Letter from the Editor: The shocking events that trump politics

When tragedy strikes, it makes a lot of news seem trivial. But it's all about balance


Morning all. In the final chapter of his wonderful history of British journalism, Andrew Marr – a former Editor of this newspaper – examines “Two Aristocracies”. My Trade concludes with a comparison between columnists and foreign correspondents.

Marr points out that for the foreign correspondent, intoxicated by the glamour or grimness of wherever he is residing, the relative tedium of the domestic news he has to fight with for space is infuriating. What’s a story about a wayward priest from Rochdale doing on page 7, when I can literally see a military junta from my  window (in Burma, say, or Nigeria)? To some foreign correspondents, the tenor of domestic news can be unforgivably trivial.

Then there are the columnists, gently ribbed by Marr for their inflated egos, and their belief that, what with being endowed with great powers of analysis, unrivalled contacts, and a facility for prose, they needn’t actually bother to find stuff out. So pompous, sorry, wise are their words that these pundits are entitled to more space, bigger salaries, and preferential treatment compared to lowly reporters who actually knock on doors and pick up the phone.

Some of this can be overdone, of course. Most foreign correspondents started out as domestic reporters, so are sympathetic to the needs of the news desk back in London. Many columnists write beautifully, and a dose of polemic or irony can be the best thing in any newspaper. And in the age of the web, the fight for space is less of a problem, because if you can’t get on to page 7, you can still tweet the story to your thousands of followers.

But I find Marr’s distinction useful in reflecting on this week’s news. The big story at home was a bizarre and cynical reshuffle. Some MPs claim that the public don’t care about reshuffles, that it’s just a media obsession. I’m sorry but when you have – in Nicky Morgan – a Secretary of State in charge of thousands of primary and secondary schools, with no discernible record of competence in the field of education, who is responsible for equalities while being opposed to gay marriage, and who ensures that – unforgivably – not a single one of the six ministers in the Department for Education went to a state school, that matters. It really matters.

But then comes along Thursday afternoon. As so often, foreign horrors come not single spies, but in battalions. The shooting down of Flight MH17 and Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza followed in quick succession. These are the moments journalists live for, not in a sinister sense, but because we want to be where the news is. And suddenly reshuffles, and the punditry they produce, can seem trivial.

The trick, I think, is to notice that all of it, domestic and foreign, matters, but in varying degrees for different people. That’s our job: to edit the world so you don’t have to. In that spirit, I hope you enjoy today’s edition.

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