Apparently some “journalists”, like Joe Hildebrand (or his subeditors), no longer feel it’s necessary:

A GREENS politician has been told to stop bringing her husband to council meetings because he eats too much of the food.

Waverley councillor Prue Cancian was told not to bring her activist husband Chris Maltby to meetings because the ratepayer-funded catering could not sustain it.

The matter came to a head at last Tuesday night’s council meeting at which Mr Maltby, despite having been asked not to attend by general manager Tony Reed, again showed up. The Daily Telegraph has been told that at the end of the meeting there was no food left for the hungry councillors or their staff.

“The Daily Telegraph has been told”? By whom? More importantly, what did Ms Cancian say when the allegation was put to her? Did Hildebrand even put that allegation to her before publication?

If this was a genuine story of concern, and not merely an opportunity to bash the Greens by extension (which is, predictably, what tim and Andy have enthusiastically and shamelessly done with it), then professional competence – and basic fairness – should surely have required that the target of the attack at least be given an opportunity to comment before publication.

Were they, and it was excluded – or did the writer not even bother? Why? Does he not have a telephone?

I’ll keep my eyes open for further examples of this specific shabby conduct by other professional “journalists” – if, indeed, it has become accepted practice amongst the lazy or spiteful – because, and I’ll be very clear about this – they should all be called on it. It goes well beyond simple bias: it is using a journalist’s pulpit to attack someone without giving their side of the story a hearing at all. Particularly at the moment when the story is most damaging – when it is first broken and gains the most attention.

The practice is seriously damaging to public debate, and profoundly unjust, whoever does it.

UPDATE As regards this specific incident, Joe responds to us “hippies” in the comments:

In fact I did go to Prue and she refused to comment. Then I went to Chris and he also refused to comment until after I gave him several opportunities he eventually agreed to be quoted which I tried to get in before deadline. Sadly this wasn’t do-able and so I said I would re-top the story today. Luckily for posterity the whole exchange was captured on Facebook and I have included it below for your edification.

There is now an updated version of the story on the Daily Telegraph site to reflect this, and whilst it still appears to be a massive beat-up with the sole aim of smearing the Greens, it appears that Mr Hildebrand did contact the subjects of his piece before publishing the article.

It shouldn’t have been necessary for us to specifically ask him whether he’d done so or not, of course – it should have been made clear in the story. I’ve sent Joe an email asking why it wasn’t.

UPDATE #2: Joe’s response:

Sometimes sub-editors cut copy so that it fits in the paper. The website then uses the published version. In fact the original piece contained the initial no comments and then had Chris’s comments added but it was too late to make edition.

That’s still a serious problem – the Daily Telegraph‘s sub-editors shouldn’t be cutting those details out.

You might say – what does it matter? They hadn’t commented anyway. But if newspaper reports don’t let us know that when the answer is “no comment”, then people will forget to ask when there is a response but it’s not sought. It’s about keeping the gatekeepers honest.

If Joe doesn’t want to be caught up in this sort of thing, he should make a point of talking with his editor about how bad it looks for him personally when they exclude critical material such as any response from the person being attacked.

UPDATE #3: For the sake of clarity I’ve added “or his subeditors” to the first sentence. Joe is represented by what is published under his name, but of course there are subeditors between him and what’s finally printed. He claims that it’s the subeditors’ fault that the critical detail was excluded, and I have no reason to doubt that (although I don’t think it makes a substantial difference insofar as the subject is concerned), so I’m happy to make it clear at the beginning.

UPDATE #4: Thinking about the issue of bloggers commenting on journalists’ published articles, and whilst there’s a clear difference between what we do (where the evidence required for a reader to make up their own mind is right there in the link, and our allegations are limited to our interpretation of that text) and what a reporter does (publishing allegations that the reader has no way of checking), on reflection I agree that it is probably better for us to adopt best practice and give our subjects an opportunity to respond to our conclusions before we publish them, where possible.

I may have learned some bad habits from the example set by the previous “journalists” we were watching. Also, it hadn’t clicked that, unlike when I was just some guy with a blog, I can now actually ring the subject of a piece and say “it’s Jeremy from Crikey” and they’ll answer the phone.

Anyway – I’ll ring next time.

Elsewhere: despite the eventual publication of Mr Maltby’s response, Joe (and others) continue to run the juvenile “hungry hungry hippo” line as if he hadn’t said anything.

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