Mar 082011

As a former newspaper man, more and more these days I find myself despairing of the fall in standards in journalism. Poor spelling, incorrect facts and serious omissions seem to occur with greater frequency in newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic.

A day seldom goes by without me shaking my head at the computer screen and muttering, “What is happening to journalistic standards these days?”

Today, I learned of the death of Sir Arthur Bryan from the Obituary section of The Daily Telegraph. Sir Arthur was the former chairman of the world-famous pottery firm Wedgwood. From a humble background, he rose through the ranks of Wedgwood and also became the Lord Lieutenant of Staffordshire.

Sir Arthur’s name was often mentioned during my childhood. Like me, he was born and raised in Penkhull and attended the same school as my late mother. She often used to reminisce of times when they used to play together in the school playground.

In its obituary, The Daily Telegraph correctly stated that Arthur Bryan was born on March 4, 1923, at Penkhull, Stoke-on-Trent.

Eager for more information, I checked out the This Is Staffordshire web site of the Stoke-on-Trent newspaper, The Sentinel.

In the web site’s tribute to Sir Arthur, The Sentinel’s Louise Psyllides wrote: “Sir Arthur, who was born and brought up in Stoke-on-Trent, joined Barclays Bank at Trentham aged 17 after leaving Longton High School.”

The local paper could not be more specific as to Sir Arthur’s birthplace than to state Stoke-on-Trent?

How did the omission of Penkhull get past the news editor, the sub-editor and editor?

And where is the internal logic of this story? It specifies the Stoke-on-Trent district of Trentham for Sir Arthur’s first job but cannot state the district where he was born and grew up.

This poor standard of journalism makes me recall one of the stone hands, a man called Dennis, when I worked the stone sub shift on The Birmingham Post.

It was the job of the stone sub to catch the errors that occasionally slipped past the chief sub-editor. Sometimes, the errors were real howlers.

As Dennis was cutting the bromide of the corrected version of the story to be attached to the page, I would say in an apologetic tone, “We can’t get the staff.”

In his Brummie accent, Dennis disagreed. “We can but they are crap!”

Fifteen years on, it would appear that the pithy words of Dennis still ring true for The Sentinel and a great many more newspapers the world over. What is worse, those running the newspapers do not seem to care.

As for The Birmingham Post, it ceased to be a daily morning newspaper in November 2009 and became a weekly, or should that be weakly, publication. I guess it was a good thing I left in 2000 and came to America.