I have started an argument with an online news editor.
I could have done a thousand other things but the voice inside my head said: “Go for it! Speak up NOW!”
This is the same voice that once advised me to accuse a policeman of lying on oath while I was standing in the dock and had already managed to annoy the judge.
This voice also advised me to confront two street robbers who held very long knives and were in the process of throwing a mini cab driver onto a railway line.
This voice gets me into trouble but it also saves my soul. It allows me to confront and to question when the easy way out is to ignore or withdraw.
The online news editor – we shall call him by his acronym ‘ONE’ , is a reasonable, educated and good – natured soul. I know this for a fact because of ONE’s replies so far.
ONE has enough to do already without needing to waste time engaged in spurious debates with strangers. ONE’s replies to my criticism have been in the form of questions. ONE moves the debate between us onward with intelligence and good humour and I try to respond in the same way.
I hope I succeed because if I do not, I know that ONE will spot the crack in my armour and a spear will dispatch me in an instant. I am certain that I would do the same if I get the chance.
Now, I am going to reveal what I am arguing with ONE about. Perhaps, you will suddenly see me in a different way.
We are arguing over the use of the question mark.
For a journalist, the question mark is sacred. It drives their world, their identity and their reason for turning up for work each day. They ask questions.
For a reader, the question mark is an outrage. A reader seeks answers. We only read because we already have a question mark in our head. We are trying to remove the damned thing.
ONE writes headlines with a question mark at the end.
I don’t like this. I tell ONE that it is not the job of a journalist. Journalists should not write headlines that end in a question mark.
ONE replies to me:
I instantly adore ONE’s answer and I want to frame it. Behind a sheet of slate.
“Because I believe that the essence of reportage is to provide answers, not debate uncertainty”
ONE replies to me:
“Agreed, reports should probably explain rather than pose questions, but surely Twitter is not reportage?????????”
I chew over my relationship with Twitter before suggesting to him:
“It evolves as we use it, changing from look-at-me platform to echo-platform to breaking-newsroom. Hot news at its best, period.”
ONE has better things to do and goes off and does them.
I use the time to write this post on my WordPress blog and clarify my battle plans. Have I won my point? I doubt it.
ONE has asked the Big Question.
Is Twitter reportage?
The word reportage is defined as the means of reporting news.
ONE is making an important point here.
ONE is suggesting that Twitter does not itself report news but is instead, something other. Twitter is a ‘platform’, a soap-box on which we can all stand and shout.
ONE is suggesting that Twitter is the means by which we link to news. It is not the news report itself.
ONE is pointing out that by capturing our attention with a question mark, we will follow the link to the report and read the story. ONE is selling the story on Twitter and not reporting it.
Now, this is a wonderful day for me and ONE to be slugging this argument out. Why? Because yesterday morning, Margaret Thatcher died of a stroke. Thatcher was once a famous and powerful British Prime Minister.
Margaret Thatcher’s death is just a simple and natural occurrence. We get old and we die. It happens to us all.
But Thatcher’s death has unleashed a huge news battle across the internet and the lives of those in Britain. Some welcome her death and others mourn it.
Those that welcome her death do so because the secrets that she hid from the world when she was a powerful leader are now one step closer to being released for the press to report. Many of these secret documents can only be released after her death.
Those that mourn her death are the ones who broadly benefit from those secrets staying locked away.
The most powerful interests are held by the press who wish to maintain her image as a force for good.
The weakest footing is held by those who cannot argue their case until all the documents she hid away are revealed to the world and become common knowledge for the first time.
You see, Thatcher used her power to suppress facts from being reported that might harm her power to rule or cause unrest among the already angry sections of Britain’s population.
Those among us who personally witnessed the gross censorship and distortion of news under her rule are powerless to speak out because our evidence is locked away in dusty vaults.
We purse our lips as her powerful friends weep Hollywood tears at her passing so that they gain a better seat at her funeral wake.
We wait until we can question what actually went on in secret and get an answer. We cannot do this yet because the facts are still withheld from the journalists who will reveal them. Some files are locked away for seventy years.
One day they will come out. One day, the news will be more truthful than it is today.
ONE is right.
Twitter is just a railway station where trains carrying truth arrive and depart. We get on them if we choose and we are transported to where we want to be. ONE is just a guard with a flag, shouting the destinations and helping people get on board. You want to go here? Get on this carriage. You want to go there? Next train.
But Twitter has one unique element.
It is not owned by the wealthy and influential news groups who have an interest in pitching a certain version of the truth.
Twitter is the place where truth, lies and fantasy are all available and we are allowed to choose. Where the process of news starts and where it is advertised once it is ready for us to read it.
In between us and our news is a man or a woman who has to ask questions on our behalf.
And ONE has to occasionally ask us questions to make sure that we are listening.
And a truth unspoken is a lie that sleeps.