16 February 2009

Scoop and the world of make-believe journalism

I'm delighted that Radio 4 has decided to make Scoop its classic serial for the next couple of weeks. Although it's a satire, I think it's fair to say I've worked with several people like Corker (the world-weary and cynical overseas agency hack) and Salter (the hapless editor) in my time. Evelyn Waugh's characters may be parodies but they are rooted in a certain truth in the world of journalism. The times may have changed, our methods certainly have - 80 years ago no one could have even imagined today's technology-driven news-gathering machine - but the trade still attracts the same kind of people.

If you missed part 1 yesterday, it's on iPlayer right now with a Radio 4 repeat next Saturday evening. Part 2 is broadcast next Sunday afternoon.

The revival of Scoop got me thinking about other fictional portrayals of journalism. Quite possibly the worst-ever tabloid hack I have ever seen on TV was Polly Becker of EastEnders' Walford Gazette. Polly was allegedly an investigative reporter - yeah right, how many local rags did serious investigative journalism even 10 years ago? - but in practice was frustrated at having to do the court reports and NiBs (news in brief) that are the lot of most local hacks. Polly's great scoop was a front-page splash about a local Asian couple, Sanjay and Gita Kapoor. Gita left Sanjay after he had an affair with her sister and many months later she reappeared with a new-born baby, the result of a one-night fling - no one's business but the Kapoors and certainly not exclusive material, but somehow we were meant to believe that this so-called "scandal" (a scenario surely played out by hundreds of couples all over the UK every day) was enough to ensure Polly was poached from the Gazette by a Fleet Street red-top!

Utterly implausible, but at least we did actually see Polly and her sidekick Tony Hills filing copy, unlike some other fictional hacks. Carrie Bradshaw, anyone? Are we seriously meant to believe she can afford Manolos by filing just 400 words a week? Tintin? He only once wrote a story despite appearing in 24 adventures... A little closer to the mark was Mattie Storin in the splendid House of Cards, although the TV series killed her off whereas as in the original novel she gets her scoop by exposing Francis Urqhart (and he's the one who dies by jumping off the roof of the Houses of Parliament). My two favourite screen portrayals are Nick Mullen and Vernon Bayliss in Defence of the Realm. Who are yours?

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