by his younger brother as a "news junkie", to write your comments, then I offer my services - for a modest fee.
ed 9.30 pm Sunday: It's 10 hours since sending an email to email@example.com. Back came the usual autoacknowledgement, but the object of the complaint has remained up all day. There is clearly no system for making corrections in response to user comment. If Sky News won't take its responsibilities seriously, then why should anyone take SkyNews seriously ? What a casual slipshod organization !
The Mail on Sunday opened a thread on Alexander Litvinenko, but has posted only 2 comments. The one I sent, pointing out SkyNews's cockup, did not get published. The sticking point is probably the inclusion of one's blog URL. Both the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday appear to be blogger-averse.