LETTER from THE EDITOR

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The Independent Online
As readers occasionally remind me, I am still on a learning curve as an editor. One of the things I am learning is that journalism is not all about telling people new facts, or even saying interesting things about the facts. Sometimes there isn' t much to say or add, but you say and add it anyway - and everyone would be outraged if you didn't. I'm thinking, this week, of the TWA disaster.

Like many other such stories, this one can be summarised with brutal speed: a plane blew up and hundreds of people died. Their relatives and close friends feel different things but things journalism never really penetrates. As to commentary, well, we don't know why this happened. Until we do, it doesn't ''mean'' anything. For those of us untouched by it, this event will not change our lives in any way.

So one could deal fairly with the disaster, noting the essentials, in a short paragraph of prose. In all the pages devoted to it, I learnt nothing surprising. The pictures of relatives' collapsing faces remind one of life's fragility; maybe one is a little kinder for a few hours as a result. But the deluge of comment is, logically, redundant.

Yet I worked my way through all the stories, looked at the pictures, and trawled the press searching for meaningless details - and so did millions of other people. In these circumstances, journalism becomes a strange sort of secular rite, something we use to deal with the world's danger and strangeness. We devote pages to these incidents not only to convey information but because, in some strange way, it would be indecent not to.

One story that has provoked letters and much debate in the office, too, is the attack by the children's author Philip Pullman on modern novels that downplay a good story in order to flaunt stylistic flash. The consensus is firmly pro-Pullman. Modernism is an excellent thing - the world would be much poorer without Joyce and Proust - but it is an old thing, a been- there, done-that thing. And it is simply true that the quality of children's books is, in many cases, higher than the quality of adult fiction. Children, at any rate, mine, are tougher and less gullible critics. If I had the space and nerve, I'd probably tuck a few Henry Treeces and Alan Garfields into the holiday suitcase

As is apparent from today's proper letters (see left), I am being roundly chastised by Labour-supporting artistic folk for my suggestion earlier in the week that new Labour was insufficiently serious about the arts, architecture and environment. In hackspeak, anyone who supports Labour and has ever watched BBC2 is now sneeringly referred to as a ''Labour luvvy''. But neither David Puttnam, an eminent film-maker, nor Ken Follett, who makes real money writing real stories, could properly be described as luvvies. So I take their criticism seriously, without, in the end, being convinced by them. Instead, I hereby demand trial by proper luvvies. Then, if found guilty of underestimating Jack Cunningham's feel for culture, or Frank Dobson's environmentalism, I will be taken out and beaten severely round the head with lightly-oiled pieces offocaccia.

The in-house chutzpah award goes this week to David McKittrick, our Northern Ireland correspondent, whose application for a pass to the Sinn Fein ard feis, or conference, has caused some bemusement in the party. It apparently included, alongside his name, telephone number and so on, the following postal description of this office: ''Canary Wharf ... You know where that is.''

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