The press: The 'Daily Mirror' Slickers need a better excuse than this

Financial journalists are not share-tipping, says John Murray
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The Independent Online

James Hipwell, erstwhile "City Slicker", is an amiable fellow who is to be admired for getting on with life while the DTI investigation into the Daily Mirror share-tipping scandal has hung over his head.

James Hipwell, erstwhile "City Slicker", is an amiable fellow who is to be admired for getting on with life while the DTI investigation into the Daily Mirror share-tipping scandal has hung over his head.

Many will sympathise with him as he faces the prospect of being prosecuted for share-ramping. By his own admission, he used the column he co-wrote with Anil Bhoyrul in the Mirror to promote companies in which he sometimes owned shares.

But much of that sympathy will have evaporated when last week he sought to divert attention from his own failings by attacking the fundamental ethics and integrity of financial journalism in this country.

Hipwell's defenceis that his behaviour as a "Slicker" was no different from what is done by his peers in other newspapers.

"Maybe City journalism as we know it should come under the spotlight, because I have done nothing that a multitude of other financial hacks haven't been doing themselves," he told BBC Radio 4. "Share-ramping, insider dealing goes on in the City every day - and for the DTI to proceed against two tabloid journalists when this is going on in the City on a massive scale every day seems to me absolutely crazy."

Well, this is like a burglar saying: "Although you've got me bang to rights, it's not a fair cop, Guv, because what about all those other villains out there burgling tonight who you've failed to nick?"

Actually it's worse than that because the analogy doesn't hold in this case - it is simply not true that financial journalism is awash with hacks lining their own pockets.

And for those cynics who prefer to think the worst of the fourth estate, let me tell you why Hipwell was not a credible source on this subject. He was not an experienced financial journalist and the City Slickers column was not financial journalism.

What Hipwell and Bhoyrul did was publish a daily tip-sheet. Newspaper financial sections carry investment columns, which advise on shares, because that is what readers want. But those columns are only a small element in a sea of reporting and commentary on business, the City and the economy. Most financial journalists spend their time doing far more prosaic things than ringing around in search of hot tips for their readers. They do the difficult work of making sense of what is going on in companies, what their results mean and what their strategy is for the future.

Moreover, most financial journalists don't have the time, the money or the inclination to deal in shares. They are also very rarely privy to insider information. The only reason the Slickers' tips sometimes did well was because tipping them in the Mirror created a self-fulfilling prophecy. That was possible because the paper cottoned on to the modish mania for share-trading at the feverish fag-end of a bull market, at a time when everybody thought they could get rich quick.

One good aspect of this lamentable affair is it prompted newspaper groups to formalise codes of conduct for financial journalists, codes which existed informally anyway. There must be some financial journalists who have abused their position in the way that Hipwell suggests, but to claim such practices are rampant, without producing a jot of evidence, is a self-serving but ultimately self-defeating fantasy.

John Murray is a partner in Powerscourt, a financial public relations practice. He is a former business journalist on 'The Independent' and City editor of the 'Daily Express'

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