The Farnham Diary: Police, Social Media & Modern Writing

Post length: 875 words, almost 4 minutes.

Each month I eagerly await the thud of The Farnham Diary dropping onto the doormat. Not for the news and local information it contains but for the pedantic nit-picking and the no-holds-barred comment section “View Point.” (There is also the excellent “Bricks and mortar reporter” section which, as an amateur town planner and fully signed up, card-carrying, curtain twitching nosy neighbour, makes up for the fact I don’t have the time to stroll around town and take note of which shops have opened and which have closed recently.) This month’s edition proved not to be a let down.

In the View Point section (pages 10 and 11 of the digital version, above) under the heading “Spaying it around…” was printed a quotation from what seems to be a press update sent by the Farnham Neighbourhood Police Team to local newspapers. The quotation in question was asking editors to assist the police in raising awareness of the existence a of police office in the local fire station. The plea was casual and light-hearted, using a reference to the town’s old police station — the closure and ongoing physical state of which is a contentious issue in the town — to make a very valid point: there there is still a local police presence in Farnham.

Rather than try to congratulate the Neighbourhood Police Team on sending such an update to the local print media, however, The Farnham Diary’s editor, Ted Parratt, used the opportunity to critisise the update: “Stephanie’s summary, as we know it here, gives a slightly gossipy review of events without the ‘actionable’ data which journalists usually need.” While the document sent out by the police might not have been as good as it could have been — I haven’t seen it so can’t comment myself — shouldn’t we be both congratulating the local police for attempting to raise their profile and reassuring the community while informing residents of their activities, as well as encouraging future updates to be perhaps a little more print-ready? Furthermore is it not the job of a journalist to pick up those stories which are of interest to them and do some investigation themselves? I have no doubt that Sgt. Saunders would have been delighted to receive a phone call from a fastidious journalist telling her they read of something they thought would make an informative article in her latest news update and would like to know a little more detail. Perhaps The Farnham Diary would prefer all their stories to be handed to them pre-written, fully referenced and with all facts cast-iron checked, regardless of the relevance to the community the paper serves.

Maybe I’m missing the point. As Ted’s opinion article rambles on it takes aim at social media and the perceived harm it does to traditional media. Relating it to the opening of the piece he asserts “I was not so keen on her reference to comments about local CCTV on Facebook” and goes on to qualify this: “‘plugging’ social media cannot help local newspapers.” Further, he bemoans the decline in local coverage and something he refers to as “depth of ideas.” Putting aside the wealth of local coverage more easily accessible than ever thanks to social media and the free access afforded to all from digital publication of academic and scientific papers, perhaps it is the perceived threat to traditional local newspapers, one of which Mr Parratt is of course the editor of, that is really bothering him.

(As a side note, Mr Parratt’s use of the recent theft of ebay password to illustrate how printed newspapers represent higher levels of security than the internet is, quite simply, absurd. There is no comparison. For a start ebay offers services (and indeed day-to-day security) that a newspaper simply cannot, and therefore needs to hold more sensitive personal details than a printed newspaper. Moreover any organisation is at risk from theft. If someone were to steal the keys to the office of the a newspaper and then take the contact and bank details of their advertisers, would the blame be laid at the door of the media the end product was published with — paper and ink — or would it simply be a crime?)

Of course having this opinion of social media, and indeed of the internet as a whole, is fine. And of course Ted Parratt has every right to use the comment section of his newspaper to express his views. What I find objectionable is the way in which he uses a briefing, written in good faith by the local Neighbourhood Police Team with the intention of assisting the local press and community alike, to grind his own barely related axe. Perhaps next time Mr Parratt feels aggrieved by the style of a piece of source material provided to him and wishes to express his dislike for both modern writing and media he should do just that, excluding needless attacks on named individuals or organisations. He could then take a moment to re-write the part of the briefing which he finds of interest to suit his publication’s intended audience and use it to both inform the local community — the apparent aim of his publication, after all — and fill further column inches in his newspaper.

Posted on Tuesday 24th June, 2014 at 8:54 am in Obiter dicta.
It was tagged with , , , , .

Leave a comment