Stephen Glover on The Press

The press has a new growth area – writing about itself on Wikipedia
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The Independent Online

Which is the issue that obsesses journalists more than any other? Expenses? Class? Global warming? The Daily Mail? Possibly. But I would suggest there is one subject that looms much larger in their anxious minds. Wikipedia.

My impression is that some journalists think about little else than the on-line encyclopaedia. Are they in it? If so, is their entry being tampered with by hostile forces? If they are not included, why not? Should they in that case write their own entries, or will this little act of vanity be exposed in a gossip column?

Skimming through Wikipedia, I am amazed by the unequalness of entries. For example, in the small world of parliamentary sketch writers you will find that Simon Hoggart of the Guardian has a very ample entry, while the Daily Mail's Quentin Letts has a more modest one. Andrew Gimson of the Daily Telegraph and Ann Treneman of the Times have only a few lines each. But my old friend Simon Carr, this newspaper's brilliant sketch writer, is not mentioned at all.

Variations amongst columnists are no less striking. The longest entry I have been able to find – there may be longer ones – is David Aaronovitch of The Times. It is over 1,600 words, and split into seven sections, the last of which is 'Further Reading.' We learn that David attended Gospel Oak primary school until 1965, and was a member of the 1975 Manchester University team on University Challenge which lost in the first round. We are not spared the ins and outs of his journalistic odyssey, and are treated to long quotes from his columns. It is difficult to believe that David himself did not have a considerable input into his write-up.

Other lengthy entries include the Times's Matthew Parris (who once jumped into the Thames to rescue a dog), the Guardian's Polly Toynbee (she did not complete her degree at Oxford) and this newspaper's Johann Hari (a double first at King's College, Cambridge). It is again hard to imagine that these luminaries did not make their own contributions.

Yet there are striking omissions. Why has the London Evening Standard's Anne McElvoy not penned an entry? The Financial Times's Philip Stephens, whom one might have expected to have as discursive a biography as Mr Aaronovitch, has nothing at all. Other odd omissions include Peter Wright, editor of the Mail on Sunday (perhaps Wikipedia thinks editors don't count) and Peter McKay of the Daily Mail, though there is a deceased Scottish footballer of that name. Nor could I find any mention of the Daily Telegraph's political cartoonist Nick Garland, though his son, the novelist Alex Garland, has an entry.

Perhaps those who have very short write-ups, or are not included, should take comfort. If you have no entry, it may suggest that you are too obscure to warrant inclusion. On the other hand, a reluctance to drone on about your elementary schooling might imply certain modesty in your part. Inclusion carries perils: there are stories of entries being tampered with by hostile hands; my Daily Mail colleagues Petronella Wyatt and Amanda Platell are said to have suffered in this way. Much better out than in, I would say, which is why I am perfectly content with my own entry. The only Stephen Glover I can find is a songwriter based in Brisbane, Australia, who is also a licensed kangaroo shooter.

Is this a new low for the Thunderer?

The other day I was idly watching one of the Sky Sports channels when I saw an extraordinary advertisement for The Times' Monday sports supplement, The Game.

A man is sitting on a lavatory with his trousers round his ankles. He is reading The Game. Suddenly he realises there isn't any lavatory paper. He looks at his newspaper, obviously wondering whether to use it to wipe his bottom. But he decides against, evidently regarding it as too precious to be employed for such a task, and pulls up his trousers with a grimace, his bottom unwiped.

This advertisement breaks what I had understood to be a cardinal rule. It makes you feel bad – or it did me – about the thing being advertised. Yuck! Even worse, from my point of view, is that this thing should be The Times, once venerable and still substantial. How on earth did this advert get through?

Revealed: Sir Max's MoD dinners

Last week, The Times ran a "splash" about a speech made in June by General Sir Richard Dannatt, head of the Army, from which the media had been excluded by the Ministry of Defence. Obtained by the newspaper under the Freedom of Information Act, Sir Richard's speech foresaw a "generation of conflict" but was upbeat about British involvement in Afghanistan.

Readers of the Daily Mail may have found some of his remarks familiar. On 20 August, the Mail ran an article by Sir Max Hastings, drawing on an encounter he had had with Sir Richard Dannatt, which contained some of the same thoughts, most notably his optimism about Afghanistan. It is odd that the MoD should have kept journalists away from Sir Richard's earlier speech, while allowing him to dilate to Sir Max.

I also wonder whether Sir Max is aware that recent meetings he has had with Sir Richard, as well as with the Adjutant-General, Lt-Gen Sir Freddie Viggers, have been enumerated in Hansard, the parliamentary record, as a consequence of questions by the Labour MP Kevan Jones.

We know, for example, that Sir Max saw Sir Richard on a visit to Germany in September 2006. Between May 2006 and March 2007, Sir Max met Sir Freddie three times. The second time, on 17 October 2006, they were joined by General Sir Mike Jackson, Sir Ronnie Hempel, and "senior military personnel" for drinks (£26.62) and dinner (£113.10).

I must say, I think Sir Max is entitled to complain that what he probably assumed were private meetings should be made public in this way. A military expert who is familiar with the thinking of generals does not expect to have his cover blown.

scmgox@aol.com

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