George Jones: Political doyen is reborn for the digital age

George Jones of the 'Telegraph' covered Westminster for decades. The Press Association sees him as the perfect analyst for the modern media era, writes Andy McSmith

There are two institutions that political journalists never expected would change. One is the Press Association, a news service whose output has reached almost every newspaper reader in the country at some time or another, though few of them know it. The other is George Jones, for years the evergreen political editor of The Daily Telegraph.

Since it was bought by the Barclay Brothers, the Telegraph has been through a convulsion. A large number of journalists have moved on. Eventually, even George Jones, who was heading the newspaper's political team when Arthur Scargill was leading the great miners' strike, packed his bags. The days when you could not turn to a news page in The Daily Telegraph without seeing the words "by George Jones" or turn on a rolling news channel without seeing Jones commenting on the day's developments are over.

Meanwhile, those who thought that the Press Association was simply a team of reporters with faultless shorthand who took down long quotations that other reporters lifted without acknowledgement are mistaken. The old PA, which will be 140 next year, has moved into the digital age. It is the supplier of that five-day-a-week text, video and picture news service on AOL, the Big Story; it also supplies news output for MSN and Tiscali.

And Jones, his solid lifetime of old-fashioned newspaper reporting in tow, will add gravitas to this new enterprise. As PA's special correspondent, he will lay on punchy 30-second or three-minute instant analyses of political events. It is, he confesses, different from journalism as he knew it when he left school.

"I started as a journalist at the age of 18 in 1963, the year President Kennedy was shot," Jones says. "I have seen enormous changes. Throughout my career in newspapers, people have said newspapers will never survive. First of all television was going to kill newspapers. Then the internet was going to kill them. I don't think it will, but the way people get news has changed.

"There is no longer a fixed point of the day when people expect to get their news. Once upon a time, the morning newspaper was when you got your news. Then people would wait for The Six O'Clock News or Nine O'Clock News. Now you can sit at your desk and have news when you like."

Although the new job means that he will be based at the PA headquarters near London's Victoria Station, he will still have the lobby pass that gives him access to the Commons, his place of work for 34 of his 44 years in journalism. In 1973, he joined The Times as part of its 10-strong team of what were then called gallery reporters. His colleagues included his older brother, Nick, who went on to become a BBC journalist, and John Deans, formerly of the Daily Mail, who now runs the Conservative Party press office. Phil Webster, the present political editor of The Times, joined later.

The team had to jot down every word said in the House of Commons, write it up on manual typewriters, and place the copy in a basket, which a messenger would take across the room to the teleprinter (Fleet Street demarcation rules forbade the journalists to hand their copy directly to the teleprinter operator). The operator punched the copy into the machine, and it came up on tape in The Times office, where another messenger was employed to tear the copy off and into a basket, and yet another messenger to take it from the basket to the sub-editors' desk.

"The first line of the copy you wrote was 'The Speaker took the chair at half past two o'clock'," Jones recalls. "You wrote it out like that. And if you were on the late shift, the last thing you wrote was 'The House adjourned at 11.30, or 12.30, or whenever it was.

"There weren't names attached in the paper in those days. You just had 'by our political correspondent'. The lobby was a highly secretive organisation, still almost operating on the kind of rules which enabled the Wallis Simpson affair not to be reported. But that all went with the expansion of the media."

In the 1970s, newspapers were most people's only source of detailed information about the working of the House of Commons. Coverage of the speeches and other Commons business filled an entire page of the old broadsheet Times. Now, MP speeches are barely covered by the print media at all, as Tony Blair pointed out in the valedictory speech in which he attacked journalists as "feral beasts" and singled out The Independent to illustrate what he thinks has gone wrong with newspapers.

Blair had a point, in Jones's opinion, but he was the wrong man to be making it, given how little respect he showed Parliament during his 10 years as Prime Minister. The fact that newspapers have stopped covering Parliament in detail, Jones says, is just an indication that Parliament has lost influence. As, he says, have political journalists at newspapers.

"Now, broadcast journalists are far more important than newspaper journalists. So at the Prime Minister's press conference, you get a question from Nick Robinson, then Adam Boulton, then, um who's the ITN political editor Tom Bradby, sorry and then channel Five," he said. "Newspaper correspondents come way down the order of priority. That's not a complaint, it's just an observation. It's a reflection of the fact that politicians now see television as their main medium.

"Even in the short time that I've been with PA, I've alsonoticed that politicians are prepared to talk and give interviews online they recognise that there is an audience out there. I think it's different from a newspaper audience; it may well be different from a TV audience. I think online is bringing in a new audience.

"People of my generation are visitors to the digital age. Anybody who has got children under about 20 knows they are citizens of the digital age. They may pick up a newspaper occasionally, but I don't think they are going to be regular newspaper readers. There is a generation coming that expects to get their information digitally. For me, this is a great opportunity to have a new start."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Database Executive - Leading Events Marketing Company - London

£23000 - £25000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Databas...

Recruitment Genius: Publishing Assistant

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for a...

Guru Careers: Graduate Account Executive / Digital Account Executive

£20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Digital Account Exec ...

Guru Careers: Print Project Manager

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: A Print Project Manager is needed to join one...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living